Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance
June 22, 2021
Platform PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S | X and PC
Editor Wizards of the coast
Developer Tuque games
There aren’t a lot of video games with Beholders. These nightmarish aberrations with their big eyes and tentacles are one of the most famous monsters in Dungeons and Dragons, even appearing as the monster on the cover of The Monster Manual 5th Edition, but few other games liked them, and where they did, they largely failed to capture their unmistakable insanity as effectively. Dark Alliance is a game with a Beholder, full of terror and darkness that such a creature should possess, just like the game itself.
It’s nearly impossible to bridge the gap between Dungeons and Dragons (or any other tabletop RPG, for that matter) and video games. What makes the dice and papers worth playing is the bewildering number of options. While each game is filled with rules, those in D&D pen and paper can be bent, exploited, and even discussed. On the other hand, video games have an unbreakable philosophy, a number of limited ways to play.
Dark Alliance does not try to emulate this. It doesn’t give you unlimited options and possibilities. It doesn’t give you the chance to get in and out of trouble. That doesn’t give you countless hours of debating whether the ban would also work on a creature swallowed by the target. Instead, it brings the world of Dungeons and Dragons, filled with decades of lore and world-building, to a hack and slash game.
When you choose your first character in Dark Alliance (because you can’t create your own), you are told their class, race, and alignment. It hardly has anything to do with the game: there’s actually no role-playing to do, but it’s there. And as you venture into the Dwarven Mounds on your first adventure, you’ll encounter Ice Dragons, Goblins, Stygian Demons, Duergar, and more. It’s more than just a Tolkien-style adventure or some other reimagining of Norse or Greek mythologies. Dark Alliance is the collective pool of hundreds of storytelling iterations and creature crafting, which makes it so much fun to explore. There are so many collectible pieces of knowledge to be developed about the region, the characters and the creatures of the country, and it unabashedly sounds like a high fantasy.
Beyond that is the fight. There is nothing else to do in Dark Alliance than explore and fight, so you will quickly get used to it. At first, you’ll have access to light and heavy attacks, a handful of abilities, and an ultimate as well. New moves can be purchased and unlocked between missions as you level up, although the game can be a bit more informative on how to do it. Despite this, there is a great variety in the fight from the start. And everything is perfectly balanced. The barbarian swings his hammer slowly, with long and deliberate animations before the weapon connects, forcing you to plan your assault carefully. On the other hand, the fast-footed drow cuts through the air like butter and can unleash a flurry in the blink of an eye, but should be aware of other attacks to come. Each of the four characters feels different, and their tools of the trade match that.
Unfortunately, while it can be great at times, combat in the Dark Alliance is too often frustrating. The in-game controls seem argumentative, sometimes rebellious as you try to save Icewind Dale from the forces of evil. Sometimes the attacks just don’t happen; other times, they go off several seconds later than expected. Combos can be broken by counterattacks, but your character will continue to attack from the air. Blocking and dodging sometimes fails for reasons you can’t begin to figure out in the middle of the fight, and even the locking system can be malicious.
This issue spreads to enemies as well, as enemies can target you in an impossible way, shattered shields are instantly restored in the middle of the suit, and AI can be difficult to understand in general. This becomes more evident during boss fights, where the damage sponges unleash pretty but incomprehensible attacks that leave you staggering. One example is the Garnn and Murdunn boss battle at the end of the Companions of Icewind Dale arc. One of those Duergar is a caster, while the other is a shield wall. The caster has many abilities, and while most of the difficult boss fights in hack and slash games can be overcome by learning attack patterns, this one looks intentionally obtuse. The caster can throw a volley of magical orbs at you, but the number of attacks before he needs to re-cast is seemingly random, with a variety between one and six in my opinion. Likewise, he can teleport behind you, dealing massive damage, and repeat the move as many times as he wants.
Other bosses are harder to master, but these two are the first times you’ll really notice the challenge. The best way to overcome this, and all other combat issues, is to play with friends. Alone, combat becomes tedious and boring when crowds rush you in and your controller decides to side with them. With friends, you don’t notice much because they can take some of the damage for you and save you from difficult situations. Dark Alliance was a game designed to be played with friends, and it seems the single player option was left almost more by accident than by design.
Outside of combat, you are free to explore the levels of Dark Alliance. The whole game is built around a hub, with select, mission, and jump in it. This way it looks a lot like Vermintide since you will also only be able to equip new items and upgrade yourself and your gear while you are at the hub. . And like Vermintide, there’s quite a bit of exploration going on in Dark Alliance although it looks like a fairly linear game at a glance.
The conception of the world is fantastic. Most levels start with a beautiful view or some other scenic vantage point from which you can gaze out. Chances are you can see most of the level this way and possibly spot a few treasures to be found along the way. None of the explorations and secrets are particularly surprising: you have hidden portals, breakable walls, platform sections, and a few trap puzzles to overcome. But there are more of them than you might think, and they really make it feel like there is a lot to explore, replay, and discover. On top of that, the short rest system is fantastic, asking you if you want to rest at a checkpoint or upgrade the loot you find in the future. It adds a nice amount of risk / reward to the game and even gives you a chance to chat with your party, just like a real D&D game.
Dark Alliance is a flawed game set in an incredible world. The fight has grains of brilliance layered under problems and frustrations. Most can be overlooked with friends, but that doesn’t really improve the experience; it just makes it less of an ordeal.
Revised on PC.
With a few friends, you can have fun exploring Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance without the need to roll the dice, but inconsistent combat and frustrating bosses make the experience harder than it should be, not to mention yourself.
- Perfectly weighted combat, with a lot of variety
- A fun world to explore, with many different enemies and locations
- Short rest system forces you to choose between risk and reward
- Sometimes the fight just doesn’t work out right
- Menus difficult to master
- Not at all pleasant on my own
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