Published by Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance (DA) possesses similar traits to the cult classic Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance I & II, released in 2001 and 2004, respectively. But instead of a top-down view, DA is played via a third-person perspective.
PRICE: From $54.90 (PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X – version reviewed)
GENRE: Action role-playing
Featuring four characters from R.A. Salvatore’s novel The Legend of Drizzt, you can play either as Drizzt Do’Urden, Cattie-brie, Bruenor Battlehammer or Wulfgar. Each character is armed with specific weapons and skills.
With Icewind Dale region as its backdrop, you play through a series of missions over a predefined area. Each mission requires you to fulfil a set of main and optional objectives.
As the path is quite linear with minor branching routes, it does not require much effort to find your way to the end. But some deviation is required to discover alternate paths. Unfortunately, outside of these mission areas, there are no open areas to explore.
Based on your level and gear score, you select a desired difficulty level before embarking on each mission. While it is recommended to stick within your gear score, going for higher difficulty improves your chance of scoring better gear. There are four tiers of items to hunt – namely, common (colourless), uncommon (green), rare (blue), epic (purple) and legendary (yellow).
+ Able to play in solo offline mode
+ Online multiplayer up to four
+ Risk/reward checkpoint gamble
– Basic tutorial/No in-game guide
– Solo mode does not include AI teammates
– Limited online multiplayer settings
Each character has predefined apparel that can be upgraded, such as helm, gloves, top and bottom attire as well as weapons. At the end of each completed mission, you level up and collect items that can be traded to acquire skills, moves and feats.
It is the same every time. You begin the same camp that provides access to a merchant, open unlocked chests earned and plan the next mission before heading out to another dungeon crawl.
With a low-level character, expect to progress slowly as you scour for better weapons and armour, and pool resources for upgrades. It is an absolute grind if you attempt a higher difficulty, where enemies take a longer time to perish.
I was disappointed that the game did not brief me on specific on-location attributes. For example, at the first mission, there are some iced shard terrains that can drain your health. I realised later on that I was only able to traverse on the iced prickly path without damaging my health by getting some warmth from a nearby bonfire.
Other than attempting missions on higher difficulty, you can also take a gamble at specific sections of the path. Once you come across a resting point, there is a timed option to convert the resting point into a checkpoint (and replenish some consumables) or opt to upgrade the tier of your next discoverable loot.
If you perish at some point and do not have any checkpoint location, the game brings you back to the beginning. If you manage to pull through, the promise of better loot awaits when you return to camp.
I find this risk-or-reward mechanic interesting because it provides a safety net as you explore the next area. On the other hand, if you choose to exchange it for a chance of better loot, it challenges you to tread cautiously and survive until the end.
Playing offline or solo mode does not come with AI companions though. Thus, I can’t have a balanced group of ranged and melee companions. For instance, I tried to play as Cattie the archer. While eliminating enemies from afar keeps me safe, I took a long time clearing the threat.
When the enemies started charging, I had to resort to physical combat. Stringing moves improve your attack and defence, but some environmental glitches can cause you to lose momentum and combo streak.
One drawback is you only reap your rewards once the mission is completed. Even with Xbox Series X’s Quick Resume feature, you cannot pause the game and come back later without losing your earned loot.
If a mission becomes too difficult, you can return to camp (do not return to the main menu) and retry another mission at the lowest difficulty level. This mechanic has led to a workaround that proves to be one quick way to score legendary items.
To experience DA the way it is meant to be is to play online. But at the time of this review, there were not many players. There are also no online chat or gesture communication options offered in other games.
If you succeed in joining a group online, there is a restriction to play as unique characters in the party. So, if someone has chosen your favourite character, you will have to choose another character (which may not have levelled up as high as your main). This restriction is believed to be removed in an upcoming patch.
Visually, the game looks sharp and detailed in some areas. But on Xbox Series X whereby this game is reviewed, it is not anywhere near as beautiful and organic as many other titles out there. However, the cutscenes that appear at certain missions are well crafted and fun to watch.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has its shortcomings. But there is still much enjoyment that can be derived from replaying the game and hoping to get better loot. There is so much potential for this genre, and I hope there are further improvements along the way until the next expansion pack is released.