The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

Developer/Publisher:  Bethesda Softworks
Year Released:  1996

Review by Clint Mullins (November, 1996)
dfall.jpgDaggerfall is the long (very long) awaited sequel to Arena by Bethesda Softworks. It is the second in the Elder Scrolls series. Bethesda received a lot of input from fans of the first game which they have implemented in the sequel. The game had been the subject of many newsgroup discussions and websites even before its release. Rumours abounded about what would be in the game and a very poor demo put off a lot of potential customers.

I must confess to being a big fan of Arena. I enjoyed the fact that there were many ways to complete quests and the game engine was impressive for its time. Though, towards the end the dungeons and creatures became a little too familiar and I was more motivated to beat the game rather than enjoy playing it. I should also point out that I have not finished Daggerfall. I am not even close, but the good sign is that I am in no hurry to do so.

Very impressive game
Daggerfall is a very large, first person computer role-playing game(CRPG). You could spend the rest of your computer-playing life cleaning out the random dungeons generated by this programme while you improve your character's skills and equipment. You could even buy your own real estate. You could also choose to play the main quests in the custom made dungeons which lead to an end game of sorts, after which you may choose to continue playing.

Although the graphics are only VGA they are generally pleasing if not awe inspiring. The monsters are well realised and in places the dungeons and buildings are extremely well presented. Bethesda's 'X-engine' uses quite impressive 3D and light effects such as sending fireballs down a corridor are spectacular.

Sound is used effectively. Many of the tunes are 'remixes' of old Arena tracks but some of the midi tunes outside are very atmospheric. Each monster has it's own distinctive cry and this adds to the atmosphere in the dungeons.

Character Generation
As in all good CRPGs you can choose any class you wish including your own custom designed class. The character generation programme is brilliantly devised. You can pick a class and let the computer generate your skills and background history, or you can do it all yourself, which is much more fun. I started this game 4 or 5 times and played through quite a few dungeons before I settled on my current custom designed character. As usual I went for a balance of magery and weapon skills, with just a hint of stealth thrown in. You can choose to give your character extra advantages. The more advantages you give, the harder it is to increase levels. However, you can restore the balance by giving disadvantages.

I gave my character extra advantages of spell absorption and three times intelligence in magic points and balanced this with less powerful magic in daylight and the inability to use certain metals and weapons. The combinations you can devise are endless but I feel certain combinations would make the game extremely hard to play.

One of the pleasing aspects of Daggerfall is that you can choose the speed at which enemies react. If you find that high speed combat is not for you, you can set the enemies to a slower speed. There is a trade off for this in that it will take longer to increase in levels.

The game has different interface options which involve more or less use of the mouse. All of the hotkeys are customable. Also, if you have a slower computer the detail level can be turned down. I use a Pentium 120 but my friend is happily running the game on a 486 DX 100. I must point out, though, that we are both using the large install option (213 MB) and although there are smaller options I would not recommend them.

This is probably also a good time to point out I am using the third patch put out by Bethesda (179) and there are still bugs in the game as I have experienced crashes in DOS. (Save wisely and save often). Depending on your system, you may have more (or less) success.

The game only has six save game slots which need to be used carefully. There is an option to play full screen, although in the dungeons it is useful to keep the icon bar handy. One option I found useful was to keep 'head-bobbing' turned on. The dungeons moved so smoothly it was possible to get slightly nauseous. Head-bobbing seemed to negate this.

Another option available is the parental mode, presumably included because you can expect to meet some underdressed women characters. A little 'treat' for us male players, I suppose, but female players might not derive the same satisfaction.

After the brief, but reasonably acted, introduction you find yourself recovering from a shipwreck in a dark cave. The cliff has collapsed behind you and there is a dark passage heading into danger. You have a minimal amount of weaponry and the first few fights are a little difficult until you get a feel for the combat. Various slashes or jabs with your weapon are controlled by holding down a mouse button and moving the mouse in the appropriate direction. Different types of attack score different types of hits on the enemy. The more dangerous the hit the harder it is to achieve. At this point in the game I found how unfortunate my choice of the inability to use iron weapons was ... because that was all I had.

The first dungeon is quite small compared to the huge, sprawling ones you will have to explore later in the game. The automap is by far the best 3D map I have come across but still has problems. There is a 2D and 3D version but the entrance/exit is only visible on the 3D version. You can write comments but the way this operates is a little pointless. Unexplored areas are relatively easy to spot and secret doors can be located.

The Outside World
Leaving the dungeon provides one of those rare gaming moments when you can't help being impressed by the scenery. The softly falling snow is impressive as are the other weather effects (although rain looks a little odd). Trees have been described by some people as disappointing as you seem to move straight through them, but I think it would be annoying to have to navigate around them all the time.

It is at this point you realise how big the game is. As you access the automap for the first time you can see the hundreds of dungeons just in the region of Daggerfall. A right mouse click on the map brings up a find option. Enter 'Daggerfall' (the city name is the same as the region) and you are given the option to fast travel there. I suggest cautious travel mode because arriving at night is not a good idea.

The City
Once you arrive in Daggerfall you are faced with a variety of options. Your character generation choices may have already affected your reputation with various groups of people. Your actions from this point forward will affect them even more.

There are the usual taverns and shops. Now is a good time to visit the pawn broker if you picked up any useful treasure in the first dungeon. If you were lucky to amass enough gold, a horse or wagon is a good early purchase. A wagon is useful because you can store a lot more treasure and equipment and a horse enables you to travel around quickly without draining your stamina. It's a big horse and when riding it you seem to be level with the top of the single storey buildings.

While in town, if your reputation suits, you can join one or more of the guilds. The most obvious are fighter and mage guilds but there are somewhat 'darker' ones available.

Taverns provide resting spots. If you rest outside the guards will attempt to arrest you but there is a loiter option for passing time. There are also weapons shops, gem stores and book stores. The books in Daggerfall can actually be read and give a deeper background to the game world.

Non playing characters (NPCs)
The conversation options with NPCs generally fall into the where is, who are you category. You choose appropriate questions from menus that are divided into categories. You can choose to be polite, normal or blunt and this will affect the response you get.

At some points in the game letters will be delivered to you. You receive your first letter shortly after arriving in Daggerfall which gives you thirty days to meet a certain character. You need to do this to make sure you can carry out the main quest but, as far as I can tell, as long as you attend this meeting you can wait indefinitely before continuing the main plot line.

The NPC graphics have improved since Arena, but are still as two dimensional as their general responses. You can, however, actually kill the town people. Not a nice thing to do, but if you have been turned into a werewolf during an unfortunate encounter you will need to feast on poor unfortunates until you find a cure.

Although fighting can be avoided more often than in most CRPGs it is obviously the best way to improve skills. There are no experience points as such but rather improvements in various skills once you have practised them and rested. Training in town improves these.

I have already described the basic combat technique. It is the most satisfying I have come across in a 'real time' combat mode. You can actually duck in and out, avoiding blows. Striking an opponent has a satisfying feel and they can be knocked backwards or off ledges by a well timed blow. If they manage to strike you may also be spun around. If you have suitable stealth skills you can sneak past monsters or get in a couple of quick blows before they know what has hit them. Depending on their intelligence and your speed, monsters will follow you if you bravely run away.

Casting magic spells is just a matter of clicking on the spell icon and selecting them from a list. Provided you have the skills and the spell points, the spell will be cast. The graphic representations of these spells are relatively impressive. Icons appear on screen if you cast a duration spell such as shield or invisibility. Magic items can be accessed quickly by another icon.

While the inventory screen is open and you select your spell, magic item or swap a weapon the monsters cannot hit you. This may not be realistic for swapping weapons but seems fair for casting spells as, presumably, your mage is smart enough to remember his or her spells.

If you are successful in combat you can search the bodies for loot. There is a large selection of weapons and shields. The hit points of a weapon and the rating of armour are both shown in your inventory.

These are not hard to find. Ask the townspeople about work and they will give you one or more contacts. If you join a guild you can receive quests from the guild itself which will enable you to move up their ranks. Quests are reasonably varied although they will all repeat after a while. They range from guarding people, rescuing kidnapped children, helping arrange a wedding and, the most common, hunt the floozle or kill the bad guy.

You are given a time limit to complete each quest and you cannot receive another quest from a guild until you have completed the one in hand, or the time limit has elapsed. I always have a game save slot that contains a save after a completed quest and before the next one. There are rumours of bugged quests and, although you do not have to complete them all successfully, insurance is a good policy.

Dungeon Crawling
These dungeons are quite enormous. One of the most useful things in the entire game is the 'Recall' spell. Cast it just inside a dungeon entrance so you can teleport back there. This is guaranteed to save you hours. When you complete the quest you can teleport straight out and, if you can't find what you are looking for, teleport back and try another direction.

Sometimes you will find obstacles such as cages blocking doorways which require particular objects or levers to move them. Dungeons also contain skulls and teleport doors. These red bricked doors behave a little strangely. Sometimes you can walk into them, but at other times you need to click to activate them. Some don't seem to work at all so experimenting is the name of the game. You will also find towers, pits, lifts, secret doors, and water. You need a water breathing or water walking spell to help you out here. If you can cast spells 'levitate' is another 'must have'.

Many players have complained about the random nature and size of the dungeons in that there seems to be no overall plan to them. I actually find this quite refreshing from the standard 'it's a square dungeon so there must be something to the east' scenario.

Make Your Own
The game includes an 'item-maker' and a 'spell-maker'. The spell maker is an improved version of the one in Arena and with it you can design your own spells. The item maker allows you to create super weapons and other items. Souls from defeated enemies can be bound into a weapon giving it incredible power. Unfortunately the item-maker seems responsible for many of the bugs so it is worth treating warily.

People either seem to love or hate Daggerfall. Many find the number of bugs in the game inexcusable but others point to how quickly Bethesda have responded with patches. This does not help players without internet access although presumably they will appear on magazine cover disks. Fortunately, I have not come across one yet that has seriously affected my game play.

I am impressed with how much work Bethesda have put into this game and I am enjoying it immensely. I have already spent many hours (too many) playing it and I think I will spend many more. For me it contains all that I enjoy in a CRPG including excellent character creation, lots of exploration, an effective combat system, useful magic, a variety of monsters, interesting graphics and a useable automap. Other people will disagree with some, if not all, of these points.

A lot of the original plans for Daggerfall have been modified and left out. Perhaps they will appear in 'The Elder Scrolls 3'. However, this is the most satisfying game I have played in a long time. If you enjoy this type of game I think you will enjoy Daggerfall. It may be a flawed gem, but it is a gem nevertheless. rating:  

Copyright © Clint Mullins 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
(Minimum) DOS 6.0 or higher, 486 DX 66 or higher, 256 colour VGA card, PCI or local bus, 2xCD ROM (mpc level 2), 8 MB RAM, at least 50 MB hard drive space, Soundblaster/pro/16/awe32, Pro Audio Spectrum, Ensoniq Soundscape, Gravis. Microsoft 100% mouse, joystick optional. Installs in Win 95