Dark Alliance is an action RPG set in the world of Dungeons & Dragons with combat at its core. Our small team at Tuque wants to bring the characters and monsters of D&D to life in a very real, visceral, and fun way.
A few amazing games have moved the needle in the last few years on the touch and feel of combat. That’s what we hope Dark Alliance does with what we call Emergent Combat. A combat system that is easy to pick up, hard to master.
Let’s break down the game design behind the combat in our game (with some brand-new gameplay screenshots).
The first thing we knew we wanted was to democratize our combat – make it accessible. Everyone needs to feel cool, taking on the mantle of their favorite hero, hewing their way through hordes of goblins and gnolls. Players start with a simple choice of attack inputs: light attack or fierce attack?
We also want to provide depth to players who invest time to really master combat – to embody the persona of that hero. We want to capture the player’s imagination in that moment they realize that they have control of what’s happening. Press forward and light attack to execute a special move. Press X after a successful hit to force a critical. And so on.
We want to use the experience itself to help players learn those combos intuitively through our emergent combat system. We also want to avoid players feeling the need pause combat to search through the UI for their combo button inputs. Plus, this is a co-op experience – nobody’s waiting on a friend to figure that out.
Players get to shine by seeing outcomes of their input combos that always make them feel like they did something cool while also rewarding players who figure out how to execute specific moves when and where they want.
That’s emergent combat. Each hero starts off with a limited move set that grows as they level up their character. And through that experience, using different light or fierce attacks with different toggles and button presses, will open up different branches to different attack sequences. There are hundreds of branching outcomes to be explored. The only thing that limits your hero is the stamina cost of their move.
Heroes must manage their stamina. Deplete your stamina and experience a short period of exhaustion before it regenerates. Executing attacks reduces stamina and some of the most powerful attacks will temporarily reduce your maximum stamina. Heroes regain stamina (and maximum stamina) over time, but it can also be replenished by executing parries, or, if you’re in a hurry, a stamina potion will do. Managing stamina is partly where the challenge of combat comes from. It puts players into an “economy mindset,” where they strategically consider the costs of combat.
Our approach is player-centric – like the benevolent dungeon master who enjoys seeing their players succeed, but who also wants to ensure the challenge keeps things interesting. And once you’ve nailed the emergent combat system, take it up a notch. Dark Alliance has six challenge ratings (our version of skill levels) to provide core players ample room to test their talent against our long list of monsters.
We believe that good combat is made up of a language of clear cues, incentives, and rules. Complexity out of simplicity. We provide the tools. It’s up to the players to explore the system and see how deep it goes. The combat in Dark Alliance is a spectacle. Become fluent in our combat language and you get to be the director of that spectacle.
We can’t wait for you to get your hands on our emergent combat system and let us know what you think, when Dark Alliance releases on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S on June 22. To learn more, check out our other videos about making Dark Alliance.
Wizards of the Coast