Saturday, May 28, 2011

How are you enjoying the dark ages of computer D&D?

Remember when the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out, and a lot of old school tabletop players criticized it for being geared toward videogames? That was three years ago, and funnily enough, there still hasn't been a new videogame release that fully implements those videogame-ish 4th edition rules. In fact, until last week, there hadn't been a new D&D video game of any kind in the last four years.

These are dark days for fans of D&D computer games, and it doesn't look like things are going to get better any time soon. Three news items popped up recently to remind us of how bad things have gotten.

  • The D&D title that was recently released is Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale, and it appears to suck badly. It's also not an RPG. It's more of an action game along the lines of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Except that game was actually good.

    • Responding to an inquiry from GameBanshee, Chris Avellone shot down idle chatter about the potential for a Planescape 2. He did leave open the possibility of working with the Planescape setting again, but all this public spitballing from Obsidian suggests to me that there's nothing actually in the works.

    If there's a glimmer of hope in there, it's in the second item. Perhaps Atari bailing on Neverwinter signals that they're preparing to settle their lawsuit with Hasbro and give up exclusive rights to D&D. Given what they've done (and haven't done) with the franchise, I think most would agree that this would be a positive development. But unfortunately, that's based on nothing more than speculation on my part.

    Clearly we are a long way from the golden age of CRPGs. Consider this run:

    1998: Baldur’s Gate
    1999: Tales of the Sword Coast, Planescape: Torment
    2000: Icewind Dale, Baldur’s Gate 2
    2001: Heart of Winter, Throne of Bhaal, Pool of Radiance
    2002: Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale 2

    Yes, much of this is thanks to the extraordinarily successful Infinity Engine. But not all. In the years immediately after this, we also got two NWN expansions, Premium Modules, Neverwinter Nights 2 and its expansions, and oodles of highly-polished (some professional quality) user-created modules.

    And then things started to dry up.

    2007: Mask of the Betrayer
    2008: Storm of Zehir
    2009: Mysteries of Westgate
    2010: Nothing
    2011: Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale 

    In other words, two expansions, one Adventure Pack, and one poorly reviewed action game. On the bright side, the Neverwinter Nights community has continued to produce high quality modules all this time, though even that has tapered off of late.

    The worst part is, there's nothing even on the horizon (that I'm aware of) for fans of D&D computer games. At a time when so many classic RPG franchises are getting updates, the tabletop game that started it all is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Such is life after the Spellplague, I guess.


    1. You have to wonder what's going on with Atari's management. Between the constant boardroom reshuffles and monkey-see, monkey-do approach of their recent business decisions (MMORGs are popular? Buy Cryptic and develop one! Torchlight did well? Rip it off with our own game! Casual games are all the fashion? Focus on them!) and stunning lack of initiative, they've made such a poor fist of becoming a profitable entity you wonder if they're being sabotaged from within. As far as MoW goes, I have my ideas about the delay and the conflict between the two French and American offices.

    2. Yeah, I really hope the D&D license goes elsewhere. Ideally, Wizards would take a more direct role, possibly imposing on developers some sort of standard framework for porting characters across different games. It seems there's huge potential being wasted.


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