I went into my recent Dark Alliance demo with development studio Tuque Games expecting to briefly relive the grim, bloody hack and slash glory of the original Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games. The new game, while pitched as a spiritual successor, feels very different, however. Not bad, just different.
Dark Alliance, priced at $40 and coming to PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on June 22, seems more focused on the loot grind, for one. Whereas the early aughts’ Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance I and II functioned as streamlined Diablo-likes with an emphasis on arcade-style coop, Dark Alliance has all manner of gear to collect, upgrade, and customize. Unlike the originals’ linear, multi-act structure, Dark Alliance’s 21 missions are launched individually from a hub world reminiscent of something like Warhammer: Vermintide. The biggest different though is in the look and feel. Ditching the isometric view of the previous games, the new one sees you get up close to the action with a third-person action cam closely stalking your movements. In my brief time with Dark Alliance it occasionally felt like I was playing a shooter that just happened to not have any guns.
The bulk of my half hour session with the game was spent playing a mission called The Verbeeg Jamboree. It snaked around a series of mountain ranges with short, tight corridor sections giving way to larger arenas full of enemies to dispatch. Tuque Games clearly put a lot into the look and detail of the 3D Forgotten Realms environment, but I was a little underwhelmed by the amount of stuff I actually encountered in it.
I played as Drizzt Do’Urden, the duel-wielding drow maverick who’s quick on his feet and even quicker with his blades. The nimble warrior made it easy to dash in and around enemies to strike them in the back for bonus crit damage and pull of deadly combos that left him extra vulnerable but also cleared mobs quickly—the traditional DPS-class trade-off. A stamina meter limits you from constantly going ham though, forcing you to sometimes watch and wait for openings to capitalize on, rather than constantly whaling on D&D monsters.
“I really prefer games where you don’t have to [memorize complex button presses],” Dark Alliance creative director, Jeff Hattem, told me during the demo. “It’s more about timing and committing to the moves that you do and more the tactical aspect of combat. So all you have to do as a player is kind of decide, am I doing a quick attack and exposing myself a little bit by doing a little damage, or do I want to do heavy attacks, or do I want to be defensive and block, parry, roll, that kind of stuff?”
In addition to Drizzt’s arsenal of light and heavy attack combos and cooldown abilities, characters also have team attacks that can only be unleashed when playing with other people online, after slowly building up a meter over the course of a mission. It helped us make quick work of the final boss. Overall combat was fun and felt weighty, but my internet connection was also struggling that day, making it hard to parse it more deeply. Fights occasionally felt chunky rather than fluid, though that could have been as much about latency on my end streaming the game remotely as anything else.
After every big encounter the game would give us the option to rest and heal up or carry on as is, increasing the chance of better gear dropping from the next fight in exchange for taking on greater risk. Hattem said every character in the game will have around 60 moves total that can be unlocked as they’re leveled up, including by playing levels like The Verbeeg Jamboree again and again on higher difficulties. Gems collected along the way can also be used to increase the overall rewards for a mission, most of which come from a loot chest waiting for you back at home base.
The demo convinced me I could have a fun time in Dark Alliance, whittling away the hours grinding through it on late nights with some friends. But it also showed the game to be a much more modular, grinding experience than I think of the original Dark Alliance games as being. Outside of an opening cinematic and some light, in-mission dialogue, I didn’t get much of a sense of the greater Forgotten Realms world the game is pulling from, or why my friends and I would potentially be hacking and slashing our ways through it.
Perhaps the biggest bummer is that Dark Alliance has abandoned local coop as an option. “The result is Dark Alliance, an epic adventure with gameplay that is reminiscent of classic couch co-op action RPGs that you’ll want to play over and over again with your friends,” read the original press release announcing the game. “We wanted to do local co-op but it’s not on the cards any more for the game,” Hattem told Eurogamer. “We led out with the intent but we got ahead of ourselves [...] and it got away from us.” With the game’s more zoomed in perspective, however, dividing the screen up for multiple views became less feasible, and was ultimately dropped altogether. Cross-play won’t be an option either, though Tuque Games is supporting free upgrades across console generations.
Hattem stressed, like the creators of a lot of multiplayer loot games seem to be doing these days, that Dark Alliance was not developed as a live service game. “I would say it it’s not it’s not a live service, but we do have plans for new content post launch,” he said. “We do want to keep the game super-vibrant, and depending on how players react to the game, you know, come out with more content once the game goes live.” This content would be more in the vein of DLC updates and expansions rather than the seasonal models and battle passes now favored by lots of other multiplayer games. “You buy it and that’s it,” Hattem said. “You know, there’s no micro transactions in the game. You get everything that the game has to offer at launch.”