Dungeons & Dragons Tactics Preview
While the general focus of the site is computer-based RPG's, any time a true AD&D gaming experience with turn-based action comes along it is worth a look! Promising a grand implementation of the AD&D 3.5 core ruleset into a fully turn-based game that is at once accessible enough to be playable for those without experience with the PnP game but with enough inner geekiness to keep the rest of us happy.
There are few things that tickle the hardcore role-player's fancy like the words 'Dungeons & Dragons'. Slap on the word 'Tactics' and some become wary - they know that while it ensures intense turn-based combat, it also means that the balance of the game is weighted heavily towards combat. For handheld gamers the choices for role-playing and strategy-RPG games has offered limited choices of games that would appeal to fans of 'western' style RPG's because of the prevalence of console ports and new games based on console properties. So when a new western-style RPG for a handheld game system comes along - particularly one based on D&D - we get quite excited. Let's take a look at what we know about this game so far to see if our excitement is well placed.
Time to roll those dice ...
Starting with the very basics, the game revolves around a story of a conflict between two powerful dragons who have drawn the entire world into their conflict. As you might guess, this brings out one of the key elements of D&D - alignment. The game has different directions and endings based on story elements effected by your character alignment, which promises to add some replayability. The game is not located in any of the well traveled areas of Faerun or Planescape or any other known land - the developers wanted a new land to explore and have come up with all new areas that are consistent with existing lore without being restrained by other stories or characters.
Just like the good ol' days ... kind of ...
Of course the obvious feature prominent in the game is tactical turn-based combat. This is where the bulk of the game is spent - you can explore the terrain freely, but as soon as you encounter enemies you switch to a turn-based system in which you might be caught flat-footed or gain an attack of opportunity or other things that can only happen in a D&D game. Combat rounds begin with calculating initiative and then move right into each player getting turns to move, use items or engage in combat. You have the ability to create several different types of characters - from the standard Warrior and Mage to the oft-overlooked Psion and Psychic Warrior, obviously imbued with the neglected Psionics skills.
Ultimately what is intriguing about the game is the potential for a fairly true PnP experience - whether you play through the dungeons with the PSP as your DM or gather up several of your friends with PSP's and take characters into one of several multiplayer modes using the PSP's local wireless networking. The game looks to have the possibilities to truly deliver a robust implementation of the 3.5 Edition AD&D rules in portable format, with all of the character types mentioned along with more than 200 spells, 100 feats, and 40 different weapon types to help you equip the character you can develop through the approximately forty hours of gameplay. And since this is a portable game, you can save anywhere and pick up your adventure right where you left off.
The envelope, please!
With the game's release date approaching quickly, we posed some questions to Lawrence Liberty, the Senior Producer of D&D Tactics:
RPGWatch: Can you outline the story behind the game and the main characters?
Liberty: The story is about two dragons striving for godhood. The primary player character ends up entwined in the machinations of the competing dragons.
RPGWatch: What is the balance between story/quest and tactical combat? How about side-quests and optional exploration? Any non-combat areas - i.e. places to use diplomacy or subterfuge?
Liberty: The game skews heavily towards tactical combat. There are no strictly non-combat areas, though there are many side quests, chances to see more of the land and to gain experience and loot. The team wanted to focus on providing a faithful representation of D&D combat using the 3.5 rules, and I think they’ve done a great job with that.
RPGWatch: Are your party members 'characters' or 'units'? Is there interaction? Will 'evil' members ever leave if you behave too 'good', or is it possible for a Paladin to 'fall', etc? Are there any specific things along those lines you could share?
Liberty: Your party members are characters you’ll recruit as you progress through the story; you will see how your player interacts with them via cut-scenes. Your actions will not cause party members to abandon your cause.
RPGWatch: Online multiplayer - is it ad-hoc or infrastructure?
Liberty: It is ad-hoc only, but we have several multiplayer modes that should appeal to a variety of players. The mode that should appeal to fans of the pen-and-paper experience is cooperative multiplayer. Players will be able to work through the campaign as a party, with each controlling one or more characters. It’s a lot of fun to figure out a tactical approach to each battle – which spells and skills to use, which enemies to attack, etc. Other modes are more competitive: Last Man Standing, Treasure Hunt and Dragonkill modes each task players with different objectives, which they must complete before their adversaries. Dragonkill pits you and your friends against a dragon (naturally); you’ll need to work together to defeat the dragon while you keep an eye on your opponents… after all, they want all the glory.
RPGWatch: Downloads - will there be map editing tools? Or the ability to share characters online? What other uses for downloads are forseen?
Liberty: Unfortunately, we had to cut downloadable content. The game wound up being bigger and more complex than originally anticipated, and a map editor and downloadable content could not be done the first time out. As a consolation, we wound up putting a good deal of the content that would have been downloadable in the boxed product.
RPGWatch: You have mentioned choices and different paths - can you add some detail about how those play out in the game? In particular, does the story branch in any real way, based on alignment?
Liberty: There are opportunities to influence the outcome of the story based on your decisions. Based on your choice of good versus evil, the story will play out in a very different way. You play the role of catalyst in the struggle between the warring dragons. There is more to the story than you might think. I don’t want to reveal more than that.
RPGWatch: Early looks at the game mention significant issues with long load times, camera lag and very slow menu draw-ins amongst others. You have mentioned that optimizing load-times gives you a good load-to play ratio. For the half-hour or so you mention as the play time between loads, what is your expected load-times? What is your response to the graphical lag criticisms and what are your plans regarding these and any other issues between now and release?
Liberty: Camera lag and menu draw-in are not an issue at this point; I think you’ll find frame-rate and UI rendering to be quite smooth. Adventure loading times range from 10 to 20 seconds depending on the level and UMD drive variance. D&D Tactics has a great load-to-play-time ratio, so we’re confident that players won’t get frustrated with the load times… you’ll get a lot of play time in before you have to load a new area.
RPGWatch: A June launch time is currently listed for the game in the US. Is that still accurate? What are scheduled releases in other regions?
Liberty: We are now targeting a late July launch. The European launch should happen at the end of August. Thanks!
RPGWatch: We want to thank Lawrence Liberty for taking the time to answer our questions, and Tom Ohle of Evolve PR for making it happen!