Written by  :  Jacques Guy (55)
Written on  :  Aug 08, 2004

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Is that a pixel in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

The Good

The good reviews I've read of it. Glowing reviews, even. Now for the bad.

The Bad

Error 117. I wondered: is it because it is WinME-hostile? I wouldn't be surprised. I logged onto the Net, searched for "daggerfall error 117" and was rewarded with this hint: "Just keep reinstalling it until it works".

You shake your head in disbelief. This must be a sick joke. Oh, well, in for a penny, in for a pound. You reinstall. Error 117. Reinstall again. Wow, it works! Go figure.

A huge, open game, say the glowing reviews. Uh? You find yourself in a dark dungeon of little twisty passages (or are they twisty little passages, or ...?). Confronted with your first enemy, a giant rat, you frantically right-click your mouse while waving it about. That is supposed to get your sword cutting, thrusting or slashing. Yeah, like, once in a blue moon. So the rat gets ten bites at you while you barely manage one swing or thrust. RIP. Reload. Start again. Same story. Is that sword stone-deaf? It appears to be. The thing is known to be literally crawling in bugs, so you download the latest patch, and start afresh. Same sorry story. Sick of it, you look for a cheat, a trainer, whatnot. Got it! Just add "cheatmode 1" to the z.cfg file and Ctrl-F4 gets you into god mode. Nice. So you start again. Giant rat. Try to wield sword. Sword still deaf to your frantic mouse clicking and waving. But never mind, you're invulnerable now and after minutes of waving that mouse about like a fool, you eventually kill that rat, and off you are, on your quest to finding the exit to that miserable claustrophobic hell hole. More boring encounters, more stupid mouse waving at your stone-deaf weapons. Oh... a pox on it all, and you keep hitting "+" until, thanks to cheat mode, all your skills are maxed out to 100%. Is it my imagination? I thought my weapon, then, became more responsive to my mouse-waving.

I spent hours looking for an exit. Sick of it, I downloaded a walkthrough. Equipped with this new knowledge, I knew that, next to that throne (big name for a squarish joke of an armchair), there was a lever I just had to pull, and the platform of the throne (sic) goes up and there you are, almost. So you pull the lever and the platform goes up... leaving you down. Oh... you've got to climb onto it. Pull the lever again, bring the platform back down. Now... how do you get onto the wretched platform? Walking onto it won't work. So you try running and jumping. Missed. Looks like "jump" is only good for an Olympic five-inch jump. Back up, try again. Fail. Back up to try once more. Uh? Can't move? How about turning left? Stuck. Right? Stuck. Try as you may, you are stuck. Was that a feature, or another bug? Thank God for the "escape" key! Hit escape, exit, start again. Eventually, you make it out of this dismal dungeon, to find yourself in a deserted countryside with snow falling. Where to go? I picked west and soon met... what seemed to be someone in the distance, in heavy winter clothes. Makes sense, doesn't it? So I walked up to him (her? it? it did look like a giant mushroom...) only to see a pixellated mess, quite as bad as in the very earliest version of Ultima Underworld. Nothing recognizable. And nothing new there: the "lever" near the "throne" was also completely unrecognizable. You had to look for it, knowing it was there, knowing it was a lever. But back to our mysterious person, or mushroom, who knows? When I walked around it to take a look from different angles it was the same pixellated mess. So I walked up real close, and... I walked through it! Never mind, keep on trudging west, o, intrepid adventurer! Mayhap thou shalt chance upon something of interest. Oh, I just heard a flappity-flap-flap... ah, that's a giant bat all right. They were such pests in the dungeon, but here, you almost feel relieved at having found something recognizable. Dispatch it in two blows of your sword (without god mode and all my skills maxed out to 100% I dread to think how long this THRILLING encounter would have taken, and how many hit points it would have cost me). What now? Continue west, why not? I must have trekked west for two days of game time (judging from the light). It was no skin off my nose, really, since I just ran on and on and on, not even bothering to dodge trees, bushes, rocks: no need, you just whiz through them! Eventually I found a hostile centaur. How thrilling. Slay him! Keep on west... on and on and on... vast expanses of snow now with only mountains in the distance, covered in forests. Wow! A grizzly bear! Slash, thrust, dead. Keep on going.... I must have trudged on for days, and those mountains in the distance did not get one inch closer. If your idea of gaming is to hold your left forefinger on "P" (for "run") and your right forefinger on the up arrow (for "forward")... it's not mine, so I reloaded, and this time waited for dawn. Oh no, you can't rest "there are enemies nearby". Uh? Where? So you have to go around in circles, looking for enemies. Oh, there he is, looks like an archer. Slish, slash, all gone, enemy. Ah, it was a bard. Now for a bit of shut-eye... CRASH! By then I had wasted so much time on this game that an hour more, or two, was nothing. Reload... (*sigh*). This time I went around in ever widening circles. Still nothing, nowhere. Time to have a peek at the walkthrough:

"In one to three weeks after you surface from Privateer's Hold, you receive a letter--provided you are in town."

Provided I am in town? Where is town? I have been combing that wilderness for days, east, west, north, south, and no town has ever appeared. When in such dire straights, do what every computer user does, when hopelessly cornered: read the manual. And there, there you find the Magic Key (tm): "W". Just press "W" (for world map, presumably). Wow! I wish the makers of Fallout had thought of that. In Fallout, when you leave a town you find yourself automatically in world-map mode. How dumb. Having to leaf through the manual for some Magic Key (tm) would have added sooooo much to the gameplay of Fallout, wouldn't it?

Seriously now. Navigating the world map, I soon spotted Daggerfall town and I had myself whizzed there. And there and then, I discovered the true purpose of my adventure. The citizens of Daggerfall are seriously missing in the pixel department, all the more of a pity because about half of them are buxom wenches, many with a libido-boggling cleavage. But, each being allowed just five or six pixels per ... er... eye, the scenery leaves quite a lot to be desired, as it were. So the purpose of the game is clear: an Evil Wizard (tm) has stolen most of the pixels of the Realm. Your mission, should you accept it, is to slay him and return the missing pixels to Emperor Uriel Octopus (Octopus? perhaps I am one ahead--er... afoot). This brilliant flash of intuition exhausted me. I needed a nap. Clicked on the campfire icon. Was informed that sleeping inside or near a town was illegal. Oh, yes, fair enough, the rule dates back from good old SSI Pool of Radiance. Fair enough. But what's this? Three knights setting upon me, swords drawn? Come on, gentlemen, I'll go quietly. But no way, they won't listen to reason or humble pleading. Oh well, being in god mode, what do I care? Slish slash, slish slash, there they go. A fourth one turns up? Slish slash, poor fellow. Still... reload and be a good boy, find an inn to rest. Knowing, from the walkthrough, that I would have to sit around twiddling my thumbs for quite a while, I booked in for 10 days, at a cost of 30 gold pieces. Still, I felt that, given that eyesore of a pixel-challenged innkeeper, HE should have paid me 300 gold to stay in his flea-pit. Then I lost interest.

Now what sort of a game is that? The graphics are so hideously pixellated that you hardly ever know what you are looking at. And Daggerfall came out four years, four years, yes, after Ultima Underworld. I thought I was back in the days of Leisure Suit Larry and Zack MacKraken. This is ridiculous. Fighting is a preposterous, frenzied waving about of your mouse, right-clicking away like a madman in the faint hope that that will move your weapon an inch, two with a bit of luck. Moving backwards is like wading through a pool of treacle. Jumping is like having balls on chains weighing you down. What gameplay is salvageable from this sorry mess? The "open" play? Play what? At being a highwayman robbing heavily pixellated travellers? A ladies' darling wooing hideously pixellated tavern wenches? An errand boy roaming yuckily pixellated dungeons in search of unrecognizably pixellated artifacts for some pot-bellied pixellated merchants? How thrilling.

Oh, solving the quest? Well, then, spare me those stupid encounters with stupid beasties, fought with stupid weapons that refuse to move when you mouse them about, spare me those hideously pixellated graphics, and let's have an old text adventure instead. How about "Colossal Cave", uh?

The Bottom Line

I have seen Arcatera described as an "insult to gamers' intelligence". Daggerfall qualifies, too.