It’s astonishing the appeal that the Dungeons & Dragons series has had, from its pen-and-paper origins to videogame super-stardom. And it’s a measure of that success that Atari has now brought out another chapter exclusively for the Xbox.
For fans of the old Gauntlet and the more recent Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance, this will be familiar territory indeed. One hundred and fifty years ago in the mythical kingdom of Baele, the evil wizard Kaedin harnessed the power of some mighty gems to subdue the land and four heroes were summoned to defeat him. In the ensuing battle all were killed and the gems scattered, but now the wizard has been re-summoned and the heroes too have been resurrected to beat him once more.
You can either play in single-player, third-person mode as one of the four heroes (fighter, wizard, cleric or rogue) or multiplayer with all four. The additional variant is that players can join the combat at any point, although the drawback is that you will always start at the lowest level of skill and experience. So for ideal co-op fighting your best plan is to kick off together.
Although there’s a number of side quests, the story progression is essentially linear, with the aim of gathering the scattered gems from their diverse realms and then taking the final battle to Kaedin himself.
Naturally you will have to defeat hordes of foes on the way, ranging from trolls, skeletons, spiders and gargoyles to frost giants, mind flayers, magma golems and frost worms. There are additional ‘bosses’ to overcome (including, of course, a dragon) plus puzzles to be solved (usually finding levers to pull), various artefacts to be found and people to be rescued.
The gameplay is also fairly standard, with health, armour, weapons, gold and mystical will potions (which fuel your spells) to be picked up and a very handy and quick drop-down menu that allows you to assign power plays and throwing weapons to your D-pad buttons. This is especially helpful when assaulted by multiple enemies of different classes that will respond differently to melée weapons or magical assaults.
As your experience points grow, you can constantly upgrade your fighting skills, while your amassed gold (of which there’s plenty!) will let you buy stronger weaponry. In fact, there is such a generous supply of pick-up weapons, potions and money throughout the game that hardened fans will find this insufficiently challenging, even on the hardest setting.
Although the graphics are impressive, ranging from swamps and frozen wastes to magma-spewing foundries and castle interiors, the ability to zoom the camera in on the action becomes a problem in multiplayer mode, as any of the four can control camera movement.
The sound has been enhanced with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and is great, with effects, grunts and screams and a reasonable music score, but again much more could have been made of it if we heard the heroes actually talking.
Despite these drawbacks, there’s still plenty here to entertain, particularly for newcomers to the genre, and it’s a treat to have an original game of this type rather than yet another PlayStation 2 or PC port.