Dungeons & Dragons Tactics

Platform(s): PSP
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Atari


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PSP Review - 'Dungeons & Dragons Tactics'

by Aaron "Istanbul" Swersky on Dec. 17, 2007 @ 2:23 a.m. PST

In Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics you take on the role of a mortal child caught in a conflict of two competing dragons striving for godhood. Alignment is critical, as it affects the end of the story and allows players to change from good to evil, or the other way around, depending on which quests they choose.

Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Kuju Entertainment
Release Date: August 14, 2007

For more than three decades, players with imagination have been experiencing the joy that is Dungeons & Dragons. From its humble beginnings in the '70s to its current globally known status, there have always been people huddled around character sheets and polyhedral dice, longing to slay dragons and prove their heroism. As a result, it stands to reason that once personal computers became a widespread phenomenon, one of the first orders of business for gamers was to attempt to recreate that experience in an electronic format, further immersing fans in the fantasy world of their choosing. From TSR's early titles such as Pools of Radiance or Champions of Krynn to more recent offerings such as Baldur's Gate, different games in different times have accomplished this task with varying degrees of success. So, has Dungeons & Dragons Tactics managed to outshine all of its predecessors and finally bring the tabletop experience to a portable format? That very much depends on what you're looking for.

It is important to keep in mind that Dungeons & Dragons is, at its core, a role-playing game. While the myriad (and often inscrutable) rules have been known to mire players down in a morass of number-crunching that only a calculator salesman could love, the game is, at its most basic core, an experience to put yourself in another person's shoes. This title is not a role-playing title; this is a tactics game, and as such, its central theme is the successful execution of combat. While there are the occasional choices to play through in dialogue screens, the vast bulk of this game will be spent rolling initiative, making saving throws, casting spells and otherwise trying to find the most efficient means to lay the smackdown on your adversaries in the most swift and brutal fashion available. Role players may wish to seek fare that is kinder to their sensibilities, but "roll" players will find themselves right at home. (And if you get that reference, you are precisely the kind of person for whom this game was designed.)

Dungeons & Dragons Tactics will never win any beauty awards, that much is plain to see. While the world map has some decent visual detail, and the menus and text have a pleasing font, the characters themselves have a very limited capacity for customization. Upon character creation, each character is given a small list of heads from which to choose — heads that don't precisely seem to fit properly upon their bodies, well-suited for the PlayStation 1 but rather behind the times for the modern day. Character animations are not exceptionally smooth, with attacks often taking place well before or well after the character actually performs his action. Monsters are often unidentifiable but for the text descriptions, and despite the fact that the camera is adjustable, it remains uncooperative and universally difficult to work with.

The sound design is no better. There are really only two kinds of attack results: the sound of metal on metal to indicate missing, and a sickly squelching sound to suggest a successful attack. These sounds occur whether you miss with a bow or hit with a rapier; apart from the occasional magical sound effect, it's immediately obvious that little to no effort was spent in an attempt to give this title passable audio.

The true appeal behind Dungeons & Dragons Tactics lies in its accuracy. If you play Dungeons & Dragons with any regularity, you will find a nearly excruciating level of detail here. All of the core classes from Barbarian to Wizard have been included, as well as the Psychic Warrior and Psion. Alignments can change based on a character's actions, and leveling up is true to the system.

The truly eye-raising attributes of the game remain unseen until you're actually in the thick of battle, though. Sure, you get to create your characters from scratch (you can use a pre-made party for a quick start, but anyone who's actually interested in Dungeons & Dragons won't even give that feature a second look), designing them from the top down much as you would design a character in the tabletop game itself, but it's the level of detail in combat that's truly stunning.

What's that? A locked treasure chest? Better get your rogue over there. Hopefully, you gave her enough ranks in Open Locks. And she has a move-equivalent action left. And she has a good Hide skill to avoid detection from that bugbear over there, and she has a decent armor class bonus in case she doesn't. Then she'll need to make a skill check, and then, if she has a move-equivalent action left, she can loot the treasure chest, which may well increase her total load enough to reduce her movement capacity on subsequent turns. Did your mage memorize his spells, and your cleric pray for hers, before battle? Should your cleric trade in a spell for a Cleric Cure, or maybe cast something from a scroll? Perhaps your warrior should take a five-foot step to keep from provoking an attack of opportunity so that he can make room for your second warrior to flank your opponent?

The only noticeable flaw in terms of accuracy is that the player is asked to select a particular character at the beginning of the game, and is then informed that this is that character's "story." If other characters die in combat, you can simply recruit more, but if the chosen character falls, the game is over. In a tactical title, this is a serious problem, essentially crippling one of your six units by placing an additional tactical disadvantage into every battle you fight. In a title this unforgiving (in the early levels, you will miss most of your attacks), that added level of difficulty is unnecessary, and even feels forced upon the player in a vain attempt to turn the game into something it is not. Dungeons & Dragons Tactics is not a role-playing game, and it should stop trying to pretend that it is.

If all of the things I just said sound like so much gibberish, Dungeons & Dragons Tactics may not be right for you, but I actually just described part of one combat round. This title has a very strong appeal to anyone who is a seasoned player of Dungeons & Dragons and is interested in playing a tactical combat simulator that is faithful to the system with which it shares its name. Other tactical combat fans may be better off purchasing the more accessible Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, and those who are inexperienced in both this video game genre and the system from which it is taken would do very well to steer clear of it altogether unless they're prepared for a rather steep learning curve. It's not that this is a bad game by any stretch of the imagination; it does an excellent job of being what it is, and if you've been waiting for a little taste of Dungeons & Dragons on your PSP, Tactics is definitely a serviceable offering. It's merely important to keep in mind that this title was designed for a particular variety of person, and if you are not in that target audience (D&D player who likes tactics games and owns a PSP), you should probably spend your hard-earned money elsewhere.

Score: 7.1/10

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