Hack. Pay ten bucks. Slash. Pay fifteen. THUNDERBOLT!
Crimson Alliance is the latest hack-'n'-slash game to hit the Xbox Live Arcade. This time, though, they're trying something different; not exactly with the gameplay—as the game is pretty much what you've come to expect in a console dungeon crawler, with a lot of enemies to kill and loot to crave for—but with microtransactions.
The thing that you should pay attention to first when playing Crimson Alliance is what class you want your character to be, if you want to pay less for the game. To put it simply, the first payment option is to pick a class and stick to it. There's the option to just buy all the classes at once and pay a bit more, but in my experience with the game, this 'select-a-class' model works fine. For this 800 Microsoft Points deal, Crimson Alliance is a fairly good deal.
You get to pick from three classes that range from the uber tank called the Mercenary to the sneaky and resourceful Assassin and the amnesiac Wizard. Each brings a different set of skills that important to note if you decide to take it online. Key skills that unlock hidden bonuses on levels are exclusive to each class; for instance, cracked walls can only be opened by the mercenary, locks by the rogue, and so forth. Thus, no playthrough of a level is truly complete without playing multiplayer.
The multiplayer model in Crimson Alliance is well-realized, giving you the option to jump in and out of online sessions at will, at any point in the adventure, with up to three players. This is the type of game where you'll want to play with friends, since levels get difficult as you approach the end of the relatively short campaign.
The levels themselves are straightforward. If you're looking to blow through the game, you won't get lost often. Checkpoints are aplenty, so if you die and can't manage to revive yourself, it's not much of a penalty. There are many secret areas to look out for if you're the explorer type. Most are found in obvious locations, off the beaten path. There is, however, an annoying aspect to the stages in the form of gates that simply lock you out of previous areas once you cross them, forcing you to do all your exploration as you make your way to the exit.
Enemies come in a variety of forms, though they aren't challenging most of the time. You start out beating on goblins which don't really require much technique to be defeated, but as you approach the later stages, you'll run into stronger or better-equipped foes that require a little more finesse. Or more button mashing. Mostly more button mashing. The enemies in this game feel like damage sponges, buffers that are only there to get in your way. Unlike in Torchlight, I never felt like I was a powerhouse once I really upgraded my character. I was only more efficient in making my way to the exit faster.
The aforementioned loot is also forgettable. Crimson Alliance is stingy when it comes to giving you items and instead gives you gold, which can then be amassed and used to purchase stronger weapons. That would be fine if the item progression worked at a slower pace, letting you pick better weapons more frequently, but that's not what this game does. There's a noticeable item evolution ramp up midway through the adventure, where weapons and armor become really expensive, forcing you to go back through levels and grind for gold. In lieu of a level up system, the stat progression is solely dependent on gear progression and grinding over and over again.
Like similar dungeon-crawling games like Diablo, you're given the option to turn the difficulty up to insane levels, but even on the normal setting, Crimson Alliance becomes extremely hard all of a sudden towards the end if you're playing by yourself. As you might expect, this means having to trek back, grind gold, and upgrade equipment, paying outrageously high prices thanks to the uneven item progression in shops.
Crimson Alliance isn't a bad game, but with so many stronger dungeon crawlers around, it's tough to recommend it wholeheartedly. Its distribution model might work for you if you're tight for the virtual money or don't care about the other character classes. There is a fair bit of content to hack your way through, if you don't mind the repetitive and unfriendly-ness that this game hits you with if you decide to undertake your spelunking alone.