Name: Baldur's Gate - Dark Alliance
Format: PlayStation 2
Genre: Action RPG
Region Reviewed: PAL
Year of Release: 2001 (UK)
Baldur’s Gate is a series very familiar to a lot of gamers especially with its cult following on the PC. In 2001 Snowblind Studios decided to bring the series over to consoles in a spin off series. The result was a game loved by those with the itch for hack and slash dungeon looting but hated by hardcore fans of the original series. For this review it’s time to re visit the game and see if this dungeon crawler still has what it takes to stand out.
Dark alliance allows you to choose between three playable characters. You have Kromlech the Dwarf, Vahn the human archer and Adrianna the eleven sorceress. In the story you’re taking a trip through Baldur’s Gate maybe to visit an art gallery and do a little wine tasting when you get mugged by thieves. I mean who would have thought it travelling alone down a dark street and you get stripped of all your possessions. Lucky for you the guards save the day and direct you to a nearby pub rather than being helpful and getting your things back. Thus begins the epic quest to get your stuff back which quickly leads to a epic quest on a much grander scale. The story has a couple of twists and turns but there’s nothing hugely memorable about it. There is a huge amount of text and voice acting in this game which is skippable should you want to just get on with the action. The game can be played alone or with a friend in co-op which is certainly one of the biggest draws to playing through this game, though the solo experience should still satisfy the dungeon crawler fan.
Gameplay is fairly basic hack and slash affair. The game has a somewhat over the top viewpoint though the camera can be adjusted in single player should you want to adjust the view. In case you don't know how a dungeon crawler plays here’s a quick summary. You basically kill, block, jump and magic your way through all enemies as well as drink potions, gain experience, level up, find loot, collect money, buy better equipment, have a sandwich (in real life) and wash rinse repeat as you make your way through the quest. If any of that sounds dull then this game as well as any dungeon crawler experience is not for you. There is always a main story quest to follow as well as a fair amount of side quests to be completed along the way all of which net you more money, equipment and experience. A handy recall potion will reduce the amount of back tracking you have to do and send you back to the tavern or main save area to turn in quests and buy more gear. Once finished the recall potion will take you back to the area you were just in. The only issue with the quests was you can get lost leading to a lot of roaming around the dungeon looking where to go. Fortunately the game has an on screen map you can blow up to a large size to get your bearing’s.
The games jumping ability can be used to totally skip entire areas of enemies, since jumping around like a loony is faster than running, the problem you’ll have is the unskippable boss enemies will flat out destroy you due to the lack of experience you have accumulated. The controls are solid though this game is quite challenging even on the easy settings. Dying in single player totally ends your quest forcing you to start up your previous save. If you are lucky to play in co-op your buddy can revive you at the nearest save point making the co-op experience significantly easier than single player.
One of the best parts of the game is levelling up not only does your character get stronger but you can spend points on new abilities customizing your character to your play style. You can unlock new spells or abilities, carry more loot, increase your health and magic bar as well as many more. Each of the three playable characters also has their own unique stats as well as their own unlockable abilities and magic spells when levelling up, giving plenty of reason to play through the game with a different hero. The dwarf is more of a melee fighter, the elf is more magic based and the human is more suited to the bow and arrow. Combining two of these hero's in co-op can lead to some fun strategy.
The graphics were amazing back in the early 00s especially with the games water effects. Of all the games I played on the PS2 and Xbox this had the best water technology you’ll see ripples through the water as you walk through it and still looks great today. The rest of the game is mostly dark and dingy caves and dungeons, though you’ll also climb up icy mountains and traverse a lizard ridden marsh land. Though the environments have variety all are essentially pallet swaps for big dungeons. Character models and sprites look good the most satisfying element with your personal character is swapping out different weapons and armour and seeing it on your character sprite in the options menu and in game. There is a wide enemy variation in the game you’ll come across all sorts from boring giant rats to giant blobs filled with the bones of creatures they have eaten. The bosses are usually large in size and very rich in detail.
Music is good in the title though I found Baldur’s Gate the town had a lot more of a memorable score than the rest of the game. The opening theme is incredible and one of the most memorable scores in a videogames to date. The voice acting from the characters you meet in the game is top notch and worth appreciating the first visit through thought has actually gone into the script here. It is likely you’ll be skipping dialogue a second trip through the game though even though a few characters react differently depending on the hero you choose it has no effect on the outcome of the game. Sound effects in the game are handled well too from the sound of your sword making squelchy contact with your foes to the fire noise bursting from a trap.
Dark Alliance is quite the meaty quest and even at three chapters it will keep you busy for quite some time. Save points in the game are fairly regular making it suitable for quick gaming sessions. Since the game is so easy to pick up and play you can take long breaks from the quest and return several weeks later without having to re learn the mechanics again. The game has an impressive feature allowing you to import characters into a brand new game with everything you unlocked in the previous playthrough even if you didn’t finish the game. You can also unlock an extreme difficulty which you can only play with a transferred character, this mode will beat you down hard and is recommended only to the hardcore dungeon crawling enthusiasts.
Verdict:- Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance remains an entertaining dungeon crawler experience on the consoles. The PC crowd may hate it for straying from the games original RPG formula but buddying up with someone and going in co-op is still a great experience here even today.
The game of course will come across as quite challenging which may put people off looking for a casual experience. If you despise repetitive hack and slash gameplay this probably won’t appeal to you either. With its great graphics, solid mechanics and satisfying levelling up feature as well as the ability to import characters into new games there is a lot here that makes Dark Alliance stand out from the crowd when compared to similar games in the genre including current gen attempts.
Whether alone or with a friend Baldur’s provides a fun dungeon crawl experience and treats all gamers the life lesson that it’s very silly to walk around town late at night even if the town does serve the best wine in the land.
Second Opinion:- Transbot Remembers a time when all he needed was a sword and shield and a top down viewpoint to be happy.
Games like this at the time of release were almost unheard of for the PS2 and tracking down a copy was almost a game in itself but when you did the months of fun that followed more than made up for the hardship. The game itself had solid tight controls and so many options that as a gamer you felt spoilt at times but in all the right ways, it's safe to say that time has taken some of the gloss off of the title but what remains is a great game to play.
Transbot Scores:- 7 out of 10