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SummaryA massive, ambitious masterpiece that just missed 'perfect'.
The GoodDaggerfall is a massive, open game; anyone who has played it will tell you that. The land you can explore is twice the size of the UK, the dungeons are as of yet unrivaled in size in any other game, and the towns are pleasantly life-sized.
The premise of the game is that you can make your own adventure. In this, it succeeds; Daggerfall is the epitome of non-linear. This is obvious from the character generation, where you have the option to make your own class-- the class-making system is an amazingly fun part of the game which includes the options to add special advantages and disadvantages such as phobias, resistances, and specialties.
The non-linearity isn't just in the character generation process, however; it lasts throughout the game. There are a number of guilds to join-- assortments of temples and knightly orders that vary from country to country add to the normal selection of Thieves, Warriors, and Mages (and Assassins!) guilds-- each of which offer their own 'quests'. These quests are the building blocks of the game. They vary greatly, although about 45% are dungeon-hack quests.
The world around you feels alive, to a certain extent. The NPCs feel far from lifelike-- more on that in the downsides section-- but the intricacies and details of the world of Tamriel that the game is set in are a great help to the level of immersion. There are simulated weather effects, very rare for when the game was made, including snow and rain. When winter comes, the buildings, ground and trees are covered with snow.
The music is very good for the time, especially if you set up your sound the right way. Sound effects are decent; not impressive technicly speaking, but they work really well in-game. Monsters each have their own distinct sound, and when you hear something new in a dungeon, like a mummy's low, mourning cry or the horrific scream of a Lich, you're likely to be scared out of your wits. And if you are an arachaphobic, like me...
As for the game mechanics, they are generally excellent. The game does not use the typical 'experience points equals a level' system; instead, the skills you use are the ones that increase. This system is so much better then the normal one, it's really hard to explain. The spell system is interesting; you can buy default spells, or make new ones in the Mages Guild. This is not nearly as refined as in Morrowind, but it is still fun and interesting.
I could go on for a long time about how you can collect ingredients to make potions, enchant your own items, collect various pieces of the different armor the game offers, get a horse and/or cart, buy your own house, buy your own ship, etc, but that would make this review far too long. Instead, I'll move on the 'main quest'.
The main quest sneaks up on the player in the form of an innocent letter regarding the topics of the quest the Emperor sent you to this part of Tamriel for, which are explained to you in the introductory movie. From here, the quest branches into many directions. It's always more complex then you think, and in the end when you've figured it all out and solved both halves of the main quest, you'll have made your way through a spellbinding story of deception, intrigue, and betrayal. And the game doesn't end there-- you are welcome to continue exploring. Your adventure goes on for as long as you want.
The BadBugs! That is the main downside you'll hear about Daggerfall. Bugs. The game is pretty buggy even with the latest 2.13 patch, and even when you've learned to avoid things that bug the game. It is bearable, however.
Another bad thing is the NPCs. NPCs you see wandering around towns are not just cookie-cutter-NPCs-- they are generated on the spot, and they change when you enter the town again! The other NPCs you will meet that are important to quests or plots are static, but feel unlifelike. They are represented by a single pixilated picture that is occasionally animated, and they don't fight. Things that fight, you can't interact with. This is a big failure of the game and, in my opinion, its primary shortcoming.
Other issues include how many quests are hell to solve, because you have to hack through a dungeon that, as you'll swear up and down when you finally get out, spanned all of Tamriel underground. The game isn't balanced; it's painfully easy to use various exploits, and powergamers will soon tire of how pathetically easy everything becomes after 10th level.
There are so many little issues that pester the game. A totally bugged logbook is one of them; you can record about 5 things people said in conversations before it resets itself. Another is the Automap; it's a great idea, having a 3d Automap you can view from different angles and navigate easily, but it just doesn't work like it should, and it's barely any help in the nightmarishly maze-like dungeons you will oft encounter.