Jeremy Jastrzab
16 Sep, 2007

Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics Review

PSP Review | What was that up ahead?
Believe it or not, the Dungeons & Dragons pen-and-paper RPG has been around for over thirty years. Furthermore, for a franchise that is (arguably) suited very well to gaming, there really haven’t been that many games that based off of it. You’ve got the major MMORPG Stormreach, which was quite well received but not much else after that. That is until now, with one of the largest gaming releases for the franchise to date. Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics is now available for all PSP owners and D&D players to enjoy.

Dungeons & Dragons is among the pioneers of the western RPG. Without it, it is unlikely that we would have seen many of the PC dice-rolling RPGs of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, including the likes of Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics puts a lot of the aspects seen in such games and adds the gaming notion found commonly in eastern tactics RPGs, such as Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. The developers have done quite well to fit in a functional game and to fit all the lore and rules of D&D onto the one UMD. Unfortunately, that’s not always enough.

All the rules in D&D: Tactics are based off the 2003 rule revision – otherwise known as version 3.5. For anyone who knows nothing D&D, this will mean nothing to you. Given that the D&D fans are just as finicky as any other group of crazed and dedicated fans, it will come down to individual preference. Still, D&D is not just about the rules, it’s about the rich and deep lore that it is entrenched in.

That's a pretty big wolf.

That's a pretty big wolf.
From this aspect, it is somewhat disappointing that the story within the game is weak. Instead, the entire ‘campaign’ follows a rather generic romp that has you completing one task to the next. Things quickly begin to branch out but it never gets really deep into the heart of D&D. It’s done so that you can take your user-created character through the game, along with up to five (random) companions, without getting too complicated. In the least, the game contains just about everything that you’d associate with D&D. These familiarities range from dungeons, to goblins, to undead, to trolls, to dwarves to even (shock-horror) dragons. There are even a few additions that you’ll only find in this game.

For those who are unfamiliar with the game, there is a tutorial that you can take before playing. It will go through the basics of the game and you can get by on this. Unfortunately, familiarity with the rules of the game is almost a pre-requisite, particularly to get the most out of the game. There are two ways of playing through the campaign. You can either take a pre-created avatar or you can go and create your own. Visually, the options aren’t as deep as you’d find in a PC RPG but it is certainly made up for in terms of the characteristics customization that’s on offer.

From here, the game has you placed in a field that is divided into a massive grid. This is D&D: Tactics after all, but the fields can get quite huge. All of your actions are controlled through the options within the sets of menus. When it’s your turn, all you have to do is select the character whose turn it is and everything that is available for them to do will be displayed in the menu. Simple, right? Well, given the plethora of things you can do, from attacking, to charging your spells, to taunting and a multitude of other actions, it’s not all that simple. Furthermore, you’ll have to be aware of the individual characteristics of you party and how to best utilise them in whatever situation. But you already knew that, right?

We told you there would be dragons.

We told you there would be dragons.
Fundamentally, the game works quite well. There have been reports of unsolicited and unreported rule changes, but that won’t be all that noticeable. Like Metal Gear Acid, Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics does an astute job of representing its franchise in a different way. Unfortunately, there are a couple of aspects to that game that don’t it any favours. While you’ll spend a lot of time in battle, there is a lot of menu driven party management. Given that this is such a prevalent aspect of the game, we would have expected them to be more accessible and easier to navigate. There’s no simple way to say it other than they’re a real pain in the backside.

This spills over to the actual game. Navigating through the menus while in the actual game becomes a real chore, and in turn, adversely affects the pacing of the game. While most missions are relatively short, and you can save almost any time, dragging through the menus and the pacing of the action is very sluggish and can become very unappealing. Simply put, it can get really boring.

The other two aspects of the game that hamper it are the camera and load times. The camera is fixed and can’t be moved to observe any other parts of the field, which feels restrictive when compared to other tactics games. Not to mention, it’s very hard to maneuver the camera (in general) and even harder to find a useful angle. For a game that you’re meant to plan your moves in advance, it’s hardly ideal. That, and the game’s portability factor is hampered by the often lengthy load times, both at the start-up and between levels.

So, which way can we go?

So, which way can we go?
Still, the game is a fairly length one with over 30 levels and quests to go through, though some may have their patience tested. The game has a multiplayer mode and you’ve got five different modes to choose from. These include deathmatches and dungeon exploration, but none of that really matters, as you can’t even take your built up characters from the single player. You can only use preset templates, which is rather disappointing.

Graphically, the game is cleanly presented and there are various environments. Unfortunately, it is quite heavily prone to slowdown and most of the characters are unvaried and stiff. Outside of the actual graphics, the presentation is both unique and faithful, but we felt that the talking heads could have been taken further. In terms of sound, there is a fairly well orchestrated track and it fits in with the game quite well. There is no voicing and while the sound effects get the job done, they tend to be unvaried and in some cases, missing.

Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics is an impressive feat from the perspective of how much has been fitted into the game. Unfortunately, the design of the gameplay has somewhat suffered. Firstly, the game is way too slowly paced to play as a portable title. Secondly, it is pretty much out of reach and interest range of anyone who isn’t a fan of D&D. Even fans might not be too pleased, as despite the attention to detail, there are still a lot of things that are either not there or get in the way. So while the use of the license has been pretty good, that really hasn’t translated into a good portable game.
The Score
Dungeons & Dragons Tactics may just have enough for fans but it's otherwise too slow and restrictive for anyone else to be interested.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics Content

Dungeons & Dragons Tactics winners announced
07 Sep, 2007 Get ready for some... tactics!
Win one of five copies of Dungeons and Dragons: Tactics
30 Jul, 2007 You'd have to be stuck in a cave to miss out.
Pre E3 2006: Dungeons and Dragons Tactics announced
03 May, 2006 And it's exclusive to the PSP.
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