Daggerfall

Daggerfall screenshot: Landscape.

What is it?
A first-person 3D RPG, second in The Elder Scrolls series, 1996, DOS/VGA.
What computer or emulator will it run on?
A Pentium or Pentium II. You'll probably get the best performance under Windows 9x.
Tags
3D, AWE32, Gravis Ultrasound, General MIDI.

The game of Daggerfall has been a first for me in two ways. Back in Summer 2002, when I heard of it first, I didn't have that many game pages, and they were usually about games I had played a lot and considered my favorites, like the City Builder Series or Fallout. Only exception was probably Doom, which I didn't like all that much, but I had played that, too. Then I read reviews and comments like these:

Freedom here's absolute, you can do LITTERALLY everything that passes in your mind, no limits about it. You want to borrow some money from the local bank? you can do it; you want to climb castle daggerfall's walls for no reason? you can do it; you want a house? you can BUY it (in the bank); HELL! you want a SHIP? you can buy THAT TOO, and this is not even a quarter of what you can do…libraries upon libraries full of books you can read, TONS of clothes that'll allow you to dress and undress your character like a Barbie if you want to…THOUSANDS of cities/ruins/graveyards to explore…in one word, this game's HUGE.—Elwood on The Keep (defunct)
Daggerfall is literally packed with fantasy RPG elements and features, in addition to a HUGE 3D gameworld that encompasses millions of square miles, including dungeons, ruins, snow-filled plains, and even underwater(!) areas. Unlike most RPGs which are quite linear, Daggerfall virtually lets you create your own RPG story. You can be a valiant paladin, traditional protector of virtues. Or be a dark elf mercenary, wandering from town to town on horseback, with your bow always at the ready. You can even become a carefree thief, making your living by stealing valuables from people's houses at night. Similar to Darklands, there is an overarching, uber plot you can follow to see the game's ending, but you can just as easily spend countless hours following literally hundreds of sub-quests in the game.—Home of the Underdogs

This really got me interested, and so I created this page without ever having laid hand on the game. Of course, at the same time I began to look out for a copy.

It wasn't easy. Not long before I got interested it had been available from most abandonware sites, despite of its huge size. But then Bethesda had requested them all to remove it. They themselves had ceased selling it long ago, and it was never popular enough to be easily available second hand. But after a while I got lucky and got involved in its huge world.

And this is where it became a first for me in another way: After some time, I deliberately stopped playing it for a while. I felt if I just went on I would end up doing nothing else. That's how involving this game can be.


Daggerfall screenshot: Room in a dungeon. You could see Daggerfall as the predecessor of MMORPGs like Ultima Online. I don't know if the quip Massive Singleplayer Offline Roleplaying Game was invented for Daggerfall, it would certainly fit. Most of all it gives you a huge world, unfortunately one that is rather uniform and repetitive, even if it has more than a thousand towns and villages.

There is a main quest, which you can take or refuse (if you are not careful, you might refuse it involuntarily), but it is not all that important. You can explore dungeons, roam aimlessly through the vast countryside, join guilds, join a temple (there are eight of them which are pretty much all the same), perform quests for nearly any NPC in the game, get rich, buy a ship (though it does not behave like a ship at all and is mainly a place to store things), buy a house.

I have made the experience that the games I love most are all what I call if only games. Sure, they are good, enjoyable, but they could be so much better if only…

Not only is Daggerfall no exception, it is actually the best example. Technically, it is not even a good game. This huge world not only lacks variance, it is illogical, inconsistent, and everywhere the game mechanics that should be hidden are plain to see.

An important aspect of gameplay are the randomly generated quests you can get from guilds, merchants, and nobles. They get repetitive quick, and the few that are actually interesting sub-stories are often buggy beyond playability. Dungeons quite obviously never served any purpose but being dungeons in a role-playing game. Travelling overland you only have the choice between walking/riding right through the countryside, which is beautiful but difficult because there are no roads and you will probably miss your destination, or fast travel, which deprives you of any random encounters and completely takes away any feeling of distance. You can climb over city walls right in front of the guards, but resting in town is regarded as a serious crime. The houses you can buy are practically useless—all you can do in them is rest and drop stuff on the floor,—and the ship, though useful, does not behave even remotely like a ship and is, unless you set your own rules, mainly an official cheat.

But despite it all, the game can keep you playing for hours, days, months. Why? I guess it is simply this fascination of living in a virtual world. It is the basic concept that, even if not executed well, makes this game unique and well worth playing.

Technical Stuff

First of all, you absolutely need to download and install the latest patch (v2.13). When first released, Daggerfall got the nickname Buggerfall, and it probably had a record number of patches. The latest one does not remove all the bugs, but it makes the game definitely palyable.

The game will run on PCs from a 486DX2/66 upwards. I have played it on a Pentium 120 to my satisfaction. It runs well under Windows 9x and may even perform better this way, due to the faster 32-bit drivers for harddisk access. However, the computer should not be faster than about 450MHz, or you will encounter some subtle but nasty bugs. Mainly climbing, crawling and swimming won't work any more, but you'll need the at least the latter to finish some quests.

Basically Daggerfall will run under XP, but it should not be located on a NTFS partition. In the light of the speed limit, this is probably a moot point anyway. Unfortunately, I could not get it to run in DOSBox either. So you'd best forget playing it on your main box and get a dedicated game machine. I think a Pentium II would be the best choice.

Daggerfall runs in plain VGA only, probably the last commercial game to do so. For sound and music, it supports a wide variety of soundcards, including Roland MT-32, General MIDI, and Gravis Ultrasound.

Similar Games

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The Longest Journey Wizardry 8 Shadow Warrior
Torrente Railroad Tycoon 3 Manhunt
Beyond Good and Evil Zetrix Playboy: The Mansion

Daggerfall is part of The Elder Scrolls trilogy, before it was Arena, six years later Morrowind. Both games are 3D RPGs like Daggerfall, and they are situated in the same universe. Then there are Battlespire and Redguard, situated in Tamriel too, but differing in gameplay: Battlespire is mainly action, and Redguard mainly adventure.

The Fallout games, especially Fallout 2, might appeal to you if you like Daggerfall. There is some of the freedom, though the gameworlds are not nearly as huge. In the discussions about the upcoming Fallout 3 I learned to my astonishment that many Fallout fans consider an Elder Scrolls game to be the exact opposite of a Fallout game. I can not share this opinion in any way and still think there are many similarities.

You might try the Ultima series, especially the later, graphically more advanced games, VI and above.

I tried Might and Magic VI, as I read it was similar to Daggerfall, but was hugely disappointed. Other 3D RPGs are Drakkhen and Betrayal at Krondor.

Though it is quite a different type of game, Daggerfall players might like The Sims.

Links

There used to be lots and lots of Daggerfall pages. Many are still up but have not been updated for years. Those that still are, were mostly located on m0use.net, a server that became extremely unreliable in summer 2003 and vanished for good later. By now they have found different hosts. This is just a very small selection, you will find a linklist as complete as I could manage on the Daggerfall Embassy.

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Last modified 2013-02-19