When it comes to hack-and-slash RPGs I never expected anything to come even remotely close to Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction – much less on a console. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was far from equal in complexity, but it proved that it could be done well even on a PS2. In Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 the story continues from the point where the first one left us. The three heroes are captured by a new super villain, who plans to use artifacts to control something called the Onyx Tower, which basically allows him to teleport a lot of people to just about anywhere – once a day. This isn’t exactly good news for the reasonably peaceful inhabitants of Baldur’s Gate, but as always there’s a group of people who keep an eye out for dangerous things.
When starting the game you choose between one of five characters, the human barbarian, the Dark Elf Monk, the Moon Elf Necromancer, the Dwarven Rogue, the Human Cleric, and two unlockable characters. I’ve only played one of the unlockable ones, and in short he’s worth the hassle. As you progress in the game you build up your character by adding abilities, and improving attributes like strength, dexterity, and so on.
The story begins with you making your way towards Baldur’s Gate. You meet a few people, save a few people, and kill a fair amount of goblin-like creatures. Once at Baldur’s Gate you start investigating all the strange things that have been happening, only later to reveal the true nature of the evil. In short, there are a lot of evil people around, and you need to kick their butts. The single player part takes about twelve hours to finish, but it depends a bit on how many sub-quests you do. Even though you’ll spend much time close to Baldur’s Gate itself, you’ll also venture far away to Dwarven dungeons, thick forests, lava dungeons, icy dungeons, to castles, and just plain ordinary dungeons. This game is very heavily combat-oriented, so prepare for some major button mashing.
Controlling your character is quite easy, but you’ll need to use just about every button on the controller – not that it takes more than a few minutes to learn. You move using the left stick and rotate the camera using the right stick. You can zoom in slightly, but not so far that you can really admire the character texturing all that much. You use the x, y, a, and b buttons to open things, attack, use special attacks, and jump. The small black button makes you drink a health potion, while the white makes you drink a rejuvenation potion, which refills your mana. “Start” brings up the menu, while “select” opens up the inventory and character management. You equip armor and weapons simply by activating or deactivating it, but when it comes to weapons you can equip several types, which can be cycled through for quick access when fighting. In this menu you can also equip things like amulets and rings, and manually drink health and rejuvenation potions. My only gripe is that the newest items are placed on the bottom of the list, meaning if you have twenty or so weapons it’ll take a while to get all the way down.
The digital pad is used to cycle through the equipped weapons, activate or deactivate the mini-map, and choosing abilities.
The amount of weapons and armor in the game passes my mark of acceptance. It works a bit differently than in other similar games, because you usually just find a quality type of an item, such as a shoddy long sword, a fine long sword, or maybe a flawless long sword. Obviously, the better the name the better statistics it’ll have. However, during the game you’ll also find gems and rune stones, and these play important parts in the game. At the vendor in Baldur’s Gate you can use a feature called Workshop. Here you choose an item that hasn’t been “tampered” with, and then insert rune stones and gems. Each item has three slots, and you can insert between 1 and 16 in each, but you will need at least one rune stone to insert gems into the other. Only inserting rune stones will usually just increase the damage or defense, but by inserting an Aquamarine stone your flawless long sword will get a nice 1-4 cold damage bonus, which can again be boosted by using several of the same type, along with additional rune stones. You can actually craft some of the best items in the game yourself using only simple weapons and a truckload of gems and runes. The downside is that this is quite expensive, but you will pick up a generous load of items and gold during your adventure.
You can’t fit an infinite number of items in your inventory, even though it may look like it at times. After you’ve played for about an hour or two you’ll start finding recall potions, which can be used by pressing the start button and then recall. If you’re far into the wilderness and don’t want to walk all the way back then this can be a very fast way to reach a vendor, just to dump off items you don’t need, purchase new health potions, and maybe get a new weapon along the way. This obviously doesn’t work when you’re fighting bosses and such, but it does save you a lot of time.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 is in most ways a perfectly linear game, but not entirely. At some points in the game you’re given choices about the order in which you’ll do a series of missions. This is well and all, but they can vary quite a lot in difficulty, so it can be a little annoying to pick the hardest one first – although at least it thickens your skin. Just about all the missions end with a boss fight. Some aren’t very difficult, but a few were reasonably tricky from my experience. The key to winning in combat is usually to divide up a group so that you kill the melee monsters before the ranged ones, and try to lure them around corners to keep you away from ranged fire.
In terms of gameplay the game doesn’t offer all that much beyond combat and item management. You will need to work a few levers and navigate some fairly strange levels, but there aren’t really any puzzles, which may be for the better. I think that during the second half of the game I started caring less about the storyline, and more about just finishing the game. It gets to a point where the items aren’t as exciting, because you’re not finding any “rare” or “unique” items like you would in Diablo 2, and that’s a bit of a shame. Even so the storyline unfolds pretty well towards the end, climaxing in some really challenging fights. You can play the game in cooperative mode if you want, but there’s no XBOX Live support or anything like that. It could’ve been fun to have duels over XBOX Live, just as people still do with Diablo 2 over battle.net, but maybe in a future Baldur’s Gate game.
Graphically the game looks above average. The engine can’t have been upgraded a whole lot, because it looks quite similar to the first game – not that it's a bad thing. The texturing is generally of a very good standard, and so are the special effects. Some nice shaders are used on the water, metal, and a few other things, but that’s about it. The models look reasonably detailed, but it’s not until you’ve played a while until you face the larger and more impressive looking villains. A lot of the creatures you fight seem to be various types of imps if you will – small weird things that hit you and make squeaky noises when you hit them. I don’t want to spoil too much of the surprise, but chairs, tables, and piles of goo will also be your adversaries. If I were to criticize one thing it’d have to be that you sometimes fight a whole lot of the same kind of monster. It wouldn’t have hurt if the developers threw in some special kinds of imps or soldiers, just for added diversity. Also, the pathfinding isn’t always the greatest, so monsters and even your helpers can get stuck in walls and such. Fortunately at least your helpers teleport close to you when you get far enough away from them, and the monsters that get stuck are probably just easier kills. Finally, an impressive detail about the graphics is that the game runs perfectly smooth at all times – with no exceptions whatsoever.
It’s obvious that a lot of care has been put into the audio, because “The Man” Jeremy Soule composed much of the background music, and every character you interact with are voiced – and by people who actually sound appropriate. The game doesn’t have a huge amount of dialogue, but it’s still no small feat. Dark Alliance 2 also seems to have just about all the sound effects you could ask for. Nothing sounds wrong or inappropriate, but it could’ve been nice to have NPCs and monsters (provided they knew how) chat a bit beyond the occasional cut-scene.
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2 has been a positive surprise for me. It’s a pretty fun game with a pretty good amount of replayability. You can have some entertaining hours playing the game, but if you’ve played a lot of Diablo 2, Dungeon Siege and/or Neverwinter Nights you might find that it lacks in the multiplayer department.
It’s hard to define it clearly, but it seems to me as if the game lacks a bit “soul” somewhere. You don’t really care all that much about the people you save – you care more about getting the 110000 gold you need to get those new gloves. But then again, this isn’t an RPG in the traditional sense, so as long as you don’t come expecting a heartbreaking storyline you won’t be disappointed.
Since it only takes about twelve hours to finish the game you might be able to make do with renting the game, but due to the replay value of co-op multiplayer and unlockable characters this is a game I recommend buying.