In the dark old days of gaming, life was hard. All you could do was move some simple blocks around, hitting other blocks and letting your imagination run wild. As kids we fantasised about games that would take you to faraway lands. And then came Dungeons and Dragons – a game which was played with friends, with some dice, after studying handbooks and character sheets. In a way, it was the first multiplayer game, albeit without a console, screen, or controller. Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance is the latest to whisk us off to that universe many years later, using an old trademark but hoping to take a new group of adventurers to faraway lands and fantasy adventures. Does it succeed? Let us roll the dice and find out.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a game that is attacking both fronts by appealing to the avid franchise player base, but also attempts to attract new fans with its easy to pickup and slay gameplay and multiplayer fun. It’s helped further by a debut through Xbox Game Pass, giving new players looking for cooperative experiences something else to sink their teeth into.
For existing fans, the story is based on one of the Dungeons and Dragons novels ‘The Crystal Shard’. It tells a tale of four heroes who have been put together to battle a long-forgotten evil. For fans of the novel, they will delight in seeing the characters they’ve read on the page come to life in all their glory. Each character has a different playstyle and attributes too. The first, Drizzt Do-Urden, is a duellist and assassin. Which in layman’s terms means that he moves quickly and deals in heavy damage. Catti-Brie is an archer throwing down arrows from the back of the party, healing with a spell or two, whilst Wulfgar is a barbarian; a great tank character with high strength and constitution. Last but by no means least is Bruenor Battlehammer – a Dwarven fighter who again works the tank scene, dealing damage up close.
The story focuses on a shard that – like the one ring to rule them all – is causing an almighty scramble for everyone to get it. It’s a story I feel that I have seen and played a hundred times before and due to the nature of the gameplay – take in a level, upgrade, rest, then tackle it all again – it meant that I fast lost the thread and consistency of the narrative after the third level. However, there is some nice writing on display here and some nicely played out cutscenes to allow for further immersion. I especially liked hearing the conversations which would come out of the enemy swarms before you attack them, giving an insight into the main story. This could however be easily be missed if you’re not careful.
At its essence, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is about hacking and slashing your way across various maps. You start the campaign with a tutorial and are able to pick which character you want to be from those present. From there it’s all about going into battle with a light and a heavy attack depending on who you have chosen, whilst blocking and dashing out of the way of enemy attacks is par for the course. There are also special attacks that can be used, working within cool-down periods, along with powerful special moves which come about once you’ve filled up specific bars.
At the start of each level, you get to choose the level of difficulty you fancy, which in turn will determine how many experience points you get to level up and the number of treasure/gear drops along the journey. The higher the difficulty the higher the rewards. No matter how you have set things up though, as you journey through the level you realise very quickly that the gameplay follows a very similar format as you progress through, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Standard missions arise, stuff like “open the goblin gate’ or “collect explosives barrels”, along with some extra side missions to get your teeth into as well. You start out by meeting some grunts or weaker enemies in small groups; foes whom are easy to take out. After a fight like this, you’ll get an option to get a campfire going in order to rest or carry on with an extra reward. If you rest for thirty seconds all HP is restored and special attacks are noted as active again. You can choose to carry on and ignore the rest though, with the reward being a better quality of gear drop should success be found. At the end of each level is a big boss battle with a creature, a mammoth enemy, or a couple of huge foes working together.
Whenever any stage is complete you and your party head to a hub area; a marketplace campfire. Here you can look at the awards and statues you have received for killing bosses, but also more importantly collect your treasure and gear from the mission that has unfolded. It’s here where you can equip your gear, upgrade your weapons and armor by using crystals you gathered, but you can also unlock new abilities and skills at the camp, before heading off for more action.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance can be played as a solo experience, although doing this does see it become a bit grindy, particularly as you get about a third of the way through. It’s also at times that you’ll find any single player action becoming extremely tricky, especially in regards to some of the boss battles. Thanks to the online multiplayer though (local split-screen is apparently coming post-launch) the most D&D fun can be had. With a team behind you Dark Alliance is a blast, battling alongside a party using your different attributes to succeed on the mission front. It’s also in the multiplayer where you’ll find the energy to replay the missions in order to get the higher rewards and clear all the side missions.
Visually and Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance looks fine on the Xbox Series X with some nice backdrops, but it doesn’t feel like a true next-gen game. In fact, at times it can all feel a bit generic and a tad bland; cutscenes aside. The audio though is pretty good, all epic and dramatic which works perfectly within the context of the game. I thought the voice-over work was very well-performed; even funny at times, especially that of the goblins.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance doesn’t ever feel like it is doing anything particularly new and the whole setting, concept, and world just seems a bit tired at times. But that said you’ll have some decent fun here, particularly with the story, the hack and slash gameplay, and solid mechanics. If you find yourself playing alone, it might get a bit stale, but with friends behind you, you’ll have a great time.
Party up in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One