Dungeons and Dragons Tactics Review
D&D has been around for a long time. Starting as nothing more than some paperback rulebooks and a complicated set of rules, it has blossomed into a system upon which many other RPGs have been based on. There are video games, miniature games and even movies that have been spawned from this license, all with widely varying quality. The Baldur's Gate series really put the D&D game license back on the map, though – while games had come before it on the PC and been enjoyable, the BG series came about when the genre on the PC was slowly dying out and being replaced by the Action RPG. Since then, the license has seen a resurgence in the gaming world, giving birth to the Icewind Dale series, the Neverwinter Nights series and many more. Now, the latest game in the series, D&D Tactics, has been released on the PSP. While Tactics does the best job of sticking to the D&d rules when compared to games of the past, it still has some flaws that keep it from being the next classic D&D series.
As opposed to most D&D games in the past, you don't have a sort of free-roaming world. Instead, you'll move around to various points on a map in a totally new universe to D&D fans (no Eberron or Forgotten Realms here, folks), with certain areas triggering an adventure. These adventures are, by far, the meat of the game – they will, more often than not, involve you beating down a ton of baddies as you move through a tactical map. If you've played Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea, this map style might be familiar to you. In addition, the game claims to fully adhere to the rules of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, something that will make it more approachable to fans of the pen and paper game but, potentially, make it less approachable to those who haven't picked up a player's handbook before.
When you first start the game up, you'll get a chance to create six characters, or just choose to use pre-generated ones. The whole pre-generated characters thing is really nice for those that don't know much about D&D – sure, the rules have gotten simpler, but many RPGers may not know that you need two strength for another +1 bonus, or that dropping under 10 strength will give you a penalty to your attack roll. However, those that understand the system will definitely want to create their own characters. You'll end up using these six members of your party throughout various adventures, though you won't always be able to take each character with you. This can be both a blessing and a curse – while your characters will still get some experience points for adventures that they didn't go on, other characters will almost always find a slot. You'll need someone to run up and take the damage from enemies, and you'll need someone to heal it. That generally means any two-character adventure will have a fighter and a cleric.
Before you start any adventure, you'll have a chance to buy or sell items, trade items between characters, level your characters up, resurrect any dead characters and, well, pretty much anything you can do in any RPG town. The interesting part of all of this is that you might have to go to different map points to do this – some areas may not have a temple while others might not have a vendor that will sell you weapons. This, to me, is more of an annoyance than anything else. Sure, it only takes a few seconds after an adventure to jump over to another town, but why can't I just talk with a vendor in the current area? After you've done all that, you can head over to the town where your adventure will likely take place at. You'll be treated to some bits of story, which consist of character portraits and scrolling text. That's it – no cutscenes, nothing. Just a lot of text. With character portraits. Yes, it gets very boring very fast. The story itself is decent, sure, but is nothing groundbreaking to those experienced in the world of RPGs.
Anyways, enough on moving around towns and on the story, it is time to get on to the meat of the game – combat. As I mentioned earlier, the game very much adheres to the D&D rules. Small races, for example, can't move as fast as larger races. Encumbrance will slow you down (which can lead to some fun in missions when you pick up an item and it encumbers you without any sort of warning). These things are common knowledge to anyone that has played D&D in the past, but can pose as a roadblock to anyone used to other strategy games. The bigger problem with combat comes into play with the animations, though – they're slow. Characters will move slowly to the squares you tell them to move to, they swing and it takes a few seconds to register...the game just plods along. Thankfully, there is a mode that makes this problem go away, and it is called chess mode. Instead of watching these slow animations, you'll see the character speed along. When you execute an attack, it registers immediately. Thing is, so many strategy games in the past have had smooth animations that made the game more enjoyable – why couldn't they have been of higher quality here?
Outside of the animations, combat is enjoyable and sticks with the pre-set D&D rules. Take a common scenario with a ranged attacker for example. If your fighter is in melee with an enemy, your bow-user will have a harder time hitting the bad guy. However, taking the precise shot ability negates this penalty. Other options that, until now, don't seem to appear in D&D games include Charging, Bull-rushing and the ability to take a five-foot step after an attack without provoking an attack of opportunity. You can use chokepoints to your advantage, and enemies will also use them to their advantage. One fight saw a couple of my characters boxed in with the enemies blocking off any entrance to the hallway. Hacking through them was difficult, but the whole problem was created by a bad tactical decision on my part.
The game's biggest flaw, though, is that anything and everything is buried behind a multitude of menus. If you want to find out almost any basic info on your character, you have to search through at least a couple of menus to try to find the information. While I understand that D&D does have a lot of info for each character, there could have been some menu simplification here. Things will be hard to find and are often not in a logical place – any time I pick up the game, I manage to find something else I didn't know about before buried somewhere in the menu. Note, though – the menu system and interface while in combat is very well done. Options for actions to perform with your character are organized logically, the initiative list sits on the right side of the screen and, when there are multiple monsters of the same type, highlighting any of them on the map will show you where on the initiative list they appear. I just wish the menu system outside of combat was organized in a similar way.
Overall, D&D Tactics has some major pluses for those familiar with the D&D Universe. The game adheres well to the rules you already are familiar with, down to even the littlest of details. The battles, once you learn the system and turn off animations, move pretty well (though the environments can be dull and the camera control can be tricky). And the story, while nothing innovative or new, should keep D&D fans happy for awhile. However, if you don't know anything about the rules of the D&D World, you're going to feel left out. The game would have been much better off if something like the System Reference Document had been included (you can find it at http://www.systemreferencedocuments.org/35/sovelior_sage/home.html if you are curious).
If you can get past the out-of-combat menu system and are willing to learn the D&D rules (or already know them), D&D Tactics comes highly recommended. While the graphics may not be the best, this game provides some really fun tactical battles – some of the best I've seen in awhile.