It has been some time since we’ve seen a proper original Dungeons & Dragons-licensed game on consoles. Tuque Games has released Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance on consoles, but is it worthy of the license, and does it do its setting within the Icewind Dale storyline justice? Find out in our Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance PS5 review.
Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance PS5 Review – Quick to Load
Dark Alliance is a PS5 game, but the only evidence of this is in the quick load times. Most levels load in within a handful of seconds, entirely thanks to the speedy SSD within the console. What’s odd though is that these loading screens feel like they take longer to complete than Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, despite Dark Alliance’s assets not being nearly as high-fidelity. In the world of M.2 SSDs, though, you’re not talking about much time wasted no matter what, so most people aren’t likely to notice the load times. Outside of the loading speed, there is no real use of the PS5, specifically the DualSense controller. This is a shame because it would’ve been great to feel some tension when drawing Catti-Brie’s bow, or resistance when swinging heavier weapons.
The Unreal Engine runs behind the scenes, but Dark Alliance isn’t really a showcase game. Cutscenes look great, to be sure, but the actual game doesn’t look much better than PS4 games. This is probably a symptom of the game being primarily developed for last-generation consoles, as we are in a transition between generations, but also perhaps due to a budget limitation. Whatever the cause, the presentation of this Dungeons & Dragons game feels lacking, especially on the PS5.
Dark Alliance is a third-person action RPG made for co-op. It can easily be played alone, but higher difficulty modes require multiple players, at least if the game is played as intended (it is far too easy to game the system and pick off enemies one by one, but more on that later). The campaign is played in chapters, and between missions players meet in a central location that features a portal. It is here that coins can be spent and loot collected. Dark Alliance has a few different mechanics when it comes to loot. First, while on a mission, at certain points all enemies must be cleared in an area. Once this is complete, a campfire can be erected to set a checkpoint. If this is done, then much like in a Souls or Bloodborne game, the area’s enemies will reset. However, it is an optional thing to do.
Opting to not build a campfire results in the mission’s loot reward drops increasing in rarity, which can result in better chances of securing rare or epic goods. This is a risk-vs-reward system that is quite enticing, even if it involves much-delayed gratification. See, while enemies and chests drop loot of various types and rarity, the actual contents of said loot is not known until players are back in the central camp location. A chest near the center of this area holds all gathered goods, and interacting with it reveals items one at a time, or all can be revealed by holding a button. Many players may be annoyed by not being able to know exactly what they’ve picked up out in the field, or worse, picking up something that really could have helped with the last mission but not being able to equip it until after the mission was over and done with. This chest does make things feel a bit more MMO-like, in that you have to “turn in” to collect your goodies, but it mostly comes off feeling disconnected from what most consider to be standard looting practice.
Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance PS5 Review – Easy to Game
It’s rare that games are so easy to cheese that you can accidentally game the systems within them, but Dark Alliance manages to let players do just that. Enemy AI is almost non-existent, and in fact there were multiple instances during my playthrough where I was able to play as Catti-Brie, the archer, and pick off enemies’ health a little bit at a time, as they simply stood there and took the hits. They’d even continue whatever scripted conversation they were in the middle of while getting hurt and dying! Enemies are also fiercely territorial, to the point that as you attack them, if you step outside their assigned range, they simply about-face and march right back to their spawn location, and no longer react to your attacks. This usually results in them dying before ever making it back. Basics like this make Dark Alliance seem like it was rushed to production.
Other issues showed up during my time with Dark Alliance that brought attention to, well, the lack of attention paid to many aspects of the game. The first unbelievable issue was that I witnessed character drift when standing still. That is, when not even touching the controller, my character would continue to slowly, but noticeably, drift along in the last direction I was moving. I thought perhaps this was the dreaded joystick drift we’ve been receiving reports of on the DualSense controller, but no other game was doing this, and because the issue showed up in whatever direction I had last moved in, it was indeed an issue with the game. Another strange issue seen was that treasure chests can be opened before obstacles placed in the way or around them are destroyed. The combo system is also unreliable, as holding the L2 button for ranged attacks can occasionally cause Catti-Brie to perform combo melees at completely incorrect times.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance PS5 Review - A Cold Take | PSLS
The strongest point of Dark Alliance is in its story. The campaign has a strong introduction, and generally remains enjoyable throughout. Each of the four main protagonists have their own separately recorded lines, and there is a little incentive for multiple playthroughs if you’re playing solo to hear and read everything. Even items that you pick up have a good amount of lore attached to them. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons, and especially of The Icewind Dale trilogy, will probably find a lot to like here. The rest of us may feel like it’s just another RPG, albeit with a more in-depth story than we’re used to. Note that co-op is online only, and while a split-screen patch has been promised for the Xbox Series consoles, that is not yet the case for the PlayStation releases.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has the potential to become a fun showcase for the long-running franchise. Despite the issues, none of these are game-breaking bugs, and it is a passable RPG. Now we just have to see if Tuque Games has what it takes to turn things around. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons, of which there are untold millions, will love the lore and story of Dark Alliance. Who knows if their love of the franchise will translate into enough sales to warrant a sequel? If so, then there is a lot of work to do, but we’ve seen plenty of comebacks before, and we’ll no doubt see more in the future. With any luck, in the not-too-distant future we’ll gather ‘round the virtual campfire and enjoy a higher-scored adventure in the Icewind Dale thanks to the lessons learned from Dark Alliance.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.002 reviewed on a PS5. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.