clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

D&D’s new action RPG, Dark Alliance, is about what happens after players roll for initiative

It takes place after the events of R.A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Concept art of a frost giant king.
“This is Kelvin, the frost giant king who last wielded the Shard thousands of years ago. Who was smote by Tempus and buried under a mountain of rocks now known as Kelvin’s Cairn. Kelvin built a kingdom upon the bones of ancient Ostoria, and the ruins of that kingdom litter the lands of Icewind Dale.” — Tuque Games
Tuque Games/Wizards of the Coast

Dark Alliance, a reboot of the cult classic Dungeons & Dragons action role-playing game from 2001, is on the way later this year from Wizards of the Coast. On Thursday, during the annual D&D Live streaming event, the company revealed how its storyline dovetails into the franchise’s newest tabletop setting — Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.

On Monday, Dark Alliance’s developers gave a private presentation to members of the press. No new gameplay was shown, but we now know a little bit more about what fans should expect from the hack-and-slash game.

Jeff Hattem, founder and creative director at Tuque Games (Wizards’ most recent studio acquisition), said that playable characters will include four of the Companions of the Hall featured in R.A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale trilogy. The party will be led by Drow elf Drizzt Do’Urden, who featured prominently in the teaser trailer released in December. Players can also choose to play as Catti-brie if they prefer ranged combat, tank up with the massive barbarian known as Wulfgar, or work the room as the feisty dwarf Bruenor Battlehammer.

A bunch of hairy beasts wearing bone armor circle a burning pyre.
“These gnolls sacrifice the souls of Reghed warriors so that they may summon forth the power of their demon lord master, Yeenoghu, and become transformed into one of Yeenoghu’s terrestrial servants — gnoll fangs.” — Tuque Games
Image: Tuque Games/Wizards of the Coast

The events of Dark Alliance take place a century before the events in the Frostmaiden tabletop campaign module, and directly follow the events of Salvatore’s 1988 novel The Crystal Shard.

“Very early on [Salvatore] gave us advice that I took to heart,” Hattem said. “It was that the books were already written, and those stories were already told, and there was no point in trying to retell those stories just in a different medium.

“We worked really hard to understand who the characters were,” Hattem continued, “and then to take them off into new adventures, set in those time periods, that players as the agents of those characters could basically role-play their own way in the game. It wasn’t just about retelling, rehashing what was already done. We wouldn’t do it justice.”

A giant tree, covered in frost, with arms and the skeletal head of a reindeer, in concept art from Dark Alliance
“This is the Spirit of the Forest, trapped in the roots of the Everspring Tree by the corrupted magic of Crystal Cultists — mages who worship Crenshinibon as if it were a god,” said Tuque Games.
Image: Tuque Games/Wizards of the Coast

The eponymous Shard is a powerful magical artifact, and following its recovery in the events of the novel, knowledge of its existence has spread far and wide. Monsters and other enemies from all over the Forgotten Realms begin streaming into Icewind Dale, trying to take the Shard for themselves. It’s up to players to hold those enemies at bay and fight their way out of the frozen wilds.

Players should not expect Dark Alliance to be a linear experience. They’ll get to make their own decisions about which levels to tackle and in what order. But rest assured that the game is, first and foremost, an action game.

“The part of D&D that our game does very well is when the Dungeon Master says ‘roll initiative,’” Hattem said, “and then you start throwing down with goblins and frost giants.”

Salvatore himself has been helping with the project, from inception all the way up until the present day.

Giants dresses in rags. Skulls adorn their hides.
“Verbeeg are 12’ tall brutes who wear the flesh of their kills as masks they call ‘faces,’” said Tuque Games. “This bunch is sitting around their campfire singing a song about bloody meat while they await delivery of their supper.”
Image: Tuque Games/Wizards of the Coast

“They understood the characters,” Salvatore said, referring to the original pitch Tuque made for the game. “Video games are very different than novels, but the storytelling is the main aspect that’s different. I wanted the characters to capture what I tried to capture in the books in general, and Jeff got it. He knew who they were. The people who I was talking to actually read the books. It was incredibly easy.”

Dark Alliance will feature a single-player mode, but it will be best experienced with a small group. The final game will support up to four players, both online and via couch co-op. No firm release date in the fall has been set, but the game is slated for Windows PC and current-generation consoles.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon