Dragon Through This Slog of A Game
HIGH It’s a great idea.
LOW Nearly every aspect.
WTF Flags and flames that move at a rock-solid 15fps.
I have never played Dungeons & Dragons.
The popular tabletop role-playing game has been on my list for the longest time, especially since I learned my cousin has been a dungeon master with his friends. While the starter pack taunts me at my local Target, I had the chance to dip a toe in thanks to Dark Alliance, an action RPG set in this popular fantasy setting. Unfortunately, after several hours and a few patches, I walked away underwhelmed and disappointed.
Acting as a successor to the very popular Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II, D&D: DA ditches the top-down perspective of those older titles and brings an over-the-shoulder view to the action. Taking place in the frozen setting of Icewind Dale, there’s a short opening cutscene that gives players a glimpse of the story and sets everything up. While it comes off like a fairly generic fantasy film, I liked the character introductions a lot thanks to some solid CG action and scenes that sold me on the premise.
Players control one of four characters, each one specializing in specific weapon types. My pick was Catti-brie, who wielded a bow and arrow. While initially not as strong as her close-ranged companions, she offers a valuable support system with options to aid teammates, and her bow was deadly. I wish the combat felt good, though.
Fighting has no real weight to it, and most of the time, attacks don’t seem to land. The bow itself also doesn’t feel great, thanks to a lack of impact. What’s worse is that there are (at the time of writing) a lot of glitches and bugs that got in the way of combat and overall enjoyment — things like enemies not responding to being attacked, characters clipping through surfaces, and frequent pop-in in the environments. The graphics are also weak for a PS5 title, and while I liked the dark fantasy art style, the character models left a lot to be desired. Framerate drops were also frequent throughout my playthrough.
While I’m sure these things will be fixed and patched away in time, the real issue at hand is DA‘s quest design and gameplay loop.
Players start in a hub world where they can upgrade their skills, check their loadout and items, and can arrange for matchmaking online if they aren’t already playing with friends. It’s here where they can also select quests. Each one is a short mini-campaign that ends in a boss. There are optional bosses and paths that can be taken to find extra loot, but players can expect to beat any one of these fairly linear campaigns in under an hour.
Most quests follow the same outline — attack a certain number of enemies, traverse a dangerous pathway, loot chests, and occasionally set up camp. The monotony set in early, and soon after the first few missions, it was clear that I would be repeating the same loop for the entire game.
Honestly, it feels more like a watered-down game-as-service experience than it does a traditional adventure game, foregoing anything interesting and instead of leaning into an unnecessary grind. While the unlocks for each character are pretty cool and I loved seeing the variety in the gear, the actual grind was never worth it. I know there are players who live for the kinds of experiences where the grind itself is a main attraction, but I was never enjoying myself.
With so many great cooperative experiences already out there, it’s impossible to recommend Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance — it shows little promise from the start, and somehow only gets worse as time goes on. This is one quest that even the bravest warriors would be wise to avoid.
Disclosures: This game is published by Wizards of the Coast and developed by Tuque Games. It is currently available on PS4/PS5, XBX/S, XBO, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 10 hours of play were spent in the single-player and multiplayer modes and the game was not completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated M for Blood and Gore, Language and Violence. The official description reads as follows: This is an action role-playing game in which players control several classes of fantasy characters as they search for a magical shard. From a third-person perspective, players use axes, swords, arrows, and hammers to defeat Dungeons-and-Dragons-inspired creatures (e.g., trolls, goblins, skeletal mages, verbeeg). The melee-style combat is highlighted by cries of pain, impact sounds, and blood-splatter effects. Cutscenes sometimes depict instances of blood and gore: mutilated, dismembered, decapitated dwarves hanging from a ceiling; a corpse getting its head chopped off and tossed into a pot; a large soup spoon holding severed heads. Some levels depict corpses impaled on spikes (sometimes with blood) or bodies hanging from nooses. The words “sh*t” and “a*shole” appear in the dialogue.
Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles and on-screen instructions cannot be adjusted but audio is not needed to enjoy this game thanks to the abundance of visual cues. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable but there is a control diagram and presets.