Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance Review
You might think that after the success of Blizzard's Diablo 2, that there would be a ton of clones of it being released. Surprisingly, there haven't been many at all, save for a few: Darkstone, Nox, and the recent GBA version of The Two Towers have loosely followed the Diablo format. Perhaps the best Diablo clone, though, is Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Despite the BG name, this is far from a dedicated RPG. BG:DA debuted well over a year ago on the PS2 and is now available on the Xbox and GameCube. We will look at the Xbox version here, which boasts slightly better graphics than the PS2 version.
BG:DA is a very simple game to pick up, since you only have to use one stick and press basically two buttons to start. The game does wind up using almost every button on the controller eventually, but the developers made sure to keep it simple at the start.
All of the controls from the PS2 version are here with a couple of minor adjustments; if you'd like to remap the buttons, that option is now open as well. I decided to remap the block button since having it on the Black button was just inconvenient.
The characters are quick to respond and easy to maneuver, and the right stick allows you to rotate the camera to get a better angle of the fight. It's easy to tell what's going on even during the heavy fights, and believe me, the fights can get intense. It's important to have snappy controls for a game like this.
BG:DA has some very clean, sharp graphics overall. While there are plenty of monsters, some of which look and move extremely well, there aren't really a ton of them. They are mostly pulled from the D&D and Forgotten Realms world, and they look great.
The areas that you traverse are also impressive - they even made swamps look good, which is a rare occurrence that I've seen. BG:DA makes excellent usage of reflective surfaces in most of the areas of the game and they never get in the way or become annoying. In addition to this, the effect of wading through the game's waist-deep water is simply stunning.
The player can choose from three characters, all of which can use just about all of the gear in the game. Each character wears the gear very differently as well, which helps you get into the spirit of the game. Spell and graphical effects are big and booming, although even bigger explosions couldn't have hurt. : )
The Frame rate in the Xbox version is immaculate, and the graphics are overall a bit sharper than the other versions; the GameCube version has frequent frame rate drops, and the PS2 version did have the occasional stutter. There's no doubt here; the Xbox version of BG:DA is the superior one.
With the Baldur's Gate name, you might expect this game to be a serious RPG. While the characters do gain experience points, level up, choose skills, and collect gear, this game's story is linear and the fighting is 100% action. The plot is a bit unclear at the beginning and improves little by the end, but that's hardly the point in this game. It's all about busting heads and getting loot, and BG:DA serves up plenty of action.
For those who have played Diablo 2, you will notice some obvious similarities here; it's all action, there's magic and swords and bows, and you traverse a somewhat linear path throughout several episodes. There are several major differences, though; first, any character can realistically go through the game with just a weapon, a shield, and a bit of armor. The Human Archer and Elven Sorceress can even do this, although as you'd expect, the Dwarf Warrior is the best at this.
Next up is the difficulty - BG:DA has three difficulties, plus an "extreme" mode that can be unlocked when you beat the game (and then beat a special challenge). This mode is a bit like Diablo 2's Nightmare mode, although there really isn't a "Hell"-style difficulty mode here.
Characters and gear are also much simpler here - there are almost no unique or rare items, no massive spell trees, and few choices for weapons. This is probably the game's biggest problem; an expanded extreme mode with lots of new weapons and weapon types would have given the game much more lasting appeal.
The best part of BG:DA is the simultaneous 2-player mode. Players are forced to work together, as they are on the same screen - no split-screen here. The game becomes far more interesting and fun to go through cooperatively, and a bit more of the game's depth will come out in this mode. Any combination of two characters complement each other very well here, and if one player dies, the other only has to make it safely back to a save point to resurrect him or her.
The save system in BG:DA is perfect and can appeal to console and PC gamers. You can use a Recall potion to travel back to town and save your game at almost any point (other than a few temporary spots and during boss battles), which is a very welcome change from the standard console style where you can only save at certain spots. Other developers need to take note of this and think about it - especially on the Xbox where the file size of savegames is much less important.
There are a few secrets and extras in BG:DA - the levels don't have very many secret areas themselves, but there is a bit of a secret character that you can eventually take into the full game. The problem is that he is very limited, as much of his gear can't be switched out and his skills are somewhat already filled out for you. It's a cool secret to have, but it needed to be fleshed out a bit better.
The story in BG:DA is a bit weird, as you have no idea what's going on for most of it and the ending simply alludes to a sequel. You don't even know who the game's final boss is until you're almost at the very end. On top of that, even though the name is "Baldur's Gate", you will spend very little time in the actual town itself - sure, you will hit some sewers and crypts under the city, but you won't see much of the actual city itself. Still, the gameplay itself is the entertaining part, so the story and setting is somewhat secondary - the action is where this game is the most appealing.
BG:DA's voice acting and story are pretty well done for an action game; they won't be winning any awards, but this stuff is better than what most games supply. The music is a bit weak; what is there isn't bad, but you rarely hear it and there aren't very many songs.
The sound effects fare quite a bit better, though. They are all unique and sound great; explosions are nice and all the combat sounds are crisp. It's near perfect for a game like this.
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is a great game that suffers a bit from a lack of lasting appeal. Still, it's immense fun for two players, and the game is easy enough for anyone to pick up and get immersed in. If you like D&D games and are up for some monster killing action, this is your game.