Dungeon Hunter Alliance is probably the PlayStation Vita’s most generic launch title. That’s not to say it’s particularly bad, although it’s certainly not great either. It’s just so middle-of-the-road that it becomes difficult to describe. It just is. Playing Dungeon Hunter Alliance just becomes a thing you do, barely even thinking about why you’re doing it or what emotion it’s provoking.
Alliance is a dungeon crawler, based on levelling and loot collection. It features a vast array of items and options to customise and kit out your character, preparing him for battle with a selection of standard fantasy nasties. There’s nothing innovative, new or even particularly well implemented in Alliance but that’s not to say there won’t be an audience for it. This kind of gameplay is in demand and having it in a portable form is likely to be enough to make this popular with some, at least until a fresher alternative is available.[drop]This Vita version appears identical to the PSN version that was launched at a much lower price last year so if you’ve already played that and don’t want to relive that experience on the go then you should probably avoid this full-priced Vita release.
You begin by choosing a warrior, rogue or mage. All characters are male and they all look reasonably similar, at least as small as they appear on the screen. Your initial character type dictates your starting stats but from then on, you will level up and assign points to skills and traits yourself. Loot collection provides weaponry and armour but whether or not you can use that equipment will depend on how high your stats are in a number of areas like strength and dexterity.
If you’ve ever played a dungeon crawler before and have hazy memories of how it worked, you’ll be familiar with this. It’s almost as if Gameloft went down a checklist of the most important things a dungeon crawler needs and ticked off the bare minimum to make it into a game. There’s nothing to set it apart from others in the genre, except the platform it appears on. The limited character selection, absence of races and incredibly generic enemies are all just symptoms of a larger issue at play. Dungeon Hunter Alliance is a game which doesn’t really try to appeal. It’s made for a market and it seems that Gameloft had no desire to expand that market or excel within it. Just do enough to get by.
The gameplay is repetitive, as it often is in this style of game, but Dungeon Hunter Alliance really pushes the boundaries of the genre’s acceptable repetition. Lengthy sequences featuring wave after wave of identical enemies occasionally interspersed with a mid-level boss are fairly normal in this genre. However, when the three or four mid level bosses are the same, the waves of enemies in between identical and the local environments completely unchanging, tedium can set in. There are some nice scenic variations here, though. It’s just that they only come around when you enter new areas. Each dungeon itself is the same room and corridor section repeated a few dozen times.[drop2]There is something fairly innovative that Dungeon Hunter Alliance allows though: four player cooperative Ad Hoc or online multiplayer. This is no doubt the biggest selling point, not to mention the hook that the title hangs on.
It certainly makes the experience more enjoyable to have other people, and other classes, involved and the way it drops in and out and works without lag is impressive but it’s not without issues. Loot is dealt out fairly evenly, with colour-coded drops but there’s no obvious trading mechanic so it can be frustrating to share things. With multiple players on screen, it can also get a little too busy and distracting, although that’s a small price to pay for the added tactical layer multiplayer brings.
Combat is another area of frustration. There’s no dodge mechanic and no block button so, with groups of enemies, it quickly becomes a kind of war of attrition as you button mash your standard attack, drink potions to refill health and mana and occasionally use one of the special attacks assigned to three remaining face buttons or the double tap on the touch screen to activate your fairy companion’s damaging area attack (which comes with a cool down period).
Once you reach level 25 (of 75), there is a “Pit of Trials” menu option which essentially allows you to take part in arena combat too. It’s a nice idea but the combat is one of the weakest points of the game so focussing on that aspect just confounds the issue and is likely to increase the frustration.
Vita’s novel controls are utilised, with the touch screen activating a large-scale area attack and the rear touch panel allowing you to guide your fairy companion around the screen (also possible with the right stick). In multiplayer, you can shake the console to revive fallen comrades too. Nothing too special but it all works well enough and doesn’t get in the way of the game’s traditional controls.
- It’s unique at this time on the Vita.
- Loot and levelling is complex and comprehensive.
- Multiplayer works well.
- It’s very generic and that makes it very forgettable.
- Limited character options to start.
- Combat is awkward and ultimately not very enjoyable.
Dungeon Hunter Alliance is not necessarily a bad game. It just doesn’t do anything to make itself memorable or stand out from a crowd. Luckily, for Gameloft and Ubisoft, at this stage in the Vita’s life there really isn’t a crowd to stand out from for fans of this genre.
It’s difficult to judge just how much demand there will be for this kind of game on Sony’s handheld and the pricing seems bizarre after what was essentially the same game sold on PSN last year at a quarter of the price. What Alliance does is add another genre to the launch catalogue of the Vita and in that regard, more choice is always welcome but if there is a large market for dungeon crawlers then we can’t help but think there will soon be much better offerings than this.