Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is rough but comfortingly nostalgic

The very first trailer for Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is dark and haphazard, ridden with nauseating visuals set to post-hardcore metal that attempts to offer a viewed coolness to a franchise associated with a tabletop circumstance. It seemed like a program of desperation, an effort to show something to an untapped gamer base. However that trailer couldn’t be anymore deceptive. Rather, Dark Alliance tapped straight into the soothing fond memories of resting on the flooring of my bed room as a kid, flexing the spinal column of the book that would be among my very first direct exposures to Western dream and whatever the category would see.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance tries to adjust among the most influential books in The Forgotten Realms project setting: The Crystal Fragment. It is a foreseeable tale of heroics embeded in a now-generic dream setting, the very first in a trilogy that would promote The Forgotten Worlds amongst a wider audience in the late 1980s. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance likewise pulls from the other 2 books in the Icewind Dale Trilogy to produce a more tongue-in-cheek story that, sometimes, feels more easy going than the books from which it draws motivation.

Sadly, Dark Alliance does likewise show the rather middling quality of the unique, even as the video game tries to attract a brand-new generation to a sliver of what includes Wizard of the Coast’s large variety of IPs and transmedia product. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance isn’t always a bad video game, however it doesn’t separate itself from other action-oriented live service video games, providing a dream skin that feels generic some 33 years after the release of the book.

Yet I enjoyed seeing The Crystal Fragment’s hero Drizzt Do’Urden and his buddies in action and enduring little pieces of the story that I had actually checked out. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a sort of desire satisfaction because method.

Drizzt Do’Urden raises his sword against an enemy in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

Image: Tuque Games

Battle style for each of the presently readily available lineup of 4 characters feels special, with each bringing their own unique play designs into the fold. I instantly picked Drizzt Do’Urden, possibly among the most identifiable faces within the The Forgotten Realms universe. He’s quickly, needing skill. His health is low and his play design is reliant on utilizing fast combinations, staggering opponents, and depending on invincibility frames to keep yourself alive, particularly when using your own.

I likewise invested a long time playing as the other 3 characters. Bruenor Battlehammer, the happy King of Mythril Hall, is durable; he can take lots of hits prior to catching beat. He likewise has a cool ability that empowers the weapons of those around him, imbuing them with fire magic. Then there’s Wulfgar, whose skillset is relatively simple. He can deal tremendous quantities of damage, and he’s terrific for actually doing simply that. Wulfgar and Drizzt are the main damage dealerships of the group, however although Wulfgar is likewise a stronger character, I wound up costs much less time with him in favor of the Drow. Wulfgar seems like a character produced those unskilled with action titles, as he just swings his hammer down and devitalizes any opponents with ease.

Last But Not Least, there’s Cattie-Brie, a proficient archer and the embraced child of Bruenor. She has a recovery ability that feels crucial to endgame encounters. Her charged shot with her bow feels subdued by contrast to the attacks of actually anybody else, however it consumes her overall endurance bar as an expense. Sadly for Cattie-Brie, input lag is an extremely genuine concern if you are playing with a pal overseas. Countless times, the lag resulted in me performing a special melee-focused attack as opposed to simply notching an arrow in my bow and firing it off to save my friend.

Kelvin, hero of the frost giants, in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

Image: Tuque Games

Those who enjoyed The Crystal Shard and the other books in The Icewind Dale Trilogy would have visualized the fight with the powerful wizard Akar Kessel when they read the books; now, they can see it firsthand. However, Dark Alliance’s version may not be as grandiose as what you imagined. These ideas are arguably more enticing in the original books than what the game actually allows, which is a shame. (One notable exception is the long and sometimes arduous encounter with Icewind.)

Despite all of the skills I had unlocked as Drizzt, the enemy AI would rinse and repeat attacks without any genuine variety. What should have been battles of skill turned into spinning away from a telegraphed attack to lunge back in with my dual scimitars, over and over and over again, until victory was finally within my grasp.

Sometimes animations feel floaty, and the lag when playing with a friend only makes this worse. I would sometimes float over the floor when carrying out combos, and despite there being a lock-on system, I found it more a hindrance than a help, as it would sporadically switch between targets at a whim, depending on how I would swivel my camera around to better view my surroundings. While a block and parry system are available, I rarely used either of these options when taking on enemies, since one hit would usually mean death. Hitboxes and animations for attacks sometimes felt inconsistent due to lag or the enemies themselves teleporting around the arenas.

Even with those issues, having the opportunity to play with a friend greatly enriched my experience with Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. We were treated to unique banter between characters that would change depending on the missions we would enter, with the characters sometimes commenting on the happenings of the realm at large when we would return to base. Any and all combinations of characters work well together, which was a relief. I was genuinely worried that one of us would be forced into the role of a healer to see it through to the end.

Drizzt spins around, attacking enemies in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

Image: Tuque Games

While higher difficulties are available and not dictated around the average power of the player, as you can jump into the highest difficulty of the available missions as soon as the game begins, engaging in them is not advised. Even throwing yourself into a mission with a power average just one tick above your own can sometimes lead to immense frustration, or hours spent on a map that might have otherwise taken 15 to 20 minutes. And while I generally don’t mind a challenge, the difficulty scaling felt unfair in a way, like a means to stretch the player’s time with the game.

Dark Alliance is a live service game, after all. Players are encouraged to grind areas for gear at their respective power levels, and then replay those levels for chances of obtaining Epic or Legendary gear, as items of this rarity tend to be the only gear that’s worth upgrading. Certain missions also have a higher chance to drop items from specific sets, which encourages more grinding on the part of players hoping to earn certain bonuses.

In missions, players have two options upon clearing set areas, which are to increase the rarity of loot that will drop, or to rest at camp, which will create a checkpoint for the player and restore any used healing items. On the Legendary and Ascended difficulty — the final two tiers of difficulty the game offers — I would spend most of these instances resting at camp to refill my resources, because enemies at this level, be they goblins or frenzied psionic cultists, would just evaporate my health with a single strike. That was also a normal occurrence if my character’s power level did not meet the suggested requirement of the selected difficulty.

Your gear can be upgraded, but at a price. A single merchant resides at your hub, which is decorated with broken stone ruins and accentuated with a weathered training area. Players can offer up crystals of varying rarity and gold in order to upgrade the level of their gear. However, they cannot upgrade the rarity of any items obtained through missions, so the natural and easiest course of obtaining higher power levels is to just to grind stages for Epic and Legendary gear. That being said, dying in a stage does not strip you of your rewards. You respawn indefinitely in a mission, only losing your obtained loot if you quit. So while the harder difficulties do feel needlessly punishing, players aren’t penalized outright for their deaths — they only have their time taken from them.

One of my largest issues with the game and its systems is the inability to equip gear that you find during missions. Instead you must complete whatever instance you’re currently in and head to a literal loot box at your camp to redeem what you’ve collected. The animations aren’t exactly flashy, and they get old quite quickly. Thankfully, you can open all collected items with a single button press. I understand the logic behind this choice, and eventually, I just got used to it.

The character equipment screen in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

Image: Tuque Games

Where Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance ties into the already available games that have taken place in the universe of The Forgotten Realms, it has little to do with the previously released Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series. Due to its connection to The Crystal Fragment, its story is more or less connected to the first Icewind Dale game that was released in 2000. To those who have played Icewind Dale, maybe recently or potentially some 20 years ago, you might find delight in Dark Alliance’s connection to the narrative you’ve already experienced. With that being said, this game feels made for fans of either the R.A. Salvatore novels or those aching for a return to The Forgotten Realms. For those unfamiliar with the massive fantasy property at large, it could perhaps serve as a gateway to further exploring the vast plethora of intricate lore and world building this rich campaign scenario has to offer, as The Crystal Shard novel had once done for me.

Dark Alliance isn’t the best the action-adventure genre has to offer, but it still manages to be a great time with friends and even by myself when I simply wanted to be in the world of The Forgotten Realms. It doesn’t have the depth of Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, or even the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games, in terms of narrative presentation, but it was enjoyable all the same. Despite all of the game’s flaws, I am elated at the thought of playing with my group of friends. The one thing Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is capable of providing, buried deep beneath its technical issues, is a solid multiplayer experience.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance released June 22 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Tuque Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media might make commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can discover extra info about Polygon’s principles policy here.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.