Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance Review

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is an action RPG that is heavy on the action.  Taking place in the Forgotten Realms world of the Dungeons & Dragons universe, Dark Alliance combines the RPG elements of character classes, spells, weapons galore, and level advancement with fast-paced, real-time combat.

ScreenshotsIn Dark Alliance, you are a traveling adventurer set upon by thieves as you enter the town of Baldur's Gate.  What begins as a straight-forward quest to track down the thieves and retrieve your goods soon becomes an epic adventure as you discover that the thieves are part of a conspiracy tied to Eldrith, a great general who turned traitor against 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.

Dark Alliance gives you your choice of three characters: a human archer, a dwarf fighter, and an elf sorceress.  Each of the characters comes with their own set of spells and feats, where feats are special abilities and skills such as deflecting arrows or weapon proficiency.  Playing each character is a unique experience, but they are not equal in power.  The sorceress can wear armor and wield weapons, fire arrows, and also comes with a collection of some very strong spells.  This complete package of skills makes her very powerful, especially later in the game, making it easier to complete the game's highest 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.  At the other end of the spectrum is the archer, who is weak at combat and whose feats are pale in comparison to the sorceress' spells.  The bow is a harder weapon to use in the game, as you'll hardly ever have much time to set, aim, and shoot before the monsters reach you.  The story is the same no matter which character you select, so you can make the game progressively more challenging by playing through it as the sorceress, fighter, and finally the archer.

ScreenshotsThe game itself is played from a third person, top-down perspective.  You use the left stick to move and the right stick to swing the camera around to give you a better view of things.  The game makes use of all of the controller's buttons, but the control scheme is well-designed and you'll quickly get the hang of it.  Control itself is smooth and responsive, and you never feel that you are fighting the controls along with 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 without the benefit of a party filled out 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 not to pick up and complete the few optional quests along the way 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.