My D&D experience is quite limited compared to many on the staff here. While I may have logged in hundreds of hours, I’ve done so almost exclusively with 3.0/3.5. In terms of video game experience, I’ve only put any real time into three D&D games. The first is Iron & Blood, which was so bad it was nominated for our Hall of Shame. It was only spared because only a few of us had played it. The second was Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone. It was a lame attempt and one that I stopped playing very quickly. Finally, we get to the one game that I actually enjoyed. That would be Dungeons & Dragons Tactics for the PSP.
If you were to go look D&D Tactics up, you’d be wondering how I could enjoy it. The Metacritic rating is in the mid-fifties, only six out of over thirty reviews were positive, and the game quickly faded into obscurity. You can’t even find a complete walkthrough on the internet. Heck, I’ve only seen one that made it out of the first act! Clearly, this is not a popular game, so then why should I chose to write about it?
Because people got it wrong.
Read some of those reviews. Most of them are bellyaching over cumbersome menu options, bad camera angles, and overly-stringent rules. For example, they complain that you have to scroll to move and then chose move again to make a standard move action. What they fail to mention is that you are given two or three other options for movement. You can make a charge attack, take a five foot step, or make a bull-rush. Most games don’t give you any tactical options when it comes to movement. Sure, you get bonuses for height, or whether or not you’re flanking an opponent, but nothing this deep. As for the camera angles, those people are just inept. You can rotate the camera with the analog stick, and move it with the d-pad if you want. The big complaint is that you can’t always see what’s ahead of you, which ties into the stringent rules bit. Oh no! You might have to use a torch to see in the dark! What horror is this? Apparently they failed to use races that could see in the dark or, gee, I don’t know, USE A FREAKING LIGHT SPELL! And why on earth should you be able to see enemy positions, types, and what have you through a wall? Sure, some tactical RPGs do that, but it is by no means a staple of the genre. The complain that seeing what’s ahead and planning for it is where all of the depth and strategy is. However, I find that there’s just as much strategy with surprise attacks. Do you send your melee guys out quickly to intercept, or do you wait and have the wizard cast a fireball spell at the risk of getting attacked by survivors? I tell you. A lot of these complaints are by morons, and are the same kinds of things that make games these days so dumbed down.
Anyway, I’m through rambling about incompetence. This game is pretty solid, although there are some hiccups in terms of performance. Managing your inventory can also be a pain because you have to buy/sell/equip/trade individually because of the game’s weight system. It can be annoying a bit time consuming, but it is also rewarding because you get better characters out of it. Do I wish it was handled better? Sure. Am I going to whine about it like a little bitch? No.
Here are some real bitch-worthy complaints to be made. Druids can’t shift, rangers don’t get favored enemy types, paladins don’t get mounts, etc. There are also no crafting feats, no trips, no sunders, no grappling, etc. The game is pretty comprehensive, but there are limits to what the developers could do, and it shows. My biggest letdown was that there is no multiclassing. Oh how I loved my rogue/sorcerer who would cast spiderclimb and use it to get sneak attacks. Alas, this game doesn’t even have spiderclimb.
My party consisted of a half-orc barbarian, dwarf fighter, human fighter, human paladin, dwarf cleric, and a gnome sorcerer. I may seem especially heave on the melee, but the human fighter was actually my ranged specialist. I know what you’re thinking. Why did I go with human? Actually, the only character I hand-crafted was the barbarian. The rest I selected out of the pre-made pool due mostly to laziness and a little bit to an ideal. After all, you can’t always chose your allies’ stats in real life can you? This party served me quite well. In fact, death was a rarity. The dwarf fighter died thrice, whilst the human fighter and human paladin both died once. This wasn’t due to anything less than a damned instant death spell that mind flayers kept throwing my way. The jerks. I never once lost a character to damage.
So. on to the adventures.
One of the funniest things to happen during my time with the game was a complete failure on my part. My cleric was leveling, but wasn’t getting new spells. I ignored this for a bit, thinking that maybe clerics didn’t get new spells as often as I thought. (I’ve played a cleric once in the pen and paper version. It might have been a one off at that.) Eventually I started to get frustrated and started checking her scores to see if she just had an awful wisdom modifier. That was when I noticed the PREPARE SPELLS option. I felt like a complete dumbass. A few moments later, and she was stacked with new heals, buffs, and anti-undead magic. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so dumb while playing a game.
One of the oddest occurrences was in the latter half of the game. My party was a level or two over the recommended level. This was because I hadn’t passed up a single optional mission. Things were sailing pretty smoothly as a result. However, I got to one dungeon and was assaulted by liches. These guys seemed tough at first, but by sticking melee specialists in their faces and trapping them in corners, I was getting attacks of opportunity whenever they cast a spell. They gave a ton of experience, enough to level me up, but that isn’t the odd part. They kept respawning. By now, I had my strategy down perfect and they were being cut down like dandelions I the way of a lawnmower. But they just kept coming. By the end, I had gained three whole levels in a single dungeon. I went from a level or two above recommended, to four of five. After that, the whole game was a walk in the park. I even took down the final boss in a couple of turns. A full grown green dragon turned into mince meat like it was nothing buy a hatchling. Hilarious.
Believe it or not, my human fighter was easily my strongest unit in the game. By the time I reached the end, she had a +5 composite longbow that was firing seek arrows. This alone granted a plus eight to attacks and damage. Add in the flaming arrow spell, and there was another 1d6 damage per arrow. Add in the fact that she was shooting five or six of these suckers off each turn, and I was doing over a hundred damage per round with just her to anybody on the map! My sorcerer had a smaller kill percentage with disintegrate and Power Word: Kill! If I weren’t casting haste all of the time, she would have cleared the board before a single melee unit got close every time! (Well OK. The sorcerer and cleric might have gotten one or two…) I don’t make archers in real life, so perhaps I’m just new to this, but she was nuts. (The gloves of dex +6 didn’t hurt either.)
My worst character had to be the paladin. This was due to a combination of reasons. Firstly, he had easily the lowest HP out of all of my melee fighters. Secondly, his wisdom stat sucked, which meant he got barely any spells. Thirdly, there was no mount! Had I known this going in, I probably would have gone with someone else. That half-orc monk looked intriguing…
If I had to rank my characters, it would have to go like this:
Erin, the human fighter. (Bows for the win!)
Orc, the half-orc barbarian. (Only because I gave him all of the best equipment. Dude was rocking a 39 AC compared to the next highest of 25!)
Doon, the gnome sorcerer. (He was a damage dealing beast from magic missile to cone of cold.)
Dagmar, the dwarf cleric. (Once I figured out how to prepare spells (lol), she became invaluable.)
Durn, the dwarf fighter. (He was strong, but also slow and he died the most.)
Ander, the human paladin. (They’re just not as good in this game.)
One of the best parts of all this is that if I ever decide to play through the game again, I still have enough unused classes left that I could make a complete party without any crossover. I have yet to use a wizard, psion, psychic warrior, druid, ranger, or a monk! Well, I have used most of them, but in other campaigns where I only played for a few hours. You see, when I got this game, I was more interested in coming up with bizarre party combinations based on themes than I was in actually playing them.
My weirdest bunch was a group based off of WWE personalities. I’m not joking. Vince McMahon was a wizard, Triple H was a psychic warrior (Cause he’s the cerebral assassin! Get it?), Kane was a barbarian, John Cena was a paladin, Trish Stratus was a fighter, and Shawn Michaels was a rogue! I thought about making Undertaker a necromancer, but didn’t feel that a cleric would have high enough stats for it to work. (If only I could raise the number of allotted points for stats…) What? A guy who plays D&D shouldn’t also be a WWE nerd? Well you can take that argument, dust it off, turn it sideways, and stick it straight up your candy ass!
Overall, I wish they’d revisit this formula. A tactical RPG based off of the pen and paper rules makes a lot of sense. The game has even made me a better D&D player overall thanks to the strict adhesion when it comes to attacks of opportunity and movement. An updated take would be just the ticket, whether on a new hand held game, or as a full fledged title on one of the big systems.
If you’ve got yourself a PSP and a love for D&D, give this game a try. There are certainly no other games like it on the market.