Dungeons and Dragons Dark Alliance is the spiritual continuation of the legendary Balder’s Gate series, in turn, based on the iconic fantasy tabletop role-playing game.
Balder’s Gate was one of the very first PC games that I played, shortly after building my first PC back in 1998. The game used the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition rules to mimic the mechanics of the paper RPG in digital form. I invested hours in the isometric RPG journeying through the meticulously recreated Forgotten Realms.
Skipping forward 23 years and nine games later we have Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance. The game fits into the canon of the tabletop game, going as far as to tie in with the 2020 Dungeons and Dragons module, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance is a third-person hack and slash RPG with some (very) light puzzle/exploration elements set in the D&D realm of Icewind Dale. It’s designed to be played online with up to three other players, but can also be played as an offline single-player game.
The game is set across six three-act missions, with a tutorial mission and an extra dungeon. Missions are unlocked once the conditions are met. Once each act has been completed once, they can be played again. This allows for some replay values as at the beginning of each act the difficulty can be selected, higher difficulties yielding better rewards. Players can also complete missions again with each of the four available characters.
Players can choose from a dark elf ranger, human fighter, human barbarian, or dwarf fighter. These are stock characters that allow for little in the way of customisation. It’s a complete mystery to me as to why they’ve omitted custom character creation. Also, solo play is exactly that, with no AI companions to help.
The game does look pretty good, especially on Xbox Series X. The lighting is nice and the character designs look really good. But the Character movement animations are awkward and they tend to float a few inches from the ground. As fun as I found the game to play, Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance comes across as unfinished. The essence is there, barring a few odd design choices, but generally, it’s an unrefined experience. I pity the CG artists that created the elaborate cut-scenes to a game that feels otherwise half-finished.
I found the game to play like an off-brand Warhammer: End Times- Vermintide. With the Vermintide games coming across as the winners. This is pretty ironic as Games Workshop’s Warhammer tabletop RPG was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons. Dark Alliance has an onerous heritage to uphold, one that it doesn’t quite succeed in living up to.
Little niggles like not being able to change equipment during a mission spoil the experience. Any cool gear must wait until you get back to the hub to equip. The trader, despite his suggestions, doesn’t seem to sell anything, he only upgrades the equipment that you already have.
The AI isn’t particularly good, either. During missions, enemies will stand around happily taking artillery damage until they keel over and meet their maker unless you stand right in front of them.
I foolishly switched to online mode during play. This placed the game in a perpetual, desperate but fruitless, search for a session to connect me to. The only way out was to quit to the title screen.
I found none of these issues to be a showstopper. The rough edges suggest that the game was rushed out the door without that last bit of polish.
Game mechanics aside, the levels are nicely designed making the exploration fun and the environments interesting enough to keep me engaged. The combat is a bit scrappy and imprecise, even for a game that’s really a button-masher, but enjoyable, enough. In the end, despite its faults, I had trouble putting the game down.
Without the weight of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise, Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance is a passable button-mashing RPG, it looks pretty good, with fun if uninspired gameplay and a few odd design choices. As a Dungeons and Dragons game, it’s a huge missed opportunity and one that the publisher, Wizards of the Coast, should reflect upon.
With the game being free to Xbox Game Pass subscribers, it’s worth a go, especially with friends.