Review by KallanderMan

"The definitive hack 'n slash game for the PS2."

Hack 'n slash games have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. While this genre obviously isn't the deepest or most profound series of games, they provide enough enjoyment to warrant the money I spend on them. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is a perfect example of everything that should be in a console hack and slash game. Great graphics, story driven gameplay, D&D character development, and of course coop play. In a way Dark Alliance is the epitome of every defining hack 'n slash game out there. Maybe that statement overemphasizes the fact that I love this game, but as far as the PS2's library of games it concerned, it's undeniably true.

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance takes place on 'the realms'. After you pick your character you find yourself in a place called (you guessed it) Baldur's Gate. Soon after your arrival you are robbed by a trio of thieves. They decide to kill you, but before they can land the final blow some town guards come to your rescue. With a bruised body and empty pockets the thieves leave you with a fiery passion of revenge. Shortly after your scuffle you find yourself in the Elf-Song tavern. The bar tender offers to get you back on your feet, financially, if you clear out a cellar of rats below the tavern. Of course this first mission is a precursor of things to come as you travel about the realms completing your quests, which somehow evolves into saving the world.

Dark Alliance's gameplay follows the tried and true formula of clearing out dungeons , earning experience points, completing quests, and constantly searching for better weaponry and armor. Dark Alliance follows the D&D experience system. Every level you attain you gain the amount of skill points equal to your previous level and every so often you're given a statistic point to allocate as you see fit in one of your many attribute slots. There are seven different slots including health, energy, dexterity, strength, energy regeneration, health regeneration, and charisma, which basically reduces the amount of money you'll spend at your local shop vendor. As far as skills are concerned, each character has a set amount of 'feats' (a fancier name for skills) and each of them cost a certain amount of skill points. A feat called 'Shocking Arrow' may cost ten skills points so you'll have to save some points up to buy it. Most feats have a series of levels and every point you place in a feat increases the amount of points you'll need to to up the feat to its next level. So if a level one 'Shocking Arrow' costs 10 skill points a level two 'Shocking Arrow' might costs 15 skills points. Throughout the game it's imperative that you hoard your skill points for better feats.

There are three character classes in Dark Alliance and each are very different. You have your Dwarf Fighter, a Human Archer, and an Elven Sorceress. While every character has feats that personify there own class, each one can be whatever type of class you want. For example, just because you picked a Dwarf Fighter doesn't mean he can't become proficient with a bow. And just because you picked the Human Archer doesn't mean he can't master some elemental spells closer related to the Sorceress.

There are three acts in Dark Alliance, and depending on what type of character you are each one will take approximately 3-4 hours to complete. Throughout the acts you'll traverse a wide assortment of terrain including dark dungeons, endless deserts, high mountain peeks, dangerous mines, mercy swamps, and stalwart fortresses. The game itself takes about ten hours to complete on the normal difficulty setting. Fortunately there's plenty of replay value. Beating the game on the Hard difficulty enables you to play in the Extreme mode difficulty. There is also a mode called 'Gauntlet' where you have 15 minutes to kill wave after wave of monsters. If you beat this mode and Extreme difficulty you unlock the character known as Drizzits. You can also play through the game with a second player al la coop. This is definitely one of Dark Alliances high points. You can also import characters to other difficulties so they can level up further before entering the Extreme difficulty which, take it from me is no cake walk. Perhaps calling it Extreme doesn't do the mode justice. Luckily the controls are about the best you could have hoped for, for a console hack 'n slash game. The button layout is superb but the most impressive achievement is that you have complete control over the games camera for over 80 percent of the game. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but as we all know camera angles can be a nuisance or a blessing depending on the game. For the times when you can't control the camera the game does a decent job of making sure you can see what's going on, but once you gain control over the camera again you'll wonder how you ever played without it.

If I haven't won you over yet then Dark Alliances sublime graphics assuredly will. Every cavern, cave, swamp, and forest are brimming with insane detail. Character models and facial expressions are eerily life-like. Even NPC's are given as much detail as your own. Enemies themselves look sculpted to perfection. The animation of everything looks so smooth and realistic. Particle effects in particular look transcendent and luscious. They blend in with your surroundings so well it's almost seamless. Dark Alliance is consistent with it's graphics too, they look as good in the beginning as they do in the end.

Audio wise Dark Alliance is a step up from the competition. Everything has a pop to it and fuses in with the ambiance almost flawlessly. But the voice acting really steals the show. Every character sounds unique and at the same time incredibly believable. Depending on the tone of a NPC you can really identify with there persona.

With hardly any hack and slash games in the PS2's library it's easy to call Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance the definitive game for its genre. With its polished gameplay, superb replayability, heavenly visuals, and masterful audio Dark Alliance would give any contender a run for its money. Expect an even greater Baldur's Gate two as the ending of Dark Alliance leaves more than enough room for a sequel.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/12/03, Updated 07/12/03

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