Crimson Alliance Review (XBLA)

Game Review: Crimson Alliance
Release: 9/7/2011
Genre: Action / Hack-and-Slash (RPG Light)
Developer: Certain Affinity
Available Platforms: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Players: 1-4
MSRP: 1200 MSP ($15) (For all 3 characters – there is an option for purchasing a single character for 800 MSP)
ESRB Rating: Teen

Crimson Alliance is the final offering from Xbox Live’s “Summer of Arcade” releases, and developer Certain Affinity wasn’t pulling any punches.  Crimson Alliance is a light Action-RPG that throws 3 adventurers into a realm where an old land is changing (and as is so often the case in these games, the change was not for the better).  Following a wizard who seems to have forgotten his past, a mercenary and his assassin “captive” investigate the destruction, and in so doing, help the wizard understand his past.  There is a bit of story to this game, so I won’t go any further; just don’t expect an epic.  I did like the dynamic of the characters, each with a distinct personality that they stay true to throughout.

You will take on the role of one of the 3 adventurers (and if you’re playing with others, they can fill in the vacant roles).  You progress through a linear set of levels that are unlocked as you move along a large overworld map, and the level locations will vary from towns to forests to crypts and caves; all the usual fare you’d expect from a game like this.  Each character will come to battle with 4 skills, mapped to the 4 face buttons on the controller.  These skills vary based on character, but feature ranged attacks (wizard, assassin), crowd control attacks (stuns or ice blasts), and basic attacks.  There is some excellent variance between the characters to encourage group play; for example, the wizard has excellent crowd control spells, but lacks a powerful single target attack (unless you charge your basic fireball, which is difficult to do solo).  The mercenary lacks a ranged attack, but has powerful single target attacks and can quickly disarm shielded creatures.  The assassin has a little bit of everything, and works best in a group.

I call this a light Action-RPG, because the only way to improve your character is through loot.  There are no levels or stats to maintain, your only decisions will come in the form of what weapon or armor to equip to boost whatever stats you’re looking to boost.  In a way, this works for the game because you are not managing your inventory, or picking up useless items to sell (in fact, you can’t sell items at all).  Each item you pick up is either something you can equip, or a disposable item that can help you on the battlefield (such as a turret, or health totem).  It should be mentioned that enemies do not drop loot (aside from gold); all loot is found in chests throughout the game, so once you’ve completed the game, assuming you’ve found all the secret areas, you’ve essentially acquired all the items you’re going to get.  The rest are found in shops, and require collecting gold to get what you want (there is an option to spend real money to buy gold, should you choose to go that route).

The action itself is nice; you’ll be reminded of games like Torchlight or Diablo, but more arcadey, with twitch reflexes needed at times.  The levels are nicely detailed, contain hidden areas (hidden in plain sight) throughout, and even feature multiplayer puzzles (some of which can be solved alone).  Enemies are fairly well diversified (though you’ll see just about everything there is to offer after 75% of the game), and will feature some mobs that will rush you, some that will attack from a distance, and casters that will buff enemies and attack from range.  Each enemy requires different strategies, and playing solo will be a test in patience as you figure out the best method to dispatch large groups of enemies (particularly casters).  No section of the game is particularly difficult (I died maybe 3 times as the wizard in my playthrough), but you will put all of your skills (and disposable items) to work depending on the situation.

And that is one of the strong suits of this game; very little is wasted:  You will use all of the items you pick up in your adventure, you will use all of your skills often (if you want to have success), and you will compliment your teammates if you choose to go as a group.  The spells and skills are well balanced, allowing you to progress in power without eclipsing the strength of the creatures you’re facing (unless you replay levels, and you WILL be replaying levels).  I also liked how quick and responsive the blocking was; it made combat almost elegant in being able to sling spells left and right, only to throw up a timely block on an incoming arrow.  Being able to only hold 3 consumable items actually encourages you to use them, especially since they drop fairly frequently in chests.  The combo scoring system also encourages replay, as you will try to string together as many consecutive kills as possible without taking damage to increase your multiplier (which thus increases your score for the level, which is nicely tracked with a leaderboard upon completion).  The entire package screams replay for mastery, especially considering you’ll have access to all items upon completion of the game, and can customize your skills as needed to beat a board quicker, thus increasing your score.  Multiplayer will help in this endeavor, as you will be able to clear levels quicker for bigger scores (and as mentioned before, your skills will compliment nicely with your friends).

Unfortunately, once you tire of what’s available, there isn’t a lot else to do.  While I’m sure there will be DLC offerings for this game down the road, each level is static, so you will always encounter the same enemies in the same spots.  The secret areas are only secret the first time through, so some of the impact of those areas is lost on consecutive run-throughs. Images are recycled in the cutscenes (which are a little lackluster themselves).  While the graphics are generally crisp and detailed, the sounds range from decent to head-scratching (why do zombies sound like geese?!).  And finally, while I appreciate what was done by only allowing items to boost stats, it does limit character customization.  The lack of randomized weapons further exaggerates this flaw.

vttym’s take: So is Crimson Alliance worth your time?  If you’re looking for a multi-player action-RPG, this might be worth a peek at the trial.  All the pieces are here for hours of enjoyment, but truthfully, once I finished the game, I didn’t feel the urge to play through again as a different class.  Completionists and leaderboard lovers will enjoy the scoring mechanics that encourage repetitive play, and this game is toned down enough to be approachable for more casual fans (though these same people may get frustrated later, when spamming attacks no longer works). Those in the middle might feel the lack of customization and randomization is a detriment to the game.  This is a solid game that starts off strong, and stumbles across the finish line.

+ Multiplayer Action-RPG is fun

+ Characters and skills are well balanced

– Linear, static levels

– No character customization beyond loot

Final Score: 6/10

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