Dungeons and Dragons has a long and storied history in the video game world. Not only has it been responsible for a number of games that were ahead of their time, like the original Pools of Radiance series, but they produced some of the greatest PC role-playing games out on the market, the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights series. With great success comes great duds however and the D&D brand was no different. With monstrosities like the recent Pool of Radiance game under its belt, it's quite clear that D&D can be a force for good or evil in the video game world. What side does Dungeons and Dragons: Tactics fall on? Well that depends on how forgiving a person you are.
The less said about the bland story that serves as the backdrop to this game, the better. Looking at the graphics that would be considered dated at the release of the PlayStation One and the unwieldy control scheme, its obvious that the lion's share of the work on this game went into making it true to the pen-and-paper D&D games, 3.5 edition. It does this in a remarkable way, taking most of the rules from the game that has made it a hobby and past-time of more than 20 million people. Obviously any video game that attempts to capitalize on the D&D brand has a built in audience to appeal to and, as far as the rules go, this game will likely succeed at that.
When you begin play you will be allowed to make a main hero and five other characters to join him in his travels, or you can simply pick from a batch of pregenerated characters. Making characters is half the fun of this game since there are so many options for you to pick from. All of the standard races are here to be picked from such as the lithe and graceful Elves and the burly Dwarves. In addition all of the basic D&D classes are present, which range from combat oriented Fighters to the holy magic wielding Clerics. However an unexpected bonus comes in the form of two new classes not a part of most D&D games; the Psychic Warrior and Psion. Using their own personal energies to harness psychic powers they act analogous to the Cleric and Wizard classes although the Psychic Warrior is like an odd mesh of Psion, Cleric and Warrior that is a blast to play.
However all is not roses in the garden of D&D: Tactics. Some of the classes seem to have non-functioning skills or are changed from the Dungeons and Dragons rules. Bards don't have the full range of access to their songs like they should which seriously hampers the usefulness of their bard song skill. Psychic Warriors cannot take the Psychic Weapon feat to start the game although they should be able to, likely a coding error. Lastly Wizards, who must prepare their spells in the menu screens before an adventure, are totally inferior to Sorcerers, who can cast spells on the fly, due to the fact that a Wizard cannot learn spells from scrolls in this game, leaving him and the Sorcerer in roughly the same boat. This isn't really enough to damage the game too much but it can give you a bit of a headache when you first turn the game on and figure things out.
Also the rules are not Dungeons and Dragons perfect. When playing D&D as a tabletop game you have books that explain what your stats (such as Strength, Constitution and Charisma) must look like before you can take certain skills, called Feats. These allow you to do things like wield two weapons with more accuracy or to take extra attacks in a battle after killing a foe. However you get no such documentation with this game leaving you to figure out what sort of Feats you can take after making the character, a reversal from the tabletop that could have been fixed with some extra pages to the instruction manual. And before any of you D&D fans pull out your books to try and help with this, do take note that some of the requirements for Feats have changed and others are not in the game at all.
To some, the character generation will sound tedious, which is why over a dozen pre-generated characters are included in the game. You can simply pick your hero and party from these characters and start up your game. This allows you the benefit of a quick start but you can also hire up to five of these heroes once the game has started. Doing this gives you some variety to pick from before going on an adventure since you can only bring five heroes, and your main character, on an adventure at one time.
Once you start up the adventure you will be greeted with two of the games major problems, the graphics and the user interface.
As I mentioned previously, the graphics to this game are borderline hideous. They look fairly good on the larger monsters but for the most part they are almost offensive. All of the environments are muddled and drab looking, something that is only exacerbated by the fact that most of them are near pitch black. Using a torch, which lights a specific sized around rather nicely, alleviates some of this but it only serves to make a dark game even harder to see. Perhaps this was done to hide some of the graphical deficiencies of the game but it doesn't work so well. The oddest part of all of this is that even though its graphics are nothing impressive the game still runs as if it is lagging. In most stages animations feel slowed and fairly halting, giving the feeling of playing an online game. This whole situation is only made worse by the long load times you have to suffer through to even get to this. Shouldn't long load times help the game run a bit better at least?
The menu system only serves to make an already unbearably slow moving game even slower. While doing simple things like a basic move around the screen are accomplished with ease, as is a basic attack, other things get unnecessarily complex. Casting a spell requires up to five or six button presses depending on exactly what the spell does to say nothing of trying to target an enemy (which is in and of itself complicated by the spells not telling you their range capabilities). Even outside of combat and in the menus that make up the "world map" doing things is overly complex. Something as simple as trading items between characters is overly complex, requiring the use of the D-pad, analog nub, the L and R triggers and several of the face buttons. No part of the menu system is simple or natural feeling to use and it only causes this game further harm.
It takes some time before its absence is noticed but this game is also eerily quiet as well. The music, which is actually very well done and nice to listen to, plays incredibly low most of the time as opposed to the louder sounds of the combat. While this would be nice so you could hear voice acting and combat sounds, there is absolutely no voice acting, besides grunts in combat, and the combat sounds are bland and uninteresting. This left the feeling of no sound as the game is played since you will likely tune out the sounds rather quickly.
Adding on top of these complaints are a variety of bugs, most of which feel like a serious lack of polish on the part of the developers. You will experience game lock-ups while doing such routine things as turning the horrendous camera to get a better view of the fighting or accessing your level up screen. There are some other lock-ups that occur during other stages which, after playing four different copies of the game, seem to be development problems. This only makes repetitious combat all the more boring since the game must be saved often or you risk having to redo an hour or so of work.
While this review may sound overly harsh, it does bear saying that Dungeons and Dragons Tactics is actually a fairly solid turn based strategy game. It has all the hallmarks of these types of games and it plays competently enough. However its unintuitive user interface, horrible graphics and some frustrating game lock-ups, which can occur at any time for no reason at all, really damage what would be an otherwise average game. With a few months more polish and some more attention paid to making the game more accessible this could have been a great game. As it stands, it's not even worth the rental price.