Gaming Today Reviews Dungeons and Dragons Tactics (PSP)
I think this should be put out in the open before I even start – I’m not a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan who wades around through pages of D&D rules in his parents’ basement. Quite the contrary, in fact. But while I might not be the biggest fan of the license, I can appreciate its depth and immersion. And this is the one saving grace of Dungeons & Dragons Tactics; it captures the incredibly deep 3.5 rules nicely. Although, due to the vagaries of the production parameters of this fragmenting of the audience to cable television, carnivals, water parks… oh wait, that makes no sense. Just like the downright stupid development choice to make completely undocumented changes to the 3.5 rules, among many other poor decisions.
Whether you’re a D&D fan or not, you’ll undoubtedly find Tactics to be a frustrating, overly tedious excuse for a videogame. The game plays out in standard turn-based fashion, but each and every action – down to the simplest of things, like moving or resting – require far too many button presses. Thanks to the branching menu system, you’ll be scrolling through countless screens to find what you’re looking for, and once you do you’ll likely be disappointed with the action on-screen.
But let’s back up. Before entering the game you’re able to create your own characters so that you can play campaign mode with an entirely custom party as opposed to using pre-made characters. All of the standard races and classes are here, including the Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Psion, Psychic Warrior, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard. Beyond that, you can tweak your character’s deity of choice, his or her alignment, and select from a short list of avatars that offer little variation. The lack of much visual distinction is pretty disappointing in this day and age of being able to customize characters to such an extreme degree.
When starting a campaign, you’ll select six characters that your party will be composed of, including a lead character whose story will be the one the game follows. The story is your standard fare, with bad things happening and only the hero being able to stop it. Yawn. Missions are essentially comprised of entering a level, killing all of the goblins/thieves/etc. within and looting what you can. Somehow, developer Kuju managed to make each of those tasks anything but fun.
Navigating the chessboard-like levels can be a chore, while actually engaging in combat is far too slow of an affair for a videogame. Thanks to a woeful camera, you’ll often have parts of the environment block your view of the action. Much of the game takes place indoors, inside dungeons, which are obviously not the most well lit locales. While you can equip a torch to account for this, it’s still difficult to see anything except your immediate surroundings. Many times I wandered along and came upon an enemy – or at least the game told me it did; I wouldn’t have known any better since it was only the message that alerted me to the enemy’s presence. It’s only until the enemy’s turn that you can see where they are when the camera pans over and centers on them. Even when simply walking around a dungeon, you’ll be annoyed with the camera, which only has the option of a bird’s eye view because of the tight corridors. (You can swing the camera around, but it doesn’t allow for you to see enough around you to make sense to do so.)
While fighting, I found myself at times doing nothing more than trading blows with an enemy, miss after miss as the invisible dice rolls, just waiting for something to happen. When you’re actually happy that your enemy lands a blow on you, something’s gone wrong. As I mentioned earlier, the menu interface makes every task last much longer than it should be. After killing an enemy, it will kneel down, leading you to wonder if it’s casting a spell of some sort only to find out that, nope, it’s just dead. Looting treasure chests yields an equally bizarre animation, as picking up an item or opening a chest will cause your character to pump his fist in the air as if he or she has just won a battle.
You might be pumping your fist when picking up items, too, albeit for a different reason. When you try to pick up items, there’s no indication of your current inventory status and what sort of encumbrance the item will add. You just need to pick up the item and see what happens. If it’s too heavy, you’ll have to force yourself through the menus to drop the item(s). Likewise, there’s no way to compare an item with those in your inventory, forcing you to either pick up the item and find out it’s no better, and then drop it (which is quite a process, as you’re probably figuring out by now) or back out, check your inventory, and then go back and pick up the item. Why is something so fundamental such a hassle? I just don’t get it.
None of this looks particularly good, mind you. In fact, there’s almost no redeeming quality about the game visually, save for the lighting from the torch. Characters all look fairly generic regardless of their equipped items; environments are comprised of bland textures; animations are choppy and bizarre. It all adds up to an unappealing package, and the sound doesn’t help. The clangs of weapons all sound alike and are very generic. The soundtrack really impressed me as I listened to it, with a pleasant Enya/Lord of the Rings-esque vibe to it. But then after a minute I realized I was going to be listening to the same short music blurbs over and over again, and I quickly tired of it after an hour. You can understand why at hour 10+ the game was muted all the time.
Multiplayer could have been the saving grace for this game, but the feature set is far too lacking and only supports Ad-Hoc. There’s no way to play through the campaign cooperatively, which could have been very fun, and it’s not all that likely that you’ll find a friend who actually likes the game enough to pay for it.
And ultimately, you’re better off not paying for this, either. Diehard D&D fans might be able to appreciate the mind-numbingly slow pace, but even then you might find the game just isn’t all that much fun. Novices will likely be lost, and the very short tutorials teach you only the basics of the game – if you’ve no prior D&D experience, you might as well be playing with your eyes closed. This is just a flawed experience in every regard, and while games can still be fun in spite of their problems, Tactics simply isn’t.
Final Score: 3.5/10