In the land of video games, it always amazes me that a plot-line starting with “A wizard, a rogue, and a warrior” isn’t immediately followed by “…walk into a bar.” Ultimately that is what Crimson Alliance, a new XBLA title from Certain Affinity, is all about. Well, perhaps the foreign land of Byzan instead of bar, and instead of walking they’re running as fast as possible and leaving a trail of death and dismemberment behind them.
The basic action/RPG gameplay and visual presentation mirrors games like Torchlight or the much anticipated Diablo III; the key difference is that they do away with all that messy depth. If this sounds like a bad thing, you should read on. Crimson Alliance does what a lot of other games don’t – it is unapologetic in its presentation, and puts up rather than shuts up. While there are hidden rooms and treasures to find on almost every level, there is no creeping around, side quests or path-finding – the game is all about unabashed combat regardless of the character you select. Furthermore, you aren’t subjected to five minute CGI cutscenes during major plot points: instead you hear banter and background between the three protaganists while watching slideshows of beautifully painted scenes that give the game a very organic feel. Some of the comments have even had me laughing out loud, even if the main plot twist is plainly obvious.
One of the other things that this Action-RPG-Lite game does right trying is not saddling you with stats management or a complex inventory system. There are three item types (which vary depending on class): your main weapon, your secondary weapon, and your armor. Each of the three will boost up to four stats in a range from 1-20 : your three basic attack types (damage, stun, clearing) as well as your health. There are also special powers available on some equipment, and each item will show its impact to your overall stats. Every 5 points in each respective category earns you a significant improvement to the skill i.e. thrown daggers may fly farther and faster at level 5, 10, 15, and 20 on top of the natural damage increases that each point earns. You can also switch your equipment without going to an inventory screen, but the downside is that the game doesn’t pause during this process.
Certain Affinity also saw fit to include four types of single-use items that help you during battle, and each is assigned to your directional pad and triggered with the RB button (more on that later). You have a health totem which refills your health over time based on proximity, an automatic turret that pelts enemies in range, a fiery axe which is thrown like a grenade, and monster bait. You can carry a maximum of three of each at a time, and if you’re playing multiplayer you can even drop them to share with others by holding the RB button down.
I suppose the question of value is really the question of quality – what is quality? It is the measure of delivering to people’s expectations. This game isn’t Diablo III or even Torchlight. If there were one game I’d compare it to it would be Castle Crashers – it doesn’t have the same art, but just like Castle Crashers the combat is accessible, the upgrades are simple to understand and it allows you to balance and tweak your combat style based on your equipment.
One other improvement I would have suggested is allowing the gamers to change buttons. I found that having my RB trigger items and my LB trigger my “ultra” move it didn’t work for me as well as I would have liked.. I would rather have had my items trigger with a directional press, and perhaps allowing me to switch weapon types on the fly with the RB. This isn’t a knock against the game, but spending as much time as I did with the Crimson Alliance, this would have added some neat dynamics that could have maximized the on-the-fly equipment change effect.