Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance Review

Richard Walker

For whatever reason, I've never quite grasped the allure of Dungeons & Dragons. Not that I'm snooty about it or anything, but beyond watching the '80s animated series, the pull of a 20-sided die has never appealed, and it all ended up passing me by. Obviously, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is right up my street, then, what with its armies of goblins and trolls, podgy dwarven fellas, pointy-eared elves, wand-waving mages, and whatnot. Billed as a spiritual successor to 2001's Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, this particular version of Dark Alliance is an entirely different beast, dispensing with the traditional top-down ARPG perspective in favour of third-person hack-and-slash combat, and even a bit of platforming, it's best described as a dungeon brawler.


The gang's all here!

Unfolding across a range of rather linear three-act levels, Dark Alliance gives you a choice of four characters, covering the usual D&D archetypes, like strong-but-slow barbarian Wulfgar; swift, elven swashbuckler Drizzt; sharpshooting archer Cattie-brie; and burly dwarf Bruenor; each of whom have their own skill trees, attributes, weapons, and armour sets to upgrade. Of course, that means a raft of loot to gather, as well as resources to pour into upgrading armour pieces and weapons, or gold to hoard for the purchase of new moves and upgrades for your consumable items. Despite a glut of RPG elements, however, Dark Alliance can become something of a repetitious slog, an exercise in goblin-smashing monotony intermittently broken up by a spot of light puzzling or off-piste exploration.

The loot rewards, determined by the difficulty rank (out of a choice of six, determined by your power level) you opt for before each level, only succeeds in making things slightly more interesting, taking on more of a challenge resulting in better, higher-ranked items. 'Short Rest' checkpoints, meanwhile, offer up a risk/reward gamble – do you set up camp to replenish your health and supplies, or do you forgo the checkpoint and carry on in your current state, in exchange for the possibility of earning loot of an increased rarity? This is less of a dice-roll when playing with co-op friends (the game supports up to four players online), your allies able to revive you when you're brought down in battle - fail on your own, and it’s back to the beginning or the last checkpoint with you.

Dark Alliance has all of the key elements you'd expect from a third-person action game: a combo counter, dodge roll, parry mechanic, light and heavy attacks, special cooldown abilities, an ultimate ability you can unleash once you've filled the meter, and a camera that does its best to keep up with everything that's happening on-screen. The game’s lock-on system leaves a lot to be desired, the camera going in low and tight when you click the right stick to focus on a single target. And if you happen to be engaged in battle with multiple opponents, locking on can be detrimental, your view narrowed, directional damage indicators keeping track of the other enemies laying into you, but leaving you ill-equipped to do anything about them. You're almost better off swinging or slashing wildly, hoping for the best, looking to parry and counterattack at any given opportunity – Dark Alliance's combat system is solid enough on a rudimentary level, but it's lacking that extra layer of polish and flair that could have made it feel truly gratifying.


The primary issue with Dark Alliance isn't its combat mechanics, but rather the formulaic nature of each level, which uniformly comprises the same kind of objectives. Your main task involves making it from A to B, perhaps taking an alternate route to complete an optional objective, like collecting dwarven mugs, smashing cultist urns, or whatever. Optional objectives almost exclusively involve some sort of item-smashing or collectible, alongside an extra mini-boss to defeat. Then, each level ends in a boss encounter, and that's about the long and short of it. Predictably, it's the sort of game that's remarkably dull played alone, but infinitely more enjoyable when played in co-op with friends.

Fantastical environments also look nice enough, too, but once you've navigated another ancient ruin, dwarven crystal mine, or catacomb bristling with spiked floor traps, it all starts to wear a bit thin. It never really feels like you're strategising at any point, either, making Dark Alliance more an exercise in button-mashing than you'd perhaps want it to be – enemies are at times completely stupid, standing stationary to let you attack, or completely unmanageable, striking from every angle with extreme hostility, even at the lower difficulty levels. Consequently, the level of challenge seems uneven; a total breeze one minute, a complete and utter headache – as your chosen character is battered by elemental effects – the next.


Hagedorn the Beholder is a right prick.

Back at your basecamp of Kelvin's Cairn, you can equip your optimum loadout, purchase upgrades and alternate skins for your gear from Kartik the merchant, admire your trophies (end bosses you've vanquished), and rally your fellow adventurers. Dark Alliance is a comprehensive action RPG experience, even if its narrative is told in a somewhat anodyne way, and its gameplay fails to engender much in the way of real excitement, or, indeed, a compulsion to want to return and play it again and again. If you're well-versed in all things Dungeons & Dragons, maybe the selection of separate, three-act storylines and reams of collectible, deep lore will have you riveted, but if you're coming to Dark Alliance expecting a dose of accomplished hack 'n' slash action, you might come away disappointed.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

Boasting solid combat marred by a woolly lock-on system and repetitive objectives, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is, nonetheless, a mostly enjoyable hack 'n' slash adventure that's best played in co-op.

Form widget
55%
Audio
70%

Fittingly epic orchestral music with choral singing sets the scene for the game's grand scale and fantastical storyline. The character voice performances are decent, too.

Visuals
70%

Though the dungeons, temples and exterior locations across Icewind Dale grow a bit samey after a while, Dark Alliance looks at once pleasingly chunky and rather pretty.

Playability
60%

Developer Tuque Games has clearly put in the effort to make Dark Alliance a complex third-person hack 'n' slasher, but the result is unfortunately squandered through repetitive levels and an irritating lock-on camera.

Delivery
50%

What's on offer is generous, with an array of levels boasting three acts apiece, but there's a palpable sense of deja vu in the limited set of objectives the game presents you with. Go here, smash that, activate this, kill that - it's all very one-note.

Trophies
70%

A solid trophy list, comprising just the right amount of grind required for this sort of game, alongside a few milestones, and attainment of other feats like racking up massive combos or maxing out all four characters. Not bad.

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