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Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes (Xbox) artwork

Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes (Xbox) review

"Play this with a friend, or donít play it at all. Just donít be too surprised if youíre no longer friends come endgame."

Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes is hugely unapologetic about just how steeped it is in fantasy clichť. Thereís an evil wizard who terrorised everyone a millennia ago, only to be challenged by a rag-tag group of heroic archetypes. There was a big battle and everyone died, leaving the world without their quintet of protectors, but also sans evil warlord. This led to an era of peace; bunnies roamed free over grassy knolls and the happy, simple people arranged weekend Morris dancing events with ribbons every colour of the rainbow. Then, in an ill-advised bit of necromancy, an evil sect awoke the evil wizard and were somewhat surprised when they were effortlessly exterminated via evilness. Taking a short break from charity work and group hugs, the people, not keen on another lifetime of enslavement, did the same to the very group of heroes that once slew this generic villain.

This doesnít, however, lead to an all out war between super-powered zombies. Itís more what you would get if you took retro classic Gauntlet, right down to the option to have up to four players active on screen at any time, then beefed up the graphics and shoehorned in D&D stats and lore. Thereís hardly even a change from the original four characters: the fighter is a big burly guy with a huge sword and a brain the size of a pea, while the mage has the equivalent physical offence of a damp kitten, but can burn targets from afar with the power of her mind. The cleric is the worldís biggest dwarf, replete with ginger beard and hulking warhammer, who canít match blow-for-blow with the fighter, but has a useful cache of holy magic under his belt. The final member, the lithe halfling rogue, has weak but fluid twin daggers plus the ability to plough half a dozen arrows into anythingís arse before it realises sheís there.

Itís quite unashamedly Xbox Gauntlet, but, under the right circumstances, this is largely a good thing. The first stage awakes your warriors from their crypt, the brief run down of the more evil resurrection offered up by the two nerdy dwarfs responsible for bringing you back. Then you wander through a dank cave interior, slaughtering skeletons and giant venom-spitting spiders through a button-mashy hack and slash style or through tidy bolts of magic or hailstorms of arrows. On your own, itís tedious at best and redundant at worst, drowning the friendless player in a quagmire of repetitiveness that drones on endlessly. Become sociable, and Heroes transforms completely.

On your own, itís all too easy for your lone fighter to be mobbed by excessive numbers of warrior orcs whilst bowman and mages wallop them from afar, and the distance between an arrow-slinging halfling and a horde of undead marauders is quickly closed, leaving her soft frame open to rusted sword strokes. Combine the two, though, and the fighter provides an ample meatshield, soaking up the physical abuse while the rogue can mop up the edges from afar, or get in close without the threat of instant slaughter.

On your own, battling clockwork workers long gone mad inside the choked confines of a still functioning but long forgotten mine is suicide. Especially when the larger version set themselves on fire and come lumbering after you with a surprising turn of speed. When venom-spitting snakemen slither out from a verdant jungle, having a cleric handy with a heal status spell to back you up is a plus, as is the mageís ability to snap seeking magic bolts at pagan witches inside the razed courtyard of a recently gutted castle. Witches that have an annoying habit of vanishing whenever a melee combatant comes near, traceable only by the bloody footprints she leaves and the insane cackle she issues. As part of a team, it becomes less mindless and hopeful and more tactile and organised.

If the multiplayer was the gameís saving grace, itís the glee in which the game flaunts its Dungeons & Dragons license that solidifies it. Sword of Random Element +2ís are certainly nothing new, the usual fare of enchanted rings and magical helmets drop from the dead hands of your victims or turn up in the gameís main hub (which is, conveniently, a weaponís shop!), and the bevy of stats and buffs are all to be found. With level ups, you can whack up magic userís wisdom to give spells more kick, or help them regenerate mana quicker, invest in protection against the elements, or plough your efforts into mastering a particular weapon. As well as unlocking new spells, you can also purchase powerful finishing blows you can charge by chaining together attacks, letting you finish off combos with anything from a 360į spinning axe smash to a stealthy cartwheel out of danger, leaving only a highly explosive bomb in your place.

But itís the enemy forces that often shine the most, be them darting dark elf soldiers defending the citadel theyíve recently wiped clean of human life or skulking blood golems that patrol the later stages, leaving a snailís trail of gore in their wake. Huge skeletal berserkers roam cursed graveyards, summoning the buried dead back to life and exhaling noxious clouds of black death on whim. Outside the cannon fodder, before your recently resurrected even get their first glimpse of sunlight, they need to bypass an armour-bound cave beast whose iron-hard hide can only be pierced by tricking it to bull-rush full speed into the underground cavernís spear-like crystal formations. A senile and insane beholder promises to bleach your bones and display them as trophies inside a great circular room leading to a gaggle of portals, a destination initially braved by a rebel gang of halfing thieves. Youíll find very few of them left alive, but a lot of child-size corpses to loot.

Itís fitting, though, that all my best memories of my time with Heroes harken back to the fog-filled memories of Gauntlet. Between all the battles, the exploring and the hurried cries for assistance or healing, thereís loot to be found in mountains. Chests fill hidden alcoves and objects like vases and crates can be smashed open for piles of gold coins or vials of angry bees that can be lobbed at foes like a grenade. These treasures were never meant to be shared, and leaving your friend to battle huge armies of creeping goblins while you shameless loot, leaving your allies high and dry while you roll in wealth, is a hilariously relevant aspect of the game. Just donít be surprised when youíre trapped in a dilapidated church filled with blood-dribbling vampires that surge at you with unblockable speed while your playing partner is trying to open the important looking chest snuggled away in the corner.

Play this with a friend, or donít play it at all. Just donít be too surprised if youíre no longer friends come endgame.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (September 26, 2009)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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