Crimson Alliance is a top down, Diablo-esque action RPG that loot-loving 360 owners should probably put on their radars, pronto. Simply looking for a shortcut, three heroes, a Mercenary (warrior), a Wizard (mage), and an (female) Assassin meet along a road and stumble upon a city in ruins and soon find themselves in the midst of dungeons with all manner of medieval fantasy baddies. Along the way, they uncover the mystery of what happened to the city and who each other are, told via 2D hand-drawn cinematics.

Featuring 3 player co-op, Crimson Alliance offers a cool feature called cooperative combos. These lend a stronger sense of team tactics than many other co-op RPG’s. These let players use individual attacks in tandem with another class to perform a combined attack that is stronger than either of the individual ones. In our demo the wizard had a cool freeze attack at which point I used a bash attack of mine that usually just knocked opponents backwards. Because the enemies were frozen when I hit them, the ice caused them to go sliding across the screen and shatter once they hit a wall.

Another little caveat that keeps the game feeling distinguished from other downloadable action RPG’s is exploding barrels. No, they aren’t new to games at all, but there are more in Crimson Alliance than in most hack and slash games, and with good reason. They act more as environmental dynamite in this game. When you slice or blast them the fuses ignite. From there players can implore two strategies to use them most effectively – stand near the barrel and block until enemies swarm around you, light it and use your dash/dodge move to get the hell out of dodge before the big “KABLOOWIE!” or you can light them, pick them up and throw them into a crowd or boss for maximum damage from a safe distance. There are poison dispensing barrels as well… users beware (I nearly killed myself a number of times with these during the demo).

Beyond these features I didn’t see much uniqueness to the title over others in this genre, however after playing the game for about 20 minutes, I’m not sure I have to. The most impressive thing about Crimson Alliance is the way it looks. It’s cool from an artistic standpoint, because while other similar games have just gone with a cartoony style, Crimson Alliance almost looks cell shaded, at times. Moreover the graphical fidelity of the game is quite crisp. I could make out every little detail on the awesome looking armor my Mercenary character was sporting. Additionally, I would even go so far as to call the game gorgeous, especially when compared with other games in its class. The shadows seem more complex and everything runs smoothly.

Lastly, the gripe I have with many top down RPG’s is that the animations are normally clunky looking, wonky, lack visceral feedback or any combination of the former. However, Crimson Alliance succeeds where many have failed and achieves a level of smoothness in animations whilst maintaining the feeling of really laying into someone quite well. The lighting and special effects like explosions and blood are quite impressive too. Basically, the game is a visual treat for fans of the genre.

As Microsoft’s favorite locust-squahser would probably say, There are “ten $H!%-tons of games at E3 each year. But what grabbed my attention with Crimson Alliance was how well it looked and ran. Once I got hands on time with it, I was reaffirmed of its quality by how good everything felt. The inventory system was easy to use and all the little nuances that could make a game like this hurt seem to have been taken into account and dealt with in ways that worked. There’s enough new here to make fans of the genre feel like they’re playing a fresh game, while the staples of a top down action RPG felt rewarding and fun. With a whopping five difficulty levels – easy, normal, hard, immortal and (wait for it) REDONKULUS! (I’m not making this up) – there is plenty of replay value.

Each level has about 10-12 “secret areas” that give extra loot and can generally only be accessed by completing quick, easy puzzles. There are even challenge maps that can be found through exploration and are different from levels than the main game. Also there are scoreboards and medals (bronze, silver, etc.) for each level so that you can compete with friends in that way. When I opened the skill tree screen during the demo I was momentarily baffled by the amount of options. And of course there are the multiple character classes to go back and play-through. Though the game is up to three-player co-op, the devs assured me that it would be very possible to still play the game solo, which is great for players like myself that often opt to “go it alone.”

All told, I’m really looking forward to Crimson Alliance, as it is right up my ally. Everything about the game just felt… done, basically. That is quite nice in an age where half the games being released are in dyer need of patch after patch post-release. Of course it was only a demo, but the team said that they were pretty much finished with development on the title and just awaiting approval from Microsoft to announce a launch date. The game is targeting a summer 2011 release window, and pricing was said to be “comparable to other arcade games,” which is about $15 or 1200 Microsoft points. With silky smooth gameplay, beautiful and richly detailed graphics, lighting and special effects; and skill trees longer than a wizard’s beard, developer Certain Affinity seems to have their hands red with the blood of previously released loot-based, top down action RPG’s with Crimson Alliance based on my E3 2011 hands-on demo.

E3 2011 Announcement Trailer