“ Developer: Gameloft „
Nothing beats a good dungeon crawler, as my gushing endorsement of Diablo 3 in an earlier 2012 review testifies to. Console gamers, lacking a gaming PC, are however still awaiting the arrival of Blizzard's best selling action RPG for their gaming system of choice. To those of you stuck in that camp I would recommend Dungeon Hunter Alliance, available to buy from the PSN store at a budget price. It's a good way of sampling a Diablo-esque experience on a Sony Playstation 3 without dipping too deeply into your treasure reserves. Good thing too as you'll need the coinage you earn from dungeon exploration to purchase armor and weapons to survive the adventure awaiting you.
Before embarking on your quest players need to select which of the three classes on offer they wish to play as. During my inaugural run through Dungeon Hunter Alliance I decided to pick the beefy warrior who is strong enough to wear the best armor and wield the mightiest weapons. The other archetypes available to choose from are the rogue and mage. Dexterous rogues specialize in evading harm whilst dishing out serious pain by duel wielding melee weapons or attacking from afar with a bow. The mage on the other hand, despite being frail in the hit points department, is a versatile fighter thanks to his vast array of spells. By uttering a few incantations it's possible to toast enemies with fireballs, freeze opponents in place with an ice blast, heal allies using restorative magic and conjure cute bunnies from a top hat (okay I made that last one up.)
Each of the above mentioned classes have their own unique skills, which are unlocked and improved by spending skill points that are acquired every time you level up. As any experienced RPG fan can tell you leveling up happens whenever you gain enough experience, which is earned by completing quests or slaughtering the legions of evil creatures infesting the dungeons you explore. Man the life of a humble goblin is not a glorious one. You are forced to dwell in a dank catacomb awaiting the arrival of experience seeking heroes who proceed to whack your green skinned noggin. Reminds me a bit of my existence were I reside in a darkened bedroom, playing online games, waiting for some thirteen year old kid to kick my arse on Call of Duty.
Upon leveling up players also get two attribute points to distribute as they see fit. Enhancing your endurance benefits everyone as it increases your health pool, but the other statistics are focused on particular classes. Improving strength is encouraged for warriors so they can don heavy armor, dexterity benefits rogues as it increases their critical hit chance whilst energy is important for mages as it fuels their spells. All that said you can customize your character as you like. All classes may equip any gear they find, providing that they meet the necessary requirements. There's nothing stopping a player from beefing up a mage's strength with level up steroids, so they can don plate armor, even if it isn't the optimal spec. Feel free to experiment as your choices are not permanent and can be reset by paying some coin back in town.
The appeal of dungeon crawlers has to be loot hunting for better equipment. As you explore levels you'll find all kinds of gear hidden in chests or dropped by vanquished monsters (I'll never understand why that giant spider I squished was carrying a helmet, but whatever.) Weapons and armor can also be bought at the town merchant, but his prices are fairly high given that fantasy worlds don't have Amazon to compete with. My advice is to save your cash for health potions, because in order to survive in Dungeon Hunter Alliance you'll be chugging curative tonics at the rate in which Lindsay Lohan guzzles alcohol on a night out.
To be honest using drops from defeated enemies is more than sufficient to get you through the game. The chance of finding rare and more powerful gear increases if you take part in the fun online multiplayer, but be aware that indulging in co-op dungeon crawling comes at a price. Yes the loot drops are better and having someone watching your back is handy, but the more players taking part in a game the tougher the difficulty becomes. I found beating the game was fairly straightforward in the single player mode, but some bosses become nigh on impossible to beat when challenging them in a four-man party. Hmph. It must be my slacker teammates letting me down as my gaming skills are without equal... well except for that annoying teenage Call of Duty youngster of course.
In terms of gameplay, Dungeon Hunter Alliance feels a lot like the Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance games some of you may have enjoyed during the Playstation 2 era. The default control scheme is similar, with the left control stick handing your character's movement, the x button making you attack and the other face buttons activating skills you assign to them. The game also supports the Playstation Move allowing motion control fans to command their character with the aid of an onscreen cursor, much like PC gamers do with a mouse pointer. Well that's the theory anyway. I cannot comment on how responsive the Move controls are as I never bothered buying one. I personally do not see the appeal of waggling a stick... at least with my pants on.
Story wise Dungeon Hunter Alliance isn't going to win any prizes. Heck the simplistic narrative would struggle to get Dooyou crown nominations, but I cannot really criticize the game for that. Games in this genre just need enough plot to explain why you are trekking across dungeons, forests, ruins and so on. Anything deeper than that would get in the way as you don't want lengthy cut scenes pausing the action, especially when playing with other players (there's always some dumbass who keeps you waiting for five minutes as they refuse to skip the banal dialogue sequences.)
In case you are wondering the story sees the player take control of a deceased king (no not Elvis) who is resurrected by a fairy. The cute pixie needs your help in saving her sisters who have been enslaved by the Dark Fairy (basically Tinkerbell if she ever became a Goth) who is also terrorizing your former kingdom. You have to respect a monarch who comes back from the grave to save his people. Somehow I doubt Prince Charles would do the same.
Although I have been critical of Gameloft in the past (their portfolio is full of uninspired titles that are carbon copies of popular games) I have to give them credit for their work on Dungeon Hunter Alliance. Yes it may not have the depth of Diablo 3, but it doesn't cost anywhere near as much either. Visually the game isn't anything special (no surprise given that it was originally an iPad release) but the simplistic graphics aren't too noticeable given that a zoomed out isometric view is used to display the action, hiding the lack of character detail. Besides who cares about cosmetic shortcomings when the gameplay is so good.
Even though the combat can get repetitive I was never bored as you regularly level up, giving you new talents to play around with. That along with the thrill of finding better equipment ensured that my interest was never lost. For a downloadable purchase I'm impressed by the game's length, which beats what we get in some full price retail offerings. It will take twenty hours to beat the story on heroic difficulty and you will spend even more time repeating the adventure if you intend to hit the level cap of 75. That along with the replay value of multiplayer and trying out all three classes makes Dungeon Hunter Alliance good value for money... unlike the wares that cheapskate town merchant peddles. Ten gold coins for a health potion? That's daylight robbery!