The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall is the second in the Role Playing Game (RPG) series by Bethesda Softworks, the sequel to award-winning The Elder Scrolls: Arena released in 1993. Far more ambitious than its predecessor, Daggerfall is a first-person fantasy RPG set in the world of Tamriel, and a huge world it is. Although the area covered in the game is only the countries surrounding a single bay of the continent, this area is said to be larger than the total land area of Great Britain. Having walked, ridden, sailed, and flown over much of it, I have no reason whatever to doubt the claims of size. The sheer scale of the game is one of its remarkable features.
Then there is its complexity and flexibility. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of distinct locations, from tiny hamlets through forested hills and sun-baked deserts to large walled cities. Not to mention more dungeons, crypts, palaces, and fortresses than you can shake a broadsword at. The flexibility comes in being able to do pretty much what one wants to in all these locales.
The player has a tremendous choice of what to do in this complex environment, unlike many games where the player has to do everything linearly, at given times and in fixed sequences. There is a major quest: a special mission on behalf of the Emperor to learn why the ghost of Lysandus, last King of the country of Daggerfall, is haunting his capital by night, screaming for vengeance. The player's participation in this major quest is not required: the player may choose to follow any path or career in the vast, beautiful, and dangerous world. If the player chooses to investigate the court of Daggerfall, stories of madness, unrequited love, dark sorcery, seduction, betrayal, and a plot to recreate a powerful force from thousands of years past will be revealed. It will be up to the player to help the side that should wield such a power, for the fate of Daggerfall and the Empire of Tamriel hang in the balance.
But that's if the player decides to embark on the main quest. I've been playing the game off and on for several months (several years of game time), and have yet to begin the main quest, nor do I particularly feel the need to do so. There are Guilds to join such as the Mages' Guild, the Thieves' Guild, or the Assassins' Guild, and Knightly Orders each with their own set of ranks and privileges. It's even possible to join one of a dozen or so religious temples, each dedicated to a different deity. Each of these organizations requires the player to build his or her reputation and skills by undertaking training and performing quests .
The quests are many and varied, from dramatic "dungeon crawls" through some truly enormous and visually stunning edifices to bodyguarding, bounty hunting, and detective work. One of the guilds even offers extermination missions, where a house must be rid of an infestation of giant rats or vampire bats.
Of course, it requires a pretty heroic character to accomplish many of these quests, and another plus of Daggerfall is the character generation done at the beginning of a new game. You can choose from a number of races, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, including a lizard-like amphibian, a feline, and three Elven races, all of which come in male or female versions. In addition to many "stock" character types such as warriors, thieves, and mages, it is possible (and recommendable) to create your own character, selecting advantages and disadvantages which influence how well and how quickly the character will advance in which abilities throughout the game. This is an important function, because, unlike many or most other RPGs, advancement comes through exercising appropriate skills, rather than from merely hacking and slashing a given number of monsters. Thus, as a mage uses spells of, say, destruction or illusion, those skills improve, just as a warriors skills with long blade or bow improve when they are used.
It is also possible to become a vampire or a lycanthrope (either a wereboar or a werewolf), with the relevant advantages or disadvantages of these creatures, if infected with the conditions by foes of that ilk.
There is certainly no lack of variety in Daggerfall, nor is there a lack of things to do besides killing things (although if you choose to do so, there is an astonishing number of different types of monsters, humanoid and not, to test your blade or spells on). It is possible to own a house or ship, to converse with virtually every citizen of the many towns, to buy, sell, loot, and steal all sorts of weapons, armor, and other goods, and to be thrown in prison - or killed - by the town guards.
All of this takes place in a beautiful graphical environment, with excellent sound effects and music. Unfortunately, the world of Daggerfall has its dark side, too.
This game was keenly anticipated by many gamers, partly because of the immense popularity of its predecessor and partly because of the publicity Bethesda flooded the gaming world with. When it was finally released, prematurely in my opinion and that of many other gamers, many of the features that had been promised had been left out. This wouldn't have been such a big problem, since the features that were included add up to an addicting and highly replayable game, but the original version was tremendously buggy. So far, there have been something like eight patches released, in addition to a couple of utilities for fixing saved games corrupted by bugs that haven't been exterminated yet. On the many WWW sites devoted to Daggerfall, and on various mailing lists and forums, complaints were many and vehement. With the latest patch (v. 2.13), the complaints seem to be dying down, but Bethesda seems to have antagonized as many gamers as it enthralled.
Bugs and all, however, the intuitive interface, built-in screen capture utility, innovative character generation scheme and spell-maker, and above all the sheer scale and flexibility of the game make it well worth buying for anyone who enjoys role-playing games. It has spawned numerous web sites, some with Daggerfall-related stories by players, and is a serious candidate for the best computer RPG to date.
Without a wavetable General MIDI sound card, the music has been characterized as "tinny and frequently annoying". With a wavetable card the music is excellent.
I found the the 50 MB install to be almost unplayable with a 2x CD-ROM drive. The available install sizes range upwards to 450MB. With a medium-size install size it wasn't too bad, and with a 12x CD-ROM drive, I have no problems at all.
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