Fantasy based dungeon crawlers such as the recent Torchlight follow some very simple template rules. Create a simple mystical world, a thin fantasy plot, add in some dungeon environments, design lots of stylish fantasy enemies for the main character(s) to battle, provide loot to keep the player coming back and finally drip feed traditional RPG elements to make the player want to come back and upgrade their character that little bit more. Itís a tried and tested format but not always one that provides the gaming community with a good solid title.
Torchlight filled a nice gap while the world waits for Diablo 3 and the people behind Torchlight made the wise decision of porting their little gem over to the Xbox Live Arcade. In doing this they opened up the game to a whole new audience of console only armchair gamers. The mixture of good looking isometric adventure along with solid rpg and loot mechanics struck a nice cord with xbox gamers and it was inevitable that more games of this nature would follow.
Aiming to continue this action XBLA RPG momentum comes Crimson Alliance, an action based adventure that comes at the tail end of the increasingly popular Summer of Arcade.
Crimson Alliance plays out within designated areas of a mysterious ruined city (The Empire of Byzan) which is jam packed full of monsters, beasts and generally a whole host of nasty things that want to kill you and your party. The story is fairly light, driven by a handful of narrated storyboard cut scenes and whilst it does very little to grab your attention it is serviceable and does its job. The characters themselves are, for want of a better phrase, fantasy adventure stalwarts but it all works and is in no way a bad thing for the game as a whole. The story is well written, the voice acting is excellent and the majority of your time is spent exploring some beautifully realised environments.
The environments and the graphical prowess of the title are very much note worthy. Rather than seeing your heroes plough through cave after cave, or dungeon after dungeon you work your way through a ruined fortress, shipping ports and a particularly eye catching castle. Yes there are dungeons as that is this type of game but the creators have clearly understood the need to break such monotony and created some lush, lavish environments for you to hack and slash your way through.
Throughout the campaign there are a number of moments when you realise that a fair amount of thought and attention went into the gameís looks. For a downloadable title itís a good looking game, for this genre, itís a little bit more than good.
A huge bonus for the game is the ability to play the entire campaign in 4 player co-op, which will be music to a lot of playersí ears. With three character classes to choose from and an arsenal of weaponry, adventure awaits any gamer gagging for some more Diablo style action. Itís worth pausing for a second to consider the class choices as they are interesting, not because of the types available but they way in which they are the focus of the way in which you purchase the game. You can choose to play as a mercenary, an assassin or a wizard; each class has its own merits of course and can be purchased for 800 points. All three classes will set you back 1200 points. This is an interesting pricing structure as you can quite conceivable play the entire game and mop up the majority of achievements with a single class. It is also important to note that the trial is fairly extensive and any stats created with a character while in the trial mode carry over once you purchase a class. It is possible to see a lot of the game through the trial but the full game comes with the purchase of a character class. There is an attempt here at a free to play model but it isnít really, what it actually turns out to be is a nice novel way of playing the full game for 800pts if you only ever intend on performing a single play through.
The level structure is fairly straightforward, you move from location to location hacking and slashing as you go, it is all standard fare. There is some variation introduced with several key boss fights, new enemy types, multiple hidden secret areas per location as well as more secret class specific areas. Some challenge rooms also appear along the way and once cleared dish out some serious coinage. These little extras all help in preventing repetition and at the simplest level just add a little spice to proceedings.
As you progress you are introduced to all manner of goblin, orc and wizard type beasties, along with some lady ninjas. Again this helps in stopping the adventure from becoming repetitive or more of a chore than a joy to play. Your characterís attacks are supplemented by one special attack which is powered up through killing enemies. Itís not the layers we are used to in this type of game but it does a reasonable job of keeping your attention.
Torchlight has been mentioned a few times thus far and at first glance itís fair to compare Crimson Alliance to it, but delve a little deeper and you discover that it isnít that fair at all. Crimson Alliance is not a traditional RPG dungeon crawler it just looks like one. There is no loot to speak of here as you are able to collect coins only, then spend them in numerous stores dotted through the campaign to upgrade your weaponry. There are no quests here, there is no character levelling to be found and it is very much a co-op arcade game. Each level has checkpoints and should you die (on the harder difficulty settings you will) then you simply restart from the checkpoint. To add to the arcade feel there is a score multiplier throughout (achievement attached) and each level is added to a leader board of your friends and the world. None of this is necessarily bad per se but if you go in thinking you are getting a very nice looking *traditional* action RPG you may be a tad disappointed.
Itís perhaps a shame that the game was pitched against the aforementioned established action RPGís as it forces comparison, a far more accurate comparison is to Gauntlet. Marketing aside there are 4-5 solid hours of gameplay for you here along with lots of replay value for those tough to get achievements (the barrel and multiplier ones in particular will take practice). Leave your traditional RPG expectations at the door, jump in with some friends and for 800 points you will find a great little arcade dungeon crawler. Purchasing each class individually doesnít make a great deal of sense so play the trial and if you really like it the all class pack at 1200 points is good value.
4 player co-op RPG - hell yeah