A wizard, a mercenary, and an assassin walk into a cave. No, this isn't the setup for a bawdy joke. Rather, it's the concept behind Crimson Alliance, a hack-and-slash adventure coming to Xbox Live Arcade later this summer. An assortment of familiar fantasy tropes set off on a quest to slay every orc and goblin in the land, as well as bask in the riches such a dangerous conquest can dole out. We spent some time today donning our wizard's hat and came away with enough experience to level up our charisma.
Crimson Alliance stays true to what you would expect from a loot-driven adventure, but don't think you know every detail just because you finished Diablo 2. The wizard and mercenary have an expected array of moves. Fireballs, ice spells, and electrical blasts make up the mad magician's key attacks; the mercenary follows suit with shield bashes and sword swings. We didn't get a chance to see the assassin (her identity and moves are being kept secret for now), but the dynamic duo complemented each other's attacks nicely, forming a formidable team against the horde of bone-crunching ogres.
Enemy positioning made the fights more tactical than you might normally find in the genre. Your treacherous foes are positioned around corners and hide behind pillars, which are perfect places to knock you down if you're unprepared. Their deliberate positioning gives you time to breathe behind fights and figure out the best way to dispose of those foul beasts. For instance, you could flank them from the side, freezing them with the wizard's winter-themed spell. Then, you could have your hulking buddy rush in to finish them off. Or you could go the environmental route. Toss a flaming barrel into their midst and watch them scream and burn. The different ways you can approach combat makes Crimson Alliance flexible and unpredictable.
The best element in the early going is the wizard's ability to teleport. It's a small addition that seems like a trick right out of an X-Men comic, but that doesn't lessen the fun one bit. One second, you're chucking fireballs into a growing miniboss; the next, you're laying down a turret behind him. The freedom of movement lets you take advantage of the entire map, so you don't get dragged down by mashing your way through hordes of enemies until your fingers cramp up from exhaustion.
For the inquisitive type, there are hidden alcoves to find. Each level contains a set number of secrets, and the game marks your progress each time you uncover one. They reside behind seemingly solid walls and into blind corners, so it pays off to poke your nose where it doesn't belong. Other times, you need a specific character to open these secrets. A cracked wall signifies that the mercenary should knock that thing down, and a glowing wheel is the calling card for a crafty wizard. At the end of every level, you're awarded a score based on your combat efficiency, exploration skills, and speed, which earns you extra gold to spend on gear as well as a place on the leaderboard.
Crimson Alliance doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it doesn't need to either. Our time spent with this downloadable game was short but quite fun. Keep your eyes on GameSpot for more information on this hack-and-slash adventure.