Hands-onDungeons & Dragons Heroes

Infogrames shows off its upcoming action game based on the Dungeon & Dragons license.

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Infogrames stopped by with a pre-alpha Xbox build of its upcoming multiplatform action game Dungeons & Dragons Heroes. While we've seen this D&D-licensed game a few times since last year's E3, it's always been very much a work in progress. The latest build, while still far from finished, has given us a better feel for how the game is coming together. Dungeons & Dragons Heroes is looking pretty good at this point, with detailed graphics and a very playable multiplayer component that supports up to four players.

Dungeons & Dragons Heroes is based on the 3rd Edition rules of the popular pen-and-paper game, although some liberties have been taken. While resting for eight hours to learn spells works fine in a pen-and-paper game, console gamers would likely have some issues with such a mechanic, and the game's developer, MicroProse Studio, is aiming to create a very playable title. While Dungeons & Dragons Heroes at first looks like a variation on Midway's Gauntlet Legends or Interplay's Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, the team has actually been influenced by an old 2D game: Capcom's arcade classic Tower of Doom, which offered a fast-paced four-player experience with the D&D license.

While the team draws inspiration from arcade games for its gameplay, the story stays pretty close what you'd expect from a D&D game. The opening cinema details a battle between the dark lord Kaden and four heroes. Kaden is eventually taken out in suitably heroic fashion by the heroes, but not before he deals them all a deadly blow. While it's not the ideal ending for such a battle, at least for the heroes, the locals are pretty pleased with the end result. The cinema then shifts ahead 150 years, where we see a dark cleric working some mojo in Kaden's tomb in the hopes of resurrecting the dark one and controlling him. Soon Kaden is up and about, spreading death and mayhem as if he'd never stopped, which leads us to believe that being evil is much like riding a bicycle--you never really lose the touch. This unpleasant turn of events is clearly a bummer for the locals, who hadn't really planned for an apocalypse and are forced to improvise. Borrowing a page from the recently deceased cleric who unleashed Kaden, the people do some resurrecting of their own and call up the four heroes, which is where you come in.

You'll assume the role of one of the fallen heroes--a fighter, a cleric, a rogue, or a wizard--and hunt down Kaden. The evil one is apparently pretty speedy, as he'll lead you on a chase across seven environments that are broken up into anywhere from three to four different sections and are chock-full of hazards. The long chase actually works to your benefit, as you'll be needing the time to level up your character, who doesn't start the game at the high power levels you saw him or her at in the opening cinema.

In keeping with its desire to make the game accessible to console gamers, the team has designed a versatile control setup that is easy to pick up. You'll be able to customize the controller's face buttons with any configuration of moves that you'd like, assigning two attacks and two actions to the top and bottom sets of buttons, respectively. Adjusting the scheme to your liking can be done in two ways: You can pause the game and call up a list of the moves that you can match to each button and then return to the game in a manner that's fairly traditional in console games. Or, at any point during a game, you can pull the right trigger to slow the action down and call up a small menu of your buttons and the actions you've currently assigned to them. You're then able to use the right analog stick to move up or down the menu to select a button and then press left or right to cycle through the actions available for assignment. Once you've made the choice, you'll just release the right trigger to return the action to full speed and resume battling evil. While the feature takes a bit of getting used to, it actually works pretty well and doesn't adversely affect the game's pacing much.

Leveling up in the game is straightforward--simply kill anything that moves and soak up the points. When you've earned enough points, you can pause the game and go into a menu that will let you assign them to one of your character's attributes. In addition to buffing out your character's abilities, you'll be able to beef up his or her weapons. Unlike most traditional console RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons Heroes provides you with only the weapon your character starts the game with. But while you won't find shops that let you buy new arms, you will be able to improve your weapon by equipping it with rune stones that enhance its abilities. The changes usually result in a significant increase in your weapon's strength, as well as some dramatic changes to its appearance.

The solid gameplay is complemented by a graphical package that's shaping up to be pretty strong. While many aspects of the game's graphics were still being pulled together, it sounds as though the game is slated to have an ambitious amount of special effects and lighting to complement the detailed character models and environments. An especially impressive aspect of the game's graphics is its 30fps frame rate, regardless of the number of human players in a game. While the build of the game suffered from a few frame rate hitches in its multiplayer component, the action was pretty smooth, considering its state of completion.

Dungeons & Dragons Heroes looks promising. The solid gameplay and multiplayer components of the game should definitely make it appealing to gamers eager for some cooperative multiplayer action on the Xbox. Dungeons & Dragons Heroes is slated to ship for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox this June. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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