With Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 right around the corner, there is no better time to fill that desire we all have for an enjoyable dungeon crawler than right now. Crimson Alliance sets out to do just that. And in all honesty, it can — if you let it.
This co-op action RPG for the Xbox Live Arcade is a throwback to titles like Gauntlet and provides the most basic elements of your typical dungeon crawler. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is up to you to decide if that will provide enough content to your liking. For me, it did.
The first thing to mention is its unique pricing structure. You can either purchase Crimson Alliance for 800 Microsoft points and get one character, or purchase for 1200 Microsoft points and get all three characters. Unfortunately, there is no suggestion I can make as to which you might want to purchase. It is completely up to you whether you see yourself sticking to just one character or dabbling in all of them.
Again, sticking to the typical elements of a dungeon crawler, the characters available to you are the ranged, magic casting mage, the elusive assassin, and the heavy melee focused mercenary. Each character allows for a solid single player experience and a fantastic co-op experience. However, there are some that end up falling into specific categories.
The mage, for example, is a very solid support class that works best in the co-op environment while the assassin operates best in the single-player environment. This isn’t to say that these two classes aren’t enjoyable in either environment, it is just that each class ends up having its obvious advantages and disadvantages. But in the end, this is where that sense of strategy can come in.
Once you have your character setup, it is time to dive into the many dungeons laid out in front of you. These pre-made dungeons provide a ton of replayability across many facets. In order to fully understand what I mean by this, let me rundown what a typical dungeon is like in Crimson Alliance.
While the video below will provide the best understanding of the dungeon experience, simply put, you will make your way through very well designed environments full of unique enemies, hidden areas, and puzzles. Using the tools provided to you, you will kill your way through the dungeon, get some loot from chests, and kill a couple waves of enemies to finish out the dungeon.
Describing the game in such a simple manner does it a disservice though. Sure it doesn’t redefine the dungeon crawler experience, but it definitely uses a proven method that results in a very enjoyable experience. Each dungeon provides a number of unique combat situations that allows for the player to approach them in an endless number of ways.
The first set of tools available to you in combat — irregardless of class — are your light and heavy attacks. There are also consumables that can be acquired. At your disposal are deployable turrets, monster bait, healing totems, and throwing axes. As you can imagine, the variety these consumables can provide are where another element of strategy lies. Finally, there is an ultimate power that each class has which is acquired by killing a number of enemies. This is that fail-safe ability you will undoubtedly need in dire situations.
Throughout each dungeon you will also have explosive barrels at your disposal to either pick up and toss at your enemies or simply hit the barrel to light it, and let it explode where it stands. While these can be very useful, you will come to find that there are far too many explosive barrels scattered throughout dungeons. This can either make things too easy at times or overly frustrating as you accidentally hit one in a frenzy and allow for you or your friends to take damage.
Taking damage will quickly become the largest element of frustration as each dungeon is ranked in a leaderboard based on your score. This score is largely dependent on the idea of a multiplier. This multiplier increases as you successfully kill enemies without taking damage. Unfortunately, this is where the combat falls apart as you will do whatever it takes — be it cheap or repetitive — in order to maintain that multiplier.
They are called leaderboards for a reason though. And the challenge is certainly there at higher difficulties. Unfortunately, the default difficulty proves to be an extreme pushover. I strongly recommend increasing the difficulty unless you are just looking for some seriously mindless fun.
And if leaderboards are truly your thing, then you will thoroughly enjoy the challenge maps that can be unlocked by finding the hidden map inside of each dungeon. These challenge maps are meant to be played over and over with the idea of just improving your overall score. Each challenge map has the same concept: kill waves of enemies until there are no more waves. Simple yet an absolute blast to kill some time in.
But let’s be honest, dungeon crawlers are only as good as the loot you can get. This is both an area of strength and weakness for Crimson Alliance. Weapons actually have both advantages and disadvantages to their use as they cater to a certain play style. For example, if you are in a combat situation as the mercenary where you find the need to manage a large group of enemies, it might be best to equip the sword and shield which increase shield bash. This made each piece of loot useful and I never really felt like I was completely replacing gear.
Unfortunately, the biggest weakness here is the way in which gear is acquired. You can either purchase the loot with in-game currency from the many mercenaries that become available to you or you can acquire it within the dungeon from chests that can only be looted once. That enjoyment of finding a unique upgrade is completely lost here.
At its surface, Crimson Alliance is a bit shallow. But if you take advantage of the tools provided, tweak the difficulty at times, and play with a group of friends, the depth starts to show. It won’t deliver in areas that other action RPG games do, but there is no denying this title is an absolute blast to play.