Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II Xbox Review
The console version of the massively popular Baldur’s Gate series returns in its second instalment to grace the PS2 and Xbox. While you won’t find many titles like this for these consoles, innovation doesn’t always result in quality. Does this game deliver in both respects? Read on, gentle reader…
Not dissimilar from the first incarnation of the game, the graphics are pretty and polished but not really breathtaking aside from the fantastic water effects. Everything is viewed from the traditional isometric view, which works well for the game but doesn’t really push any boundaries. Some of the character models are pretty impressive and move quite convincingly, and the lip-synching is well-executed. All in all pretty good, although there isn’t really a big difference from the first version of the game.
Anyone that’s played the first Baldur’s Gate: DA will recognise where this story starts; the three original heroes have been captured, and its up to the new crew to save them and either destroy or seize the Onyx Tower. The three classes of creature are human barbarian (extremely strong but poor with magic), human cleric (also good with melee weapons but weaker and with more magic skill), Necromancer (excellent with spells), dwarf rogue (good with traps and stealth skills) and dark elf monk (good at hand to hand combat and very agile). Each character is fully customisable as in the first game; this is made all the better for the fact that by completing certain side quests you can unlock new spells and skills for your character.
The gameplay is a basic hack-and-slash affair; you can attack physically, jump to overcome certain obstacles, use spells (four of which can be assigned to hotkeys for easy use midbattle) and pick up items. Most defeated enemies will drop objects from weaponry and armour to potions and amulets, all of which can be quipped and used by your character; however, each person has a weight limit depending on who they are (the dark monk can hold far less than the barbarian and so on), so choosing your equipment wisely is key; there’s no point having all of the best plate armour if it means you cant carry anything else. Some items are unusable by certain classes as well; in this case selling your gear is a good idea.
The central area of the game is, naturally, Baldur’s Gate; you can sell items to the trader and buy new ones, upgrade existing weapons (more on this later) and get new missions. Leaving the area opens up the world map, on which you can select your destination; however, if you are travelling a long way, it is possible that you will be ambushed along the way. This simply involves the generation of a small map on which you have to battle several enemies without achieving any specific goals other than to stay alive. As well as the main game missions, talking to various people in town may open other side quests which are usually good for gaining exp. and loot. Gaining enough experience points will allow you to level up an aspect of your character at certain stages, such as strength or dexterity, and will also allow you to boost one of your skills; these are widely varied between the characters, and include “Bark Skin” which improves your defence, and “Flame Strike” which can be used to smite enemies from above. There are plenty of these to be learned and mastered.
A great new feature in the game is the ability to upgrade weapons by talking to the trader; this involves placing certain gemstones into your weapons and armour to make them more effective. There are hundreds of combinations, and each gives your weapon a new and unique name (such as a remarkable morning star of besieging or a fine dervishes scimitar of corruption and so on); D&D fans will no doubt appreciate these touches, and for everyone else it’s really pretty cool to make your own fantastic weapons and armour. This will also affect the appearance of the items, which allows for more customisation (although purple war boots seem a bit dubious).
As before, the two-player co-op mode is really the boon of the game; its remarkably good fun to around slashing at enemies in a team, trading items and rushing to be the first to open treasure chests. However, the gold reserves of both players are now combined, meaning that while it’s still a race to get the best weapons from enemies, there is no longer so much pressure to collect gold. While some may appreciate this more, I felt it let the game down a little and took the edge off two-player…although it DOES induce more of a sense of team ship when you aren’t both swearing at each other for nabbing the dragons treasure.
The game can feel a bit samey after a while; while there are numerous locations and enemies to battle, the basic game play is very much the same from start to finish. Run along a bit; find an enemy, hack him to pieces. Find another enemy. Hack him to pieces. Find a boss. Cast a spell and hack him to pieces. I doubt the lasting appeal of this game to a single player, but the co-op element should be enough to keep you going to the end.
Swip-swip-swip. You’ll be hearing that a lot if you use a sword. Thwok-thwok-thwok; ditto if you’re using a mace. While the sounds are quite well-done, they are pretty repetitive and unoriginal. A helpful metallic or hollow (?) sound indicates if a useful item has been dropped, which is a nice touch. Background music is pleasant if a bit non-descript.
The voiceovers are pretty good, particularly if you leave the game on without pausing as the characters have some nice humorous dialogue. Sometimes however, it seems to get drowned out by the background music – not because the music is particularly loud but because the actors/actresses crafty whispering is just too quiet to hear. Other than that, everything is good; the grunts of the enemies are nicely varied, albeit as repetitive as anything else, and the triumphant shouts of your heroes will no doubt bring a smile to your face.
With over 80 levels in 4 acts, the game is far heftier than its predecessor; however, the repetitive nature of the game may prevent some people from ever getting to the end. The two-player mode offers some good replay value, and there are plenty of side quests to get your teeth into, but it may not suffice for some. You can import your characters into other games, and the levels of customisation of the different classes available mean that there is plenty of variation offered for the replay; if you can really be bothered to get through all those levels again which is key. There are also levels that can be completed different ways, with numerous secrets (such as rescuing the people trapped in a burning building instead of running away as you are encouraged to do). Varying difficulty levels will offer new challenges; and they really do get hard later on.
A pretty good if a bit basic game, with a wonderful multiplayer option. Good fun without having to stress over complicated puzzles or stats; everything is tailored to accommodate even the newest newbie and the greatest D&D fan. The samey nature of the game may put some off, but its good swashbuckling fun and will last you a while.