Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance Review


Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is an action RPG set in Dungeon & Dragons' Forgotten Realms.  The town of Baldur's Gate is gripped by fear as a war between the city's thieves has broken out beneath the streets of the city.  When you first arrive in the town, you are set upon by a gang of thieves who manage to get away with your possessions.  What starts as a simple quest to get your belongings back soon embroils you in a far greater conspiracy.  Soon you'll find yourself battling against the evil forces unleashed by a traitor to the city who has returned to exact her revenge on Baldur's Gate.  Your quest will take you below the city of Baldur's Gate, across high mountains and deep within dwarvish mines, and through festering swampland.

While Baldur's Gate is a Dungeons & Dragons game, it is not a traditional RPG.  Sure you get experience points, levels, spells, and hit points, but you'll spend most of your time fighting the large variety of monsters appearing in the game.  The battles all take place in real-time and can get quite frantic at times.

At the start of the game, Dark Alliance gives you your choice of one of three characters: a human archer, a dwarf fighter, and an elf sorceress.  Each of these characters comes with their own set of spells and feats.  Those familiar with Dungeons & Dragons games might not recognize feats, but they're a part of the latest 3rd edition rules which the game is based on.  Feats are special abilities and skills that give your character some sort of advantage or bonus.  For example, a feat might give you proficiency with a particular weapon or help protect you from a particular attack. 

The characters are pretty different, so your choice will affect the way you play the game.  Unlike under the old Dungeon & Dragons rules, the sorceress can wear armor and wield weapons beyond staffs and rods.  When combined with her large selection of spells, you have a powerful character, especially later in the game when she has a full spell book.  Some of the spells are almost too powerful, giving her an easier time in the game's later levels.  The dwarf makes up for his lack of spells with his fighting skills and special feats that allow him to do even more damage.  And lastly you have the archer.  He is not very strong in combat and his feats are weaker than those of the other two characters.  The bow is not an easy weapon to use, as it is difficult to aim and has a slow rate of fire.  No matter which character you choose the story is the same, so you can vary the game's challenge beyond the selectable difficulty levels by your choice of character.

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The game itself is played from a third person, top-down perspective.  Control itself is smooth and responsive, and you never feel that you are fighting the controller instead of the monsters.  Gameplay is primarily focused on fighting your way through a large variety of monsters and enemies on your way to confrontations with boss creatures such as a bugbear chieftain, a white dragon, and a beholder.  NPC interaction is limited to conversations with key characters to help advance the storyline, and you will fight your way through the game solo (unless you are playing a two player game) without the benefit of a party filled with NPCs.  The story and gameplay are strictly linear, and there's not much in the way of optional quests or open exploration.  In fact, it is hard to avoid completing the few optional quests as you make your way through the main storyline.

The game's linearity is not a bad point, though.  Dark Alliance is a lot of fun and so full of action that you'll hardly pay attention to the fact that you can't really stray from the designated course.  You'll face a diversity of monsters that feature a variety of fighting styles, so even though there is plenty of combat you won't be simply facing one suicide rush after another.  On the negative side, the larger brutes suffer from an AI flaw that results from their relentless pursuit of your character as they try to bash his or her head in.  If you can find a small obstruction in a room such as a column or chest, you can run in a circle around it as the monster follows you.  You're always a bit faster than the monster, so you can run up on its heels and take a hack at its back.  Sometimes the monster continues in the same direction, and sometimes he turns around and starts pursuing you the other way.  In either case, you can continue your merry circle until you eventually sneak in enough hits to slay the beast.  As such, it is far harder to beat a host of weaklings than it is to face down one colossus.