Daggerfall is the second installment of the the Elder Scrolls saga. Following in Arena's footsteps, Daggerfall is one excellent computer role playing game with a few flaws. The graphics have improved since Arena, but the game is still a first person adventure. The music and sound effects are used exceptionally well and are of good quality. The interface is highly configurable with two modes of operation for using the mouse. The main storyline is intriguing, but it's the little side quests and adventures that you'll go on that helps determine the course of the game. How you go about completing your quests is entirely up to you. Unfortunately, during your quests you may stumble upon a bug or two in the game--not enough to hinder playability, but they're annoying.
When you fire up Daggerfall for the first time, don't be fooled by the initial video sequence--the graphics and sound are really very good. The audio in the first video sequence is intolerable as well as incomprehensible; thankfully the rest of the videos are clean and great looking and sounding. The game is presented in 320x200x256 color mode which is nice but a higher resolution would have been nice. (The 3rd installment will have higher resolution graphics.) The 3D environment is highly reminiscent of the Duke 3D engine, but it's not. The people, monsters, trees, animals, and many sign posts are all 2D sprites while the castles, dungeons, and homes are all 3D objects. The 2D sprites could have been drawn larger so when you walked right up to them they wouldn't look so blocky, but they're still nice. Instead of static background skies like in many other 3D games, the skies in Daggerfall are quite dynamic with the sun rising and setting.
Movement through the Daggerfall world couldn't be more customizable. There are two modes in which to use the mouse--the standard way and the "free-look" mode. The standard way is that you can use the mouse to move around by moving the pointer into the viewing area and clicking in the direction you want to move. In the free-look mode, moving the mouse lets you look up, down, left, right and any direction you want. Movement is accomplished by using a mouse button or the keyboard. This mode is very reminiscient of Quake. The only problem with the interface are the complex dialogue menus and the non-intuitive map movements. Other than that, the interface is very cool.
The music and sound effects of Daggerfall are outstanding. While the MIDI background music isn't something you'd put your attention on, it is great background music. Each MIDI is long enough and there are enough of them that you'll never get tired of "hearing the same song over and over". The music helps build the atmosphere of adventure and exploration at times and looming danger at others--very moody. The sound effects while good in their own right were put to exceptional use in Daggerfall. After playing the game for a while you get accustom to the sound level of the game. When I accidentally walked out of an Inn in the city of Daggerfall at night for the first time I nearly jumped out of my seat! You see, the music was forboding and for the most part it was quiet. Then out of nowhere I hear this loud un-Earthly voice moan, "VENGANCE!" While explaining it here doesn't sound erie, I'm sure you'll get the same frightening start when you experience it. I could go on about the moaning Zombies or the shrieking Skeletons, let alone the sounds of a Daedra but I think you get the idea.
Everything I've talked about is all nice, but how does it play? Well, this is where Daggerfall runs a little short of excellent. If you've played Arena before, this will feel a lot like more of the same. I think the programmers worked more on improving (perhaps re-writing) the 3D engine and less on game-play and game mechanics. There are more things to do now that you couldn't in Arena, but it feels more evolutionary than revolutionary. The game play is pretty much the same which is a little bit disappointing. You decide which class to be, what profession you want, which guilds to join, and who's side you want to be on. Of course, there will be messengers delivering notes about quests relating to the main storyline to help move the game along. In the meantime, join a guild, do some work for them and improve your skills. Towns are still filled with randomly generated NPC's and mini-quests are still randomly generated.
The biggest drawback to Daggerfall are the little awkward things. These range from books whose text runs off the screen to bugs that crash the game. In some instances you can see a giant spider behind a wall because the sprite-clipping routing can't handle the width of that particular sprite. Other times you'll be fighting on a dungeon elevator and fall through the floor for no apparent reason. If you're in the mood, you can walk on water in the cities--just hop, skip and jump across! There were more bugs but Bethesda, hard at work trying to squash as many as possible as quickly as possible, fixed them. If you bought Daggerfall, I highly recommend that you go to their website (http://www.bethsoft.com) and download and install the latest patch for the best gaming experience.
If you loved Arena and couldn't get enough, you'll love Daggerfall. Improved graphics (we still want higher resolution graphics), great sound and interface help define this remarkably addictive game. While game play is pretty much the same, if you've never played Arena, now's the time to jump into Daggerfall. Though there are still a few bugs to squash, the major ones have been fixed and patches are being provided as we speak! Until the next chapter to the Elder Scrolls is released I'll be exploring and enjoying the Daggerfall universe.
-- Louis Stice