Published on August 11th, 2021 | by Joseph Saulnier0
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance (not Baldur’s Gate) takes place in the Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore. Set during the first book, The Crystal Shard, you’d imagine that the lush world that is brought to the page by Salvatore would just be fodder for a decent story and game. But no, you won’t find any of that here. With a lackluster story and subpar controls/design, you’re better off looking elsewhere for your fantasy fix.
Full disclosure before we continue. A copy of the game on Steam was provided to me for free, for the purposes of this review. This did not affect the outcome of my review, as you may well see. Read on.
There are four characters you can play in Dark Alliance, all heroes from the aforementioned book: the dwarf Bruenor Battlehammer, his adopted children Wulfgar and Catti-Brie, and the drow elf Drizzt Do-Urden. But for all that matters, they might as well be nameless characters with the presence they have in the story. Most of the cutscenes included look fantastic, but they mostly focused on enemies doing what enemies do. There are occasional snippets of dialogue between the characters as you are actually playing in co-op, but they really missed out on the chance to include a lot about the back-story set up in Salvatore’s framework. It feels wasteful to base a game on a commodity with such rich lore and background, but having done nothing with it.
You start the game by choosing your preferred character, each with its own moves and style. My recommendation is to stick with the only ranged character available: Catti-Brie. It’s really not an enjoyable experience, but it is far more bearable than the banal melee combat in the game. Each character will gain levels as you progress through your quests, earning you attribute points or feat points. Leveling up also gets you new combat moves and feats.
The overall visual experience of Dark Alliance turned out to be better than expected, but that’s still not saying a ton. The scenery in each level looks great but also feels terribly commutable from a design POV. Locations change, environments feel different, but the structure and progression become monotonous after a while. Run to this marker, collect an item, run to another marker, drop an item to activate the thing, run to the next marker, rinse, repeat, and exfoliate. Or at least until you get to the levels BBEG (mini BBEG?), who is basically an enemy like you’ve already faced but with more health, and sometimes they attack faster. Everything just feels humdrum. Unexciting. There is some exploring to do, with some gold and chests to be found, but the loot is subpar and usually something you just end up scrapping. Those levels with puzzles leading to looting and point-granting statues seem contrarian to the focus of a D&D game, which is usually co-op. Problems will especially arise if you end up in a lobby with people you don’t know, and you want to go exploring and they don’t (or vice versa).
The mini-encounters in the levels offer a complicated and deeply flawed system of resupplying. Once some objectives are completed, like clearing an area, a campfire will appear offering you an option: rest, creating a checkpoint and refilling your potions, or gain a loot bonus. The biggest issue here is one person decides. The first person to roll up and choose makes that decision for the entire party. If rest is chosen, then you all have to wait for the rest period to end. Checkpoints are where you will appear if you respawn; if no checkpoints were made, you respawn at the beginning of the level. A very weird phenomenon that I experienced, and it looks like others have to, is that all players warp to the spawn point when the host of the lobby dies and respawns. I found that others have experienced the same, let’s hope it gets patched (if not already by the time of this publication).
The game’s focus is on combat, presumably close quarters is what they really wanted as 3 of 4 characters are melee-focused. But the combat itself is shoddy. Endless button-mashing is the name of the game with unlockable moves that are inconvenient, at best, to perform. It almost felt like I was playing a fighting game with the button combos I needed to press; however, slow-to-respond controls made it easier to just mash on the two attacks: light and heavy. The camera isn’t any help. Centered on your character’s back makes attacking enemies around you a bit awkward. You can lock on to enemies, which helps, but once you lock in the camera zooms in closer reducing your situational awareness of other enemies around you, which there often is.
The game is plagued with technical issues as well. I’ve seen skills not working as they should and items that should be able to be picked up but cannot be. The steam system to invite other players to your lobby is shoddy and wouldn’t work at times. As a result, sometimes you are unable to complete the quests/levels you are on. Kill the boss, but the end scene doesn’t trigger. Then you have to return to camp, with none of the spoils you just gained. Also, why the heck can’t you equip items that you find in-level. You have to wait until you’re back at camp to do so. I once had a boss whose health bar was brought to zero, but the guy just would not die.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance feels more to me like alpha or an early access game at this time. The game feels lifeless and uninteresting. Fans of the D&D will find nothing that even reasonably resembles the franchise other than names and locations. The game is a blundering mess that doesn’t seem to be able to gain its footing. Although it’s pretty, we all know looks don’t count for everything.
1 out 5 stars