Review by Formerly LA

"Similar to the first... yet not..."

The Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance series can be described very simply. You pick a character, grab a sword or two, and go on a hackfest around dungeons, countrysides, tombs, and more, collecting money and treasure, and gaining a few levels in the bargain. It's extremely similar to Diablo. With this in mind, let's move on.

GRAPHICS: 9/10
You spend most of your time battling either in- or out-of-doors, and for the most part, the scenes are detailed pretty well. In the very beginning, you arrive on the scene of a caravan ambush just as the raiders are finishing up. You can see wagons on their sides, spilled foodstuffs, and even a wheel or two spinning idly in the air. In another section, when you're fighting among rocky steppes, the boulders and rocks look pretty nice.
Then there's the water. It ripples very realistically when someone's splashing through it, and even after the disturbance, it continues to ripple just like a real puddle. It looks very cool.
There's not much to say about character and monster art. I have exactly two complaints, and they're not anything special. First of all-- the goblins are tiny. I can barely make out the litte buggers when I'm chasing them down. Second, I don't like the way the Barbarian wears armor. It leaves part of his chest exposed, which is kinda stupid, but not a big deal. Fortunately, once you grab a suit of plate armor, nitpicks aren't much of an issue.
The final verdict is a nine out of ten because there's not anything WRONG per se, they just aren't perfect.

MUSIC/SOUND: 7/10
The music is good in this game. Some pieces are very good actually, BUT (and there's always a but) Black Isle seems to have scavenged some of their songs from other games. It's nice to have consistency and all, but it almost sounds like they were too lazy to come up with new tracks. For those of you who have played Icewind Dale (the first one,) you'll recognize the Vale of Shadows battle theme, the Kuldahar theme, and the piece from Hrothgar's house very easily.
Again, it's not really a big deal, but... well... I've heard it all before.
There's little to say about sound. Guess what plays if you swing a sword? A sound of metal slicing through air. Calling down a Flame Strike sounds like fire coming from the sky and crashing to the ground, which is what Flame Strike is.
Most characters you can talk to (all of them, now that I think about it) have voices, which is pretty cool. Your character does too, but generally they only give little comments in battle and such.
Good, yet used music and average sound would normally give the score a 6, but the voices are a nice touch, so I'll bump it up to 7.

STORY: 6/10
It's an action game, and not really relevant. Here's how it goes: bad guys want to take control of a tower and take over the world. Exact same thing as last time, 'cept now it was all part of a bigger plan. There are a few interesting twists, but nothing to write home about. It does a good job of incorporating old characters and events into its plot(although the apparent resurrection of a particular villain was kinda cheesy; cmon Black Isle, we saw this guy already!) The 3 heroes from the previous Dark Alliance appear here and there, which is kind of a cool surprise.
Fairly cliche, a little lazy, but it does tie in with the previous game. It's an action game, too, so I'll be lenient. I'll go with a 6.

CHALLENGE: 7/10
Easy/Normal/Hard modes seem largely the same to me. They're all kinda easy, actually. If you've played the first game and remember it, it will be a breeze. Fortunately, there is a hidden mode, which will beef up the monsters to insane levels of health and damage output. Granted, you get to use your high-level character from the start, but it's still tough.

CONTROL: 10/10
No problem. Easy to learn, easy to use. There's an L1 function that's new to the game, and it's a little tricky to figure out at first, but once you've got it, it's a breeze.

GAMEPLAY: 8/10
Ah, the all-important gameplay.
As previously explained, this series is a Diablo-esque dungeon crawl. The original Dark Alliance provided three characters and one secret, three Acts, and four difficulty levels. Dark Alliance II uses the same difficulty levels, but there are five starting characters and two secret and four acts. Each act is generally longer, too; Dark Alliance II is maybe 50-75% bigger than its predecessor.
Character-wise, the game initially offers you five choices. There's the Human Barbarian (guess what he looks like?), the Dark Elf Monk (complete with perfect slim figure), the Moon Elf Necromancer (for the unenlightened, a necromancer uses magic to play with dead things), the dwarven rogue (comes with eyepatch--free!), and the Human Cleric (with virtuosity and large provided at absolutely no extra charge.)
Their class names are very indicative of their fighting style; if you've played Dungeons and Dragons in any form, it will be all the more obvious. The Barbarian has practically no magic, but he excels at swinging big, sharp things around. The Monk is a ninja-type character who usually fights unarmed. The Necromancer is dependant upon his spells, which range from summoning skeletons to leaching life from enemies. The Rogue can mix it up hand-to-hand, but will usually attack with crossbows and/or booby traps. The Cleric is good at pretty much anything, with a decent set of physical and spell combat abilities.
Speaking of abilities, each character has a battery of skills that basically define how they fight. The Barbarian, for example, has a Rage attack that increases his attack power but decreases his armor and prevents him from blocking. The characters also share a ''common pool'' of skills; all have Great Fortitude, which increases your renegeration rate, Toughness, which increases your total hit points, and more.
Loot and plunder is a central element of this game, and Dark Alliance II does a good job. Enemies will primarily drop gold and potions, though they can drop pretty much anything. Treasure chests can hold everything from weapons to bombs; weapon racks hold, um, weapons. It's all randomized, so you never quite get the same treasure twice. Quite nice, actually.
An interesting addition to the series is the Workshop function. Items can have differing levels of quality, ranging from Shoddy to Flawless. An item of sufficiently high quality can be worked to provide extra bonuses. For example, taking a Grand Leather Helmet and sticking a Ruby into it will add the ability to reflect 5% of melee damage onto the attacker. A Fine Long Sword coupled with an Aquamarine will do frost damage and freeze the enemy. An amulet with a Jade in it will increase your Constitution stat.
All in all, the gameplay is pretty solid. Aside from the workshop, there's nothing really original, but it's a good time nonetheless. Hence, my score of 8.

REPLAY VALUE: 7/10
Dark Alliance offers a surprising multitude of ways to replay the game. Once you've completed the normal version, you can load up your high-level character and try the hidden difficulty mode (which is far more dangerous, but you can get some amazing treasure.) You can always play through again with the other characters too, and they play differently enough to warrant another run through.

RENT OR BUY?
You can maybe beat the game on normal difficulty with one character within one rental (maybe more if you're really good or play too much :P) If you don't like it, then not much else will change your mind. If you find youself enjoying it, though, grab a copy. It's a decent purchase.

OVERALL: 8/10
Some parts seem scavenged, and there's not much originality. Still, it's a solid, generally entertaining title that should adequately please action gamers. Farewell.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/16/04, Updated 03/16/04


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