Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance review — The co-op brawler lacks the TTRPG's magic

Dark Alliance doesn't feel much like a Dungeons & Dragons game.

Dungeons And Dragons Dark Alliance Undead Wizard
(Image: © Windows Central)

For decades, developers have worked to translate the flavor and mechanics of the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game into digital form. The latest attempt is Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance from Tuque Games, which was purchased by D&D owners Wizards of the Coast. Meant to be a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, the co-op brawler follows the adventures of characters from the D&D novels by R. A. Salvatore, who also worked on the game.

Despite that pedigree, Dark Alliance barely feels like a Dungeons & Dragons game. It's as if the developers read some of Salvatore's novels and watched Lord of the Rings, but never even talked to anyone who'd played D&D about what they like about the game or the mechanics and terms they might want to draw upon.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a serviceable melee looter, but it lacks anything to make it really stand out or be worth the grind to its higher difficulty tiers. The DLC and expansion that Tuque Games has already announced could improve the experience, but for now it's an adventure likely to leave most players disappointed.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance — What you'll like

Dungeons And Dragons Dark Alliance Verbeeg Jamboree

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance lets you choose from four iconic D&D characters such as the Drow ranger Drizzt Do'Urden and the dwarven king Bruenor Battlehammer. The game currently won't let you double up on characters in multiplayer, though Tuque said it plans to add that feature, but it also feels worthwhile to have a fully balanced party since each character has their own strengths. For instance, Catti-brie prefers to snipe from range, ideally taking down foes that the barbarian Wulfgar has stripped of their defenses by slamming them with his giant hammer.

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CategoryDungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance
TitleDungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance
DeveloperTuque Games and Wizards Studio
PublisherWizards of the Coast
GenreAction RPG
Minimum requirementsAMD FX 8320 or Intel Core i5-6600K at 3.5GHz8GB RAM
Game size50GB
Play time15-18 hours
PlayersUp to four players in online co-op
Launch price$40

The hack and slash combat is easy to figure out, though you need more finesse and precision to complete levels on higher difficulty. The party leader determines what levels are unlocked, so it's easy to get a group together and hop right in without forcing others to play solo to catch up. While the game is certainly at its best with a full group of four, it plays just fine with two people.

The core gameplay is pretty straightforward, with players mowing through monsters, avoiding dangerous terrain, and defeating mini-bosses to access new areas of a dungeon. Completionists with sharp eyes can do some basic puzzles and platforming to find extra treasure, powerups, and lore items.

Dungeons And Dragons Dark Alliance Drizzt Fights A Troll

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Enemy banter is pretty entertaining, particularly when you pause to eavesdrop before ambushing a group of goblins whose dialogue tends to resemble a hybrid of the orcs from Lord of the Rings and the battle droids in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That's why it's unfortunate that the banter is largely missing from multiplayer games, though again Tuque said it's working on this issue.

One clever mechanic is the Short Rest, which draws in elements of both 5th Edition and 4th Edition D&D. You'll find campfires throughout each dungeon which serves as a checkpoint in case you wipe and also give you the option of taking some time off to recover your hit points and expendable resources or pressing on to improve your future loot drops. It lets you test your luck and rewards careful playing.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance — What you won't like

Dungeons And Dragons Dark Alliance Armored Goblin

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance really doesn't feel like a D&D game. The plot involving an evil magic item coveted by lots of evil groups is delivered almost entirely through big, dry exposition dumps at the beginning of each mission. While you're told the bond between your characters is important, none of that personality comes through. Aside from some battle cries and occasional commentary on their surroundings, the characters don't really banter or have distinguishable motivations or personalities.

Magic is a huge part of D&D, but it's largely absent from Dark Alliance, which will eventually add a primary caster as part of a paid expansion. There are so many missed opportunities to just get the terminology right to make things feel more like D&D. For instance, if all the characters in your group die the game flashes "Total Party Down" rather than "Total Party Kill," which is the common name for dungeon master wiping out all their players.

New moves aren't earned by leveling up but by paying gold. The moves mostly just provide some debuffs or elemental damage but don't feel like they're really improving your character's core competencies like making Bruenor better at tanking. Similarly, the feat trees, which easily could have been based on D&D feats but weren't, are pretty generic static bonuses.

Solo play is a real slog since your combo streaks are broken when you pause to avoid an attack but you share a combo pool with teammates, meaning so long as someone's still fighting you'll keep building up to your powerful ultimate attacks. There's currently no couch co-op, though that's in the works, but online players are still restricted by proximity to the party leader to the point that if they respawn after falling in combat, the rest of the group can be teleported out of the fight to get the group back together. While the graphics are pretty solid, the game regularly experiences visual stutters when enemies die and despawn and when the party moves between floors.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance — Should you play it?

Dungeons And Dragons Dark Alliance Acid Pits

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance will be available on Xbox Game Pass on launch day, so if you have the service to play the best Xbox Game Pass games you might as well fire it up and give the game a try. It's a decent casual hack and slash title to share with friends, though even then you might want to wait until Tuque fixes the enemy banter so you get a more entertaining experience.

It's really hard to justify paying the full $40 for a game that seems to be relying on a license to build an audience without really living up to the Dungeons & Dragons name. With a thin plot, no character development, fairly repetitive gameplay, and a bunch of content that needs fixing or won't be delivered until a paid expansion, Dark Alliance feels like an unfinished experience rather than a robust adventure.

Samantha Nelson