Dark Alliance is a tragic mess
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance takes four of my favorite characters from RA Salvatore D&D novels and drops them into a co-op action game at best rough, at worst completely broken. I haven’t been so disappointed with a video game in a long time, and I played The wonderful world of Balan.
Part of this disappointment is my fault. I grew up as a voracious reader with a strong affinity for fantasy tabletop role-playing games, so I devoured the stories of Drizzt the Dark Elf Ranger and his companions / foster family. Gruff but lovable dwarf Bruenor Battlehammer, his adopted daughter Cattie-Brie and the imposing barbarian Wulfgar, these characters mean a lot to me. Their adventures in the frozen wilderness of Icewind Dale and beyond are part of my childhood, so I had high hopes for the new one. Black alliance Thu.
I was also a big fan of Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance games that serve as spiritual predecessors of this new title, but like Ethan Gach highlighted earlier this year, it’s more a question of name than anything else. The original games were Diablo-style action role-playing games. This new game is more of a Fatshark-style third-person brawler Warhammer: Vermintide series, but not as competent or entertaining.
This new Black alliance starts off by loading yourself into a hub, a base from which you can go on adventures, manage and upgrade your gear, or just hang out with friends between multiplayer missions. My first issue with the game is the chatty merchant who resides here. It’s a joke machine, armed with a revolving script of repetitive inane vocal lines that never stop. The developers made sure that you can hear him in your base no matter how far away you are from him. Switching from spoken language to French helps, but only for a moment. The only way to turn it off is to turn down the “Dialogue Volume” option completely, which also silences narrator and in-game character commentary during adventures, but that’s probably for the best.
Is this too minor a problem? How about the enemy AI being completely oblivious to ranged attacks, despite having one of the four playable characters specializing in it? Watch Cattie-Brie shoot exploded arrow after arrow at a group of enemies whose only reaction is to die slowly.
Enemies in Black alliance are generally slow to respond, standing still for several seconds after spawning, even in the midst of active battle. Several of the previous adventures involve battling evil dwarves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve confused stationary evil dwarves with any player in my party who played Bruenor, everyone’s favorite non-evil dwarf.
Even if the enemies weren’t acting like computer-controlled cannon fodder, the game’s combat wouldn’t be particularly satisfying. The controls feel sluggish and sluggish, especially when using the default control scheme, which maps light and fierce attacks to your right trigger and bumper. Locking down a target is a random prospect, sometimes effective, and sometimes refusing to switch to a new enemy. Each character has an “Ultimate” ability, achieved by pressing the two analog sticks when a meter fills up. I struggled to get the Ultimate action to sign up while playing on the PlayStation 5 with the DualSense. Also, the hero shooter mechanic feels out of place in this D&D frame, despite Black alliancethe character-driven storyline.
My least favorite aspect of Black alliance collecting loot, which is incredibly sad considering the nature and origin of the game. One of the greatest joys of Dungeons & Dragons gets new equipment for your characters. Black alliance actually more of a chore. Instead of collecting special shiny weapons and armor during adventures, you amass placeholders. Opening a Treasure Chest while passing through a Goblin Fortress can reward you with a Rare Generic Chest Coin, Common War Hammer, or Epic Ring. Finding out what exactly the items are doesn’t happen until the adventure is over.
In your base, there is a “Reward Chest”, which should be your destination at the end of each adventure. This is where you can reveal the items you collected during your mission. Is the skin you picked up while playing as Wulfgar something useful or a complete trash? This is where you’ll find out.
It’s trash! Of course, glad we went through this whole process to find out instead of having a real inventory and being able to change gear in the middle of an adventure. This is the least fun way to get loot in a dungeon robot. Do you know the excitement of killing a group of evil monsters and suddenly finding yourself blessed with a new weapon or powerful new equipment? Completely absent here.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance launched earlier this week for Xbox One, Xbox Series X / S, PS4, PS5 and Steam, where it currently enjoys an overall “Mixed” score. If you want to see more reasons why this game is disappointing, be sure to view Steam user reviews. I can not. They just make me sad. The positive reviews I see often mention playing with friends to improve the game, which is good advice. Suffering is often easier to deal with in small groups.