An action-RPG with an arcade slant, Crimson Alliance pines for the days when Gauntlet was king and the only thing separating you from multi-player bliss was a fistful of quarters. There’s some nostalgic thread lingering in its simplicity, in the presentation of a dungeon crawler without frills. Much of its appeal is locked squarely into the joys of co-op, but that’s unfortunately not the headline here. What takes precedent is the game’s insistence on unique pricing structures and micro-transactions, an unfortunate deterrent from what’s otherwise a soundly developed action game.
The pricing structure is confusing from the start. There are two options: either buy the game in full at 1,200 space bucks or lock into a single class at 800. This isn’t off-putting in and of itself, although in purchasing the player classes separately, one could easily double the price for buying it in full. It also initially looks like the game is free, but that’s only the demo. The feeling is that the game’s taking advantage. Adding to that the persistent micro-transactions which enable players to amass in-game currency for the buffed weapon prices in the many in-game shops, and it all feels a bit sad.
By no means should this experimental pricing structure suggest Crimson Alliance is a bad game. On the contrary, it’s rather good. While the cartoon aesthetic is unmistakably reminiscent of the excellent heir to Diablo’s throne that is Torchlight, the mechanics of Crimson Alliance are more oriented to an arcade pace and level structure, opting out of things like experience points, mini-maps, and a defined sense for role-playing and favoring a more casual experience in the process.
What’s unfortunate is how dead-in-the-water it all feels when played alone, revealing some of the rudimentary and anciently thin mechanics which work in keeping it all afloat. There are three character archetypes, which follow in line with tradition: the old dude’s a mage, the quick-footed assassin’s a female, and the brute is a brute. It’s all fairly typical stuff and makes logical sense, although maybe there’s not enough separation between the assassin and brute, and as it’s a four-player game, having four classes might’ve made more sense.
One of the main highlights is the fluffy cut-scenes which separate levels and serve as unnecessarily artful introductions to the character classes. These are beautifully drawn and stand out as overcompensating for what could’ve been easily handled with something more uniform with the succinctly detailed dialogues between characters. The thing is, they’re very good, and feel out of place in contrast to the weakness of the exposition, which is all frivolous and for better or worse feels like an excuse to see this well-conceived art.
Structurally, Crimson Alliance is arcade-ready, favoring combos while sidelining its very basic looting systems in the process. This ultimately benefits the game as it’s given room to expand on early environments by keeping levels short and to the point, and moving to new terrains once the motifs begin to wear. It’s all a bit short-handed, still, and doesn’t feel wholly complete in the way it should, but will give fans of games like Gauntlet a nice feeling of nostalgia.
All said Crimson Alliance is a pretty good – if not unexceptional – action-RPG where an arcade-oriented simplicity and an experiment with pricing structures are the orders of the day. That’s not an entirely bad thing and it’s good to see Microsoft willing to forgo these experiments, but it’s not quite enough to save the experience from its own foreboding sense of plainness.