Understanding the history behind Dark Alliance’s cast of Forgotten Realms characters
After more than a decade of dormancy, the Dark Alliance series of hack-and-slash RPGs, which currently includes 2001’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and 2004’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II, will finally get a third entry in 2020. Unveiled during The Game Awards 2019 ceremony, the upcoming third game ditches the ‘Baldur’s Gate’ part of the title and is simply called Dark Alliance, which makes sense given its snowy setting: the famous frozen tundras of Icewind Dale from the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons universe.
Of course, Icewind Dale isn’t the only Dark Alliance element that fans will instantly recognize. Unlike the previous two games, Dark Alliance doesn’t star a group of original characters but instead allows players to control one of the most well-known groups in Forgotten Realms history: the Companions of the Hall. Specifically, the game will feature the Drow ranger Drizzt Do’Urden and three of his closest friends, the humans Cattie-Brie and Wulfgar and the Dwarf warrior Bruenor Battlehammer.
All four of these characters have a lot of history behind them, and Dark Alliance’s debut trailer already offers clues as to how much of that history developer Tuque Studio will tap into. From the trailer alone it’s clear that Tuque wants to tell a new story set at a very specific point in the sprawling tale of the Companions of the Hall, and understanding the potential ramifications of that story is important. With Dark Alliance, Tuque is venturing far into these characters’ pasts, and that could mean some very interesting things for the future of Dungeons & Dragons video games.
An Abridged History of Drizzt and Co.
Even the most periphery of D&D/Forgotten Realms/fantasy literature fans has likely heard of the infamous Drow ranger Drizzt Do’Urden. The now prolific fantasy author R.A. Salvatore created Drizzt way back in 1987 mostly as an afterthought, never dreaming that the character would go on to become one of the most recognizable personalities in Forgotten Realms lore. To date, Drizzt has starred in 32 novels (with a 33rd set to come out next year) as well as a series of standalone short stories Salvatore also published throughout the past three decades.
Aside from his Drow (or Dark Elf if you prefer) heritage and his skill at wielding a pair of scimitars in combat, Drizzt’s most notable quality is the fact that he’s a walking anomaly. Unlike most other Forgotten Realms Drow who are evil to the core, Drizzt is a noble-hearted warrior who adheres to a strict moral code of honor and justice. His appearance often gives those he meets pause, but his valorous actions have also won him many friends, including the three featured alongside him in Dark Alliance.
The versions of Cattie-Brie, Wulfgar, and Bruenor featured in Dark Alliance are pretty faithful adaptations of their literary selves (at least in appearance judging from the game’s trailer). The game will likely explore the background behind all four of its protagonists, but for now what you need to know is that Bruenor was one of the very first people to befriend Drizzt after Drizzt escaped the clutches of his cold-hearted kin, and Cattie-Brie and Wulfgar are Bruenor’s adopted children.
What the Trailer Tells Us
Longtime fans of R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt novels could likely tell right off the bat that Dark Alliance is set during an early point in Drizzt’s history. Tuque also confirmed as much when it said in an interview with PC Gamer that the game takes place around the same time as one of Salvatore’s earliest Drizzt books, 1988’s The Crystal Shard.
The fact that Dark Alliance is set predominantly in the Icewind Dale region was already a pretty telling clue as to where it fits into the expansive Drizzt timeline. While Drizzt and his friends do technically make the occasional return trips to the snowy northern part of Faerun (the main continent of the Forgotten Realms setting), many of their early adventures are set squarely in Icewind Dale. It is also in Icewind Dale where the group earns their title ‘The Companions of the Hall,’ in reference to Bruenor’s home of Mithril Hall which is also located in the region and which, in a later book, Drizzt helps the others liberate from a massive shadow dragon.
Another notable element of the trailer is the fact that Cattie-Brie is wielding a bow. Pelting enemies with arrows from afar is indeed Cattie-Brie’s preferred method of engagement in the books, but again only in Salvatore’s very early works. Without delving too deep into the nitty gritty of the entire Companions of the Hall literary timeline, Cattie-Brie eventually abandons the martial ways in favor of spellcasting, and in the most recent books she’s actually a talented practitioner of both arcane and divine magics. The fact that she’s still wielding a bow in Dark Alliance is therefore yet another clue as to the game’s place in Forgotten Realms history.
A Future of Possibilities
We don’t yet know exactly how Dark Alliance’s gameplay will function, but Tuque Studio has already talked up a few interesting concepts. For example, the evolution of the core characters over the course of R.A. Salvatore’s entire history of novels (like Cattie-Brie’s aforementioned switch over to spellcasting) is something Tuque says it wants to explore on a more microcosmic level.
Each of the game’s four characters does technically fit into an RPG archetype (Bruenor’s the tank, Cattie-Brie’s the ranged fighter, etc.), but Tuque doesn’t want those archetypes to be too restrictive. After all, Salvatore always took great pains to show in literary form how Drizzt is, in D&D terms, both a fighter and a ranger (he also gets some bits of barbarian and even monk in later novels). This could theoretically mean that, while all of Dark Alliance’s characters wield the same weaponry throughout the game, how they fight might look drastically different depending on the choices two different players make.
Setting Dark Alliance so early in the history of the Companions of the Hall is also a smart move on Tuque’s part since it opens up the possibility of subsequent games that explore other major events in Salvatore’s long and storied timeline. We don’t know yet if Tuque plans on working other notable Salvatore characters like the Halfling Regis Rumblebelly (another Companion of the Hall) or the devious human assassin Artemis Entreri into the game’s story, but such characters could always show up (playable or no) in a future installment.
Dark Alliance is far from Drizzt Do’Urden’s first appearance in a video game (in fact, he was a secret unlockable character in both of the previous Dark Alliance games), but it is the first game where he and his friends will have a major narrative role. If Tuque’s upcoming Forgotten Realms foray winds up being a success, this could be the start of a bold new venture in interactive fantasy storytelling, one in which one of the most recognizable and beloved Forgotten Realms characters is leading the charge.