Dropping into an action-heavy fantasy game online to beat up ugly monsters and score great loot is an industry unto itself. Asymmetric camera angles dominate the landscape as most games try to emulate Diablo, but every now and then, a game will come along to wrangle a new spin on the subgenre.
In terms of accessible hack-and-slash gameplay where chasing loot is half the thrill, the Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance video game, due out this June, will fill a void we never knew existed. What if Marvel’s Avengers was more like Diablo and set within the world of Dungeons & Dragons?
If you’re intrigued by any part of that question, Dark Alliance is definitely one to watch.
Inverse recently went hands-on with Dark Alliance, and found the game’s easygoing hack-and-slash action has enough complexity to draw in all sorts of power-hungry gamers.
Based on author R.A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy, Dark Alliance focuses on the adventures of the heroic Dark Elf Drizzt Do'urden and his three companions, tasked with defending the tundras of Icewind Dale from monstrous threats. There are frost giants, Beholders, white dragons, and a whole lot more to tangle with. For a huge swath of Dungeons & Dragons fans, being able to step into the shoes of Drizzt likely sounds like a dream come true, but this is a power fantasy worth experiencing even if you know very little about D&D.
Hardcore meets camp
In retrospect, the December 2019 Dark Alliance reveal trailer feels like baffling misdirection. Compared to that, the final product is not what I expected at all.
Chaotic, frenzied, and full of grisly first-person action, the trailer is set to “I am Above,” a raging track from Swedish heavy metal band IN FLAMES. It makes Dark Alliance look disorienting, dreary, and dark. The actual game world, despite taking place in a frigid and unforgiving region of the world, feels positively vibrant by comparison. It more closely resembles Baldur’s Gate III (another new D&D game).
Dark Alliance has a more hardcore tone than your average high fantasy experience, but it finds balance with a cheeky sense of humor. Characters come across as self-serious badasses. That’s offset by the campy nature of the enemies. Dark Alliance definitely evokes Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War by relying on quirky orc-like enemies for comic relief. The preview mission tasks you with breaking up the “Verbeeg Jamboree,” where a bunch of grotesque-looking enemies are having a party.
Light on magic, heavy on might
Combat is straightforward and brisk with the common mix of light and heavy attacks. There’s no need to memorize button combinations, so button-mashers will feel right at home alongside finesse players. Also in the mix are unique special abilities for each character and even “Ultimate” attacks.
A character’s Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution can be upgraded over time as you progress, influencing your character's stats in predictable ways (namely damage and health). But other classic D&D Ability Scores like Intelligence and Charisma have been reworked to influence the more direct approach to combat here. There isn’t much in the way of magic when you’re dealing with four martial classes, so these stats instead influence things like ability cooldowns. It’s an innovative but simple way to keep things in line with the classic spirit of D&D.
Even traps are peppered throughout the landscape, breaking up the combat and exploration with the same approach to game design you get in a legit tabletop adventure.
Avengers in a fantasy world
Dark Alliance invites comparisons to Marvel’s Avengers, with its co-op combat and team of familiar heroes. Yet this online looter-slasher wisely avoids the live-service game model altogether to deliver flashy combat and a satisfying loot grind that won’t overstay its welcome.
Sometimes, simpler truly is better.
The overall approach here feels somewhat similar to Diablo or Torchlight. If all you want is a few brainless hours spent beating up monsters with your friends, then you’ll get that in spades. Everything is just as accessible. Dark Alliance shirks the isometric camera and instead opts for a full-on 3D perspective. Plenty of gamers out there will surely love it, even the ones who don’t play D&D.
Dark Alliance will be released on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles on June 22, 2021.