Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance – Adventuring Together
Xbox One/Series, PS4/4, PC
*Editor’s note: We were lucky enough to receive four copies of the game for review purposes so we assigned one character to each member of the editorial team for comment and left the main review to Matt Hewson. You can watch the four of them playing the game here:
The Forgotten Realms, Icewind Dale, Baulder’s Gate, all Dungeons & Dragons locations and all names that are forever etched in the history of fantasy stories. Along with those names come a host of related media. Books, pen and paper games, comics and of course, video games. Some of those games have been fantastic, some have not, but there is no denying the effect that Dungeons and Dragons has had on gaming. So where does the latest title to bear the D&D name sit on the spectrum? Is it a solid mountain of Dwarven gold or is it a steaming pile of Dragon dung? Well, it all depends on how you play.
Dark Alliance is a spiritual successor to the classic Baulder’s Gate Dark Alliance games from the PS2/Xbox era. Those plucky little titles were well-loved by gamers for their solid RPG looter action and focus on co-op gameplay. This Dark Alliance, while not a sequel in any way, carries that torch forward, encouraging players to explore Icewind Dale as one of four classic D&D characters, loot everything the realm has to offer all the while doing so in the company of three friends.
It is when this ideal situation is in play, when you are sauntering towards the final goal in the company of fellow adventurers, that the magic happens. This is when the game is at its absolute best. All four characters have been built to complement the team dynamic, to fit as a cohesive unit. The levels encourage exploration as a team, cutting down on time-consuming gold hunts by splitting the duties among players. The enemies all seem to be not only easier to manage but more enjoyable to engage. This is how the developers want you to explore the dale, not on your own but with a band of merry warriors at your side. Everything about the game has been designed with this in mind, from the excellent netcode to the fact that you cannot equip gear mid-mission and slow the pace down for your playing partners. Fighting as a team is fast and entertaining with the only downside being it can be hard to keep focus with so much going on at any one time.
Those of you out there that tend towards solo adventuring need to be aware that the game isn’t at its best when you are on your own. Much like other co-op focused four-player titles, Dark Alliance doesn’t cater to the single-player exceptionally well. That isn’t to say there isn’t fun to be had, because there is, but it is a different type of fun. The challenge is significantly greater and the pace much slower, much more studied and careful in the way combat is approached. Each of the characters (explained in detail in our pictures – Editor) have been designed and implemented with teamplay in mind, so when they are on a solo mission, you can’t help but feel like something is missing. This only becomes apparent once you have sampled the joys of a four-player adventure, making it much harder to go back to playing on your own.
The combat for each character is based on a traditional light and heavy attack system, with directional inputs altering what each attack does. Couple this with dodging and parrying for defence, a couple of special moves and an ultimate attack and you have a robust, if a little unoriginal, combat system. The simplicity is clearly by design and should make it a great pick-up-and-play title while still providing enough depth for seasoned professionals. The difficulty systems are great as well. There are multiple difficulties to choose from at the start of each mission, the higher the difficulty, the better the loot but the catch is you only get to keep the loot if you can finish the mission. It is a wonderful system that should reward rookies and seasoned adventurers alike.
Graphically the game bounces between great and just competent. A lot of the levels tend to feel very similar at times, but they are broken up by some amazing vistas and stunning effects on occasion. The real stars of the graphics department are the world-class cutscenes, which are wonderfully animated and chock full of both humour and gravitas, depending on which mission you are undertaking. The story however is rather on the basic side and is a bit of a disappointment. Generic magical do-dad is calling out to baddies, goodies have to stop them. It is about as basic as things get and is a real missed opportunity to add some story-telling meat to the meal, especially with such a rich backlog of lore to explore.
With a game such as this, a game so heavily focused on having fun with friends, the player count can often be the biggest hurdle for developers. In this case, some of that worry has been taken away with the game smartly coming to Microsoft’s Gamepass service on day one. This essentially means that the problem of finding four friends with a copy of the game should be eliminated. Add to the fact that the game is crossplay between generations (we tested this between an Xbox One and an Xbox Series X) as well as between Xbox Consoles and PCs meaning prospective players should be sorted for adventuring buddies as soon as the game launches.
Dark Alliance is on one hand a solid if unremarkable single-player experience and on the other a fantastic and chaotic co-op adventure. Playing alone has its moments but true joy is found in the company of friends and this is where the game comes to life. If you are looking at jumping in, make sure you grab your buddies (which should be easy to do thanks to Gamepass) and put aside a few hours for some dungeon-crawling fun. If you can manage to sync your schedules I can safely say you will have a wonderful time.
Dark Alliance was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Koch Media Australia