Gate: Dark Alliance II
When a game comes out and garners quite a bit of success obviously there is quite a bit of pressure for the sequel to do just as well, if not better, than the original. Dealing with this would be hard enough for a development team who was responsible for the original title. Now imagine if a new studio was brought in and had to live up to heavy expectations having not had the experience of making the first game in the first place. Such was the case for Black Isle as the Dark Alliance torch was passed to them from Snowblind Studios. Happily, Dark Alliance II proves to be a very solid title, if looking a little dated, keeping the engaging action RPG elements of the first game intact while expanding upon its predecessor with new characters and a handy item creation system.
Starting up where the first Dark Alliance left off, a cut scene shows the three heroes of that game stepping through a portal after defeating Eldrith the Betrayer only to be surrounded by a large group of demons after which they are taken prisoner by the vampire king, Mordac. From here players will have to choose from five new characters (more on this in a bit) and set out to find out what Mordac is up to. For the most part the game’s narrative will keep players’ attention as the story progresses, although there are some areas that feel like filler with cut scenes that drag their feet and don’t really
do much to advance the plot. Despite
this, though, the story in Dark Alliance II is written well enough to
keep gamers’ attention, especially when dealing with the likes of the
Harpers and Zentarim (the Yin and Yang of the Forgotten Realms political
for getting to the bottom of Mordac’s evil doing are five new
range from melee combat specialists like the barbarian and monk, to
those who favor ranged attacks such as the dwarf rogue with his trusty
crossbow and the elf mage with his magic attacks, with a cleric filling
the middle ground utilizing a mix of melee and magical abilities.
On top of this players will have the chance to learn
druid-related abilities should they go on a certain optional side quest.
Factor in that Drizzt Do’Urden and Artimis Entrerie are
unlockable characters (Drizzt by completing the game on any difficulty
level and Artimis after finishing the game on Extreme Mode) and there
are more than enough varied combat methods available to players to keep
them busy for some time. Each of the characters fighting styles and related special
abilities are very well balanced, and improving their various skills
upon leveling up still requires some strategy to further mould them
within the confines of their character class while at the same time
staying simple enough to not become overwhelming.
of which character one chooses to play as, combat in Dark Alliance II
stays very straightforward. Facing
off against the usual assortment of goblins, gnolls, orcs, trolls, and
countless other beasts indigenous to the Forgotten realms, the game
sticks to the basics having players focus on melee attacks for most of
the characters as they hack wave after wave of enemies to pieces, or
take them down from a distance through the use of bows or spells.
Assuming the game is played on a reasonably high level of
difficulty the combat will be anything but mundane as it will become
necessary to time attacks well then either block quickly or zip off to
safety. Constantly having
to move keeps the battles fast and exciting.
As such, easier settings are best avoided here, as it doesn’t
take long before characters defenses are at such a level where they
become tanks and can just stand there brushing off blow after blow.
Even on Normal Mode it doesn’t take long before a character
becomes a tank, just find some good armor and chances are you’re
sitting pretty for the duration of the game.
Hard Mode offers the best challenge by far without going over
board in Dark Alliance II, as opposed to Extreme Mode where players can
barely be into the first chapter of the game and be coming across
enemies that can take down heroes in one or two hits without breaking a
with these enemies is made a little easier thanks to the inclusion of an
item creation system in Dark Alliance II.
The system works like a simplified version of the one found in
Diablo II for improving weapons and armor.
Players take a piece of armor, an accessory, or a weapon and can
attach a maximum of three different types of gems to the item (a maximum
of 16 of each gem). Each
different gem adds a different property to the item it’s attached to,
such as elemental attacks or stat enhancements, with even more possibilities when certain gems are both on the same
item. It’s a nice piece
of nuts and bolts item tweaking as players get a chance to customize
items without the whole process becoming overly complicated.
The only drawback to this is that gems can help contribute to
cluttering players’ inventory when trying to sift through items.
everything up to this point is all smiles and sunshine, the game isn’t
without its faults, those being its graphics and sound.
a visual standpoint, Dark Alliance II looks a little long in the tooth.
The detail and crispness of the first game just isn’t here and
the overall artistic style has a very run-of-the-mill feel to it.
Be it dragons, humans, or trolls, the characters have a bit of an
RPG paint by numbers look to them as they have far too similar of an
appearance to them as similar beasts in similar games do.
Lighting effects also take a hit here as they lack the brilliance
and dazzle that many other current titles bring to the table.
the sound side of things, the game’s music is decent but it is used
far too sparsely. It swells
up when something major is about to happen, but largely its presence is
limited. One nice touch in
terms of music in the game is that Black Isle snuck in the Kuldahar
theme from the first Icewind Dale game for one of the side quests.
It’s a great song and more than welcomed here.
Sound effects get the job done, with the usual clangs and roars
and zaps needed to bring the action to life.
The only odd thing about the sound is that for some reason,
whenever a character walks on grass it sounds like they’re actually
strolling across a hardwood floor.
It sounds like grass again when running, but returns to hardwood
once more upon slowing to a walk again.
Helping players forget about this is the game’s voice acting,
which is surprisingly well done. The actors do a very believable job of their roles and the
dialogue is written quite well, enhancing the experience.
If there’s one problem with the acting it’s that Drizzt
sounds a little too much like a member of The Beatles, but other than
that Dark Alliance II deserves a gold star for doing a great job on the
a couple of aesthetic quibbles, Dark Alliance II offers a solid dungeon
hack experience. With
plenty of characters to choose from, solid combat, and the ability to
customize items without the whole process becoming overwhelming the game
manages to be highly accessible to a wide variety of gamers be they a
casual weekend warrior looking for simple pleasures or a long time fan
of the genre that wants solid action with some nuts and bolts tweaking
options thrown in.
March 30, 2004
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