You know, I appreciate what Daggerfall and prequel Arena were trying to do. I appreciate that they were trying to deliver the massive, deep fantasy world that gamers always dreamed of, with a realistic scale to the environments, freedom to roam, and endless minutiae to mess with in terms of character abilities and quests. The problem is, it all comes back to gameplay, and on that count Daggerfall is mostly a nightmare of user-unfriendliness, clunky interface, and bugs galore.

Let's start with getting the game to run. It was not a negligible challenge back in 1996 on a Pentium 100 running actual DOS. In 2012 on any new flavor of Windows it's even worse. There's DOSBox, but this is one of those rare games that absolutely refuses to play nice with DOSBox at the default settings, so a bunch of tweaking and futzing is needed just to get it to a playable state. Fortunately some noble soul created a self-installing package of it with a pre-edited DOSBox all ready to go, see the links below for it.

Getting the game to load up doesn't end your problems, though. This is one of those old PC games where the manual was considered absolutely mandatory reading before you play the game, or you won't even know what you're doing in character creation. I mean, character creation has an astounding amount of classes and abilities and gods to pledge your life to ... but doesn't bother explaining what any of this stuff actually is or what exactly it does.

Get in the game and it pulls the same stunt as Arena - you're trapped in a fairly long and tough dungeon from the outset, this time sealed in a cave by a mudslide instead of in some random jail. Whereupon you may encounter the game's first vicious bug that doesn't have a 100% known fix - you simply cannot swing your weapon, or it only works once in a blue moon. It defaults to the right mouse button; as other people have found, mapping it to the left one makes it work most of the time. But even when it's working right, the swinging animations are so goddamned slow and cumbersome.

The first dungeon also doesn't waste time giving you a rude surprise - the third enemy you face is an Imp that is impervious to physical damage. Unless you rolled a spellcaster that actually has attack spells (many character builds don't have any), I don't even know what the hell you're supposed to do at this point. I just gave up, personally.

Too little to base a review on? I do have some memories of watching a bud in high school play this. Escape the initial dungeon and you're set loose in the procedurally generated world of Tamriel to pretty much do whatever. That's the good news. The bad news? The game's bizarro system of procedural generation applies to EVERYTHING EVERY TIME. It's completely insane. And the dungeons are insanely complex. You do get an auto-map, but the passages go over and under each other to make sure there's adequate confusion in reading it and figuring out where the hell you're going.

Ultimately the story of Daggerfall is "tons of shit, but not much to actually DO." Most of the game's vast space is simply empty. And because they focused more on size and huge scale than anything else, the towns and NPCs re-use a very limited number of assets and are just bland and boring. There's shit tons of dungeons, but they're all just your typical mazelike grind to dig up randomized loot. All those cool secondary abilities like conversational skills and thief skills? Yeah, of really limited use, as usual for a WRPG - you need to emphasize combat because 90% of the game is either hacking away at or flinging spells at something. Hell, you won't even survive the first dungeon unless you're some kind of a robust combat build with multiple battle abilities.

As with Arena, I think it was just too early in both technology and game design praxis in 1996 for this one to work. Apparently Morrowind was where it really all finally came together ... guess I'll find out here in a day or three. Anyway, this one is freeware, so it's not any investment to try it out, though I'm pretty sure it'll give you a headache before you're even out of the opening dungeon.
Links :
* Patched freeware installer - Makes playing on modern Windows much easier
Videos :