A spiritual sequel to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance set in Icewind Dale. But how does it stack-up against the 2001 predecessor?
I like tanky characters and immediately decided to go for Bruenor Battlehammer in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. A burly dwarf warrior who can take anything the enemy throws at him, according to the developers. After spending nearly 20 hours with the game, I almost feel like suing them for the statement, because it feels more like I was trying to take on trolls, orcs and all manner of vermin with a character made of fragile porcelain. At least when I'm playing alone.
Because Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a distinctly co-op game. The idea is that you'll go on adventures with good friends to collect loot together, defeat bosses and clear your way through a fantasy world based on the Dungeons & Dragons universe. Unfortunately, however, there are countless obstacles laid out along the way that effectively hinder almost any form of entertainment. This includes the role-playing world's possibly deepest lore, where nothing really is used, to gameplay that feels like mainstream fantasy with dull cutscenes. I could live with that though, if I got to loot and have fun, but even that has been thwarted by the developers.
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Starting with my struggling Bruenor Battlehammer (you can change characters between missions), fighting large numbers of enemies is utterly hopeless. It's very difficult to hit exactly who you want to hit, and if you instead lock your sights on a particular speck of dirt, the camera promptly slides towards you back. This instantly makes it impossible to see what's going on behind your character, and more than once you'll be killed by enemies you never even saw. And every time you die you are transported back to your last checkpoint, which unfortunately often tends to be unreasonably far back because you get lesser loot if you pick more checkpoints.
As if to make matters worse for the lone player, the developers have thrown in special group attacks to help when the going gets tough. However, one player is not a group and you'll have to settle for simply not being able to use these, while also having no one to help you with enemies attacking from behind. Combat is a very inexact science to boot, and I sometimes get stuck on enemies, as well as it being too random to roll to the side to avoid attacks, and the bugs don't help. Initiated attacks can't be interrupted either, which makes for tedious battles where your character often does something different than you'd actually like.
Unfortunately, even new loot isn't a solution to the lack of fun. In fact, for some inexplicable reason, the developers have carefully studied the success story Anthem (Note: Irony) and taken its loot system. This means that you can't use that new super axe - or anything else you've found either - until you've completed the mission you're on. This also means you'll lose all your loot if you turn off the game before finishing a level. You simply have to fight on with suboptimal gear until you can manually review everything you've got and then use it.
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Add to this that the level design is totally uninspired with similar design on almost every level. Once you've figured out how to blow things up and pull levers, you then have to do this over and over again. Side quests are offered, but even these are completely undynamic and I never feel proud of finding secrets because everything is so obvious.
Even the graphics aren't well done, and this wouldn't have looked good on a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Playing it on PC or modern consoles makes it painfully obvious what a primitive game it actually is. However, primitive graphics can of course still look good if they're very well polished, but that's not true in this case either. On the contrary, you'll encounter lots of textures that sort of jump in and flash polygon cracks along the way.
Fortunately, if you play Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance with others, things will be a bit more pleasant. Suddenly you've got someone to cover you and warn you of enemies attacking from behind. You'll also be able to make joint super attacks when necessary, and can use strategies better. The other problems remain, of course, but since you don't die as often as a group, much of the frustration that would otherwise arise is also removed. This shouldn't be confused with me enjoying the gameplay though, because fun is something that's pretty scarce here anyway.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has been called a spiritual sequel to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, which was released in 2001. The latter received a re-release earlier this year, which I would actually recommend over this game. Although it's showing its age, it's still a fun game to romp through with a good friend. This is too sprawling, ill-conceived and slow. If you're still really keen and have Xbox Game Pass, then give it a go. Otherwise, it's simply not worth the money, get Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance instead, or even better Warhammer: Vermintide 2, which is better in just about every way.
4 / 10
Decent co-op support. Included with Game Pass
Feels unfinished. Lousy loot system. Boring battles. Very repetitive. Old graphics. Uninspired level design.