Dungeons & Dragons, the long running fantasy role playing game, has certainly grown from strength to strength in recent years thanks to a massive resurgence in popularity. Whether it’s the highly popular Critical Role streamed series, being an important influence for popular shows such as Stranger Things or being the literal blueprint for Pixar’s Onward, D&D has never been more at the forefront of popular culture. Within video games, its influence is just as wide-reaching, with many popular Western RPG’s owing their concepts to the pen and paper legend.
Beyond RPG’s, the franchise has also branched out into the action-adventure category through the likes of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, an early 2000’s series that had less to do with traditional turn-based combat and more with hack and slash, Diablo style brawling. Years later, Tuque Games and Wizards of the Coast have returned to the Dark Alliance branding with a title that somewhat mimics the original Interplay published series, albeit with a modern sensibility and style. Sort of.
Ice to meet you...
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance sets itself within Icewind Dale and basis its narrative largely on the work of famed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore and his novelisation series, The Legend of Drizzt. Here, D&D fans were introduced to four key characters: Drizzt Do’Urden the Drow Ranger, Human fighter Catti-brie, Shield dwarf Bruenor Battlehammer and Wulfgar the Barbarian. All four are playable here and will be familiar to fans of Salvatore’s work, but for those who are new to them, they are put simply four different character classes each with their own pros and cons.
Wulfgar and Bruenor are more in your face brawlers, Drizzt is light on his feet and can zip around the battlefield with his dual knives, whilst Catti-brie attacks from afar with her bow and can also act as the party healer. Whether you play solo or as a team, you can choose to create more than one character to swap in and out if you wish, with each providing a unique experience. It’s a reasonable balance of character types too, though for a D&D campaign there’s some obviously disappointing classes that are (until they might show up in future DLC packs) missing in action. Another D&D game, another missed opportunity to play as a bad-ass Bard.
Like Diablo and Dark Alliance before it, you’ll have plenty of loot to discover as you slash your way through each level, chosen before-hand by the party leader before you jump in at your camp. Each level is a decent enough size and will take a fair amount of time to complete (especially if you choose to fight solo), with varying levels of difficulty to choose from. Whatever loot you do come across will be held until you complete the level at said camp, meaning any of the good stuff you find cannot be equipped during battle. That puts greater emphasis on ensuring you are levelled up correctly before heading into missions, especially if you want to avoid a quick death.
One thing Dark Alliance has going for it is its save point system. At certain parts of each level you’ll have an opportunity to take a short rest. Players can either choose to do so, saving their progress and restoring any health lost, or they can press on and increase the chance for high end loot instead. It’s an interesting but effective risk/reward system that plays into what it would be like to play D&D proper, especially knowing one team wipe can set you right back to the start of the level.
Press X To Plunder...
Battle mechanics themselves are basic in both concept and execution. No matter who you play as, you’ll have a light and heavy attack paired to your right bumper and right trigger respectively, with two special moves tied to the Y/Triangle and a super move that can be activated once ready by pressing down both sticks. It doesn’t take too much to master, both my Drizzt and Wulfgar can easily clear our weaker enemies by combining different moves into deadly combos, though activating the super move can be awkward in the middle of a fight and one of the special attacks requires you to hold down the Y button for a brief few seconds, again a little awkward mid brawl.
It’s unfortunate that the combat system has been paired with an awkward camera and lock-on system that’s more frustrating in execution than it should be for a hack and slash title. If you decide to attack from afar, specifically as Catti-brie, you’ll do best to lock the camera to an oncoming enemy to ensure your standard attacks hit, otherwise trying to move the camera to target an enemy can be a chore unless you go into the settings to increase the sensitivity, something I did almost straight away. Combined, everything plays surprisingly slower than it should, too. It feels like the action just needs a little something extra, a shot in the arm of adrenaline. It’s a genre that relies heavily on how fun the action is, and right now it just doesn’t quite feel like it’s there yet.
The same can be said for Dark Alliance’s presentation. There’s some nice cut scenes that explain the story in bite-sized portions, in-between a mix of basic environments with a splattering of colour here and there. There’s very little ‘pop’ visually, with the exception of the lava or fire that litters early quests, with most textures flat and somewhat lifeless. Given their importance, the characters are just as muddled too, with very little colour in their designs until you come across some decent loot.
I’m only a few acts into the story campaign, but there’s obvious technical bugs and a general lack of polish that’s holding Dark Alliance back so far. It’s definitely more fun as a co-op experience, though much of the enjoyment may come from the tech issues and being paired with the right kind of friends than anything the early few levels can provide. With some more time under the belt and a deeper dive into the harder difficulty settings, I’ll provide a more thorough review of Dark Alliance’s plot and end game activities. For now, if you’re on Xbox Game Pass (the game launches in July on PS4/PS5) and you’re a D&D aficionado, dig your heels in for a bumpy yet familiar ride.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a third-person action role-playing game published by Wizards of the Coast and developed by its subsidiary Tuque Games. Based on the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing system, the game is a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II.