Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance review

By Tom West,
Tuque Games had quite the task ahead of them when it came to impressing me with Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. Not because I’m worthy of that level of impression, but because of my deep-rooted love of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books and, more precisely, Drizzt Do’Urden. I started reading about Drizzt’s adventures when I was a young impressionable teenager, and it was at this same time that I was finding my feet in this world, going through some unsavoury life experiences, and needing all of the positive role models I could find. Drizzt was one of the two men that would shape me into who you see today — my father being the other important influence — he’s the reason I always play a Ranger archetype in games, helped me nurture my love of nature, but most importantly, taught me that other people’s perception of who you should or shouldn’t be doesn't need to be your reality. I owe a great deal of my character to my Drow friend, and the lessons I learned from Drizzt’s adventures with his companions will stay with me for the rest of my life — no pressure at all Tuque Games.

I booted up Dark Alliance with excited anticipation at what was about to flaunt itself before my eyes, and I can say without a doubt that the first impression was surely a good one. The beginning intro cinematic is a thing of beauty, a well-choreographed mix of fighting finesse and dance that perfectly introduces each of the four characters: Drizzt Do’Urden, Catti-brie, Wulfgar, and Bruenor Battlehammer. As first impressions go, Tuque Games had come out swinging and smashed each of the right boxes, although also setting a new standard of what I would expect from the game. Dark Alliance takes us to Kelvin’s Cairn in the frozen landscape of Icewind Dale after the companions defeated Akar Kessel's army and tore down the Crystal Tower. Now, creatures from all over the land are searching for Crenshinibon, the missing Crystal Shard. We need to fight these monsters back in an attempt to save the Dale and quite possibly the world.

dungeons & dragons dark alliance review

Upon entering the game’s main menu, we get to choose which companion we want to play as — I naturally went for Drizzt, but swapping between characters is very simple if you want to switch over to someone new, which you will need to do because the achievement list requires you to unlock all moves and abilities with each of the four companions. This won’t be a quick completion by any means, so expect quite a grind if you’re jumping in. Once you’ve picked your character, you load straight into your basecamp at Kelvin’s Cairn. This camp offers you a reprieve from your adventures, much like the camp in the Vermintide titles. There’s a section for your trophies so you can admire the bosses you’ve defeated, use the large chest to pick up any loot you’ve earned from the missions, and speak to Regis’ merchant — Regis doesn’t make an appearance, unfortunately — to upgrade your consumables, gear, and sell your junk loot. You can also use the world map to pick a mission and then head over to the portal to travel into your chosen destination. Your basecamp is the only place you can use to apply skill points, sort through all of your gear, and generally maintain your character. It’s also the place to join multiplayer lobbies either through Quick Match or setting your own as publicly joinable. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any lobbies to join due to playing before release, so I can’t comment on that side of the game, but I can confirm that even playing alone is a fantastic experience that offers challenging gameplay for those that prefer to seek it out.

Once you’re ready to head out and experience the adventures Icewind Dale has to offer, you can use the world map in the camp to choose your mission. The training area gives you a run of your basic manoeuvres: light attacks, fierce attacks, ultimates, blocking, parrying, movement, and using potions. It’s a quick outline of what you’ll need to use to survive once you’ve left the safety of your basecamp. Each mission focuses on a different enemy type, with four missions to complete, plus three dungeons to run through that offer players a bigger challenge. Each mission/dungeon consists of three acts, the last of each being a boss to fight — if you’ve played games like World War Z, then this format will be familiar to you. You’ll need to work your way through the missions before you can access the dungeons, and your progress carries between your characters. Upon choosing where you want to head, you’re given a list of six difficulties to choose from, which depend on your character's overall rating, much like Destiny’s light level system. This is where the game shows its colours as a multiplayer-focused experience, and it gets hard… quick! I was sailing through the game on challenge rating two quite easily once I started the last mission, so in my wisdom, I thought it best to up the rating by one to see what was what. Well, the ass-whooping that was waiting for me on the other side of the portal was nothing less than an embarrassment. I’m not ashamed to admit that I backed out and lowered the difficulty again, ready to hop back through the portal completely spineless but content in the knowledge that I could proceed. It was an important lesson to learn — the white letters that tell you that you’ll be fine tackling that challenge tier is for when you’re part of a group.

dungeons & dragons dark alliance review

Not to fear, Dark Alliance can be played solo for those of you that would prefer it that way, it’ll just take a little longer. There’s a multitude of ways to advance your character, the most simple of which is your attributes that can be used to increase your characters base stats. You’ll unlock an attribute point each time your character levels up or if you complete various puzzles found within the missions. Other ways to increase your character's rating is to buy new combat moves with gold, use level-up earned tokens to unlock Feats (passives), and find new gear to upgrade, which of course, can only be obtained from missions and dungeons. There are gear sets to obtain, which offer bonuses at three, five, and eight pieces worn, coming in five colour rarities. The most important stat on your items, in my opinion, is the item level rating. The higher the item level rating, the higher the stats on the item increase — mix that with item upgrades, and you can really boost your stats pretty quickly. Item upgrading only affects the stats associated with the item and can be done by chatting with your old pal, the merchant, back at basecamp. To upgrade an item, you’ll need to have coloured crystals that match the item's rarity colour — white, green, blue, purple, gold — which are simple enough to collect when adventuring or by trading in other coloured crystals. There’s quite a bit to learn once you start playing, but it all starts to come together pretty quickly, especially since it doesn’t take a huge amount of work to earn enough gold and whatnot to start levelling up. It’s a fantastic system, and I feel like it’s robust enough to grow with the game, but more importantly, it’ll offer hardcore players huge amounts of opportunity to create crazy builds. The customisation experience is extremely well thought out, and if you can get your build just right, you’ll be moving on up those difficulty tiers before you know it.

As of writing, I’ve managed to get Drizzt to level ten, unlock all but two moves, and get gear with a level two rating which is a mix and match of sets. Being in this situation, I’ve been able to take on the tier three difficulties with relative ease when adventuring through the dungeons. I could see the game being a lot more fun with the inclusion of other players, so I’m looking forward to the full release and matching up with other adventurers.

dungeons & dragons dark alliance review

The missions are great fun, and the cinematic entries into each are extremely entertaining, offering a mix of tense, atmospheric monologues from powerful monsters and bizarre comments from lesser creatures like Goblins. I mean, Goblins aren't known for their intellect so it’s no wonder you see them grumbling about doing the crappy jobs. These moments of banter extend into the game as well. There have been plenty of moments where I’ve approached a group of enemies and overheard them saying some wonderful lines about “being a Goblin sucks” and explaining the strange reasons why they sided with Kessel in the war. It’s the mix of entertaining cinematics and monologues that give Dark Alliance depth over just being another third-person action RPG. Each mission is its own story that adds to the arching narrative of vile creatures descending upon Icewind Dale in hordes to search for the Crystal Shard.

Acts offer a fairly linear pathway, with secret environments sprawled about the place to keep you on your toes. These little areas provide small puzzles to solve, hidden chests, lore items and gold, offering up a chance for a little side adventure as you progress through the act. Once you’ve fought your way through the linear pathway, you’ll encounter a mini-boss at the end of the first two acts of a mission, with the final act dedicated to a boss monster. — I won’t discuss each boss as I don’t want to give away any spoilers due to their individual personalities.

dungeons & dragons dark alliance review

Of course, I can’t discuss boss mobs and levelling gear without discussing the combat itself, which flows beautifully… for the most part. There’s no doubt that what Tuque Games has done with its combat is fantastic. I found Drizzt's movements to be fluid and join together really well, but there have been times when it doesn’t feel responsive, such as attempting to roll dodge out of harm's way, or I do pull it off, only to be clobbered when at a safe distance away. This, unfortunately, completely throws off the combat, and it takes a moment to prepare yourself for a new combo. It’s most certainly not game-breaking in any way and could be down to many different reasons, but it is an issue nonetheless.

You’ll find an extremely large achievement list waiting for you in this game, which requires you to max out each of the four characters moves and feats, amongst others. Other than spending your time within the game — which is far from a bad thing — there really aren't any achievements I’d say are difficult. I mean, you won’t be flying through this very quickly, but you’ll definitely enjoy the time you do spend completing it.

My version of the game was updated early with the day one patch that should now be implemented in all versions of the game.

Summary

Overall, Dungeons & Dragon: Dark Alliance is a fantastic example of a third-person action RPG, offering a great amount of story and lore through varying missions. With only a few minor setbacks aside, I’d have no problem saying that Tuque Games has brought my Drizzt Do’Urden and companions fantasies to life in all of the best ways. I’ll be seeing this game through to the very end without a shadow of a doubt, and have no issue recommending it to anybody that enjoys action RPGs. Grab some buddies and head to Icewind Dale — you won’t regret it!
9 / 10
Dark Alliance
Ethics
Tom spent around 15 hours battling it out with Goblins, Trolls, Verbeeg, and other monstrosities, unlocking 14 of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance's achievements along the way. A review copy of the game was provided by Tuque Games and played on an Xbox Series X.
Tom West
Written by Tom West
Tom has been playing video games since he was old enough to hold a controller, experimenting with systems like the Nintendo 64 and Playstation until he eventually fell in love with the Xbox 360. With a passion for the platform, he decided to make a career out of it, and now happily spends his days writing about that which he loves. If he’s not achievement hunting, you’ll likely find him somewhere in The Elder Scrolls Online.