A Critical Hit... and a lot of Critical Misses.
Daggerdale - as the name so helpfully informs us - tasks heroes (You can pick from either a Human Fighter, a Dwarven Cleric, an Elven Rogue, and a Hafling Wizard) to protect the region of Daggerdale from Rezlus, a servant of the dark lord Bane. In order to combat Rezlus, they must travel up the Tower of the Void, facing many evils along the way. The game starts off with the player aiding the dwarves of Tethyamar, who in turn offer their support in your journey through the tower, and as a whole, sets up the game nicely. However, quickly after the first few hours of this setting, the game's pacing and story decline rapidly to an unsatisfying conclusion - characters met along the way have very little effect on the story, only serving to appear alongside you in the final boss battle as little more than cannon fodder. The first chapter of the game is almost as long as the following four combined, and understandably feels like the most accomplished part of the game - so it's such a shame that despite this promising start, Daggerdale seems to only go downhill from there.
Combat and gameplay, however, offer some redemption for Daggerdale's story misgivings - like any good dungeon crawler, there is loot aplenty to pick up off fallen enemies or purchase from merchants over the course of the game's 5 to 6 hour story, each piece having a visual effect upon your chosen character, which adds a sense of satisfaction when you deck your hero out in cool looking gear, and further customisation can be found in in leveling up and in the process, buffing your 6 traditional RPG stats (Charisma, Wisdom, Intelligence, Strength, Dexterity and Constitution), learning new feats and new powers. Combat, the other key aspect of dungeon crawlers, is also handled well. Abilities and spells, unique to each class - and straight out of 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons - as well as melee and ranged attacks can be mapped to one of the four face buttons, in the style of the Dragon Age franchise's console controls, with another set of buttons accessible to map attacks to by holding down the Left Trigger. Once learned, more powerful versions of these attacks can be performed by holding down the button for longer - and this, combined with the measured pace of the combat gives a satisfying weight and feel to the combat that makes one feel nostalgia for the Dark Alliance games... but once again, a step back is taken with the relative lack of enemy variety with which to unleash your mighty skills upon. Over the course of the game you encounter the same kinds goblins, skeletons, humans, ghouls and tieflings again and again - outside of that there are 3 boss encounters, which feel more like wars of attrition against large health bars than actual battles of skill and strength.
Daggerdale's presentation also suffers from a similar feeling of erratic quality as well. The game's locales are cavernous and varied enough, and there is a lot of detail put into them, especially for an Arcade game. However, at times they also feature some of the worst pop-in issues I've encountered in a game - sometimes items will literally pop into existence mere feet from the player's face. The few short animated cutscenes in the game are well done, aping the gorgeous art style of that featured in the 4th Edition D&D rule books, and feature a few serviceable lines of voice acted dialogue - but the rest of the game's characters receive little more than grunts to occasionally punctuate their reams of quest text. Outside of these mismatched design choices, Daggerdale is also rife with technical bugs, ranging from A.I characters getting stuck on scenery in escort missions, player and enemy models getting trapped either in a wall or stuck in a combat animation unable to move, to NPC's randomly disappearing, only leaving behind the 'Talk to' icon that was once hovering over their heads. If Bedlam games had put a little more effort into sorting out these bugs and ironing out both the stability and quality of the presentation, Daggerdale might have stood a better chance at redeeming some of its other faults, but as it stands, the erratic nature of the games faults and favours are far too apparent.
At its core, Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale is a competent, and at times, enjoyable dungeon crawling experience, both alone and with friends, online and off. However the absurd amount of simple fumbles that plague it leave very little but disappointment in their wake. It's unfortunate to look at Daggerdale and see what might have been if development hadn't been so seemingly rushed - but as it is at the moment, $15 (or 1200 space bucks) is a price too high for even that. If your nostalgia for the Dark Alliance games is strong enough to overlook some glaring issues, and you have likemindedly nostalgic friends, Daggerdale might be something to look out for down the line in a sale, or once (or if, even) a patch comes out to squash the bugs - but if you're looking for a good quality Dungeon Crawler on XBLA, look elsewhere.