“The reasons for me are quite straightforward because we wanted to make a really visceral, harsh game that had an environment, a setting, that is … some of most dangerous places in all of the Realms are in Icewind Dale, and for me, that was the setting that I really like,” Hattem said. “I grew up reading R.A. Salvatore’s books with Drizzt Do’Urden, and a lot of the earlier books took place around Icewind Dale, and it’s just very fertile for my imagination.”
Icewind Dale may also be a familiar setting for D&D video game players. The Icewind Dale isometric RPGs have a good reputation, and Beamdog’s Enhanced version of the first is now on just about every platform out there. It’s also an adventuring zone in the MMO Neverwinter.
So far, we’ve talked about all the Companions of the Hall except one — Regis, the halfling rogue.
“Regis is not there,” Hattem said. “He’s definitely part of the group, but he’s not the character that’s the most athletic or … how can I say — he’s not the guy who’s going to stick his neck out in the middle of things. He usually comes in at opportune times, so he’s not there right now.”
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I asked if he would appear as a merchant nonplayer character, someone the Companions sell loot to.
“You know, that could be a good idea for him, where he can go,” Hattem said. “I’m not ready to commit to where he takes place in the game or not. Still, it’s up for debate whether he’s going to be there.”
‘Putting action back in action-RPG’
A straight translation of the turn-based 5th Edition D&D system wouldn’t be practical for an action-RPG. So like the old Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games, this affair will be an adaptation of the rules. “It’s our own system that we’ve built,” Hattem said, noting that Tuque is trying to be faithful to D&D and Salvatore’s characters, but that “we need to be true to the experience that we’re making, which is a high-octane, dangerous action game. I think our game stands in a unique place and hits all those checkmarks.”
“From a progression standpoint, we’re putting a lot of emphasis on the momentum of an action,” he said. When I asked whether the progression would resemble either Diablo II or Diablo III, Hattem replied “those games put more emphasis on your stats and your progression in terms of the way you’re built out from a stat standpoint. We’re putting as much emphasis on the moment-to-moment action. We’re asking players to pay attention to the action aspects of the game. I’d say we’re putting action back [into] action-RPG.”
I wondered whether you’d have abilities such as Wulfgar throwing his warhammer in a whirlwind-like attack, as he’s done countless times in the novels. “That is exactly one of the abilities that Wulfgar has,” he said, reiterating that each character has their own set of abilities and role. “Wulfgar is a basher. He’s the guy that does a lot of crowd control, smashes monsters. Drizzt is more dexterous, and it’s a higher skill cap to play Drizzt to the level in which he can be effective. But he is devastating, quick and nasty, pokey with this two scimitars.”
As you build your characters, you unlock new combat moves and can upgrade them. They also have what Hattem calls “kits” that are based around their skills. The kits’ scope is more limited — they confer “special abilities that you use contextually to deal with challenges thrown at you.” The final part of progression is in the choice of the weapons you wield.
The other way Tuque wants to bring out the action is by removing the top-downish isometric perspective and using a third-person presentation instead. “I want to make people be a part of Icewind Dale and really witness firsthand how harsh the world is, how bad-ass the monsters are, and [that] it’s not an easy place to survive,” Hattem said.
Since this takes place after The Crystal Shard, I was curious whether Crenshinibon would factor into Dark Alliance.
“I won’t get into that part today because that relates more to the narrative aspects of the game. And it’s a really good, astute, precise question that I wouldn’t want to reveal at this point because I don’t want to spoil anything for people,” he said.
Likewise, since Artemis Entreri is still Drizzt’s mortal enemy at this point, I asked if he would show up. “Same answer,” Hattem said. Ditto for Errtu the Balor, one of Drizzt’s deadliest foes at this time in the drow’s history.
As for the monsters, Hattem wouldn’t get into specifics, saying that they’d have their own areas as they showcase them. “We’re treating the monsters as importantly as the companions. We get a glimpse at more than just combat, more than just them bashing heroes. We see them in a way as, ‘How do goblins get their power from Maglubiyet [their god]? How do the gnolls get their power from Yeenoghu [a demon lord]?’ We’re going a bit more into the lore of these monsters. I think that’s interesting.”
He wouldn’t confirm whether my favorite monster from the icy reaches of Faerûn, the remorhaz, would be in Dark Alliance (though with its powerful jaws, huge size, and scorching back, it feels like a fitting challenge for the heroes in this game).
Friends until the end
Drizzt Do’Urden and his allies have survived dragons, drow, demons, and vengeful gods through the years. And Tuque is going to showcase their fighting spirit in Dark Alliance. But the studio also wants to show the importance of the friendships, the bonds between these brilliant warriors.
“Drizzt wouldn’t have survived any of this if it weren’t for his friends and his allies,” Hattem said. “One of the main themes I got out of the books was that no matter how awesome you are, if you can get together with other people who share the same bonds and value system, there’s nothing that can stop you.”
Not even Lloth.
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