Crimson Alliance Review

By Matt Cabral - Posted Sep 20, 2011

It's no Diablo killer, nor will it remove Torchlight from its throne, but XBLA's Crimson Alliance successfully manages to scratch that hack-and-slash itch till its raw. While some action-RGP fans will whine over its focus on the former and lack of the latter, those looking to litter the cobblestones with monster corpses will definitely dig its addictive, dungeon-clearing combat.

The Pros
  • Satisfying hack-and-slash combat
  • Plenty of visual bells and whistles
  • Streamlined character progression
  • 2-4 player co-op's a blast
The Cons
  • Uninspired characters, story, and presentation
  • More action than RPG because there's no leveling

Crimson Alliance Review:

If the success of Torchlight on Xbox Live proved one thing, it’s that console gamers appreciate a good fantasy-themed hack-and-slasher as much as the mouse-and-keyboard crowd. Sadly, due to XBLA memory restrictions, its sequel’s possible console release faces an uncertain fate. Thankfully, dungeon-crawling romp Crimson Alliance has arrived to fill the monster-slaying void gamepad-clutching adventurers have been craving.
 

 

Bring a Friend. . .or Three!

To be fair, Crimson Alliance lacks much of the RPG depth and engaging style of Runic Game’s dangerously addictive Diablo clone. Still, while it’s decidedly different and admittedly not quite as good, it’s still a worthwhile entry that sports its own unique appeal.

For starters, it supports co-op, a huge selling point for anyone who felt lonely traversing Torchlight’s dark depths. Going all the way back to quarter-munching classic Gauntlet, this genre’s been tailor-made to be played with a party of sword-wielding, fireball-casting friends, and Crimson Alliance more than delivers on this front. Sure, you’re welcome to brave it solo, but recruiting up to three partners online or locally is the way to go.

Crimson Alliance

Complementing the cooperative focus are three unique playable characters (a bit odd, seeing the game hosts up to four players.) The evil-thwarting trio’s comprised of a wizard, mercenary, and assassin, all possessing the expected class-specific strengths and weaknesses. The tank-like merc is great at creating corpses up-close, while the wizard unleashes death from a distance with plenty of elemental magic flair; the assassin, the only female in the group, falls somewhere in the middle by utilizing a combination of ranged and melee attacks. All characters also possess variations on stun, block and dash moves.

While you’ve no doubt saved the world as these same classes before in other fantasy-fueled games, Crimson Alliance’s familiar heroes feel unique to each other and play great individually or as part of a party. Any of the three can be selected from the get-go in the full game, but in an unusual--and welcome--move players can also purchase a discounted version (for 800 rather than 1200 Microsoft points) that grants full access to only their preferred class.

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More Action Than RPG

Crimson Alliance’s balanced, well-paced gameplay is primarily due to the title’s strong combat focus. Despite falling squarely in the “action-RPG” genre, this one’s far more concerned with hacking and slashing than looting and leveling. Whether carving up beasties from behind a broadsword or sending electric bolts coursing through their bodies, the fighting yields a fast, responsive, thumb-numbing experience from start to finish. That said, if you’re looking to have your mind as engaged as your fingers, Crimson Alliance may not be your cup of mead.

One of the genre’s most-beloved features, character-leveling, is absent here; rather than crunching numbers, distributing points, and studying stats, players simply equip increasingly powerful armor and weapons to build their character. Of course, these upgrades cost coin aplenty, so collecting gold is key to powering-up your personal ass-kicker.

Crimson Alliance

Impatient players, however, can take the quick--and a potentially controversial--route of using real world money (80 Microsoft points) to fill their in-game satchel with 40, 000 gold. Regardless of how you pimp your hero, those looking for a more cerebral approach to ridding dungeons of ugly menaces might miss the character-shaping control traditional leveling affords. Still, the streamlined system works well and even manages to spark some of the genre’s signature addiction.

Thanks to item-specific modifiers, such as attack and health boosts, equipping new loot quickly becomes a satisfying way to build your troll-beheading badass. Items imbued with magical properties, like flame-engulfed shields and electricity-crackling swords, also add some variation to your crypt-clearing arsenal. Players can also carry a number of consumable items--quickly accessed through the d-pad--which inject even more variety into the combat; there’s monster bait, which works as advertised, as well as auto-turrets, health totems, and fire axes that can cook multiple enemies a nice extra crispy simultaneously.

Crimson Alliance

Slay in Style

Speaking of barbequing baddies, Crimson Alliance sports plenty of cool visual tweaks and effects. Complemented by fluid character animations, weapon and elemental effects all look great, and it’s always a treat to see item and gear upgrades reflected on your in-game avatar. Pouring rainstorms, breakable chests that unleash life-siphoning spirits, and ignitable barrels that spark before going boom also show the downloadable title’s ability to display some console-quality polish.

Despite these immersive individual touches, though, the overall presentation feels as though it fell off the generic-fantasy assembly line. It’s not bad, just very familiar. From the cookie-cutter triumvirate of characters, to the been-there-slayed-that monsters, there’s just not much defining personality on display. Furthermore, if you’ve ever strapped on the boots of an underdog protagonist who’s attempting to silence an ancient, power-hungry evil, then you’ve heard this tale before. Still, if you’re simply looking to pile corpses like cord wood, collect towering stacks of shiny coins, and maybe unearth the occasional secret, you’re probably not especially concerned with a meaty narrative.

Crimson Alliance

Crimson Alliance lacks much of the RPG-flavored depth fans of the genre expect, but its refined approach is nevertheless rewarding. The lightning-quick, arcade-y combat is also a dungeon-decimating blast. You’ll have a good time going it alone, but I’d recommend recruiting at least one other armchair adventurer for this quest; on top of the expected appeal and benefits of fighting ugly foes alongside friends, some puzzles require at least two players to tackle. While you’ll likely forget its stock story and familiar presentation shortly after the credits roll, your long-suffering thumbs will serve as a reminder of the undeniable fun you had with Crimson Alliance.