reviews\ Dec 10, 2001 at 7:00 pm

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance - PS2 - Review

Return to Baldur's Gate - as you've never seen it before! Enter Snowblind Studios (complete with accurate looking and sounding Emperor penguin mascot) and the familiar Black Isle team. This team, the alliance behind the Dark Alliance, recently unleashed a RPG tour-de-force for PS2 gamers everywhere with their newest addition to the Baldur's Gate series. Featuring awe-inspiring graphics, ultra-realistic sound, seamless frame-rates, a masterful rendition of D&D 3rd Edition rules, and  insanely addictive game play - there just doesn't seem to be enough words to describe the way this title upped the standards for it's genre in the console world. 

The already more user friendly D&D 3rd Edition rule set is made even more painless in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. You will be presented with three different classes at the onset of the game (this may seem a bit confining to the seasoned RPGer) - a Human Archer, a Dwarven Warrior, and an Elven Sorceress. This pretty much covers the areas players eventually fall into anyway: melee, ranged physical, and magic caster. The figures are automatically set for you, and they are placed logically according to your classes strengths and weaknesses (dwarves being strong but less intelligent, and sorceresses being wise, but with low constitution). Instead of distributing points to stats, instead, you will place your points into feats and spells. To the delight to those of us who read our "Monstrous Manuals" and "Encyclopedia Magicka," the spells, feats, weapons, and monsters are straight out of our reference books.

While, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance draws a great deal from it's D&D roots, don't let this fool you into thinking you must understand the myriad of pen-and-paper rules to enjoy this game, because you really don't have to. As a matter of fact, there are some things, like the prohibition of certain kinds of armor for spell casters, that are completely ignored. It's no surprise that many draw a sort of comparison between Dark Alliance and Diablo in its focus on action and more of an RPG-lite take on the typical role-playing rules. The skill tree in Diablo, after all, is really no different than distributing your points into spells and feats. There's no "chicken or the egg" questions here though. Diablo took the best of RPG and made it quicker - exactly what Dark Alliance is doing, and it's tearing up the console RPG world along the way. 

The game menus are extremely easy to use - neatly organizing your weapons, armor, quests, feats and more on a "tab" menu. Each weapon or armor item  will be listed with its applicable weight, value, defense, and damage to give you all the essential details at a glance. There will be a great deal of buying and selling going on, and having all that information in one glance makes the whole process immensely easier. You will also be allowed recall potions to make selling and saving more convenient. Lucky for you and/or your partner, save points are frequent in case you go barging into a room before you actually think about it (everyone knows one of those players!)

It wouldn't be fair to call the visual in Dark Alliance mere graphics. These pieces of technological artwork create an all new standard. Not only are the characters, surroundings, and visuals incredible to look at, perhaps even the more amazing thing is that with all this artistry at work there's no slowdown and the loading times are minimal. The human body is given the ultimate attention - and in true fantasy artist style, the women are given the special treatment. Nonetheless, all characters are rendered quite well and for a collector and fan of fantasy art - this game is a virtual godsend. An exceptional example is the true to form (and crawl) of the spiders in the cellar. They move in those same ways that give many arachnophobes the willies (even lit up by a burning hands spell!). 

Sound in Dark Alliance has it's own charm. Sound effects are exceptionally realistic (including even more fun spider effects), and it's a pleasure to see so much work went into creating this audio feast. The spirit of the singer in the Elfsong Tavern has an almost ethereal voice and all the voice acting is well done. The score itself is subdued. In reflecting on that point I've also decided even the best music becomes repetitious, and I'm almost glad that the music is not only harmonious, but subtle enough not to become repetitive. (I went to a local ren fest and recognized someone playing Ultima Online music on a lute. That's what I'm referring to when I mean too repetitive - it gets so drilled into your head it becomes part of your neural pathways.)

Another added bonus - multiplayer! My Diablo obsessed counterpart and I found ourselves immediately enraptured in the simultaneous Dark Alliance gameplay.  Multiplayer action takes place on a single screen, and while some rewards (e..g. gold, items) are every player for themselves, quest items and experience points are duplicated so that each player gets the reward for the quest.

I think you're catching my drift by now; Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is a must have for the console gamer who's been waiting for the perfect console RPG. Snowblind Studios and Black Isle Studios have created a PS2 masterpiece which pleases on every level. Whether you're a pen-and-paper or dungeon-crawl fan, Dark Alliance has something for everyone!

Gameplay: 9
 It's sort of a cross between a Diablo-like dungeon crawl (hence why it is so addictive) and D&D RPG lite. It's the perfect combination of fast paced action with a little bit of number-crunching and point distributing thrown in to save your brain from atrophy (remember this is loosely based on the 3rd Edition rules, but it doesn't always follow them). Even with the awesome graphics, the game never skips a beat - flowing like silk from start to finish.

Graphics: 9.5
 This game is simply beautiful to look at. From the gentle sway of the foilage in the intro screen, to the surreal effect of rippling water, Dark Alliance will never cease to amaze even the hardest-to-please graphics gurus. 

Sound: 9
Music, for the most part, adds a subtle ambience to the game, but at no point draws an excessive amount to attention to itself. The voice casting was excellent, including some voices which avid gamers will recognize.

Difficulty: 8
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance takes the bare essentials of 3rd Edition D&D rules and combines it with a fast moving game that will keep you glued to the PS2. There are basic puzzles, as well as some fights which will require some real strategy to survive.

Concept: 9
I have to give the Forgotten Realms teams of all varieties a big cheer for managing to make an extensive series that still hasn't had a dull moment yet. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is certainly a completely different animal that the PC titles - but they are both fantastic in their own way.

Multiplayer: 9
You can have just as much playing multiplayer as you can single player - a balance not often achieved in the gaming world. Two player action takes place on a single screen and any awards received at the end of the quest are given to both characters, while things in barrels or boxes are every man/woman for themselves. 

Overall: 9.2
Nothing can describe how I felt playing Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance better than "Hooray! Someone finally got it right!" Not only did they get finally D&D RPG right on a console platform, but they did it with incredible style and panache. This is a beautiful, fun, and addictive game - thanks to Snowblind Studios, Black Isle, and Interplay!


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