Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, Gameboy Advance.)

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Introduction

If there’s a bustling metropolis in a fantasy setting it’s going to get messed up by everyone that knows about it, Baldur’s Gate is no exception and this day is like any other. Conspiracies, ancient prophecies, gelatinous cubes all await our weary adventurers in the city of destiny on the Sword Coast, Baldur’s Gate. It is kind of bizarre though that a level 1 adventurer is able to topple a multi organization wide conspiracy in a matter of a day or so–whatever, destiny or something.

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It’s the standard fare really, gruff dwarf, buxom elf… generic human.

History

Dark Alliance started when the console users at the time clamored for a Baldur’s Gate game they could play on their consoles because the previous installments were for PC only. This game would be developed by Snowblind Studios instead of Bioware and the emphasis away from interesting moral choices is evident. The game turned into something more akin to Gauntlet than the DnD adventure Baldur’s Gate fans would probably have been accustomed to.

This game required it’s own engine, cleverly named the Dark Alliance Engine, in order to function. It was a great improvement over other engines of the time because it didn’t have the same aliasing problems, blurring basically, that other engines had.

Fun Fact: The Bards Tale, and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel both use the Dark Alliance engine.

Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance was released on December second, 2001. It’s competition was, Devil May Cry (Playstation 2), Pikmin (Gamecube), Super Smash Bros. Melee (Gamecube), and Final Fantasy X (Playstation 2).

Nostalgia

I used to play this game all the time with my cousin back in High School. We would just hack and slash our way through scores of monsters and talk about stuff, just things. I couldn’t tell you what the conversations were about, very much like this game’s events, they just seemed to float away with time.

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“Whoa! Meteor swarm was worth the wait. But as I was saying, geometry blows…”

Gameplay

The Gameplay is pretty simple actually. You hit monsters with swords. That’s not even much of an exaggeration. The player explores a series of oddly angular tunnels and rooms filled with critters ranging from kobolds to giants and then they hit them with weapons, usually swords, in order to dispatch them. Each character has a different set of special skills and abilities they can unlock by allocating skill points. Skill points are acquired whenever the character levels up, which is accomplished by hitting enemies with swords– it’s a vicious cycle really, emphasis on vicious.

You go to different locations but the gameplay never changes. Whether you’re on a misty mountain top, wandering through the Marsh of Chelimber, or the onyx tower itself it’s all about the monster hitting.

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Oh man, look at all these dudes, time to hit ’em.

Oh, and if you’re still hungry for hitting things with swords then you can start a new game plus. The game has 4 difficulty levels: Easy, normal, hard, and extreme. You can only actually play Extreme with a character who has played through the game once already on any other difficulty– trust me, you’ll need it. Normally in a new game plus you keep your weapons, armor, other items, and skill but in an Extreme playthrough you’ll only have you skills to keep you safe from the hoards of KILLER rats in the basement.

The Gush

The plot is right out of a good Dungeons and Dragons module. It’s got monsters galore and a villainous plot that comes right out of the Lord of the Rings. Not moral ambiguity, they’re the bad guys and you’re the good guys– thank goodness life’s not that simple. The art design also looks really good, there are all sorts of rugs and tapestries and things to check out.

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…From buxom elven bartenders…

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… To vicious beholders. This game has got everything.

The game is really forgiving about death in a multiplayer mode. If one player gets to a save point then the other returns to life in flash of light.

The Kvetch

The music is really hard to hear and doesn’t really build much atmosphere.

The character’s don’t have much character. Their dialogue occasionally differs but it’s really just there to push the plot.

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Insert generic dialogue that works for all characters, regardless of class, race, or sex.

Gold isn’t shared or transferable between players. If my buddy hogs all the money then I might not be able to buy what I need and if he wants to give me some to buy something I really NEED then he can’t. His best option is to buy some stuff, drop it, let me pick it up, then I sell them back at half price. It’s a really bad system.

Lemme tell you about arrows. Fuck arrows. The human is an arcane archer so using the bow is kind of his thing and bows need arrows. Arrows are needlessly heavy and expensive, running out of them is common because aiming is so difficult. It’s easy to run out of arrows, run into a fight that you can’t win otherwise, and have to start the game over in order to stand a chance.

The Verdict

I looked back on this game with fond memories and it got great reviews at the time but I don’t think it aged very well. The story was fun to play through the first time but there’s no real distinction between one playthrough or another except the myriad of ways you can kill goblins. This game was sort of a place holder for doing something else, like fishing, it’s a great way to shoot the breeze but there’s probably something better to do. Or at least a more engaging interactive experience to share with a friend.

Next week: Sid Meier’s Civilization II

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