The world ‘dull’ isn’t something I throw around much at all when it comes to video games. Unless it’s a complete and utter mess of an experience that’s an overly buggy mess (hello, Cyberpunk), it’s not often you come across a game that just doesn’t inspire much in the way of excitement or colour. It’s a shame, then, that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance largely fits that description thanks to a strange lack of excitement despite the source material.
If you missed my review in progress, Wizards of the Coast and developers Tuque Games are behind the Dark Alliance revival, loosely based on the existing games in the action-adventure series published by Interplay and revolving around characters created by fantasy author R.A. Salvatore. Unfortunately, whatever world building and character development Salvatore’s work may have previously produced seems largely kept aside for some minor narrative beats and not a whole lot else.
A goblin here and a goblin there…
In fact, whatever story there may be in Dark Alliance, it’s incredibly minimal in scope unless you really do know your D&D lore. Granted that’s the target audience, but you really need to know Icewind Dale in and out to appreciate the little things, otherwise you’re largely going to be fighting your way through the usual assortment of goblins and trolls for a majority of your time and not much else. There’s a little bit of variety thanks to a few unique enemy types and a boss fight at the end of every act, but that’s about it.
Speaking of quests, there’s three acts per each main mission that can be chosen from your main hub. The hub itself acts as a chance to upgrade items, change your look (very, very slightly) and change up your equipment based on the loot you find out in the field. Each character has a set amount of tech trees and abilities that can be unlocked, though most of them don’t change all that much to your play style beyond whatever special ability you have available or any buffs and bonuses to your health, etc. Again, it’s all very by the book and within a few missions you’ll have almost everything unlocked.
Presentation wise, things aren’t all that much better. There’s a bit of colour here and there and the musical score is well made, plus there’s barely any issues framerate wise (as reviews on the Xbox Series X) so it’s at least crisp and loads quickly. However, the dev team needed at least a second or third pass of quality to buff things up to appropriate levels. Environments are simplistic and largely follow the same ‘rocks, lava, empty pit’ designs, whilst the characters themselves aren’t as magical or detailed as they could be.
It’s hard to recommend to anyone who wants to play this solo, but if you can find a group willing to give it a shot via Xbox Game Pass in particular then at least you won’t feel too guilty about giving it a go.
Each of the four characters feature a set number of abilities within their class type, your healer abilities and damage dealers and so on, but if you’re playing solo it could be a deal breaker as to who you decide to play as. Catti-Brie is arguably the most balanced of the four, an archer who can deal AOE damage from afar and has a handful of heal and revive options available to her. Despite the others being quick or heavy damage types, with the right setup you could do just as much damage with her as you could Wulfgar the barbarian.
The Darkest Alliance...
✔️A much better experience as a co-op campaign with up to 4 players.
✔️CGI cut scenes are well done, shame there aren’t more of them.
✔️Musical score is a highlight, along with a solid voice cast.
❌Sadly, most of the game is just bland and uninspiring.
❌Visuals and gameplay lack quality given the source material.
If you’re playing co-op, which is arguably the only saving grace for Dark Alliance, Catti-Brie again is a must for your chosen party, being able to revive ala Mercy from Overwatch and heal party members back to full. If you don’t, the other characters will more heavily rely on potions which you can also upgrade at your hub vendor, but you’ll be limited in amount and drinking them during battle can be awkward unless you pull all the way back (and allow the AI to very quickly forget you exist). It’s really Catti-Brie or bust, especially if you want to increase the difficulty and ensure the best loot without too much effort. When you do get into a fight, unleashing standard or heavy attacks won’t take much effort either, but you’ll be fighting to keep the camera where you need it (outside of locking on to a target) and some of your combos will have you either flying past an enemy or falling off a ledge if you’re not careful.
It’s all rather mindless button mashing, with a small handful of options allowing you to customize what your special abilities are or what buffs your weapons and armour may provide (be they extra ice or fire damage, etc.). There’s just so much of Dark Alliance that boggles the mind, not in terms of general bugs or issues (of which there are a small handful) but more the overall lack of polish. Given the financial backing of Wizards of the Coast, it feels like the development team still weren’t afforded the resources or time required to really drive home any part of it. From the basic combat, simplistic designs and a complete lack of any real, defining story, there’s nothing that makes it stand out or appeal beyond the brand name.
Whether Tuque Games can turn these unfortunate circumstances around with some extra content and important bug fixes is hard to say, because what’s here just doesn’t do the brand any sort of justice, and that’s a damn shame. When you do get into a fight, unleashing standard or heavy attacks won’t take much effort either, but you’ll be fighting to keep the camera where you need it (outside of locking on to a target) and some of your combos will have you either flying past an enemy or falling off a ledge if you’re not careful. It’s all rather mindless button mashing, with a small handful of options allowing you to customize what your special abilities are or what buffs your weapons and armour may provide (be they extra ice or fire damage, etc.)
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is dull, true, but it should be noted that as a co-op experience there’s still a little fun to be had. My party laughed aloud at the bugs and found satisfaction at finding every hidden collectible gem or tablet hidden amongst the barrels and traps. It’s hard to recommend to anyone who wants to play this solo, but if you can find a group willing to give it a shot via Xbox Game Pass in particular then at least you won’t feel too guilty about giving it a go. I really wish that wasn’t the only compliment I could give it, but here we are.
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.