Releasing a game before it's ready is akin to pulling something out of the oven before ingredients are given the proper time to do their thing. And seeing as we’re currently in the ‘Day One Patch’ timeline, where final bits of polish happen in the days prior to a game’s launch and for the weeks following, the best you can hope for is a little bit of extra seasoning required. In keeping with the food analogy, that’s in reference to those final bits that bring the dish together. A performance bump, glitches sorted, bugs squashed. Peas ready.
As seen with games like Cyberpunk 2077
, sometimes the oven timer needs to be set for another year - to let those delicious ingredients properly bake. In the case of the technical mess that is Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance
, the entire dish needs to be thrown out. With the oven deep-cleaned so its residue doesn’t find its way into your next meal.
Dark Alliance’s problems go beyond enemies zipping around arenas and ragdolling randomly at breakneck speed into walls. Though, a lot of that can be quite funny. It fails to do basic things like scale difficulty for solo and group play, or do the normal thing of not giving ranged mage-like enemies drastically higher physical-defence ratings than large hulking brutes. There are so many things half-baked, broken, glitchy, or simply baffling it’s almost commendable.
There are so many things half-baked, broken, glitchy, or simply baffling it’s almost commendable.
Some enemies will stagger when you hit them, most will not. Most will not be phased by any attack and it’s not explained why. Some enemies will telegraph attacks, most don’t. Even if they do it’s usually for a split second and will home in on your position even if you move. On that note a single dodge-roll isn’t enough to get out of the way of an attack’s AoE circle.
You’re invulnerable when “ressing” an ally for some reason, but sometimes take damage after the fact. You can’t view your equipment outside of the hub. The difficulty spikes are of the “this is easy” one second to being one-shot by a random attack the next. All within the same level, and often by enemies and attacks you didn’t see or were actually sitting outside of the range of.
Dark Alliance also forgets to properly connect the gear you equip to your character sheet in any sort of meaningful or interesting way. That is, have the Rare, Epic, and Legendary loot play into staple Dungeons & Dragons attributes like Strength, Dexterity and your class’s, well, class. For those wondering about abilities and such, you have two. Both of which are mapped to the same button.
The “loot game” as it is revolves around Gear Score and difficulty levels, arbitrary Power Levels that do nothing more than let you do the same thing but at a higher tier. Other games have done this, so Dark Alliance does too. Generic damage ratings and armor ratings are all you need to take note of, alongside a cumbersome upgrade system that involves tiers of crystals and spending gold as a means to inject an element of crafting.
All of this means Dark Alliance is not really an action-RPG, at least not in the traditional videogame sense. Or in the, you know, fun sense. Levelling is super slow too, but seeing as everything is a little all over the place and gaining levels opens the door to exciting upgrades like “Increase Hit Points by 10%” -- you won’t really care.
The difficulty spikes are of the “this is easy” one second to being one-shot by a random attack the next. All within the same level, and often by enemies and attacks you didn’t see or were actually sitting outside of the range of.
Getting to view a detailed statistical readout is pretty much here for show.
You would think that calling this Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance as opposed to keeping the name from the original Xbox-era Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance would mean more of that old-timey action-RPG goodness - but that’s not the case. A big plus for Dark Alliance is the fact that it doesn’t sully the Baldur’s Gate name. Just its legacy.
There is some good stuff to be found, but like the RPG-cred of the experience it’s all surface-level. The pre-rendered cinematics are surprisingly detailed, entertaining, and lengthy. But not all that coherent. The varied and impressive environments that serve as backdrops for all of the action to take place are full of great touches. From large mountain regions to underground dwarven structures of impressive scale. There’s even one section where you can see a giant skeleton in the distance sporting a time-ravaged bit of jewelry. Very cool.
So then, if it’s a “meh” action-RPG, what is Dark Alliance? Well, it’s a cinematic third-person action game with a focus on combos and moves and precision strikes playable solo or in a group. There’s a hack-and-slash element, but the combat is primarily in the style of a Dark Souls or Arkham-style third-person brawler. An experience where blocking, parries, and perfectly timed dodge-rolls are the focus. Characters are locked to the stars of the story: each forming the basis of a warrior, archer, assassin, and defensive tank.
And yet somehow, this side of the experience is even worse than the character building.
Okay, so gone from the picture is any sort of meaningful role-playing. That’s fine, but not really. Or, distinction between the playable classes outside of the baffling decision to only include one ranged character. But even before you get there
, things like stealth or warrior roles go off the table when enemies can hit you whilst you’re standing directly behind them.
So then, if it’s a “meh” action-RPG, what is Dark Alliance? Well, it’s a cinematic third-person action game with a focus on combos and moves and precision strikes playable solo or in a group.
Animation is spotty, targeting is off, and pulling off an attack has no real effect on what an enemy plans to do. There’s a broken ultra-zoomed-in lock-on system, but you know, it’s broken. Where, and this is no joke, you lock onto an enemy and then proceed to launch an attack against another enemy off-camera you can’t see. Let alone hit.
Unfinished doesn’t even begin to cover it really, the enemy AI is so bad that as the Archer class you can attack from reasonably close and not aggro an entire group of mobs. Enemies will just stand there, and sometimes when you’re up close. They will engage more often than not but that just results in a stun-locking free-for-all where all enemies ranged and melee attack at the same time and have those attacks home in on your position as you’re juggled to death.
For the style of game Dark Alliance is trying to be, combat is broken right down to its very core.
Now, saying the environments and backdrops look cool could be taken as an off-hand compliment -- or a cynical bit of ribbing at the expense of the game. Saying something positive just for the sake of saying something positive. But that was said with the same sincerity given to the many criticisms laid out, to the point where you get the distinct impression that more time was put into the story, pre-production, and modeling of the worlds and characters than anything else.
A sentiment that is stranger than it sounds, because there’s no real game to be found. Case in point one of the necro big bad bosses that you meet in a large and imposing chamber with a shrine in the centre. One surrounded by all manner of elemental oddities, which play into what is a four-phase fight that goes through lightning, poison, necrotic, and fire variants. Here’s the thing though, apart from lavish cinematic bookends there’s not much to it.
A big plus for Dark Alliance is the fact that it doesn’t sully the Baldur’s Gate name. Just its legacy.
This dark lord of darkness doesn’t summon any helpers, even though this is the one fight where that would make sense. And each phase features the same attack patterns but with a different colour. So then, is Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance unfinished or simply lacking in, you know, actual game design? We think it's the latter, and for that its problems go well beyond patching out bugs.