When only the dagger falls

Going back to the biggest map in the history of videogames can feel pretty damning, but that feeling isn’t always evident. Morrowind started you out in a small village to make you feel a little less lost. While Arena thrusted you immediately in a big city. Daggerfall goes even further and tells you to choose any city to begin with, and then spreads out its giant map for you. Starting is a little heavy.

I’m a big fan of Arena, but I wanted to really see if Daggerfall was better than I remembered it. So I made up a barbarian character, and once I got out of the training dungeon, I decided I wanted to venture into a real dungeon!


I came out of the Privateer’s Hold during a snowy day. Just moving around a bit makes you feel how much better it looks compared to Arena. My first decision was “let’s head to the closest city, and without using fast travel”.


Well, it took me around 8 minutes of running to cover roughly one millimiter of map. But I made it! And to be fair, I didn’t have much to do. I could have taken up a few quests, but I really wanted to do some dungeoning by myself first. Especially because I remembered that the quests in Daggerfall often have a time limit.


So I once again set out, this time for the closest dungeon. It takes me another long while, and in the meantime, I got to see some nice night-time views. This really reminds me of Loom for some reason. I’m sure this sounds heretical. I won’t say it again, I swear.


Finally I reach the dungeon spot. There is a lot of tombs. At least in the Daggerfall region, many of the dungeons are graveyards. You have to wonder why the people bury their dead so far away from the cities. It must be a hard job for the carriers. But considering how many skeletons you find around, perhaps they are just wiser than us. I know some people who have graves in their garden! Don’t they think about the risks?


Oh boy, my first dungeon in the game. I’m so excited.


Well… that was disapponting. I killed a giant rat and a bat, picked up some 50 gold and a crappy weapon, and then it was done just like that. This was kind of an anticlimax.

One of the biggest problems in Arena was the dungeon design. Not that it was necessarily bad, but the random generator was very primitive: essentially, almost every dungeon would have exactly the same layout as the previous one. There were maybe 9 or 10 floor layouts the game would choose from. So after just a little while, all the dungeons floors would start to look the same. Daggerfall does away with it in favor of corridor layouts, which decreases the feeling of dejavu (note: it doesn’t quite remove it. Corridor pieces are still finite and recurring. My favorite but is the “Y-shaped corridor filled with water”); but it may also result in smaller and less exciting dungeons like this one.

Of course, I then proceeded to enter another dungeon, which was several times larger, and got lost in there quickly. The automap system is ridiculously bad, so good luck finding the way out again. At this point, you start to think that maybe games like Morrowind had a point in going for a smaller but more focused design. For now, let’s just pick up more quests and see how far I can take this barbarian. And hey, getting lost in a dungeon is still better than doing exactly the same investigation quest two times in a row, just with slightly different names and places. Don’t make me regret choosing you, Temple of Stendarr.

Just a very small section of the second dungeon. The automap will make you want to cry.
Just a very small section of the second dungeon. The automap will make you want to cry.

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