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Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has been on our radar for a while now. I wouldn't call myself the biggest fantasy fan, but any game that lets me embark on an adventure with my friends while developing my own character is worth checking out, and this game is precisely that. It's a third-person action role-playing game set in the D&D universe that offers online co-op with up to three companions. Sounds promising, right?
I was recently invited to see Wizards of the Coast's and Tuque Games' upcoming RPG in action. From the safety of my own home, of course, because the world still remains closed for many of us. My guided tour through the world of Icewind Dale was conducted by Lead Mission Designer Jean-Francois Champagne, and it's fair to say the only thing more impressive than JFC's name was the game itself.
It's worth noting that Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is set after the events of R.A. Salvatore's The Crystal Shard, the first book of the Icewind Dale Trilogy, which centers around character Drizzt Do'Urden. Drizzt and his companions Catti-brie, Bruenor, and Wulfgar, are the four playable characters in Dark Alliance, so it really does feel like you're in the world of D&D right from the off.
Playing as Wulfgar, JFC sets off on a mission called 'Verbeeg Jamboree'. Verbeegs are gruesome-looking giants, and the ones in this mission don't look like they'll take too kindly to the player character. Before we get to them, though, we have a level to explore. Set in the Dwarven Valley, the environment is magnificent to behold from a visual point of view. The dark rock and mountainous aesthetic combine to create a harsh landscape, matching the hostility of the goblins that await Wulfgar's intrusion.
It's not long until JFC is surrounded by enemies, wielding a mixture of bows, blades and magical abilities. Wulfgar is clearly in good hands here as he delivers blow after fatal blow with expert precision, and I can't help but wonder if I'd be able to wield his might with such deftness when I finally get a chance to play it for myself. The action is chaotic but fluid, with each move seamlessly transitioning to another. JFC takes this opportunity to point out that Dark Alliance doesn't use fixed combos. Instead, you can openly attack as you choose, allowing for unique fight sequences, and each one he executes looks as fluid as the last. It strikes me as the kind of mechanic that must really make the player feel invested in the experience, but as I'm not the player here I can't be certain.
The variety of enemies requires different thinking for how to engage them, but it's apparent from Wulfgar's numerous attacks that these foes have hefty constitutions. As a gameplay experience, this is perfect for co-op, but maybe not so much when going solo, especially as the player character doesn't seem capable of taking as many hits in one sitting. Luckily, Wulfgar can briefly retreat, and there are campfires to rest at in between fights. This restores health, but will also decrease the value of the loot that awaits us at the end of the level, so it takes a moment of consideration before deciding to relax for a moment.
After recovering, JFC pushes on further into the Dwarven Valley, and at this point he explains there are secrets hidden around the level. If you would rather thump goblins then that's fine, but there's plenty of scope for exploring the more concealed areas, if you're into that sort of thing. We decide against that this time, foregoing the traps in favour of glorious combat, and we soon find ourselves face-to-face with some Verbeegs. They're ugly, they're huge and they mean business.
Wulfgar is pulling out all the stops here. The combos are vicious and constant, with rare breaks coming to avoid unblockable strikes from the oversized monsters. The way JFC strikes and dodges is mesmerising, but it isn't enough to stop a giant fist connecting and knocking him on his backside. "That can happen!", he says, laughing as he regains the advantage. He deals the finishing blow, but just as the Verbeegs are beaten, we're ambushed by goblins. "Yeahs, these guys are the bottom feeders", he laughs as he overcomes this second wave of enemies, and I have to say this is a nice touch. The idea that beating a tough enemy opens you up to opportunistic hunters is the kind of thinking that so naturally suits the world of Dungeons & Dragons, and it makes Dark Alliance feel even more connected to the franchise.
At last we meet a Verbeeg, one who looks particularly threatening, by the name of Gutnir Widebelly. JFC wastes no time diving into the fray against him, hitting with combos that look even more threatening than earlier. Gutnir, however, seems to take it in stride, occasionally hitting back, and landing an emphatic strike on our hero. Wulfgar is soon up and back in the action, but it's obvious that this boss enemy isn't going to be easy. In fact, the fight is longer than any so far, and no matter how much damage Wulfgar deals, Gutnir remains standing. JFC stands back, and tells me about the ability to use ultimate moves, and unleashes an incredible berserker attack. This doesn't finish off the enemy, but it's clear there isn't much left to go now. Eventually, the Verbeeg falls, and the mission comes to a close.
This may have only been a first-look at the gameplay of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, but I can already see there's something magical here. It looks as exciting as any co-op action RPG I've played, and the melee-centric combat of Wulfgar strikes me as the perfect counter to games like Gears of War or Outriders. With in-depth character development and levels that look as fun as they are potentially dangerous, I'm excited to go hands-on with this game and see what else it offers further down the line.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance launches on June 22, 2021 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One Consoles and Xbox Series X'S.