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Dungeons & Dragons & Diablo

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: DAGGERDALE His most powerful weapons are his dreadlocks.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: DAGGERDALE His most powerful weapons are his dreadlocks.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: Daggerdale is not a game.

I mean, it is. Superficially, it's a four-person cooperative action RPG wrapped in geek-friendly Dungeons & Dragons trappings. But realistically, it's a $15 proof that you can't go wrong using the Diablo formula.

Unfamiliar with the formula? In short, it's a gaming sub-genre that consists of hyper-addictive action roleplaying games designed with a tightly controlled risk/reward system. Kill an enemy, get a new item, score an instant burst of dopamine. Blizzard's Diablo does it better than anyone (hence the formula's name), but a number of imitators have offered quality takes on the concept, most recently Runic Games' Torchlight.

Like Blizzard's aforementioned classic, Daggerdale relies heavily on compelling players forward with new trinkets and a steady supply of happy brain drugs. In keeping with the game's attempt to appeal to D&D fans, however, this key concept has been expanded to make room for parties of up to four adventurers. There are pretty rote customization options in play here, but the real meat of the game is in tromping through dungeons and smiting the creations of Gary Gygax.

Relatively unknown developer Bedlam gets credit for giving the game surprisingly good graphics and entirely serviceable sound, as well as for nailing the feel of a D&D world—but I can't give them praise for Daggerdale's gameplay. "Functional" would be a good descriptor for it, though "lifted wholesale from earlier, better games" would work even better.

Daggerdale isn't bad—far from it, actually—but there's just no innovation here. If you're a diehard devotee of pen-and-paper D&D (or any of the other billion limbs of the Dungeons & Dragons empire), this might be the perfect flavor of this particular gameplay formula. But if you're anyone else? Stick to Torchlight, or hold out for Diablo III.

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