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Dark Alliance hands-on review: If Dungeons & Dragons combat was fun

What if the DM threw you in initiative and never let you leave?

Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance review
(Image: © Wizards of the Coast)

Our Verdict

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a fun concept for a four-player co-op action game. It’s even reasonably priced, but it needs a little more to live beyond the first few weeks.

For

  • Smooth gameplay
  • Pleasant visuals
  • Reasonably priced

Against

  • No stealth mechanics
  • End-game needs more to shine
  • No magic users

If you know me, you know that I have an extreme obsession with Dungeons & Dragons. From the game design and the story-telling to the epic voices and thrilling combat -- I love it all. Yes, even the combat. That’s why I’m so excited about Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance from Tuque Games. When I got that little email asking me to preview it, I jumped out of my seat (not literally, but you know).

As my players will constantly remind me, D&D combat can be extremely boring if it’s not designed correctly, but interestingly enough, Dark Alliance takes place during the rounds of combat. And while D&D combat is turn-based and slow at times, Dark Alliance is a fast-paced action game, which is how it is when we all imagine it.

I not only got some hands-on time with Dark Alliance, but Wizards of the Coast also revealed that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is set to launch on June 22, 2021 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS5 and Xbox Series X | Xbox Series S. The best part is that it will cost $39.99, which is a fair price from what I’ve seen so far. 

Speaking of which, let me explain what Dark Alliance means for gamers and D&D fans alike.

What the hell is the Dark Alliance?

Dark Alliance is a third-person action-RPG that you can play online in a group of up to four people. For all of the Dungeons & Dragons buffs out there, the narrative of Dark Alliance and where it takes place may have some significance to you. The world is set within the Forgotten Realms, the universe where traditional D&D takes place. More specifically, the Dark Alliance finds our heroes in Icewind Dale, an arctic tundra located in the Frozenfar region -- the northernmost region of Faerûn.

Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance review

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Within this narrative, you can play as either a fighter, rogue, barbarian or ranger in a party that aims to take on the growing evil armies of frost giants and dragons that are located in Icewind Dale. The game is technically a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II, but it features characters from R. A. Salvatore's novel series The Legend of Drizzt. The four playable characters from this series are Drizzt Do'Urden (rogue), Catti-Brie (ranger), Bruenor Battlehammer (fighter), and Wulfgar (barbarian).

From the way it was described to me, Dark Alliance takes place after the dungeon master says, “roll for initiative,” so there’s no real roleplay involved in this game. There’s an argument for why that’s a bad thing considering the best part about D&D is the roleplay. However, because of that choice, you don’t have to be into D&D to play Dark Alliance. If you’re into fantasy and combat, you really don’t need to know much about the lore or the story to have fun.

As far as the visuals go, the art design is very reminiscent of Diablo despite the third-person camera, and the co-op dynamic somewhat reminds me of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, which was a fun little game that almost nobody played.

How does Dark Alliance play?

As I previously mentioned, Dark Alliance is about the average D&D player’s least favorite thing: combat. But in a video game, the developers are aiming to make this part fun. I wouldn’t say this game captures what it's like to play D&D, but more so what it’s like to imagine combat in D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance review

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

The preview I played was over Parsec, a software that lets you stream and play games with other people. Unfortunately, the connection was a little choppy, so I didn’t get the real experience, but despite a lot of the cuts, it was a rather fun time.

In the demo, I played the rogue, Drizzt Do'Urden, so I used a bunch of fast-paced abilities. The game played similarly to Souls-like titles, but the enemies were a little health-spongey, so it’s closer to something like Godfall. Your attacks have to be accurate, but you also have to dodge and block attacks to ensure you don’t get snuffed –– all the while managing your stamina. One thing I found a bit troubling, is that there aren't any proper stealth mechanics apart from Do'Urden’s ability to turn invisible.

Each character gets a skill tree, so you can decide where you want to take your specific class. It’s similar to subclasses in D&D, but not based on them directly. Each character gets only one Ultimate ability, which seems stingy to me, but hopefully that’ll change. Unfortunately, there’s no strict magic caster to play, but each character has magical abilities to utilize in combat.

Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance review

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Like most RPGs, you’ll collect or purchase better gear as you level up and customize your sets to suit each moment. You can farm specific armor sets depending on what you’re going for, like a set with high cold resistance. You’ll get a basic gold currency to purchase some gear, but you’ll need crystals and other currencies to upgrade. You can even spend in-game currency on cosmetics for your character.

You can manage your gear and claim your new items all in the general hub. This isn’t an open-world game, so you’ll start out in the hub and select what mission to go on from there. There are roughly 21 missions and each can last from 30 minutes to an hour, so Dark Alliance can be anywhere between 10 to 20 hours long. 

Within each mission, you’ll also encounter puzzles that’ll award you with ability points, so it’s not 100% combat all the time. While you’re going through missions, you can also choose to set up camp to get a bit of healing and create a checkpoint, but the fewer checkpoints you accrue, the better the gear you’ll loot.

Dark Alliance’s endgame is a problem

The novelty of playing Dark Alliance was fun for the 30 or so minutes, but who knows if the interest will wear off after a few missions. And what are players supposed to do after they beat the game? Well, Tuque Games’ end-game isn’t very appealing. Apparently, the end-game will consist of playing the same missions over again but on harder difficulties. There will be better gear to get and more loot, but this is one of the least appealing end-games, one several other  co-op games have implemented.

Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance review

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

I was told that there will be a plan for post-launch content for Dark Alliance, but it’s unclear what that entails or how wide the scope is. In order for this game to remain relevant and fun, it needs several things. 

Firstly, Dark Alliance needs new characters, especially a strict-magic user. Not seeing a Wizard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Druid, Bard or Cleric is bizarre for a game based on D&D. Secondly, Dark Alliance needs a fresh and creative end-game. It could be a procedurally generated dungeon, or something like a four-person raid, similar to what Ghost of Tsushima does. Whatever it is, it needs to be something that the players haven’t already done. 

When you take the roleplay out of D&D and you only rely on combat, there needs to be enough content to satisfy gamers. Thankfully, Dark Alliance is reasonably priced, so it’s not a huge disappointment if we don’t get better end-game content, but it would certainly help its longevity.

Outlook

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance seems like a super fun third-person high fantasy action game you can play with your friends. And on the strength that there aren’t too many games like this out there, I want to play it. 

Even if Dark Alliance is creative and fresh enough to keep my attention until the end of the game, it needs to do a lot more to keep my attention afterward. If Tuque Games wants Dark Alliance to last longer than a month, there needs to be a more focused end-game. At the end of the day, what are players collecting gear for during those difficult missions? The same mission that is even more difficult? That’s not a real solution.

I’m really excited for Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, and I hope that post-launch will bring promising new content for players to mess around with.