Putting Dungeons & Dragons on a video game is typically a good way to get a certain set of people to check it out, myself included. The mouthful of a title, Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation, is a 2017 release from BKOM Studios. This is a turn based strategy game based upon the board game of the same name. The board game is in turn based off the original Dungeons & Dragons (hereafter, D&D) adventure module Tomb of Horrors.
Game-play consists primarily of crawling through a randomly generated dungeon with 1-4 characters. These “dungeons” are often outdoor areas, but work functionally the same as those underground. All of the playable characters are existing notables from other D&D novels or games: Artus Cimber the ranger, Asharra the wizard, Birdsong the bard, and Dragonbait the paladin. A fifth character Qawasha the druid is available for purchase as additional content.
The campaign takes place in the D&D Forgotten Realms jungle of Chult, though there is no real introduction other than the text shown in the image above for the first mission. There are 12 main quests, which is not a spoiler as you can see the main mission locations when starting the campaign. Of course the actual quest information is hidden until you have unlocked them. There are also 20 side quests, the smaller circles on the map above, which are unlocked as you finish the main campaign missions.
A brief tutorial explains the basic mechanics of the game. While replaying the game for writing this review, the tutorial had an issue, a couple of times, where it got stuck. I had to force close the game to get out of it.
Anyhow, the main game consists of walking to the edge of a map location, or tile to use the parlance of the board game, to find a new random tile. On each new tile there may be monsters, treasure chests, traps, treasure chests behind puzzles, or quest-specific locations. So, in true D&D fashion, your heroes hack and slash their way through various monsters, collecting items as they go.
Random events can also occur that have a negative impact 75% of the time. Depending upon a game option, that you can choose to switch off from the main campaign map, these events either happen every turn a new area is not explored or only when exploring new tiles. The latter option is much easier and has no other impact on the game.
The progression system in the game feels a bit weird for D&D. Your characters do not level up. Instead, you can craft better gear for them to improve their stats. When you finish a quest, you get a random assortment of crafting materials for these upgrades. An in-game currency cost is also associated with upgrading to higher quality items, so you need to collect that as well.
Aside from a main set of equipment that can be upgraded through crafting, characters also have a limited set of slots for usable items that you find while exploring on missions. These are things like healing potions or stat bonus items – an example being one that gives you +1 bonus damage until you miss an attack. If you find an item and do not have room then the game will let you melt one item down for more crafting materials.
You, the player, have a level instead of the characters. You get experience from killing monsters and completing quests. When you do level up, you get another chest containing crafting materials. With the drop rates in the game you would need to repeatedly run through missions on the hardest difficulty setting to craft the best gear for each character… Which I did for the silly achievement on Steam.
As far as the music goes, I think that there may only be two tracks in the game. The one that plays for almost every map isn’t bad, but it feels like there should have been a little more variety. The art is also solid, as you might expect from a game by a decent-sized development studio.
As far as time to beat the game goes, it really depends whether you are just trying to beat it once on normal or clear horrific mode. If you play on the more friendly Explorer setting, you can probably beat the game on normal difficulty in about 8 hours. I should note that one of the Steam achievements requires grinding gold, the in-game currency, to an extreme amount. I got all characters upgraded to the best gear and still had lots of work left if I wanted to finish it.
For replaying missions on Hard or Horrific settings, the monster stats are just set slightly higher, with a corresponding slightly higher tier crafting materials as a reward. I did not notice any difference in the story that I noticed; it’s just playing through the same game 3 times.
Having never played either physical version of the game my opinions on the video game are entirely based on its own merits (or lack thereof), and, I would not recommend picking this game up unless it was massively on sale. Overall, I give it a “D+/C-” or 4/10 stars.
I do applaud the attempt at translating a board game to a new medium. Perhaps some of the issues were from trying to be overly faithful to what may be a fun board game — just one whose game mechanics don’t translate as well to a video game. (I will add a review of the board game if I ever get the chance to play it). I really wanted to like this game, but several things about it put me off.
First off, for a game that you have to pay for, a lot of elements seem to have been copied from mobile monetization strategies. The game released with multiple “downloadable content” (or “DLC”) packages, where you can pay to get a top tier item for one of the characters (plus some gold and crafting material). The developers made the game so a lot of repetitive play is needed to get better loot — and then offer to let you pay to skip some of that grind for upgrades. I also did not care for the way the fifth character was put into the main game. Clicking on him opens up a pop-up to his DLC page on Steam, essentially prompting you to buy him.
Outside of the obvious attempts to get more money from players, the game also lacked a lot of the elements that make D&D enjoyable. It has no elements of role-playing or decision-making that impact the plot. The story does not feel very compelling and seems to take a back seat to the mechanical aspects of the gameplay. Granted, the dynamically building dungeons are technically impressive, but they’re all the game has going for it.
In my opinion this could have been a good game if a little more work had been put into it. It has no voice-overs, minimal cut scenes, and no real personality to the characters — they just feel like a pile of stats you pilot around the map. For the money, a lot better D&D-themed video games are available ( I will come back and add some links to them here, once I write reviews for them).
Again, I do not recommend this title, unless you feel compelled to play everything branded with D&D. The board game version is probably more fun, since you would be playing it with actual friends. If you do still wish to pick up this game then, you can find it on Steam here.