Beaten, battered and placed away in a dark corner of the cellar, our armour has been sat collecting dust, patiently awaiting a new adventure. Years have passed since the dank smell of dungeon corridors filled our noses, and the blood dripped from the tip of our swords from the slain monsters that lie upon our feet, but that is about to change. Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is here, and it’s time to pull that dusty old armour out of the cellar and step into the world of Gothicus.
Years ago millions of gamers all over the world hacked their way through dungeons in PC games like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate. As the years passed by these games have slowly fallen to the wayside, and until recently PSN was completely devoid of a true old-school dungeon crawler. Gameloft has stepped up and brought its hit iOS/Android series Dungeon Hunter to PSN to fill this void, but making the assumption that this is a simple port to home consoles would be a grave mistake.
Stepping into Gothicus for the first time almost feels like stepping back in time with the lack of character creation, and only three classes to choose from: Warrior, Rogue and Mage. The initial few hours of the game find only basic hack-and-slash gameplay through waves of enemies in a castle dungeon, but once a few levels are gained the depth the game has to offer opens up and the real fun begins. Each class features its own unique play style that is further refined to the player's preferences by a deep skill tree: one skill point is gained for each level-up, and considering the level cap is 75, it’s highly likely that two different gamers playing with the same class will develop their own play style.
Levelling up is especially important here because a robust online offering is available in the game with up to four player online and local co-op. One feature worth noting is that spaces can be reserved to hold spots for local players, while the remaining spaces can be filled with online companions, and the host controls the game allowing co-op players to freely come and go as they please. Online the different play styles come into effect: for example, Rogues can be played much like a Warrior hacking away at the hordes of enemies, or more tactical players may choose to drop bombs to weaken enemy waves and pick them off one at a time.
Loot: it’s what drives us constantly deeper into the catacombs of any hack and slash game. The recent shooter/dungeon crawler hybrid Borderlands featured an intriguing loot system that colour coordinated the loot by its rarity, and this colour coded system is featured here. White items have no magical properties, while orange items have four magical properties such as HP regeneration, MP regeneration, chance to stun, etc. This system works perfectly here, and utilising the many weapon and equipment slots magical properties correctly just adds another layer of depth to creating that perfect character, and makes crawling through dungeons addictive as ever. One other element borrowed from Borderlands is the increasing chance of finding rare loot when playing with two or three players, and with this higher looting chance comes a much higher difficulty that balances depending on how many players are in the game. Considering the game is already tough-as-nails in single player, the four-player co-op offers up a steep challenge to even the best dungeon crawlers out there.
Controls are much the same for those familiar with the great PS2 dungeon crawler Champions of Norrath, and are easy to use with the DualShock 3 controller, but Dungeon Hunter: Alliance offers PlayStation Move controls that brings traditional PC controls to home consoles. Holding the trigger will make the character follow the on-screen cursor and the Move button attacks enemies (also by a slight shake of the controller if preferred,) breaks barrels and opens chests. The remaining face buttons activate the character's special abilities, while a quick twist of the wrist will swap between weapon sets. Fairy skills are used by tilting the controller down, and we’ll explain these skills in a moment.
Move controls take some getting used to, but they offer a good alternative to the standard controls that PC gamers will grasp quickly, and also offer a full featured game that can be played with a single controller, which is a great thing for gamers with physical disabilities. The only real downside to Move controls is the way the menus are handled. Instead of using the onscreen cursor to navigate the menus, the motion controlled system used in the XMB is found here and makes equipping items a bit frustrating. Hopefully this trend will come to an end soon, especially when we’ve been easily navigating menus on PC for decades — why can’t we do it here?
The gameplay in dungeon crawlers is always the highlight, and there is no exception here as the story does a good job of moving things forward and not much else. Upon being resurrected by a fairy and finding out you were once the king of the land, what was once a thriving kingdom has now fallen into evil by a Dark Fairy. Rescuing enslaved fairies – while receiving their elemental powers in the form of special Fairy skills in the process – is the main goal, and the only way the Dark Fairy can be defeated. Each level has its own environment that is tied into the story and filled with level specific enemies and bosses, which does a great job of keeping the game fresh throughout. While the story can be mildly entertaining at times, it’s definitely not the star of the show here, but that’s to be expected in this genre.
So we now know that we’ve got a great-playing dungeon crawler, but what does it look and sound like? While nothing overly impressive graphically, the dark dungeons and forest do a good job to set the mood for the game, while dark ambient music further sets the games tone perfectly.
A few issues do crop up throughout the game, and we will start off with the worst one of them all; inviting friends into a multiplayer match rarely works, but the good news here is that Gameloft has already stated that it's working on a fix to this issue. One other minor issue is that when trying to attack breakable objects, at times the character won’t attack the first time the attack button is pressed. It rarely creates a problem, but is an annoyance nonetheless. Other than that the only other issue we had was that towards the end of the game the bosses in single player move so quickly that anything other than constantly attacking and using potions over and again will result in a quick death, where on the other hand the same boss in multiplayer is extremely challenging and fun to defeat as the boss isn’t constantly attacking a single enemy.
Hack and slash games are repetitive games by their nature, but Dungeon Hunter: Alliance’s addictive loot system and online multiplayer will have many crawling through the dungeons of Gothicus long after the 15-20 hour campaign has rolled its credits, and for the truly hard-core, completing the game unlocks Legend difficulty – New Game Plus – allowing all equipment, character levels and items obtained to be taken through a harder second play through; the potential is there for some dedicated souls to sink over 100 hours into questing and looting.
Not only is this a great addition to PSN, but it will rekindle the fire in many for those dungeon-crawlers of long ago and should hold you over until the releases of Dungeon Siege III and Diablo III. If that dusty armour has been sitting in your cellar for far too long, it’s time to get armoured up, grab your Move controller and step into Gothicus for what could be a very long stay.