Atari came by our offices recently with the newest build of Dungeons & Dragons Heroes, and we spent a little time checking out how the game has matured since it became an Xbox exclusive. In gameplay terms, Heroes' design has remained pretty much the same as it was when we last saw the game. It focuses on fast, accessible, console-style action that's underpinned by the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition rule set. You'll be able to select from a variety of role-playing archetypes--warrior, wizard, and cleric, for example--and battle through seven diverse environments in your quest to thwart a resurrected evil tyrant. Dungeons & Dragons Heroes can be played as a single-player game, but its true merit is in its four-player cooperative mode. The game's difficulty level scales appropriately as more players are added, and some abilities can benefit more than just the player using them, making Heroes a true cooperative experience.
D&D Heroes was originally scheduled for release on all three major consoles, but since we last saw the game, the PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions have been canceled in the interest of developing the Xbox version to its full potential. Graphically, the game has been enhanced dramatically, with liberal and appealing use of bump mapping, reflections, and dynamic lighting clearly visible in the levels we played. The character animation has also been improved--the characters' combo attacks now animate fluidly, and a greater amount of animation has been added overall. D&D Heroes will support full Dolby 5.1, thanks to the Xbox's sound hardware, although we didn't get a great sense of the game's audio, since much of it has yet to be implemented. The voice acting we heard in the cutscenes was passable, though, and from what we've seen so far, it seems the development team is striving to add considerable polish to the game's presentation.
Unfortunately, D&D Heroes' leap to the Xbox hasn't engendered Xbox Live support--the developer wants to focus on a personal cooperative experience in which players are fighting their way through the game with other people in the same room. Thankfully, this kind of co-op gameplay befits the game, from what we got to play of it. Dungeons & Dragons Heroes is slated for an October release. We'll bring you a full preview of the game in the near future.