Does the phrase, “Elf needs food…badly!” make you wax nostalgic for the classic hack and slash dungeon crawl titles of arcade gaming’s en age? If so, then Black Isle Studios’ latest, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2, will have you overjoyed. In this latest entry into the Baldur’s Gate franchise, you’re back for more dungeon hacking done Dungeons and Dragons style, and if you’re up for it, you’ll have more fun than you can imagine hacking away at skeletons, goblins and orcs.
The storyline, if you’re one of those who cares about one in your games, picks up where the last game left off. The entire party of adventurers has just defeated the final boss when a new villain captures them. So, it’s up to a new party of adventurers, led by you, to take on the new hordes of evil and become rich and mighty in the process. For those who haven’t played the original, have no fear, you don’t really need to know much about the original story since in Dark Alliance 2 it’s only there to push you through the levels and provide a quick backdrop for gobs of hack and slash action.
Choose character, kill monsters, level up and earn treasure, that’s the basic gameplay for Dark Alliance 2. And as simplistic as that sounds, if you’re into action-RPGs it’ll be more than enough to keep you interested in the game thanks to the variety of monsters, magic, skills and equipment.
When it comes to choosing characters, the list is pretty short; barbarian, cleric, necromancer, cleric and rogue. Each is equipped with special abilities, just like they would be in pen-and-paper RPGs. Barbarians are great fighters, clerics are masters of the healing arts, rogues are stealthy thief/assassin types, monks are great at unarmed close combat and necromancers are powerful magicians. Once you’ve chosen a character for the game, that’s it, no switching mid-game. The gameplay is distinctly different for each character type, which is a great boost to the replay value of the game, as you can play through it four full times and enjoy a different experience every time.
The core of Dark Alliance 2 is the combat, which is surprisingly deep for a dungeon crawler. There’s a great assortment of weaponry, especially on the melee front, as characters such as the barbarian can swing two lightweight weapons at a time for a more punishing attack. As you crush the opposition and take out boss characters, you’ll earn experience, which helps you level up. Whenever you level up, you can apply points to your various attributes while certain skills and feats become unlocked automatically. Through this experience system, the game provides a real sense of character growth, which keeps you coming back to see just how many more levels you can earn in a day.
The rewards for fighting are plentiful, from magic potions to new weapons and , there’s more than enough to keep you interested in hacking at wave after wave of mindless monsters. Potions and magic are readily available as the game progresses, and you’ll need them both to stay alive. Both types of magical treasure can heal, increase attack power or simply send you back to town in an instant. As with most other RPG titles, you’re limited to what you can carry, so you’ll frequently find yourself returning to town to hawk your wares at the fantasy version of a pawnshop. It can get a little old, this “grab the goodies, run to town, grab the goodies, run to town” style of play, but as you get to higher levels, you find the need for cash and extras decreases, so you can simply pass on picking up any excess baggage. If you’re the type who knows what they want, you can also spend some cash at the Workshop and simply build your own gear. Why fight mountains of undead in hopes of finding a flaming sword? Just spend lots of cash and some magic items, and viola; you’ve cooked up your own flaming death dealer.
Presentation-wise, Dark Alliance 2 is a good looking and good sounding game, though not what I’d call spectacular. Most of the character models are well rendered and move fluidly. On occasion you’ll run into a real clunker of a character design, but it doesn’t happen often enough to become a real problem. The monsters look great, right down to the quivers of arrows carried on the back of the goblins, there’s some delightfully rich detail in this game. Unfortunately, I was playing the PlayStation 2 version, which means it just doesn’t look as good as it could; with the usual PS2 jaggies ruining some otherwise smoothly designed character models. As far as the sound goes, you’ve got a nice soundtrack and decent voice acting, but a somewhat limited amount of dialog. And you can only take the grunting of the barbarian during a fight for so long before you tune out or turn off the audio. The metal weaponry clangs like it should, monsters give a satisfying groan and chests creak realistically as they are opened, all of which help counter the other more repetitive sounds.
This game could be banned in some countries for being an overly addictive substance. The unlockables alone will keep you playing for weeks. Since the character development system lets you customize characters to your liking, you’ll find yourself spending countless hours building up just the right mix of skills and spells. And once you’ve finished the game, you’ll have access to two new characters, which gives you a total of six characters replay the game with.
Summing it up, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 is a good game. Fans of the action-RPG genre won’t be able to get enough of it, although non-fans probably won’t be as excited about it. Its lack of online multiplayer, and the fact that you can’t control an entire party at once hamper the overall game a bit, but as a whole, it’s an enjoyable fantasy romp, especially for D&D’ers who’ve been looking for a videogame that truly represents their beloved pen-and-paper game.
- Gameplay: 9
- Graphics: 7.9
- Sound: 7.5
- Replay: 10
- Overall: 8.5
- Good old hack and slash fun!
— Craig Falstaff