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!