Daggerdale – Worst Game of the Year.

I’ve said it a few times now, but whilst this insomnia keeps on giving I may as well flesh out what about this game riled me up so much, especially whilst I wait for the tumble dryer to finish with my smalls.

Make no mistake here – it will take a game of catastrophically poor judgement and execution to knock Daggerdale off the #1 slot in my Worst Game of the Year rundown – this is how much Daggerdale wound me up. It wasn’t just bad technically, but on every level – from the co-op play, to the mechanics, to the PR fallout which has since seen the closure of Bedlam Games, and Atari lose the D&D licencing rights.

The best way to criticise Daggerdale is to compare it to something that does it all right – and X-Box Live Arcade has recently thrown up Crimson Alliance, which is really thoughtful of them because it is everything Daggerdale SHOULD have been.

First up, the narrative. The narrative is snappy, witty and pacey in Crimson Alliance. It’s not the main attraction – it’s not supposed to be – but that they keep it light but succinct is a credit to it. Daggerdale bludgeons you over the head almost immediately with a long-winded explanation, and unskippable quest text over and over again, when really it says nothing and doesn’t even accurately tell you where to go. It’s a heavy, lumpen mess that really does the D&D licence a disservice, and will annoy any respectable Dungeon Master out there.

Then there is the game itself. Daggerdale was ugly – really, truly ugly, with some awful cave networks. Crimson Alliance isn’t a looker up close, but it keeps the camera out and keeps the world interesting, which means the character models need less detailing. Crimson Alliance also has a wide variation on landscapes, and really seems to enjoy the progression. Score another one to Crimson Alliance.

Then of course, there’s the PR fallout. Crimson Alliance is an oddity because you get the game for free – but have to pay for the characters. Many found this awful, but the logic is quite sound, and there’s always the chance for more characters. So may as well start somewhere. Besides, the three characters are 1200 points, which is exactly what Daggerdale cost – and Daggerdale was bugged to high heaven and back. It shocks me that it was even released – surely Microsoft have SOME quality control? That Bedlam are gone and Atari are moving away from D&D, the PR generated by Daggerdale went from annoyance to absolute rage. Many users are still furious at how this game can still be for sale when it is so fundamentally broken in so many ways – and many more are asking why in this instance they can’t be refunded money for a product that was clearly not functional.

The co-op is better in Dark Alliance. The music is. It’s hard to really explain, but Crimson Alliance is the game Daggerdale could have, nay, should have been. It needed a team with experience, Bedlam were a new studio with not much experience. Crimson Alliance has had a talented team behind it. It plays better, it handles better and despite the PR, costs the same as Daggerdale. And is a much more sound product.

Daggerdale was bad because it was a culmination of very bad decisions and events that became a VERY big problem. It is still the one game I would love for Microsoft to issue me a refund on – I wish I had not bought it, not been tempted, not been curious or adventurous. Daggerdale is a cumulative cock-up, a game where every decision made in its creation was bad, and the end result is a testament to just how bad it was. I mean, if the D&D fans don’t like the new edition rulebook, they’re not going to be convinced by a shoddy game trying to introduce it to them via stealth – they’ve already rolled and won on seeing that particular trap.

And sad thing is, we’re also likely to see Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 this year – games in the same/similar vein, which are more beloved and have had time and love lavished upon them.

Daggerdale may have gotten off a little if it was released last year – but that it will end the year amidst so many genre mates really will just show it up for what it was – a bad, misjudged and poorly made dungeon crawler that was rushed out for reasons we’ll never know of.

It will take a game of monumental magnitude to keep this off the top spot this year – and I’m going to suspect that not even SEGA, with their usual mishandling of Sonic the Hedgehog, will be able to succeed in this endeavour.

It’s a pity, because I do LIKE D&D. But this is why I hope it goes to a good new home – because Atari clearly didn’t give a toss at the end. And what the series needs is a lot of love…

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