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
, 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.    



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


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.