Review by Garbol Shora

"It's not that 'Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance' has bad qualities, it's that the good qualities end up short..."

Synopsis
Baldur's Gate is probably considered one of the most prized games for a computer gamer... how about the console gamers? Would this appeal to them the same way or is Baldur's Gate best remained on the big PC?

Interestingly enough, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance does not play at all like a Baldur's Gate, but still holds elements of the game that gives it the license. Due to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance being on the console world, it becomes a more linear game that progresses much faster than the vast and drawn out worlds of Baldur's Gate. Baldur's Gate holds many great qualities, and many of this will be reminiscent to gamers. However, I couldn't help but feel that Dark Alliance's Diablo-like gameplay was a bit half-baked. Mind you it holds solid qualities, amazing graphics and a game that puts D&D gaming to a tee, but the overall product just was not that satisfying. Why? Well, it's not that 'Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance' has bad qualities, it's that the good qualities end up short...

Gameplay Elements:
If you've played Diablo before, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance will seem all too familiar. Like its computer brethren, Dark Alliance uses a top angle view where you will see your small character go through dungeons and slash down gruesome monsters. However, you must have interest in your character to really do anything with it, so Dark Alliance has given three selectable characters, each with stereotypical qualities that will prove appealing to different gamers.

We have the dwarven fighter, who kills first, asks questions later. He is basically all brawn with a courageous brute strength that makes his axe a thing to be feared. Next comes the sexy elven sorceress, who's mystical energy is one to behold. She's terribly weak, but as her magic increases, she becomes a dangerous threat as bolts of lightning fly everywhere. Finally, we have the humble human archer, his balanced skills putting him in the long range, using arrows to answer his problems.

If anything, this bunch seems a lot like the bunch from Diablo, if not exactly the same. This is, in fact, a very good thing as it remains faithful to the type of games of its genre (Diablo) and many veterans will immediately familiarize themselves with its characters.

Now, how exactly does this game work? Well, it's an all-out slaughter, as characters will wield weapons or spells to brutally kill monsters through melee, long-range or mystic. Characters will be given 'feats' ranging from the passive to the more impressive. Generally, they are skills or abilities that a character uses to increase efficiency throughout their voyage through the game. The passive feats are as expected, including increased critical damage, increased mana regeneration and the like. The more boasting feats include whirlwind attacks that slaughter a group of enemies, ball lightning which electrocutes everything in the area and exploding arrow which pummels enemies in a group with its explosion.

Gamers will need to consider three bars on the top corner of their screen, which determines their experience, their health and their mana. Their mana, of course, determines whether they can perform said feats properly. Health is obviously their life energy which, when dissipated, the character dies. The experience bar, when full, will grant the gamer a chance to put points into their feats, which becomes the initial 'growth' system of this game. However, stat points (strength, dexterity, constitution) are only so often given to you, so don't expect your sorceress to be as powerful as a dwarven fighter in melee combat anytime soon.

Weapons and armor are one of the more exciting aspects of Dark Alliance. You'll be introduced to the typical Flaming Long Sword +2, which determines a weapons strength and the effects and elemental strengths it may inherit. However, I was rather disappointed at the disadvantage a sorceress would have with the weaponry/armor system. The equipment offered are mostly melee-based, including the staves, so the sorceress does not have an exclusively valuable weapon of which she can increase her magic. However, this may have been because I played Diablo for too long. Do not expect as much complexity in the weapon/armor system as you would in a computer game of this kind.

Pretty much through and through, you slaughter monsters through different environments until you reach a boss, of which whom you'll be slaughtering as well. However, while I make this sound awfully dull and redundant, it never really gets a chance to be. I really loved this game but everything offered was far too small in quantity. I may be a selfish snot in this respect, but the game had three acts, two of which seemed awfully short. Granted, there are three characters that vary in gameplay, but the quantity for that could've increased as well.

The feats, of course, may also be used to argue that the game would be played differently, but the feats are indefinitely too unbalanced to actually prove a 'different experience' the second run-through. Take the sorceress for example: her repertoire of magic is so unbalanced that it almost begs you to save the points for ball lightning and leave the god-awful Otiluke's ice sphere. You may not know what I exactly mean, but skills like ball lightning can slaughter an entire room, while skills like otiluke's sphere are thin ice projectiles that tickle ONE enemy's funny bone. The feat system, in that respect, is rather unbalanced.

The game never really gets boring though, as you'll be fighting various enemies through the three acts ranging from the large and intimidating snow giants to the undead zombies lurking the crypts of Baldur's Gate. You'll be having much fun going treasure hunting, but this type of gameplay needs some GOOD treasure to actually mean something. The treasure, in that respect, is truly lacking. There is no truly outstanding piece of equipment that one must own, save perhaps the Onyx Sword, a powerful sword with high attack, but other than that, random equipment found lying on the ground usually amount to not much (except the last stage, which I won't spoil for you).

One major gripe, however, is the leniency. You can't sidetrack off of your initial quest to go do some optional quest (if there is, please tell me!). You usually find yourself following a dungeon-to-dungeon pace where you eventually end up in a boss fight. Perhaps that's careless wishful thinking as a lack of direction is also a matter of frustration, but I just wished Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, allowed you to explore a bit more... just a bit more. Then perhaps I would feel that I completely and thoroughly slaughtered the entire dungeon, instead of it being spoonfed to me.

I may sound like I'm griping at the moment, but I'm not, as this game provides amazing fun, amazing attention to classic D&D gameplay, amazing monsters with amazingly different amazing qualities. But once you're amazed, you sometimes beg to continue being amazed. However, this seems not the case here, as amazement is far too short to be enjoyed. This game was far too short, far too lenient and far too abrupt. With bad games, I would say this is a good thing because I usually adore when bad games end their game in a 4-hour span, but Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance oozes with quality. So why am I not satisfied? Because I want more than the stuff they gave me. Its quality surpasses many games for the PS2, but for such a quality game, it should not have ended as quickly as it did, it should not have been as simple and linear as it was and it should not have had as uninteresting a repertoire of equipment as it did. The gameplay is excellent as it is... it is its lack of it that becomes the apparent problem. 7/10

Visual Presentation:
The visual presentation still impresses me as of now. This game, however, was released long ago. So why am I still impressed? Because that's how impressive the visual presentation really is. Let's examine it:

We have the environments which although zoomed relatively far away, are extremely well detailed, with lighting effects and small attention to detail that show that the environments worked on. Look at the trail of rippling water that seems to create an arrow in your wake. It just gave me great joy watching my character interact with water in such a smooth and although unrealistic, 'cool' fashion. Look at the barrels as you smash them open, as the dust settles from the recently smashed wood.

Then let us examine the monsters, which were one of the best aspects of the game. There are many of them, and many of them look truly threatening. While some aren't as impressive as others, they all hold some interesting animation to them. For example, you'll love slaughtering the rats right in the beginning, where their body's fly hear and there when you rip and vivisect their stomach with your... rusty dagger. Then there is the oh-so large ogres which die just as quickly and just as interestingly. The iron giants, for example, will pause for a second, drop to their knees and then fall face flat onto the snow when you kill them. The animation and monster design is remarkable and one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game. My one gripe is the jello-like monsters which lurk the first act. Did they have to look so... bright and jiggly?

And finally, let's look at the animations of your character's skills. They range from the crappy to the magnificent. Skills like repulsion will get the job done but nothing more than a circular energy shock will pulsate out of your character. Other skills are more extravagant such as the sorceress' meteor swarm which truly looks amazing as it rains down on characters. While these animations can easily be compared to the sorceress' nova and the druid's meteor shower attack (armageddon, I think?) of Diablo II, it is still nice to see some references to classic spells that the audience will most obviously recognize.

Even the NPC's are impressive. I think every review has mentioned a certain big-breasted elf that's worth mentioning, but I won't here - doh! Too late! But yes, the characters are very well detailed, some more detailed than others (as previously mentioend). They, of course, look very lost of life, but they suit the situation nicely when it's close up.

Let's sum this up quickly... the graphics are dated compared to the glorious GTA: Vice City or the magnificent Final Fantasy X, but you will nevertheless be satisfied with the graphics. 9/10

Audio Presentation:
Before starting, there is one song that I would like to mention, of which I felt was rather exhilirating. This is the theme song when you fight the last boss, as well as the song you hear the minute you enter the game's menu screen. You'll be introduced to a roaring operatic theme accompanied by vigorous strings. What does this sound like? EPIC. That one piece is one of the most memorable songs I've heard in Dark Alliance as it enforced an epic adventure. However, this epic adventure will go downhill from there.

The Elfsong tavern is introduced with a slightly annoying ghost elf of which I pray that it rests so I don't have to hear its annoying song anymore. The music, however, is all ambient, and that's all fine, but you won't find many memorable song selections in this game. The only song I found was worth truly noting was the song I previously mentioned in the beginning. In other words, this game's music is all about ambience, not about epic song selection.

Now, let's go to character voice acting. It's all believable and very well done, except for one major MAJOR gripe. Stupid fat weapon-selling oaf in elfsong tavern is my major gripe! While his voice acting is done marginally well compared to the others, he will consistently repeat the fact that you reek of fish after 12 seconds of rummaging. It is absolutely irritating, and if this was a real life sim, I would literally strike my arrow into the chest of that bumbling oaf!

Ultimately, the squeaking sounds of dying rats and the scowls of the kobolds are all done very well, including some less worthy-noted sound effects ranging from the explosion of a gunpowder barrel to the slashing of a sword.

Overall, audio presentation only shines through in one criteria, and this is the character's voice acting. However, this area is also ruined by repetition from the weapon sellers in every act, constantly reminding you that they have the best wares and the best store in town. Perhaps if they didn't constantly remind me, I may have actually believed them. 7/10

Story and Composition:
This area is truly lacking. The ultimate plot is offered through the manual on the second page. Oh joy, you just discovered the entire story! I didn't even have to spoil it for you, because Dark Alliance just goes ahead to show you the entire plot. I'm sorry, this is being unfair and rather grim. But the story is pretty much entirely offered to you in the beginning. Initially though, you won't be given anything more than save town, save town, save world, save and save. Storyline rehashed? Yes. Storyline cliched? Yes. Storyline needed? Not at all!

However, you have no actual bond with your character, not even a remote sense that you just don't want him or her to die because he's nice or she had a father/daughter complex or they called him fat when he was a kid. Granted, I'm over-exaggerating in here, but some sort of communication between your character and the non-playable characters may have been better for the story and composition.

Overall, this criteria is NOT necessary at all. Truthfully, they are only there wrapped in pretty graphics and pretty voices to simply tell you who to kill and where to kill it. However, a good storyline would've made an impression. Oh, and before I end this, I have to say that the ending of this game was utterly disappointing and almost disgusting after the work you went through to finishing it. I won't spoil anything for you, but I have to say that if Dark Alliance does not release a sequel anytime soon, my respect for this storyline will dangerously drop. 5/10

Replayability and Extras:
Replay and Extras is one area in Baldur's Gate which could've been improved. For an RPG game of its genre, an optional dungeon of which one can just roam off and explore would've been nice. Maybe you just didn't want to go off to the next boss and straight off kill the guy. Maybe you just wanted to kill some more monsters and get your kicks in leveling. Unfortunately, no optional sidequests are given.

However, one mode IS offered, which is a linear direction-enforcing game called The Gauntlet which makes you play as Drizzt (many vets may know him from previous games) who combats against a series of enemies ranging from the easy spiders to the annoying robots in a time period of 15 minutes.

You may want to play with another character other than the initial one you selected, be it dwarf, elf or human as the gameplay experience is slightly different. However, with its short length and the awful ending one receives, I don't think I can have my dwarf pass the game after the fate of my elf and human.

However, if you have a friend to join you in the long run, you will find yourself enjoying this game far better than going solo. The duo-team experience beats a solo-team, and it becomes apparent that the game offers far more when shooting, slashing and 'spell'-ing the ugly bad 'uns with a bud.

Overall, replay is an acquired taste. If you really enjoyed the acts and scenes one is provided and wish to experience it again (NO alternate storyline per character), then a different character may suit that purpose (doing this with a friend would far increase the experience). However, if you wanted to explore newer regions or a secret world... I have yet to find it and this type of game desperately begs it. 7/10

Conclusion
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is an amazing game when it comes to quality. It reeks of it while it lasts. But the length truly disappointed me. I never thought the adventure would end so soon, so abruptly and with such a rotten end.

So what do I mean when a game is of good quality but lacks it as well. No, it's not an oximoron. The game is addictive and immersive from start to finish, from beginning to end. But unfortunately, the line that separates the start and finish is relatively short and the amount of feats and variable weaponry don't amount to much. In the end, you don't accomplish a great deal of success because you found the ultra-rare sock or killed the super-dangerous monkey. It's a linear game where you approach it as a great experience with friends. However, there is nothing truly oustanding or remarkable that you have to achieve. There's no secret item, there's nada.

Alas, I will say it once again, Dark Alliance is amazingly fun and it reeks quality and this quality is excellent from start to finish. However, I will say this again, this margin from start to finish is rather short and its offerings are rather small.

How it stacks up!
(average is determined through the importance of the criteria)
Gameplay Elements: 7/10
Visual Presentation: 9/10
Audio Presentation: 7/10
Story and Composition: 5/10
Replayability and Extras: 7/10
Final Score: 7


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/03/03, Updated 02/09/03


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