I was super excited when Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance was first revealed at The Game Awards in 2019, especially since I adored the original Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and its sequel. Having that sort of dungeon-crawling gameplay but in an expanded Dungeons & Dragons universe? Sign me up. At the same time though, I was a little wary. We had only seen a cinematic trailer after all, and one that’s vibe seemed different to the original titles in the series. Was this going to follow the same formula or was it going to utilise a fresh take on the gameplay?
For better or worse, it’s the latter. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance offers a different take on the formula with its third-person approach to dungeon-crawling, though it’s still a story-driven experience that’s strengthened by its co-op elements. Is it actually any good though?
Check out a gallery of screenshots for the game down below:
Spread across multiple mini-campaigns, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance sends players on twenty-one missions within the Icewind Dale region of the Dungeons & Dragons universe. The playable quartet of characters are all pulled out of the official lore too, so will be familiar those who are well versed in the universe. Personally, I was clueless since I’ve only experimented with Dungeons & Dragons in the past, but it didn’t make me enjoy the fantasy setting and its tales any less.
When it comes to the action in-game, things are straightforward. Players are able to dish out light and heavy attacks using the right shoulder buttons, swiftly dodge out of the way of foes with a quick press of the circle button, and block incoming strikes by pressing the L1 button. If the block is timed correctly, players can also parry attacks, leaving foes open to a swift combo of hits that’ll catch them off-guard. The mechanics are simple as far as combat goes, but I found them satisfying. It was always fun to beat up hordes of enemies, whilst the quick pace of the basic combat ensures it’s typically easy to take them down quite fast.
The four playable characters bring with them unique abilities too, with no two feeling the same. My personal favourite was Drizzt, with his quick-paced attacking style and dual-wielding weapons ideal for my style of play. He’s all about moving in, dealing damage, and swiftly leaping out of the way of counter-attacks, which was perfect for me. Plus, he can call on an astral panther… what more could you want?
“The four playable characters bring with them unique abilities, with no two feeling the same.”
The other characters are just as fun to play as though, with Wulfar a powerhouse than can deal out heavy damage with his two-handed weapons, Cattie-brie perfect from range thanks to her archery skills, and Bruenor a battle-hardened dwarf who can take plenty of damage thanks to his sword-and-shield getup. There are enough unique differences between each character to make them all worth playing around with, with their use certainly expanding upon the replayability of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. Sure, you’ll have a favourite, but variety is the spice of life…
Your home hub that you spend time in in-between missions is Kelvin’s Cairn, with players able to purchase items, unlock upgrades for gear, manage loot, and move between missions. Ensuring you’ve got the best gear equipped on your character is important as it improves their power level, which gives you a better idea of how likely you are to succeed across the game’s missions. You can level them up too, of course, with plenty of stat boosts and new moves unlocked for characters you invest time into.
The only downside is that you can only modify your loadout at your base, so you can’t utilise the nice shiny gear you find on missions. It does streamline the experience so you can focus on the action and not slow your party down I suppose, but it would have been nice to actually be able to use that fancy loot you find straight away.
“The loot system is what will keep players coming back for more in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, with rarer rewards offered to those who play on the higher difficulties.”
Not that you’d necessarily know what it is, mind. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance’s loot is kept hidden until you clear the mission, so you won’t actually know if it’s any good until you’re done. I found this a bit disappointing; it took away from the satisfaction of KNOWING you’ve found something awesome mid-mission, so there was a little less incentive to make sure you survive and can keep it. It’s a shame because the loot system is what will keep players coming back for more in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, with rarer rewards offered to those who play on the higher difficulties.
At least the game does try to introduce some exciting ideas when it comes to loot. For one, players are given the option mid-dungeon to rest up and restore potions, which also creates a checkpoint. However, if they fight on, it increases the rarity of the loot further on. I’ll admit, when playing solo I was always happy to rest and ensure I was more likely to actually survive through missions, but it did make for some interesting discussions when playing co-op. The ‘risk versus reward’ element was interesting though, with the gathering of loot one of the most satisfying aspects of the game.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a fun game to play, but it is at its absolute best when played in co-op. It only supports online play for up to four players at the moment, but split-screen local multiplayer is due to arrive sometime down the line.
“Utilising each character’s different capabilities can be vital to surviving the tough difficulties, whilst working as a team to take down some of the game’s more formidable foes always felt rewarding.”
With four players working together, new elements of strategy are added to the experience which makes it more thrilling. Utilising each character’s different capabilities can be vital to surviving the tough difficulties, whilst working as a team to take down some of the game’s more formidable foes always felt rewarding. I’ve played through the bulk of the game with two of my friends now and we had a really good time, with it clear that this is the way that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is meant to be played. Be warned though: each character can only be used by one player, so if you and an ally have put all of your progress into just one, expect to have a small argument about who gets to use them.
Whilst I’ve enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, it has its fair share of flaws that prevent it from striving towards the greatness of its predecessors.
For one, the camera can often make the player’s life difficult, with it not showing enemies that are coming from all directions. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by foes in the game and with no quick-turn available, players will have to run around constantly in order to get foes that might be striking from behind. Trying to deal with this whilst also competing with the camera just made life difficult.
“It has its fair share of flaws that prevent it from striving towards the greatness of its predecessors.”
Enemies could be REALLY dumb at times too. If you keep your distance, enemies will seemingly be completely unaware of your presence, making it easy to take advantage of them from afar. Whilst isolating enemies and picking them off can be a neat strategy in games, it felt like I was able to do it here because the enemies were too dumb as opposed to my own skills. The enemy variety isn’t up to much either, with plenty of the same enemy types faced off against across the game’s missions – this wasn’t such a big deal, but it did become more noticeable the longer I played.
There were some little bugs that cropped up in-game too, though they were mostly graphical and didn’t feel game-breaking. What could be a nuisance though was the difficulty, with missions that were at my recommended level proving difficult when playing solo. There’s no doubting that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a co-op focused title, but I do wish it could have been a bit more forgiving when balancing out the difficulty for solo players.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a lot of fun to play with friends, but it has enough issues to see it fall short of co-op greatness as it stands. A sketchy camera, dumb enemy AI, and some balancing issues can hold the experience back, especially when playing solo.
It’s a shame too, because the combat of the game is enjoyable and collecting loot is really rewarding. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance just needs a little bit of fine-tuning around the edges before it can begin to feel like essential playing.
Developer: Tuque Games
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC