reviews\ Dec 19, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance - XB - Review

As a growing fan of RPGs, I’ve invested countless of hours exploring the fantasy world of Morrowind and craving for even more role-playing titles for the Xbox . . . seeing as the PS2 has been getting all the real good ones (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, etc.).  Last year the PS2 managed to squeeze in Dark Alliance from the popular Baldur’s Gate series for the PC and boy was it a great game.  Thankfully, the Xbox crowd is getting its chance to experience the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired role-playing action RPG that’s big enough for you to invite a friend over to play along.  It truly doesn’t get any better than this.


For anyone who has played the PS2 version, you’ll notice that the game has not been completely altered to the point that it’s an entirely different experience or expect to see Xbox-exclusive bonus levels.  What you will find is smoother graphics and better stat point distribution that makes strengthening your character more easily.  The game’s story remains interesting as does the many characters you encounter.  The story takes place in the Forgotten Realm’s universe during some pretty troublesome times in the port city of Baldur’s Gate.  As an adventurer seeking fortune, you become involved in lurking danger that seems to consume the city as well as the surrounding area.


You start the game off by choosing one of three different races: Vahn, a human archer or Kromlech, a trusty Dwarf fighter and Adrianna, an Elven sorceress.  Depending on who you chose, the game becomes a somewhat different experience seeing as each character has his or her own strengths, weaknesses, skills . . . although they all have the same ability to jump, attack, block and use magic.  You can upgrade your character with different items such as gloves, hats, weapons or armor. 


The pick-up-and-play controls just couldn’t get any better than this, in fact, the user-friendly controls just serve to make the game even more addictive since you concentrate more on the events at hand rather than the struggle of constantly trying to remember how to unleash spells.  The trigger buttons give easy access to healing or magic rejuvenation potions and the B button unleashes any spell or feats you might have readied or learned. 


You’ll also find that this is no hack-and-slash game where you just charge into the fray with a broadsword and a shield hoping to wipe out a small army.  The fun part is coming up with various strategies such as luring the enemy around the corner where a slash the belly awaits them or make good use of your ability to block attacks.  The more enemies your character defeats in combat the more experience and hit points you gain.  There are several treasure chests filled with items and weapons and you can smash certain objects for potions or money . . . all of which is used to fit your character with better weapons and armor.


And one of the best parts about this game is that a second player can join in for a co-op gaming experience that has two players on screen at once.  The action feels similar to Gauntlet in that the other player cannot leave the screen.  You also share percentages of the loot and experience points, which sounds like a bad deal but considering the fact that having a friend with you while taking on three Frost Giants is definitely worth the loss of a few items, money or points.


Seen from a top-down viewpoint, the game’s visuals still are quite spectacular and well detailed.  Gamers will be amazed how every environment (from the dank cellar of a tavern to the frosty ice caverns) displays so much little details that it draws the attention of the eye pretty quickly.  The special effects are the same way with it various little effects like the ripples of a body of water as you wade through it to the flickering torch that shows off the game’s superb lighting effects.  There isn’t much in Xbox effects, but the graphics are a lot smoother than the PS2 graphics.


The game’s sound is another rare treat found in this game and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about the minute the title screen comes up.  Dark Alliance features an exceedingly beautiful score that sets the mood just right--it can be both hauntingly lovely in moments of tranquility and wonderfully somber during moments of uncertainty.  The sound effects are also as detailed as the visuals in that everything from the clanking of swords to the horrible shriek of a dying Kobold.  The voice acting is great too.


Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is an exceedingly enjoyable RPG that aficionados of the genre will thoroughly take pleasure in playing.  This is just one of those games that takes you by surprise with its addictive action, well-crafted story and plenty to do and see.  The ability to have a friend play along is just an added bonus that makes this worth the price of admission.    



#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 8.7
With controls that are stuff dreams are made of; Dark Alliance is a game that isn’t as complicated as the average Forgotten Realms game for the PC.  Your character can just as easily jump and cast an arcane spell with the simple press of a button.  Each character can activate different feats, for example, the sorceress can shoot a ball of lightning while the archer can enchant arrows and make them more magically powerful.


The story leads into a clear mission but there are several side missions to take on that keep this game fresh.  One side mission has you searching through a rat-infested cellar for a bottle of wine for a tavern patron when suddenly the mission itself changes and you have to find a fool that just happened to wander down there.  You’re encouraged to talk to everyone for useful information or even items.


Graphics: 9.0
While not exactly groundbreaking, the graphics are simply spectacular for a game that shows the action from a distance.  The level of detail of your surroundings as well as your actions is just amazing.  You’ll see what I mean the minute you step out into the ice caverns with ice that reflects the light of your lightning spell or the dimly lit catacombs complete with tiny rats that scurry past your feet.  The characters you encounter make realistic gestures as they speak and lip-synching is handled well.


The beauty is that your actions are also nicely detailed in this game.  Kill a bandit and he takes a backward tumble, dropping whatever weapon he might have been wielding as his blood spreads around him.  Different creatures die differently so you won’t be seeing the same deaths all that often.  Magic spells have different effects that just come off as beautiful as the explosion of light that occurs when you save the game.  Like Morrowind, changes of outfits are clearly displayed while playing or in the Character Statistic Screen.


Sound: 9.5
The score by composer Jeremy Sole couldn’t get any better than this with its dramatic and softly beautiful melody that sets the mood just right.  There’s even music within the music (e.g. the lovely singing of the ghost that haunts the tavern mingling with the score).  The score is more a presence than the sound effects that are nicely detailed too.  Hack a giant spider long enough and it bellows out an insect-like screech.  Shoot fire at your enemies and you can hear the loud sizzle as they burn alive.


The voice acting is also nicely done seeing as the dialogue never comes out forced or sound as if the actor were reading directly from the script.  While your character doesn’t speak when he or she is talking to another character, they do manage to spout a few words during the action.  While hacking away at giant rats, the Dwarf might shout out “Take that!”


Difficulty: Medium
The game moves at a steady framerate, thus making the action move along more smoothly.  Trust me, smooth action is most definitely appreciated in this case because the action can get pretty intense.  There are times when you will face more than three foes at the same time or become the central target of a group of archers.  There are also monsters aplenty that range in size and power.  You’ll even face off against extremely dangerous dragons.  Just remember to outfit your character with strong armor, powerful weapons and have plenty of potions handy.


Concept: 8.5
If you’ve never played a Forgotten Realms game on the PC or thought them too complex to be any fun, Dark Alliance on the Xbox will quickly change your mind.  It forgoes the complexity of rigid Dungeons and Dragons rules for a more easy to manage interface to keep gamers focused on the amazing story and action rather than constant character maintenance.  Thankfully all the things gamers loved about the PS2 version are fully intact . . . although it would have been nice to see Xbox-only features (but that’s just me being nitpicky).


Multiplayer: 8.0
Not only does this game provide quite a great single player experience, but also a friend can join you in your lengthy quest as any of the three characters.  The story doesn’t change with two players in the game, but the action sure does since now you have somebody to back you up during battle (and believe me, there are moments when you wish there was somebody around to help you slay that white dragon.  Of course, the other player cannot leave the screen without you and, on the plus side; a friend can join in at any point in the game.


Overall: 8.9
With great visuals, sound, controls and plenty of high-adventure, Dark Alliance is a very gratifying and addictive RPG experience.  And, to top it all off, the game can be played solo or with a friend.  If you’re looking for a new role-playing game to quickly get into, this is the game to buy.


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