Crimson Alliance’s fatal nickel-and-dimestore tactics

, | Game reviews

I was digging on Crimson Alliance, a simple and spirited action RPG that pulls back from the usual finicky loot chase in favor of a scoring model. You try to avoid taking damage to rack up a multiplier. At the end of the level, you earn points based on your combat effectiveness, the secret areas you’ve found, and the time you took to reach the end. If you finesse the multiplier, you can hit the score thresholds for silver and gold medals. That’s the overall metagame around the lively hacking-and-slashing.

But then I get to the business model for this Xbox Live Arcade game. I don’t really mind the overall pricing model. The three heroes are sold separately for $10 each, or for $15 for all three. That’s an interesting enough alternative to the usual price.

But then I get to the stores between each level, where you spend the gold you’ve accumulated to buy gear. Gear is a bit more meaningful than the usual action RPG, because there’s no leveling. Each character always has three attacks, but the attacks get more powerful based on which items you equip in each of a character’s three slots. Some equipment even gives you extra health, or a bonus tweak. This wizard’s orb might improve your direct flame attack and add a few points of health, but that wizard’s orb will boost your electricity crowd control attack as well as add a slight chance of critical hits. Simple meaningful choices without too much fuss. Now let’s go eff up some more goblins!

But what rubs me the wrong way is that each store includes a nag for you to buy 40,000 gold from the Xbox Live store. In the overall calculus of the game, 40,000 gold is an unbalancing metric butt-ton of money. It will basically unlock all the best items for each of your three slots. I’m guessing it will let you effortlessly plow through the levels, pretty much guaranteeing silver medals all the way.

Is Crimson Alliance supposed to work this way? Shouldn’t the developers tune their game* so the amount of gold you earn is commensurate with either the amount of time you’ve played, or how well you’ve played? When is gameplay just a grind that you should be able to buy your way past? Should indie developers shirk their duty like Electronic Arts routinely does, giving players the option to subvert whatever challenge level their game should provide? And should an indie developer include a nag for this every time I’m counting out my hard-earned gold for whatever minor item I can afford?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do know that I lost interest in Crimson Alliance after being repeatedly nagged to pay extra money as an alternative to actually playing the game.

2 stars

* otherwise known as “doing their jobs”