Long before the whole second coming of the APOCALYPS3 was struck down I was brushing on my PS2 collection and refurbishing it with some old school, dungeon crawlin' up em beatin' son of a bitches. Most I had planned to finally check out, and with the gaming drought that cropped up (more so because of the lack of any new appealing releases to me than the lack of online) I got me browsing through Amazon for some cheevo-less cheapos. Including the likes of the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance games, the spiritual successors, Champions of Norrath, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks and Justice League Heroes.
Most of which were all developed by the same Snowblind Studios, most of which were reviewed by Ryan Davis during the early GSing days, all of which allow, and prosper, with cooperative gameplay. I've played through all, though some are being left behind after only an inklings entry because of how much I'd rather play them with a fellow adventurer (see: Champions of Norrath), but I've completed a good chunk of the lot and I'll make do with what's left to assure that I'll have a pretty justified opinion for the ones I bloggeth.
To start off this lil series of ''guy playing games'' will be Dark Alliance: one of the most recognisable dungeon crawlers of all time and one that brought the genre that was otherwise barely existent on consoles.
Now I'm going into this 11 years too late, but criticism where it's due shall be delivered, and Dark Alliance deserves plenty of it. I should also note that I didn't go into this expecting a dungeon crawler from 2011, or anything resembling more modern conventions, but the thing with dungeon crawlers is is that they really haven't changed all that much from the age of Diablo furthering Blizzard's dominance within everything - which, much like the genre, hasn't really changed all that much actually - and Dark Alliance really just isn't all that outstanding as a dungeon crawler.
The usual complaints that would surround such an old game also what weren't that factored into things either. For starters I actually really liked the games graphics, with the water being pretty damn impressive when viewing it from the mindset that this is from the beginning of the last decade. There were plenty of games later on that could only wet dream themselves such brilliant water physics...teehee. The battle animations are pretty smooth, as is the whole production of the game, which is no doubt what made this game so impressive at the time. Quality wise this can still be appreciated as a well produced game, but the gameplay is something else.. something old.. something pure... something.. really gosh darn tedious.
Oh hey hold the phucking phone... tedium in a dungeon crawler?! Mon dieu!...
The thing with dungeon crawlers is they are generally built around tedious combat, but the one thing that keeps pulling you in is the enigmatic character-driven story! The multitude of new loot to find! And the in your face elven nudity!
OK, well maybe not the first and last, but the middle reasoning with the loot is true. And that there is what festers and decays the game from within: the loot is awful. There's barely any of it, with you plundering mostly rubbish to sell, and scraps of gold, that eventually allow you to afford the best stuff in the game from the shop... the shop?! I don't go dungeon crawling to search for stuff just so I can sell just so I can buy my weapons and armour! Well to some extent since you're here to ransack treasures, but treasures such as lost trinkets, mystical weapons and awesome looking capes! The only bone this game throws you are actual bones. There are numerable boss battles as well, but they too virtually award you nothing, and their defeat most often results with their corpse spewing out a couple of potions with maybe a ''worn dagger''. There's really not that many armour sets either - or rather there are armour sets, they just all happen to look the same. But that admittedly can be forgiven as a way of the times.
During my first playthrough I also played as the Dwarven Warrior. I don't usually strive for the warrior position, I'll admit, but c'mon, Dwarf! Unfortunately that was another step added to this continuously bumpy fall down to the bottom. As the warrior you're expected to rely on your brute strength and the handy ability to mash X through everything. With the warrior in Dark Alliance that class design really wants to stick to the letter. There's only three abilities that the Warrior can, two of which are each exclusive to a particular weapon; so never would you have more than two abilities as a warrior. Unfortunately my love for the sword+shield combo overwhelmed me and that's what I piled my points into, which left me with a single ability to make use of--an aggressive charge attack--and one that is so un-accurate that the only good it was was for just getting across the environments easier. I understand Dwarfs have small legs, but did you really have to limit his speed like he actually was a Dwarf trying to make his through miles of dungeon? I did also try out the Sorceress a little and she certainly appeared to be a much more expansive and complex character to master, but at that point I was already done. Plus the balancing between the classes is freakin' rough; trying to solo as a Sorceress really wasn't what the developers intended.
I did also try a bit of cooperative as well, with my little brother, but we got stuck at the Undead Raising Orb of *generic demon thing/historical city something* because maybe it was two players were involved, but the game, on normal mode, really ratcheted up the difficulty to annoying lengths. The Orb's health would barely drop with every attack from either us, and we'd always die through exhaustion of potions the bloody battle would always take so long.
So with little loot to look forward and a character that literally had me just stampede the X button through combat, you can imagine that this particular dungeon crawl was even less of a crawl and more of a strange, awkward woddle.
The story is peppered with characters all well voiced, including Jennifer Hale voicing a busty bar owner who looks like she got her implants from the same surgeon who handled the DOA chicks, and Tony Jay voicing this weird demon thing that looks like something out of the classic Doom games. The story itself is pretty generic, fantasy fair, even though it's set in a very well developed and expansive fiction. Story never has played a strong focus in these sorts of games, and merely act as an easy backdrop for some murderin'. This one provides just that, including your very first quest that actually tasks you to empty out an infested cellar.. a cellar infested with GIANT RATS. The final section is kinda inept, though, as it then decides to actually lay on you some sort of in depth back-story to what's going on, all told by a ghost that talks more than every other character you've met prior combined. There was also this uncalled for emphasis on how special, and how affected we were supposed to be, by this end villain who is only introduced in the very last few seconds of the game, as if they were legitimately wanting us to appreciate the story. By that time not only had I forgot practically everyones name I was literally just rushing past all the enemies, decked in the best armour and gear because the game also decided to vomit the games entire wealth of stuff everywhere during the last area, and praying for the credits to scroll.
There's a fair variety of environments to slowly ''Bull Rush'' your way through too, with the cellar/sewers probably being my favourite just for their iconic relevance to this genre, and also sporting some of the best music in the game - and this game has some awesome music. Which along with the graphics, voice acting and water physics, Dark Alliance holds up surprisingly well on a production stand point. The gameplay, whether that is down to the test of time and the sheer number of dungeon crawlers that can be found on consoles these days, is a monotonous bore, though, and one that I'm glad I've gotten behind me.