Not So Massively: First impressions of Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance

    
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I’ll admit I had low expectations for the new co-op action game Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance. The graphics looked a bit dated, and the trailers made it seem a pretty campy. But I play a heroic amount of D&D IRL, and I like action games, so how bad could it be?

“How bad could it be,” he asked, the words echoing ominously into the cold night. A wolf howled in the distance.

Let me say upfront I feel bad giving overly negative reviews to games, especially when the devs were kind enough to give me access for free, as is the case here. Video games require immense work by a lot of people, often in brutal working conditions, and even when I’m critical, I try to honor that, even if I don’t always necessarily succeed. I try to find some positive in every game, even the ones I don’t like, because for someone that one positive might be enough to make them love a game.

But I’ll tell you now: I could find nothing to praise in this game. Perhaps if I played more I might have found some, but my experience of the early game was so frustrating and so bereft of any redeeming qualities that I just couldn’t bring myself to continue.

If you wish the gory details, read on.

For starters, Dark Alliance is just generally mediocre in many basic areas. As previously mentioned, the graphics look a bit dated, and the character animations are floaty and awkward. The voice acting is also a bit lackluster. The story feels reliant on previous knowledge of Drizzt’s adventures, and I’ve never read those books.

I was also quite disappointed by the limited character selection. There are just four options, and none of them is a magic-user, which feels like a major oversight for any fantasy game. I went for Catti-brie, an archer who serves as the lone ranged option in the line-up.

However, while disappointing, none of those things is necessarily a deal-breaker. But there are some truly major design flaws that really hobble this game.

I don’t think I have ever played a game that feels so actively hostile to a keyboard-and-mouse user. I think we’re all used to games that have been designed for controllers first and feel a bit awkward as a result, but usually I find I have a high tolerance for such things.

This is on a whole other level, though. The PC controls are nothing short of nonsensically awkward. Aiming a ranged attack requires holding down a key on the keyboard (I rebound it to tab, though I believe ctrl was the default), which might not sound so bad, but when you’re used to aiming with the right mouse button (you know, how 99% of third- and first-person games do it), it feels incredibly awkward, especially when your keyboard hand also has to handle movement and using any abilities or items.

But the most egregious example is the fact that switching targets while using your target lock requires you to switch one hand over to the arrow keys, as if you’re playing some ’90s DOS game. You can play the game without using target lock, but making it so awkward shows you how little thought went into the PC controls.

Those are just some of the worst examples. It felt like I was fighting the game itself more so than the goblins I’d been sent to kill. Yes, rebinding can fix some of this, but a lot of things can’t be rebound, and the way there are so many things that require unique bindings further aggravates the issue. The best solution is presumably to use a controller, but that doesn’t help those of us who don’t own one.

Even if you do solve the control issue, though, there remains the issue that the combat just isn’t that fun, even putting aside the awkward controls. A game like this lives and dies by its combat, so that’s a pretty big problem.

There aren’t many active abilities, and they have extremely long cooldowns, so you’re only going to be using them every other fight at best. Therefore pretty much all you can do is just spam your basic attacks, and that gets old fast.

In theory, there’s supposed to be a combo system based on alternating light and heavy attacks in specific patterns (that aren’t explained), but I never seemed to manage to trigger any. I’ve never been very good at those kind of combos, so maybe it’s a me issue, but I suspect it may be that ranged attacks can’t trigger combos.

I did notice that there are many other effects that can’t be triggered by ranged attacks, such as the “empowered” hit you can do with careful timing after a melee hit. Since nothing explains this, it made for a rather frustrating trip through the tutorial, let me tell you.

Honestly, it feels like this game hates ranged characters almost as much it hates keyboard users. There’s only the one, and she just doesn’t work that well. The ranged mechanics and controls were so clunky that half the time I ended up just punching enemies to death instead.

One final issue I wish to bring attention to is how punitive Dark Alliance is for those with limited time or unstable connections. If you leave a mission early — say, because you disconnected, or got called away from your computer — you lose all progress from the mission. And I mean all progress. Not only do you need to start the mission over from scratch when you play next, but any loot or other rewards you might have earned will vanish. Since the missions seem relatively long for a game of this style (expect to spend at least thirty minutes on each), that can really sting.

And that’s the limit of my impressions. As I said, I don’t enjoy giving a game such a negative review, and it is possible there is good stuff I didn’t get to, but I don’t expect many people are going to have the patience to overlook Dark Alliance‘s myriad flaws.

Honestly, if you’re looking for a cooperative action game set in the Forgotten Realms, I would say just play Neverwinter. For all its rough edges, it’s a much better game than Dark Alliance as it stands.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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tacgnol 06

I’m not going to get into the whole debate as to whether or not gamepad-centric games should be obliged to have decent keyboard and mouse controls when released on PC. However, it’s one thing to to criticize a game for not having good keyboard controls. It’s quite another to ignore gamepads altogether when the option is available and the game is of a genre that would benefit (such as, say, a beat-em-up). You do a chunk of your readers a disservice. Like reviewing a hardcore flight sim without mentioning flight stick controls.

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THE RING FOR OVER THE CHAIN

This game is getting crucified by reviews. I actually feel bad for the devs.

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Neurotic

For what it’s worth, Salvatore himself wrote the story for this, which carries on directly after The Crystal Shard.

Ernost
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Ernost

Now that is surprising. Based on the tone of the trailer I thought this was a parody of Salvatore’s books.

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Neurotic

Yeah, it is a bit surprising I suppose. Tbh I think the whole game misses the point, really. Mining Drizzt and Icewind Dale here seems rather stupid, given the massive variety of characters and locations they could have used. I suspect that this is all about Hasbro wanting to a) cash in on IWD nostalgia, and b) continuing to raise more awareness of Drizzt as a ‘main’ character in D&D, in light of the various other games and the Forgotten Realms movie, and so on. It’s kind of a perfect storm of money, recognizable faces, and gamer nostalgia. :D

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KoboldWhite

Don’t worry about being negative… Skill Up has already destroyed this one.

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BalsBigBrother

I played this for an hour this morning thanks to game pass on Xbox.

The controls are not much better with a controller to be honest. It feels floaty I guess is the best way I can describe it and it makes the whole thing feel sluggishly clunky. For a game the is 100% combat action getting combat wrong is perhaps the biggest sin and the combat isn’t right.

I haven’t uninstalled it but I am not feeling too enthused about playing again so I may well do so before the day is out. Shame as I quite liked the look of this and the humour of the trailer.

Oh well back to ESO for now.

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IrisaNolan88

I played the playtest and played Catt as I believe you did as well. Some of the things u mentioned are spot on for how I felt but I think you didn’t progress far enough to see the unlocks and how they do considerably change the game with Catt in particular.

Some specifics of what I agree with:
1) Keyboard controls are atrocious.
2) Mission Lengths for this style of game are a bit much especially with, as mentioned, losing all progress if you don’t complete it.
3) “skills” have horrid cooldowns and really detract from what could be better gameplay if they had much shorter CDs. Hopefully this get tweaked.

Unlocking moves as they are called changes quite a bit, also I found Catt to be considerably more difficult to play solo vs any of the other characters. She is more of a supporting character. I played with 1 other person for most of my play time and found that to be a much better option for Catt’s character.

Combos are not “explained” at all but as u progress in the character screen u unlock them and it does explain how to trigger them. Most moves cost gold to unlock which I had no trouble with even using the lowest/least gold, difficulty. Again keyboard controls are HORRID here for most of those combo moves. They seem to have only decided late to even support keyboards as the screen doesn’t even show the keyboard options for your consumables it shows the d-pad.

Wulfgar and Drizzt have a lot more moves that “feel” better than Catt, again it seems they didnt seem to really focus on implementing her and put all their attention on drizzt and wulfgar.

Other things that I have problem with:
Stamina drain is REALLY HORRID for Catt, in addition to using stam for EVERY attack, some use more than others, your max stam slowly degrades as you use some “basic” attacks. The game calls this slow recovery stam but it never recovers unless you, use the Ultimate, “take a rest” checkpoint, or flat out die/respawn/restart mission. This makes playing CATT solo nearly impossible at higher levels as you really need to use those more powerful attacks for some bosses but after doing so 4-5 attacks (about 30 seconds) perm reduces ur max stam to 50%, until you do one of the above things. Stam potion is pointless because the animation to use it takes longer than recovery does, that seems incredibly stupid.

I played Drizzt and Wulfgar and both of those characters didn’t have anything close to the Stamina issue that Catt’s character does.

Rumor of a major Day 1 patch, I do hope that is fixed or changed. I got the game as included in MS Gamepass on PC so my investment is small but I’ll prob play less than a week post launch if some of the major issues mentioned in this article and that I found are not tweaked. It just isn’t that much fun.

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Travis Holmes

Thanks for the refreshing honesty and the heartfelt thoughts at the start. Not gonna lie though, game looked bad from the first trailer.

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Kevin Smith

Thanks for an honest review. I will do what I always do though and take it with a grain of salt till I have played it myself. The only thing I am hoping isn’t as you say is the PC keyboard and mouse controls because that is where I plan on trying it. I don’t use a controller to play on my PC that is kinda the point of having keyboard and mouse. I will make sure to have a timer going so if it is as you say a dumpster fire that I can refund it.

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Damon Anderson

Thanks for your review. Fortunately I have Gamepass and Dark Alliance is included, so I have nothing to lose giving this one a try. I get the points you critized, they may not apply to myself or others, and I have high hopes as I am a fan of R.A. Salvatore and from what I got from a trailer the game is based around the Icewind Dale Trilogy, and you may have a point that without having read those, that may make a difference, for me its in a positive way (if you have not read his books I highly recommend them). Also I will be playing on console and it does sound as though that’s how it’s been designed from what you point out, although yes that’s an error on the devs part if it has problematic controls on PC. I will post some of my thoughts on this perhaps on Saturday on the WRUP after I have had a chance to play it. And yes I have Neverwinter regardless :)

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Fisty

Bummer. I hold a fondness for the original.