Review – Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance
While I’ve never gotten hugely invested in Dungeons & Dragons, I have played a few campaigns throughout my life and really enjoyed my time with it. The main reason I never got heavily involved with it had more to do with not having people to play with more than having a dislike for the game. So when I heard that Dungeons & Dragons was lending their brand to a new video game, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, I got really excited. Finally, a version of Dungeons & Dragons that I didn’t need to rely on a group within close proximity to engage with! Sadly, my excitement died almost immediately after booting it up.
There is a story in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, but I’ll be honest and say that I have very little idea as to what it is. All I can gather is that dragons, frost giants, and armies of other unsavory sorts are making their way across Icewind Dale. It’s up to you and up to three other playable characters to stop them and save Icewind Dale. You might be wondering why I have so little idea as to what is going on, especially since I am someone who is known for loving a good narrative as well as fantasy settings.
Well, the thing is that I played Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance on a last gen system, an Xbox One X, since we were told this game was designed to be cross gen. My husband used our Xbox Series X, while I used our Xbox One X. Also accompanying us was our colleague, Leo Faria, on and Xbox Series S. Let me tell you, this game is nearly unplayable on a last gen system. My trepidation for its performance began the moment we started it. During the introductory cinematic cutscene, the framerate was already struggling to keep up, so the whole thing was stuttering horribly. It was so distracting that I couldn’t pay attention to what was going on.
I checked over at my husband’s screen since he was using the newer system, but he didn’t appear to be having the same issue. At that point I hoped my game was just off to a rough start, but would smooth itself out later. It didn’t. In fact, from there things only got much worse.
We each chose our characters and began the game. There are four total characters to choose from: Drizzt, a dual sword-wielding dark elf; Wulfagr, a barbarian with a massive hammer; Catti-Brie, an archer; then finally Bruenor, a dwarf brandishing an axe and shield. From these four, we chose all but the dwarf.
As far as the gameplay, each character does have their own distinct feel. Drizzt is fast and agile, using his two scimitars and invisibility power to deal critical hits. Wulfgar is a bit slower, but deals devastating damage with his giant hammer. Catti-Brie is also agile, but is more of a ranged fighter due to her being equipped with a bow. These sound like your typical yet solid action adventure archetypes, but unfortunately, they suffer from some bizarre design choices.
For example, Drizzt (whom I was using to play) has the power to briefly turn invisible to better sneak up on enemies. Sounds great and to be fair, this ability does work very well. The only problem is that you’re completely invisible to your teammates as well. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but there were several times where I fell in battle and called on Leo to use Catti-Brie’s healing ability to save me. This proved problematic when he couldn’t find me and didn’t know where to cast the spell.
Speaking of Catti-Brie, she has one of the biggest design flaws I’ve ever seen. She’s an archer, but for some reason only deals paltry damage to enemies when she’s at a distance. However, she can do pretty decent damage with her kicks and has a strong attack with her bow that also deals pretty significant damage. The issue here is that she needs to be fairly close to the target in order for it to be powerful. Essentially, you need to treat her bow as if it were a shotgun. This means that the archer character, you know, the one who is suppose to be used for long-range attacks, is only effective at close range. Who on earth thought this was a good idea?
Even excluding these poor design choices, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is at best just extremely mediocre. It’s about as bland and generic as it gets. Some of the moves are flashy, but if you’ve ever played and action/adventure hack ‘n’ slash game, then you’ve seen them all before. There’s no real innovation in here at all.
Unfortunately, simply being boring isn’t the biggest detracting factor to this game. That award goes to its abysmal framerate. As I’ve already mentioned, I was playing this on my Xbox One X, as the developers have stated that they designed Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance with cross gen in mind. To be fair, this game does technically work on the last gen systems, but only barely. I was only getting about 15-20 fps when it was running at its absolute best.The loading times for my game were about five times longer than either of my counterparts too. Whenever we’d go back to the main hub, they would have almost finished upgrading their characters by the time I finally loaded into the area.
The framerate was that low even during the cutscenes, as well as when we weren’t near any enemies and only one of us was moving. Then any time there were enemies onscreen, the framerate would plummet to single digits. I haven’t experienced a framerate this dreadful since I went back and replayed Fable II. In this state, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is almost unplayable. My husband didn’t have as many issues with our Xbox Series X, but he still noticed dips from time to time. Leo on the other hand, who was using his Xbox Series S, had quite a few issues with his framerate dropping as well. His never quite reached single digits like mine, but even he said the framerate for him seemed locked at about 20-30 fps.
There are a few environmental puzzles in here, but they’re as bare bones and basic as you can get. There’s almost no level of challenge with any of them. They almost feel like they would belong in game aimed at children, such as Dragons: Dawn of New Riders. In fact, the game as a whole feels more like a mobile game than anything else.
Then there are the bugs. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is completely riddled with them. There are a few that we encountered that were absolutely hilarious though, such as taking an elevator up to the next area and having it launch one of us into space when it stopped. I also laughed a few times when I would jump and catch the ledge of something, only to have it shove me off. Luckily, there’s no fall damage. Laughs aside, most of the bugs are really annoying.
For example, almost every time I would try to climb a ladder, I would get stuck the the base of it and just float there for a while. Another time I somehow got stuck inside a trebuchet while fighting a boss. Then there an instance when we were fighting two duergar brothers named Garnn and Murdunn, when we encountered a bug that made us automatically win the fight about halfway through it. At first we thought the cutscene was just going to reveal them taking on their next more difficult form. We only realized this wasn’t the case when the story kept advancing. I guess not all the bugs are game breaking, just game shortening.
As far as the graphics go, they’re fairly decent. The general enemies such as goblins all tend to blend together and don’t have much noticeable variety. I will say that the boss designs are pretty fun though. I only wish there were more of them. Most of the level designs are similarly uninspired, which seems to be the theme for Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance.
I can say the same thing for the sound design. The voice acting is pretty decent, which is about the best thing I can say for it. The sound effects are alright, just nothing special. The soundtrack is merely serviceable, being your typical orchestral fantasy affair. There’s just nothing noteworthy about any of it.
As a whole, I can’t recommend Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. If you’re attempting to play it on a last gen system, it’s almost impossible to get through. Even if you’re playing it on a current gen system, it’s still not worth your time. It’s simply not fun. It’s so bland and generic that it’s a slog to get through. There are many other co-op action adventure games out there are much more entertaining, such as Diablo III or Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. And the latter isn’t even that good to begin with.
The character designs are alright, just nothing terribly original. The level same can be said for the level designs. The framerate, however, is atrocious and even affects the cinematic cutscenes.
This is a pretty basic hack ‘n’ slash action game with little ingenuity. There are some serious issues with some of the gameplay designs, which make no sense whatsoever. The framerate is terrible and there are so many bugs that it’s almost unplayable.
The voice acting is fairly decent all around, but the soundtrack is largely forgettable.
Fun Factor: 2.0
This is an incredibly generic fantasy action game. Combine that with the abysmal framerate and myriad bugs and you have something that’s insufferable to play.
Final Verdict: 3.0
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.