Two nights with Dungeon Hunter: Alliance (PS3)

Gameloft’s Dungeon Hunter: Alliance hit the Playstation Store on Tuesday. It was exactly the kind of game I needed. I’ve been really itching for an action-RPG dungeon crawler and although a bunch are headed our way (Daggerdale, LOTR: War in the North, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge and Dungeon Siege III, all off the top of my head) none of them are here now, when I needed them!

It didn’t hurt that Dungeon Hunter: Alliance cost me less than $10 ($12.99 for plebes, $9.74 for us elite Playstation Plus members).

I played for a few hours Tuesday night, single player using a traditional PS3 controller. Then on Wednesday Angela and I did some couch co-op using a pair of Playstation Move controllers. Here’re my thoughts so far.

Let’s start with what DH:A isn’t.

First of all, it isn’t a $60 game so I didn’t have $60 worth of expectations. I was looking for a few nights of amusement and that’s what I got.

Second, it isn’t customizable. You pick a class (Mage, Warrior, Rogue) and you get a character. You can name your character (they’re all male) and then you’re done customizing.

Third, it isn’t fast loading. Level loading takes forever, but once you get into a dungeon you can play for a long time without another loading screen. Early on there’re a few of them and they can make a bad first impression. I don’t mind a long loading screen if it comes once an hour, but when they come 5 minutes apart they can really put you off.

Fourth, it isn’t original. It’s a port of a Gameloft mobile title (Dungeon Hunter) that I played a bit of on the iPad. The story, such that it is, seems the same, the dungeons seem to be the same. And frankly, the original wasn’t very original to begin with. It’s all familiar terrain to anyone who has played Diablo or any other hack & slash 3rd person isometric dungeon crawler. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, though.

The worst aspect of it being a port is the inventory system, which must’ve been designed for iPhones or other tiny screens. Instead of a “Paperdoll” and a backpack, the inventory system here shows you each “slot” as a separate screen. So there’s a Left Hand screen and a Right Hand screen and a Chest screen and a Gloves screen, etc, etc. Each of these screens shows the inventory items you have that go with that slot. It all works, but it can be kind of tedious flipping through all these screens. It is, however, quite compact so probably worked well on a phone’s screen. But my 52″ TV isn’t a phone and a new inventory system would’ve been welcome. Happily there’s an “Auto-Equip” feature that will choose the ‘best’ bit of gear for each slot, if you don’t want to be bothered.

So that’s my grumping out of the way.

On the first night, as I said, I played alone. Using the Dual-Shock controller means you have direct control over your character. I picked a Warrior and with almost no thought started playing. That’s one of the upsides of it being not-original: you already know how to play this game. As I leveled up I put points in Strength since I was a Warrior (Rogues get Dex, Mages gets Energry, then there’s a Vitality or Endurance or something that gives you hit points). Most of your gear is class-limited via these stats. So it isn’t that a Mage can’t use a big-assed 2-handed axe, but in order to do so he’d have to put a lot of points into Strength that he’d probably really need in Energy.

DH:A has a gear and stat system that we don’t see often enough, and I’m going to illustrate it with an example. Say you’re a warrior who wants to use a bow as a backup weapon, but the bow requires 12 dex and you only have 10 dex. Since this is a backup weapon you don’t want to spend attribute points on dex. If you can find a pair of +1 dex rings and put them on, you’ll have your 12 dex and you can then equip your bow. Once the bow is equipped, you can swap out those rings for more appropriate Warrior-type rings (strength or extra HP or whatever). You can still use the bow, as long as you never unequip it. This sounds subtle but as anyone who played Anarchy Online can tell you, it adds a neat dimension to gear collecting.

The graphics are cartoon-ish rather than realistic, but I really like them. My Warrior’s sword swinging animation felt right. I could see how heavy that two-handed sword was. The controls can feel a little laggy at times but they still feel right. You need to get a kind of cadence going with your melee attacks. I’m not sure if this lag is by design or not, frankly, but I feel like it really adds to the game. As an enemy charges you, you need to anticipate by a heartbeat and get that big iron swinging at the baddie ahead of time. The first levels have you fighting goblins and you’ll seem them climbing down chains that hang over head or scaling up walls from some undetermined pit that you’ll never visit. You can’t hit them until they’re on the floor, but you can wind-up to meet them with cold steel the second they get there. There’s no blood or gore but melee combat still felt satisfying. [Update: Doh! I was playing tonight and realized there *is* blood but it fades away very quickly.]

In addition to stat points, you get skill points as you level up. You spend these in a fairly typical skill tree manner. You assign these skills to the face buttons and I’m not sure what happens when you get more than three (a basic attack and a skill for each of the other 3 buttons). By the end of the night I had a strong attack, a sweeping attack that knocked back a bunch of baddies, and a charge attack.

You also get a fairy companion who has an attack of her own. That gives everyone some magic. Her attack has a fairly long cooldown so its kind of your “Oh shit!” action.

Potions restore both health and mana and are bound to one of the shoulder buttons. You have have 2 sets of weapons and toggle between them via another shoulder button.

Let me cut this short (?) and say the damned game had me up until 12:30am that first night. I was very pleasantly surprised.

On to night 2. Playing co-op and with the Move controller felt like a totally different game. I chose a Rogue and she a Mage. Playing co-op wasn’t as immersive for me, but it was a ton of fun in a different way. Loot (did I mention loot? There’s a ton of loot in this game) is color-coded to let you know who can pick up what. Coins are a free for all and I’m not sure if they were split or not. You can trade loot back and forth. We probably should’ve had a tank since the game scales difficulty according to the number of players and we were both kind of squishy.

Using the Move controller is similar to using a mouse. You kind of point and click to move. There’re all kinds of gesture controls, like twisting the Move will switch between weapon sets, and shaking it will trigger your fairy’s attack. Angela picked up on it really quickly but I must confess I found myself struggling with it. I *think* that you can mix and match controllers though, so if we play again I’ll use the Dual Shock and let her enjoy the Move controls.

We got to the final boss of the first big quest line and wiped 3 or 4 times before we packed it in for the night. My solo Warrior took this guy down on the first try. I’ll have to play more to see if this was about class, about numbers of players, or about me sucking with the Move controller!! 🙂

For $10-$13, I’m finding this to be an awesome value. In fact I feel like I’ve already got my money’s worth out of it, and Angela claims she had fun. (I’m constantly trying to get her to play games with me on the PS3!) As long as you come into it with reasonable expectations (and a bagful of patience for when dealing with the inventory screen) I’d say this one is well worth the cost of entry.

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