Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II Review


Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was an action-RPG that was heavier on the action than the role-playing. Since the game was set in Dungeons & Dragons’ Forgotten Realms universe, it could draw upon D&D’s well-known well-defined role-playing elements and use them as the basis for a good hack and slash dungeon crawler. The result was an exciting game that is the closest you can come to playing Diablo on a video game console.

Dark Alliance II picks up pretty much where Dark Alliance left off. The characters from the first game have no time to relish their victory as they are immediately captured by Mordoc, a vampire lord. Mordoc has decided to take up residence in the Onyx Tower that our heroes have so kindly purged of its prior residents, and he doesn’t want them returning to do the job again. Thankfully there is no shortage of heroes in the realm, and it is up to you to step-up and defeat Mordoc and free the captured heroes.

Screenshots
Fending off a manticore.

The three characters from the original game covered the basic play styles by letting you choose between an archer (ranged attacks), fighter (melee attacks), and a sorceress (magical attacks). Since these three characters are locked away at the start of the game, Dark Alliance II gives you the choice of five all new characters that provide a more diverse selection of play styles: barbarian, monk, rogue, cleric, and necromancer. The last two of these new characters provides players who prefer spellcasters to select from two quite different schools of magic – in one case you will be turning undead creatures, in the other you will summon them to fight by your side. I liked the fact that Dark Alliance two gives you a greater variety of classes to choose from, as they give you more leeway in selecting a character that will fit your preferred style of play as well as enhance the game’s replayability. The new classes are also more interesting than the basic ones found in the original game, with the necromancer being particularly enjoyable to play. There’s still no room for customization of your character’s appearance though. You character’s appearance will change through the game as different weapons and armor are equipped, but you have no control over facial features, skin tone, or even your character’s name.

Gameplay in Dark Alliance II is very similar to that of the original. You play from an overhead third-person perspective, with the right stick used to rotate and zoom the game camera. The camera control is smooth and fluid, and it is easy to quickly put the camera where it needs to be to give you the best view of the action. You’ll primarily use the two face buttons assigned to attack and spell casting while playing, but just about every button on the controller is mapped to an action. Shoulder buttons are used to block attacks and down health and mana potions, the remaining face buttons are used to pick up objects and jump (although you’ll rarely find yourself in a position where you are required to jump), and the D pad is used for a myriad of actions. Using the D pad you can select your currently active spell, show and hide the automap, and switch between your equipped melee and ranged weapons. This works well enough most of the time, but in heated moments you’ll find the overloaded D pad will sometimes so something other than intended – I walked away from many a pitched battle to find that I had apparently closed the automap in the heat of action.

As for your foes, you’ll see many of the same creatures that you encountered in Dark Alliance as well as some new monsters. You’ll face a variety of attacks from these monsters – melee, ranged, and magical – so although you’ll be doing a lot of fighting the game never feels all that repetitive. The slower brutes still suffer from the same problem as in the original game though, as they can be dispatched without too much trouble by patiently running circles around them and hacking them in the back. You’ll periodically encounter boss creatures as well, usually at the culmination of a quest, that will have unique attacks and that can take a lot of punishment.

The RPG element comes into play with the awarding of experience points and gold, weapons, armor, or potions for slaying monsters. The experience points accumulate until you advance to a new level, when you are given bonus points to spend improving your character’s skills. These skills include faster health recovery, weapon and armor proficiencies, and new spells. This allows you to customize your character by selecting which skills on which to spend your points. You can go for breadth and try to pick up as many skills as possible, or concentrate your points on improving a few key skills.

Weapons and armor can be equipped for use by your character – provided that you’ve acquired the proper skills to use them – or sold to shopkeepers for gold to use to purchase more powerful items.