Daggerfall: Events Intervene (Dungeons and Combat)

(This is part of a series of entries on my simultaneous playthroughs of Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Last post’s here.)

Well, up until a few hours ago, I had been planning on writing an update on my playthrough of Daggerfall, talking about how I wasn’t happy with the dungeon-crawling, and how I’d been jumping through no small number of hoops to avoid it, preferring instead to use either city trainers, “overworld” quests, and various little tricks to get reputation and skill increases.

But then I finally decided to go into another dungeon, and found one full of human opponents for a change. After getting a full set of plate armor and an elven-steel daikatana—and, yes, you read that right—fighting through dungeons has gone from a frustrating ordeal to something almost as engaging as it was in Arena. Exploration is still difficult, mind, and the time/reward ratio for running dungeons instead of doing other styles of quests is still completely off if you’re trying to improve your standing with the various factions in Daggerfall. But I’m no longer dreading the thought of combat.

It does show that the early TES games did really have issues with their difficulty curve. That first dungeon in Daggerfall is brutal, and while the maps in Arena are infinitely more comprehensible, the first dungeon in Arena isn’t really much easier to fight through. Subsequent trips in Daggerfall weren’t much better, since low-level monsters are simultaneously surprisingly difficult, but drop practically nothing in the way of usable gear. It’s only a bit later that you start fighting monsters that feel worth it in the first place.

Sure, it makes sense. You aren’t expecting a rat to be carrying chainmail. Where would he put it? But that’s why Dungeons & Dragons had so many low-level “humanoids” like goblins and kobolds; those early challenges are more compelling when you feel like you’re getting something out of them. Even cheap weapons and armor are better than nothing at all.

Both Oblivion and Skyrim handled this far, far better. (Haven’t played Morrowind yet; that’s next.) Oblivion started off with the sequence with the Emperor which showed the stakes involved, before putting you in a relatively easy dungeon. Skyrim had its awesome cart ride, execution, and dragon attack  sequence before putting you in an equally easy dungeon, but this time with an NPC friend to help show you what you’re supposed to be doing and lead you to the first real quest hub. The difficulty and intensity ramps up smoothly, instead of dropping you in at the deep end and just DARING you to quit.

I may change my mind again about heading underground after having to deal with another absolutely enormous incomprehensible randomly-generated dungeon. Aside from the main quest, though, Daggerfall doesn’t really force you to do that. There are more than enough ways to improve your character that don’t involve stumbling through the dark, especially if you’re not above a bit of larceny or  some repetitive cycles of spellcasting and resting.

Right now, though, I’m enjoying it far more than I had expected.

Update: Well, that dungeon went smooth as silk. In and out, fast and clean, without the feeling of being lost and frustrated that I’d had every time before. Almost like running an Arena one again. Still a shame about that map, though.

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