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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Action/Role-Playing

 

Publisher

Interplay

 

Developer

Snowblind Studios

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2001

 

 

- Very well-paced action

- Decent story

- Good size dungeons

- Well laid out control scheme

- Good visuals

- Deep character development

- Excellent voice acting

- Very nice soundtrack

 

 

- The game is too short

- Not enough replay value

- The dungeons could use a little more explorative value

 

 

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (PC) Review

Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal Expansion Pack (PC) Review

Review: Diablo II: Lord of Destruction  (PC)

 

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Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance

Score: 8.5/10

 

When it was first announced that Dark Alliance was in the works an eyebrow was raised on my minds eye, but when I got word that it was an action RPG I have to admit that I was just a wee bit skeptical. After being treated to the joyous real-time, tactics oriented magic that was the battle system of the Baldur's Gate and its little brother Icewind Dale, not to mention the ultra open-ended questing, could an action RPG rendition of the Baldur's Gate universe even be palatable? After spending an unhealthy amount of time with the finished product I'd have to say yes, and then some. Both the hacking and the slashing, the dungeon exploration, and story are actually very good, albeit fleeting. If you have a hankering for something with a Gauntlet vibe to it, but with a little bit of Diablo meatiness as well, this is the game for you.

 

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So what's all the hub-bub in the game? What's the point? The goal? The grand master plan? Well, you take the role of an adventurer who goes off to the city of 
Baldur's Gate in search of adventure, fame, riches, and all of the other goodies that come with roaming the countryside clobbering evil-doers. Not three steps into the city your character gets bonked over the head by a band of thieves (not much of an adventurer if your getting beat down the second you enter a city, no?), they proceed to take all your money, so it's off to get them back through a series of small adventures. Of course over this time the plot unfolds and there is more to all this than a bunch of thieves going around town causing a ruckus. I could go on, but then I'd ruin the plot, but learning whose behind everything and seeing how the story presents itself is very entertaining. It's surprisingly well-paced and allows the action to continue to flow well, not over burdening players with a heavy narrative, thus keeping the "action" in this action RPG. Hurting the game somewhat is the level of narrative in the game since it really punches a hole in Dark Alliance's replay value. You'll find yourself frantically mashing the buttons while going through the conversations, not the end of the world but the continued inclusion of the story in repeat playings of the game makes it feel a little bit slower the second and third time through. More damning though is the length of this game. It is a short little bugger, clocking in at around 10 hours to complete on default difficulty settings (Normal Mode). The simple fact that this is a Baldur's Gate game makes one think that it has at least 30-40 hours of continuous, original gameplay in-store. It's a tradition and staple in the franchise, but not present here. Making the game at least 20 hours and five chapters long would have really gone a long way. I don't think I've been so let down when I realized the game was almost over. Helping to make up for this are three different character classes and a secret character to use for additional trips through the game, but 10-ish hours is still not enough regardless.

 

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The game starts out with the option to play as one of three characters, a dwarven fighter, a human archer, or an elven sorceress. Archetypal characters if ever they were, but from the get-go it's made quite clear that Dark Alliance is by no means trying to capture the depth and scope of the other Baldur's Gate games. Each of these classes has their own strengths and weaknesses, for instance the dwarf is very good at close-quartered melee fighting but lacks magic (though he has some special attacks he can learn to compensate for this), while the 

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sorceress is more adept in the arcane arts, and the human is a ranged fighter, but can still hold his own when sword fighting is required. Like I said, archetypal, but effective nonetheless. When a character levels-up the core stats (Strength, Wisdom, Dexterity, and such) can only be enhanced every so many levels, and even then you can only choose one area to improve and only by one point. It's the different abilities that get the lion's share of the attention at a level-up. Players will have to decide whether to upgrade a spell's potency or to enhance regenerative abilities and so forth. It may not sound like much, but as the game progresses the choices made here will really have an effect on the character's development, particularly the sorceress with her large selection of spells to learn. They're all setup like that of the Baldur's Gate games on the PC where you get the weapon proficiency level-ups. There are one to five circles that can be filled, each requiring a different amount of points to fill depending on the skill and the level of that skill. It's all quite straightforward and those who have played the PC editions of Baldur's Gate will feel very at home with this system.

The one disappointing thing in terms of progression is how the weapons work their way up the food chain. It's all very rudimentary in its execution. For armor you go from padded, to leather, to scale, to chain, to plate, from weakest to strongest. There isn't really any strengths and weaknesses inherent to each one, it's just one piece is stronger than the other, no suits with a knack for stopping fire, no poison- resistant armor. Weapons aren't so bad as attack strength also has a lot to do with your character's strength and natural fighting abilities, the choices in weapon selection largely hinges on whether you want a one or two-handed one, then whether you want an axe, a bow, a sword, and so on.

 

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The action itself is where the game really shines. It isn't as intense as the Diablo games and their gigantic swarms of monsters to fight, but the intensity of the battles is still there with a good half dozen or so beasts jumping you at once with a few particularly large ones in the mix to keep you on your toes. If it looks like there are more enemies than you can handle it's usually not too hard to inch your way up to them and get a few to follow so you can fight a few at a time, making it easier to defeat them. However, later in the game many of the monsters will have none of that, so you'll need to be stocked up on healing and mana potions then dive headlong into the fray. With this the regular battles that were faught while working my way through the dungeon felt a lot more difficult than the boss battles themselves. I had to think and strategize far more when dealing with large numbers of enemies crawling the dungeon than when dealing with the bosses. If anything the fights at the end of each chapter were anti-climatic. All you need to know is when to block and to stay close to avoid the magic.

Exploration of the dungeons themselves is fairly open-ended. There are plenty of little side paths to take where you'll find all manner of goodies, but they're far from being gigantic, sprawling catacombs. There is still a very distinct sense of where you need to go and where you don't. Things only get complicated in the last tower of the game where there is little rhyme nor reason as to the level layouts, allowing for a lot of exploring. I was pleasantly surprised to see that traps in the dungeon hurt the enemies as well as your character, so if you come across a group of exceptionally tough bad guys, just lead them to the traps and let the traps do all the work. What was disappointing were the lack of secret areas in the game that don't show up on the map, there were none to speak of. Make no mistake though, this is a very "on the rails" action RPG. There are no huge, sweeping vistas with dozens of tiny niches to discover, it's predominantly dungeon crawling, enclosed and relatively limited.

What really knocked me on my behind was how well the buttons on the controller are utilized for this game, as in all of them serve a purpose. Better still is that it is all well laid out, not all complicated and disorganized. Besides the obvious movement, attack, and magic using buttons, you can easily scroll through your spells or abilities as well as down a healing or mana potion at the push of a button. Very handy. Response is also worth mentioning as the characters all react well to commands, especially useful for the dwarf when he's in close with a lot of enemies, or the sorceress when she has to sift through spells on the fly.

What's nice also is that there is the option for two player simultaneous play, so you can combine the knee-deep axe whacking with arms-length spell slinging and such. Difficulty is questionable overall though at the lower levels, but if you crank it up a notch the game is a lot more challenging and doesn't feel like such a pushover. You can also open extreme difficulty mode by finishing the gauntlet (opened after finishing the game) with everyone's favorite dark elf, Drizzt Do'Urden (and play as the character if you finish the game on extreme).

From an aesthetic standpoint Dark Alliance is top notch. For there being so many tiny monsters scurrying about the screen, it's nice to see all the tiny details included in them. The larger beasts are definitely a sight to behold though with frost giants, gnolls, and trolls really standing out and actually looking very imposing. The animation is also really smooth with no slowdown, even when there is a lot happening on the screen at once. There are two aspects of the visuals that really stood out though: the water effects and the lighting effects. Wow and a half! The trail behind the character and the monsters and the ripples are easily some of the most realist I have ever seen. The lights and shadows when a spell are cast are also very impressive. Get a bunch of magic users on screen at the same time and things just go crazy, and still no slowdown too. There is very little in the way of cutscenes in the game as everything remains in-game by and large, but what few scenes there are actually look pretty good. They aren't the best of the best by any means, but they do look nice. The visuals in Dark Alliance are surprisingly good for the type of game that it is.

Keeping pace with the visuals, the audio for the game is also of exceptionally good quality. First off, the voice acting is very well done, but considering the track record of the voice acting in the Baldur's Gate game it's hardly surprising. There are a lot of voices that will be familiar to those who have played previous games from the franchise, as well as there being a small army of voice actors who participated in Metal Gear Solid 2, and John Rhys-Davis (from Sliders and who played Gimli in The Lord of the Rings). All of this equates to very good acting throughout the game. The music was handled by Jeremy Soule, who was also responsible for the scores of Icewind Dale, Total Annihilation, and Giants: Citizen Kabuto, among others. It's a very good assortment of atmospheric pieces, feeling more like something one would hear in a movie, not over-powering, but not too subtle either. The odd thing is that sometimes the music cuts right in, and other times it fades in. I'd imagine this is to do with the programming. To complete the aural aspects of the game, the sound effects perform their role admirably with the expected clangs of weapons striking armor, roars and grumbles of enemies, and zaps and fizzles of magic. It should also be noted how nice the reverb is in the various caverns and castles, adding an additional sense of depth and expansiveness to the environments.

Despite some minor shortcomings in the game, there is a lot to like about Dark Alliance. The battles are frenetic, but still require strategy for the best results, leveling up often proves a very deep experience choosing what to enhance, and it looks and sounds great. The only major problem is the shortness of the game, but even with this Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is not a game to pass by. In the very least rent this one for a weekend.

- Mr. Nash

 

(January 2, 2002)

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