Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance is an action RPG complete with wonderfully written lore. Play solo or online with a party of up to three others, fending off the enemies in the Frozen North who seek to claim the crystal of Crenshinibon. While the game rightfully boasts an exceptional narrative, obtained through the myriad of collectables, it also hosts a plethora of shortcomings stunting the enjoyment of a classic action-packed RPG. What we have right now is a rich base full of potential should Tuque Games decide to add more content. My only hope is that the lore and character development is brought forward for players to enjoy alongside the action.
STORY – WONDERFUL LORE, WHY DIDN’T THEY USE IT?
Crenshinibon, an all-powerful and mysterious crystal, summons dark forces to band together, forming the Dark Alliance. You must select one of four heroes to venture out and stop these grim beings from taking the crystal. In the process, you will take back the Dale after it being ripped away from the proud and stubborn dwarves, push back the cretins that infest Wulfgar’s Reghed barbarian’s lands, and put a stop to Icewind, a fearsome, and vicious dragon seeking vengeance for her fallen lover.
Now, this is a summary based on findings after completing the game. Unfortunately, these great stories are rarely actively presented to the player, at any point. Dark Alliance relies heavily on the dialogue of characters and the enemies you encounter, plus your need to read, to unveil all of this narrative.
However, credit where it is due. The lore is fantastic, as it should be from a Dungeons & Dragons title. If you take the time to navigate each mission to find tablets and tomes, your journal will expand and allow for a plethora of well-written narrative to sink your teeth into. Not to mention, the voice acting really boosts the dialogue, throughout the entire game. Take a moment to sit idle and listen to anxious goblins chatter their worries and woes to one another, or Verbeegs list off their favourite ways to cook dwarves (the dwarves really got hit hard in this game).
If you want to check out the bios of the characters, the enemies you have fought, or historical reference of Ten-Towns, it’s all there. This is arguably the best part about this game. If you do like lore heavy content, and often make efforts to seek out all the collectables to learn the history and the lore to its fullest, you may well enjoy what Dark Alliance offers.
There is a lot to find and the level design is pretty decent. Multiple pathways often lead to hidden passages or a collection of enemies that hold the key to disarming traps. Doing all of this will open up doorways, or remove rubble to hidden tablets and tomes to complete your collection. There are also large plaques of art to gather throughout the game that depict historic battles or feats of renowned warriors, these little details were a joy to discover.
The biggest issue is that all of this history, including the playable character’s stories, are thrown aside in the wake of a hack and slash with randomly assorted cutscenes. Each of the playable characters has a great backstory, only really found in the bios from the journal. I was really interested in Wulfgar’s redemption path when reading his bio. But as the game progressed, nothing elaborated on that, save for the odd piece of dialogue he uttered. The same can be said with all four characters. They are mere husks that you control.
Additionally, it often felt as if a bridge was needed between gameplay and cutscenes. This culminated in a very Humpty Dumpty-like story, if he had never been put back together that is. It diminished the beautiful world that most of us yearned for and it is incredibly frustrating to see the lore laid out with no real execution. This is where it fails as an RPG ripe with potential. In the end, it is no more than a beautiful but boring hack and slash.
GAMEPLAY – CO-OP PLAY WORKS BEST, WHEN IT WORKS AT ALL
Online play is far superior to solo play. Combat, in particular, allows players to dish out team attacks when prompted, and higher difficulty tiers will force you to properly coordinate your assault in order to win the day. Catti-Brie, for example, is the ranged human fighter with support capabilities, whereas Wulfgar offers a brutal frontal smash with the hammer. You can use unique abilities from each character to either decimate your foes or aid your team in battle.
Unfortunately, the only negative about online play is the one problem that makes all of the good irrelevant. Online sessions are not stable from beginning to end. Rarely did I finish a mission with another player, even when matched with those of a similar level to my own (which was once in a blue moon). In one instance, I was unable to interact with objects such as gold, chests, or even crucial quest items like an explosive barrel to gain access into certain areas. I couldn’t use the teleport to proceed with the mission in this example here either, forcing me to abandon the run and leaving my newfound companion to fend on his own. Sorry, bud…
Solo play is slightly more consistent and without story-hampering glitches, in my experience. Encounters are incredibly repetitive, however, and controlling your character feels clunky at times. But, the progression is diverse enough that heading back to camp is a fun gear-me-up between missions. I predominantly used Wulfgar in my playthrough and thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with different abilities I bought with my well-earned coin along the way. Especially when fighting the grotesque Verbeeg one-on-one – they were a worthy match in strength! Elemental attributes on your weapon are a welcome addition too.
A number of these bugs, sadly, broke the immersion, online or offline. I have been tethered to a Verbeeg totem for an entire mission after I had killed said enemy, some slain foes ricochet wildly until their bodies disappear, and the worst instance is being silenced for an entire mission, and after. I noticed the debuff appear, as it does when nearing the dark grey crystal mounds. But once the battle was over, and I left the scene, the debuff persisted – even when leaving the mission and entering the camp. I had to exit the game and reboot it to rid the debuff. Not ideal.
Other small issues include the lack of being able to interact with ladders, coin pouches, tablets – all had their moments. Should you encounter any other bugs, be sure to submit a formal ticket to the team.
Countless enemies at every corner, stray arrows clipping and interrupting skills, you can see the game is made predominantly for a full party, or at least another adventurer by your side. This is fine, but some fine-tuning to online play is a must. Fingers crossed we see more of this down the line and, if we do, I for one would try another full run of the game as another character. In its current state, I honestly rushed a few missions just to get them out of the way.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – GORGEOUS SETTINGS, EPIC MUSIC
First and foremost, the soundtracks are aptly dramatic and haunting. Upon entering the camp for the first time, deep Nordic-like vocals chime in to let you know you are about to embark on an adventure of epic proportions. Throughout the missions, there is somewhat of a build-up to these intense riffs in boss battles. Backing the fight with the beholder was an ominous soundtrack that really resonated with my increasing death toll…
One soundtrack that really rings true in my mind is the final battle with Icewind, the fearsome dragon, hellbent on revenge for her lover’s death. This was a truly epic battle in which the arena and all the world around you becomes a blizzard. The vocals in this track added an intensity that, admittedly, had me immersed. A remarkable ending to the game and I am a sucker for a dragon fight!
Overall, the environments look wonderful and there is a huge influence from God of War regarding exploration and sound effects. Running around gorgeous settings to find big chests or multiple collectables had a similar feel to our revived Kratos. Dark Alliance does not hold the same level of polish, mind you, so this is not exactly a direct comparison, but it still works in the game’s favour. Some of the dwarven structures are also very reminiscent of the metalwork in God of War due to lighting effects, and the chant of victory when you find a particular artefact, gifting an attribute point, was almost identical to my recollection.
Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance was played and reviewed on PC via Xbox Game Pass.