On paper, Dungeons, and Dragons: Dark Alliance sounds like a home run. Take four of the most famous and beloved Dungeons and Dragons characters – Drizzt Do’Urden, Bruenor Battlehammer, Catti-brie, and Wulfgar – and drop them into a co-op hack n’ slash dungeon crawler where you can slay monsters and grab loot with your friends. At the very least, I thought it’d be a fun game to run through once or twice with some friends who know far more about DnD than I do.
As I said, it sounds good on paper. The unfortunate reality, dear reader, is that Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance is a mind-numbing slog of a game with a shockingly bad story, repetitive gameplay, poor enemy variety, rote level design, and a truly staggering number of bugs. It is not only by far the worst game I’ve been unlucky enough to play this year, it is also one of the worst games I have ever played, period.
"The playable characters have some dialogue at the start of each level and can banter with each other, but beyond that, they never actually appear in the story."
What little story there is revolves around the Crystal Shard, a powerful, evil artifact that a lot of really bad dudes are after. Naturally, your job is to stop them from getting it. And that’s about all there is to the story. Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance lets you play as some really iconic DnD characters – even I know who Drizzt Do’Urden is – but it doesn’t do anything with them. The playable characters have some dialogue at the start of each level and can banter with each other, but beyond that, they never actually appear in the story. That’s right – not one of these characters appear in a single one of the game’s cutscenes beyond the opening and ending, nor is any time spent fleshing out their backstory, what they’re doing here, or what they want.
Instead, you’re dropped into levels with little context as to why what you’re doing matters, you go kill the bad guys you’re told to, and then you go home. Things happen as a result of your actions, but because the story never actually bothers to acknowledge the main characters, there’s a huge disconnect between what the player does in-game and what happens in the narrative. As a result, it’s hard to care about anyone or anything beyond the next name you need to check off your list of targets.
The gameplay isn’t much better. While the game may carry the Dark Alliance moniker, it has little in common with the Baldur’s Gate titles of yesteryear. Instead, Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance is most comparable to the Warhammer: Vermintide games. After choosing your character, you’re dropped into a hub area with a map that allows you to select your missions, some training dummies, a trophy area, and one of the most annoying merchant characters in recent memory. His sole purpose seems to be to constantly ask why you’re wasting his time and not queuing up the next level.
"You fight the same group of enemies over and over again across the game’s 21 levels; you’ll do the same optional objectives over and over again – breaking so many of X things, collecting so many of Y things, killing the odd named enemy, and so on."
Things don’t get better once you get into a level. The entire campaign is a slog. Tuque has done a nice job of making the levels look visually distinct and giving each one a sense of place, but almost all of them play the same way. You fight the same group of enemies over and over again across the game’s 21 levels; you’ll do the same optional objectives over and over again – breaking so many of X things, collecting so many of Y things, killing the odd named enemy, and so on.
Occasionally, you’ll solve basic puzzles, like collecting explosives to seal tunnels or items to open a door. When it’s really feeling frisky, it will ask you to solve a “step on these glowing tiles in the right order” “puzzle” or stand near a torch so you can be warm enough to run over ice without taking damage. Neither are great mechanics, but they really lose their luster after you do them fifty times.
Combat is probably the game’s best aspect. Each of the characters feels different – Drizzt is fast, Catti-brie works best at range, Wulfgar is a bruiser, and Bruenor is a tank – and it’s a lot of fun figuring out their moves and how best to build them, especially as you level them up and unlock new techniques. Each character has two special moves that recharge, as well as an ultimate technique, and you can mix and match the former once you level up to suit your purposes.
"There are good ideas here – the issue is there isn’t enough enemy variety to keep encounters varied enough to be interesting. You feel like you’re playing the same three waves of enemies over and over again for most of the game."
Combat itself is the standard light attack/heavy attack affair that seems to find its way into almost every modern action game, but you can chain the most together in enough interesting ways so that it’s never boring. Throw in a stamina meter that keeps you from blindly attacking and a fairly robust parry system, and Dark Alliance’s combat actually has promise.
The problem is, of course, the enemy variety, which is never challenging enough to force the player to experiment or try new things. This even extends to the boss fights, who are almost universally just regular enemies with names and bigger health bars. Worse still, several of them require you to fight a mini-boss (who might also be the same as the boss) or are surrounded by regular enemies who pop in during combat to annoy you. Boss encounters should feel unique and challenge the player in unique ways, but Dark Alliance’s almost never do.
It’s a shame because like the environments, Tuque has done a really nice job of bringing your enemies to life. They’re well-acted, have detailed animations, and generally look quite good. Some even have attacks that will challenge the way you approach them, such as shields that must be bypassed or spears that can drag you into bigger enemies. Other enemies can cast area-of-effect attacks to limit player movement or shield their allies. There are good ideas here – the issue is there isn’t enough enemy variety to keep encounters varied enough to be interesting. You feel like you’re playing the same three waves of enemies over and over again for most of the game.
"A game like this should be functional solo, and Dark Alliance just isn’t fun alone. Dark Alliance does have good ideas, but it often doesn’t do enough with them to succeed."
Even if you don’t, combat still has annoyances. It takes a long time to get up should you be knocked down, and you’re completely open to free hits until you get up. If you get knocked over at low health, you’re probably just dead. The game also has a lock-on system, but it puts the camera directly behind you, completely limiting your vision of anything that isn’t the guy you’re locked on to, which makes the feature almost useless unless you’re fighting just one or two enemies. You also can’t see what moves you’ve unlocked, change your equipment, or access your character sheet in any way during a level, so if you’ve just unlocked a move and have forgotten the input, you’re out of luck until you get back to the hub.
As you play, you’ll amass loot, money, and special attribute upgrades that can be spent once you return to the hub. There’s actually quite a bit of skills, abilities, and upgrades for weapons and armor to unlock, and you can spend a lot of time chasing down sets, upgrading your favorite pieces, and building a version of a character that fits your playstyle. As you gain more levels and get better armor, you’ll be able to access higher difficulties, which reward more and better loot, including special sets that offer buffs or resistances in combat. You can even improve the loot available in levels, sacrificing opportunities for a Short Rest, which restores health, potions, and so on, to better the loot you’ll get.
Dark Alliance is meant to be a co-op game, but I wasn’t able to test its co-op functionality pre-release. The game also doesn’t support local co-op. While I have no doubt that playing with your friends dramatically improves the experience because co-op makes almost everything better, a game like this should be functional solo, and Dark Alliance just isn’t fun alone. Dark Alliance does have good ideas, but it often doesn’t do enough with them to succeed.
"What really kills the game, however, is the bugs, and when I say Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance has a lot of bugs, I mean it’s one of the buggiest video games I have ever played. Everything about this game is broken in some way."
What really kills the game, however, is the bugs, and when I say Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance has a lot of bugs, I mean it’s one of the buggiest video games I have ever played. Everything about this game is broken in some way. Enemies often don’t react to your presence in combat or randomly disappear. Should you move even the slightest distance away from them, they’ll simply return to where they were and ignore you even if you begin attacking them again. Environmental traps and attacks hit you when you’re nowhere near them and certain environmental traps aren’t rendered at all. I was standing on what looked like a normal pile of corpses wondering why I was on fire when I realized the pile itself was on fire; the game just wasn’t rendering it.
It’s also possible to get stuck while climbing, which results in a character repeatedly climbing, falling, and climbing again until you manage to work them off the object. Entire moves are bugged, too. I know Drizzt’s forward dash is supposed to be a dash, but it looks like he’s swimming in molasses whenever I do it. Sometimes, my character’s abilities wouldn’t recharge properly, showing that they were still on cooldown when they were in fact fully charged. Other times, tooltips showing me I could execute enemies refused to appear. Trophies gained from defeating bosses often refused to appear at the hub, and when they did, the game would tell me I didn’t have any.
Sometimes, the game would randomly drop frames for seemingly no reason when it otherwise ran fine. Once the game just didn’t spawn a boss, requiring me to restart an entire level from scratch, losing all my gear and progress. Another time, it crashed as soon as I finished a level, though it thankfully remembered what I’d done. My favorite bug, however, was when the game’s physics would glitch out and enemies would fly hundreds of feet into the air after I killed them, or glitch through the floor, or… well, you get the idea. Some of these bugs are funny and others are infuriating, but I never played a single level where I didn’t run into several of them.
" I came out of Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance having experienced a game so flawed, so rote, and so buggy that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, no matter how big of a DnD fan they are."
It’s a shame, really. Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance has some truly gorgeous visual and audio touches, and the combat can be enjoyable in spots. But the story is incredibly poorly told, everything about playing it feels either repetitive or half-baked, and it’s riddled with bugs. It’s hard to imagine even the most diehard DnD fans finding enough here to enjoy, even if they have friends to play it with, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend playing it alone. The game simply isn’t designed for it, especially on higher difficulties, which crank up enemy health and damage to the point that enemies can and will one-shot you while you try to chip away at their mammoth life pool.
I went into Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance hoping for a fun game that might recapture the experience of the old Dark Alliance games and something I could play with friends. I came out of it having experienced a game so flawed, so rote, and so buggy that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, no matter how big of a DnD fan they are. Drizzt, Catti-brie, Wulfgar, and Bruenor Battlehammer deserved better, and life’s too short to play bad licensed games.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
It looks and sounds good. Combat can be interesting and feels pretty good. The characters are all distinct. Loot is handled well.
Shockingly poor storytelling. Basically no enemy variety. Lackluster sidequests. No way to access your character sheet in levels. No local co-op. Levels all feel the same. Poor puzzles. It's incredibly buggy. No cross-play.