Fans of the Baldur’s Gate series and even the other Dungeons and Dragons games at large will be rather disappointed in Dark Alliance, though the game does offer many subtle joys for even the most experienced gamer.
The first thing that you’ll notice when playing Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is how impressive the graphics are; this game has such fine attention to graphic detail that you can almost overlook the game’s many flaws. The water in the game moves and flows like actual water, and you can sit in the middle of a pond turning in circles and watching as the ripples hit the edge and come back in. It’s a very rare moment that we see this, even in a game for the PS2, but subtleties like the water, or the blurred air above a flame as though from smoke – they’ll make you think that no matter what else you could possibly have to say about the game, you have to give it credit; the graphics are absolutely breathtaking.
The camera angles can get a bit obtrusive, especially on maps where the camera doesn’t rotate, but at worst, this is a minor annoyance; it’s not a matter of life or death as it is in something like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. For the most part, the game is overwhelmingly easy to navigate. Unlike so many games before it, where the game had to be paused in order to give a character a potion, Dark Alliance sets L2 and R2 for potion consumption, cutting down drastically on all those frustrating moments navigating through menus to perform simple commands Consuming a potion doesn’t even cost you a regular action; you can, in fact, consumea potion whie performing another action (such as casting a spell or attacking), and while this is a glaring D&D rules oversight on the part of the gamemakers, it’s a terribly convenient one..
This isn’t the only place where the game skimps on the standard rules for Dungeons and Dragons games, but those errors are strangely far enough apart that you’ll find yourself looking for them. Allow me to save you the trouble and point out some of the bigger ones: magic-users really shouldn’t be able to wear full-plate mail, there’s no way that a level 6 character would ever be inducted into the Harpers (a prestige group from the Forgotten Realms campaign, where the Baldur’s Gate series is set) or be able to defeat a beholder (think “large floating eye with tentacles”) on his/her own, the fireballs really don’t work right at all.
However, despite these glaring errors, the game follows the mythology of the Forgotten Realms wonderfully; I was so relieved to see that the evil and powerful drow was female – they always are in that campaign, but you’d be surprised how many people get that detail wrong. The game runs very smoothly without seeming too simple; it’s one of those rare games that allows you to address a video console like one would a gamemaster; role-playing feels very much like the real thing on this game, albeit without a whole lot of choice in terms of character development. The introduction of some more feats would have made the game far more interesting; as is, it feels strangely like a glorified version of Diablo set in Forgotten Realms.
There’s a bug in the game in the first act. When playing the sorceress character, picking up the amulet that needs to be returned to the gentleman in the tavern will bring up a window telling you that you have it in your possession, but when you go back to talk to him, it’s not there. This happened every time I played with the sorceress, so it may just be a bug and not a one-time glitch.
Now, no discussion of Dark Alliance would be complete without bringing up the plot, or, more aptly, the complete lack of one. It started out strong, with strange happenings and intrigue, but somewhere around the beginning of Act 2, it started to feel as though it had been rushed. The Forgotten Realms campaign setting is rife with so many warring groups and adversaries to face that it’s the ideal setting for a video game (hence the rest of the Baldur’s Gate series), but Dark Alliance makes use of absolutely none of them (barring the Harpers, who have more of a cameo than anything else).
When you get towards the end, you can’t help but think, “Wait… this is it?!” In total, the entire game takes less than ten hours to get through (and that’s if you go through and do all the unnecessary exploration and levelling). No role-playing game should ever be so short; even the standard RPGs for the regular playstation were long and involved enough to warrant over 40 hours of game-time!
The archer character is thoroughly unpleasant to play. The triggers for the bow, even with the targeting on, are so sensitive that it’s difficult to get a fix on a target. If you’re a big fan of ranged attacks, go with the magic-user character instead; trying to aim the bow is a considerable headache.
When you’ve beaten the game on any difficulty, you get the chance to go through “The Gauntlet,” a series of rooms with various monsters within 15 minutes. Making it through the Gauntlet takes patience and skill, as well as an understanding that while time is of the essence, you certainly have enough time to equip some extra armor and pick up all the potions in the rooms. Don’t attack large groups; you’ll do much better if you can lure a few monsters away at a time and use your repulsion spell whenever more come along.
Once you’ve made it through the Gauntlet, you’ll unlock the Extreme Mode, which, once you have all the abilities from your previous game, feels a whole lot like playing it on the Normal Mode. Sure, the monsters all have more hit points, but you also do a whole lot more damage, and the shops have ridiculously powerful items available to you for practically pennies. All in all, your grand award for beating the game? A cheap version of the ever-popular, “Thank you, Mario, but our princess is in another castle,” which is no more annoying to hear than it was back in the 1980s, and the chance to play the game again (which, the second time through, only takes about 3-4 hours).