This Wednesday, September 7, a dose of dungeon crawling will hit XBLA. Crimson Alliance, a multiplayer action RPG that may recall Torchlight but adds a serious combat punch - and that’s a good thing. An original IP from independent developer Certain Affinity, their pedigree lends both confidence and confusion: the team has had a role in CoD: Black Ops, Left 4 Dead, Halo: Reach, and Age of Booty to name a few, so where does Crimson Alliance fit in? Story goes that Max Hoberman, formerly of Bungie, wanted to make an RPG, and this is that game. Amidst all those first-person shooters the idea of an RPG was always there, and Xbox Live Arcade made it possible to take some risk, without committing a team of 120 people.
Go ahead and choose between three classes and up to four players, local or online, to wage war on the Cult of the Soul Siren - which, aside from some truly evil alliteration, share a bad case of halitosis. Each class comes equipped with their own bit of story to bring to the campaign, and taking the Wizard for a spin at PAX I paired up with the heavy-hitting Mercenary. With up to four players there is potential character confusion, so I explored my Wizard’s fabulous wardrobe - and fabulous is falling short of the vibrant splendor this guy can don. While there wasn’t an additional Wizard on screen to battle for my attention, there was no mistaking my cerise mage.
With four player co-op, having three classes struck me as a bit odd - but it reinforces what Crimson Alliance favors: action over RPG. It’s a game that doesn’t have to be about balancing out your party if you prefer to party up to cause some damage, and if you want to deal that damage with four fantastically appointed Wizards then that’s your prerogative - but you will be missing out on not only a more diverse offense but the ability to access certain areas, like doors that can only be opened by a specific class.
Priced at 1200 MSP ($15) you get Crimson Alliance, but for the player certain they’re only going to make use of one class they can buy into the game at 800 MSP ($10), with access to their chosen class (not the other two) but all other aspects of the game. Those looking to cut corners on their game purchasing will want to choose wisely - and be confident of their friends’ class picks for online multiplayer, too?
High scores are a feature these guys with shooter roots are fond of, too, with a combo meter that builds - in tandem with your co-op teammates - across attacks. New at PAX was the intro to the Assassin class, a lady with notable agility she rushes the enemy for quick damage, teleports with a stunning effect and throws daggers with deadly accuracy. With those high scores and chaining in mind, she can stun a mob (or have the party Wizard cast freeze) and carve them up. As you advance your character picks up skills, mappable to the D-pad, that function as special items for the character. A Merc, for example, can toss down a bolt-firing turret, while charging up a special attack (your Ultimate Power) makes for a fancy offensive show as well.
Across the environments are containers with wealth and health - and the health ones are handily indicated with a big ol' heart on the jug. Should you come across a jug of health and don’t need it yet (health does regenerate over time) you can pick it up and carry it with you to the next room - where there’s a boss battle! That left trigger pick-up also lets you throw items, which allows for tricks like throwing barrels as explosives, a critical part of chaining attacks - plus, you know, it’s fun.
Crimson Alliance is a fantasy world riddled with loot and heavy on the “action” part of “action RPG” as Certain Affinity’s FPS experience colors the gameplay. After blasting through some levels we tackled a Challenge Map, battling wave after wave of foe for some serious payout. Add in some class-specific chests with loot tailor-made for your Assassin, Mercenary or Wizard, some hidden areas satisfying for the player partial to exploration, and enough loot to amass a fortune and you have achieved dungeon crawler bliss.
Talking and playing - it's a trick! Photo credit: Adam Sentz
Photo credit: Adam Sentz