Currently scheduled for release in February, Dungeons & Dragons Tactics is a turn-based role-playing game that purportedly boasts the most authentic and comprehensive interpretation of the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 rule set ever to appear in a video game. Some tweaking of the rules has been necessary to make them more suitable for a video game and to accommodate the new psychic warrior and psion classes, but the changes are minor and have all been agreed upon with Wizards of the Coast. We recently had an opportunity to check out the latest version of Dungeons & Dragons Tactics with developer Kuju Entertainment at Atari's Spotlight event in Las Vegas, and we're pleased to report that it's looking very promising.
Although we were told up front that the pre-alpha version of Dungeons & Dragons Tactics we saw lacks polish, the first thing we noticed is that the team at Kuju is doing a great job with the visuals. The party member and monster models (including a large skeletal dracolich) that we saw were nicely detailed, and the environments that they were exploring--which on this occasion included a village being attacked by werewolves and a dark, skeleton-filled dungeon--were also very easy on the eyes. The dungeon was perhaps the more impressive of the two, simply because it served to show off the real-time lighting and shadows that were cast by a torch in the hands of a dwarven party member. If you're familiar with the D&D 3.5 rules, you'll know that dwarves and halflings are able to see in the dark and in low-light conditions, respectively, and we can confirm that this is also true in the PlayStation Portable game. Enemies who are concealed in darkened areas (a tactic that you can employ yourself) were visible thanks to the dwarf in our group and had a blue hue to indicate that they were in darkness.
If you're a newcomer to the Dungeons & Dragons universe, it's easy to be intimidated by statistics like "216 spells" and "around 650 unique items," but Kuju appears to have succeeded in making the game as accessible as possible without dumbing it down for experienced players. When battling monsters, for example, a simple "attack" command can be used to perform a suitable offensive move, but you can also enter a list of different attack options where you can get more specific. You'll be able to use "ready commands" that tell your party members to attack the next enemy that they see on sight, for example. D&D Tactics will also feature an attack-of-opportunity system that lets your characters attack enemies if they pass through an adjacent square on the map or are attempting to attack your party with particularly slow melee weapons.
Kuju estimates that the story mode--which can be played from the perspective of good or evil--will take the majority of players at least 100 hours to complete. If you have a lot of experience with Dungeons & Dragons, however, it's conceivable that you might be able to beat the game in around 40 hours, particularly if you choose to take advantage of the game's "chess mode," which speeds up the proceedings by doing away with all of the movement and combat animations.
The story mode can be played solo or cooperatively by up to six players. When you're playing cooperatively using multiple PSPs, one of you will be nominated as the dungeon master (DM) and have information for the entire party stored on your memory stick. The thinking behind this system is that it'll still be possible for the group to play if one of the members doesn't show up, provided that person isn't the DM. Other multiplayer game types in Dungeons & Dragons Tactics will include deathmatches, treasure hunts, and a gladiator mode that tasks you with killing more monsters than your opponents. All of the competitive multiplayer modes will support up to four teams.
We left our meeting with Atari and Kuju Entertainment feeling quite impressed with what we saw of Dungeons & Dragons Tactics, and we're very much looking forward to getting our hands on a version of the game in the not-too-distant future. We'll bring you more information as soon as it becomes available.