by Chris Scott
reviewed on X360
So, What Have You Got?
With so many games in the action role-playing genre being released this year, any new game needs to stand out from the pack. Torchlight has the Diablo pedigree behind it. Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale, Dungeon Siege III, and Lord of the Rings: War of the North have branding to stand on. Moreover, even Bastion has a narrative gimmick that helps it stand out. Crimson Alliance, the latest addition to the genre, has what may be the most confusing pricing structure for an Xbox Live Arcade game ever.
If you happened to purchase all of Microsoftĺs Summer of Arcade titles this past July and August then Crimson Alliance is the special gift Microsoft promised. But for those of us that could not bring themselves to purchase Fruit Ninja Kinect, Crimson Alliance is offered up in four different ways. The game can be purchased in whole for 1200 MSP ($15) or individual character classes, of which there are three, can be purchased for 800 MSP ($10).
Giving players the option to try out a piece of Crimson Alliance at a lesser price point than what it costs fully sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, if someone wants to give the game a shot by playing as one character class first and really enjoys it, they are seemingly punished for not buying the entire game and have to purchase the game again to get the additional characters.
At this point, one might be wondering why this review is spending so much time discussing the pricing instead of the actual game itself. Well the answer is that the pricing structure is actually more interesting than the game itself as Crimson Alliance is about a generic as a dungeon crawler can get.
Another Day, Another Three Act
Crimson Alliance takes place in Byzan, a once great empire now in a state of chaos. Three unlikely companions, Gnox the mercenary, Moonshade the assassin and Direwolf the spellcaster; make their way to the capital city for various reasons only to be pulled into a quest to save humanity from the evil goddess, the Soul Siren.
The game plays as a simplistic hack n' slash title with a focus on fast hand-to-hand combat. Each character has a small set of four skills that they can perform: a primary attack, a secondary attack, a stun attack, and a dash move. Oddly though, despite having three very different archetypes as characters, all three play fairly similarly. This is not to say that the characters do not have any nuance to them because they do, (however subtle those nuances may be) but the same basic offensive and defensive strategies can be applied to both characters with success.
While Crimson Alliance is technically an action role-playing game, the RPG elements are strikingly minimal. There is no experience system in place, no skills to upgrade and no loot to collect. Instead, buying new equipment is the primary way for upgrading characters. The approach works but is not nearly as satisfying as gaining experience and upgrading your character to your liking.
Pay Or Play?
Aside from the game's campaign, which tells a mediocre tale at best, Crimson Alliance offers the meta game of score attack. Much like old school arcade games, each level in Crimson Alliance has its own leaderboard and players that enjoy score chasing will find plenty to do. Level scores are determined by a combination of points scored from combat, how many secrets can be found, and how fast a level can be finished. With speed being such an essential part of the scoring system, players will need the best-equipped characters to run the best score. Of course, to purchase anything from the games many merchants, currency must be had and Crimson Alliance is stingy with its gold drops.
To solve this problem, Crimson Alliance gives players both an easy and a tedious way to acquire more gold for equipment purchases. The tedious way relies on the game's level based approach to campaign progression as players can grind prior levels for gold. While the easy way points to a growing trend in games to monetize every aspect of the player's experience. Instead of repeatedly grinding through the same levels to buy the next best weapon the game offers, the player has the opportunity to purchase a large lump sum of in-game gold using real-life currency. Both options reward players in different ways, one just needs to decide if sacrificing playing the game to progress is worth the price.
Ups And Downs
While many aspects of Crimson Alliance are head scratchers, the technical aspects of the game cannot be questioned. The game looks great with its light cartoony art style, it sounds good with good voice work and music, and it is ultra responsive to player input. Unfortunately the technical mastery does not offset the many confounding aspects of the game, ultimately making Crimson Alliance a hard game to enthusiastically recommend.
Great looking game with ultra responsive controls
Mediocre storytelling and awkward functionality choices