Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II
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Something that’s struck me is just how well Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II’s menu represents the game as a whole, with its simple and easy to grasp concept, set within a delightfully detailed, elegant background. The vegetation pitches and rolls violently in the wind, the clouds swirling above a distant, menacing tower on a dusty plain. It starts as it means to continue; a straightforward mechanic laced with depth and beauty.
You enter the ancient world of Baldur’s Gate as one of five adventurers, each with their own unique skills and proficiencies. These warriors do not include the cast of three from the previous game, but instead you have the choice of a human barbarian, a dark elf monk, a moon elf necromancer, a dwarven rogue and a human cleric. Your experience of Dark Alliance II will be different depending on which character you choose, so you can pick the one that best fits your own personal style.
Dark Alliance II’s gameplay mechanic is easy to get into right from the start. The game is centered around fighting, leveling up, talking to non-player characters and shopping for new pieces of kit. Much of your time will be spent hacking and slashing your way through the game’s many linear levels, slicing up numerous seemingly cloned enemies. You’ll kill big scary monsters, plunder gold and so on until you reach a boss and then the cycle starts again. Simple really, but surprisingly satisfying.
Attacks - both physical and magical - are dealt out in real time by tapping the ‘X’ button repeatedly, with jumping and an ‘action’ button also assigned to the face buttons. Three types of weapons can be selected at once, and interestingly two can be held at once in some cases. Ranged weapons such as crossbows are not automatically aimed, but you can bring up a little red line to make it easier to take out enemies. You can also use health potions, block attacks, cycle through weapons, alter the map, control the camera and more easily using the controller, rarely having to utilise the in-game menu system. This keeps the pace steady and the player focused on the task at hand.
Kicking hairy monster ass earns you experience points, which you can spend on various character abilities and attributes. Although these are fairly subtle, you can build your warrior up from their relatively weak original state to an awesome fighting machine. Your opponents also seem to get better at the same pace that you upgrade, keeping the difficulty increasing at a steady rate throughout.
Although you can pick up a whole load of items from dead enemies on your travels and buy various weapons from shopkeepers, the best kit is not bought, but made. In a workshop you can combine existing weapons and armour with special rune stones and jewels, which will give them them special properties. With around ten gems in the game, you can customise your armory in numerous ways and although it can be fairly daunting, the result will give you the best equipment out there. What’s even better though, is showing it off to a friend in the game’s co-op mode.
That’s right, every single part of Dark Alliance II can be played with a friend. Importing their own characters or using the default ones, you can wade through the hordes of enemies side by side, cornering your foe and dispatching them with ease. You fight on the same screen, reducing any chance of become separated and stranded in some of the more maze-like levels. Online co-operative play would have been a welcome addition as would three or four player support, but the two player co-op is enjoyable on its own, providing that you have someone willing to spend ten hours or so fighting alongside you.
Visually, Dark Alliance II is not outstanding, but still quite a treat nonetheless. Viewed from an isometric angle similar to that of The Sims, you can see a fair distance around your character as you play. Using the right analogue stick, you can zoom in and out as well as rotate the camera if you get stuck under a tree or in a corner. Although problems arise when two players are too far apart and when enemy archers fire at you from off screen, the isometric viewpoint is the most suitable for this type of game and it works well much of the time. The graphical detail is impressive for this type of game and it runs at a constantly smooth rate throughout. Water effects are the most striking addition though, with ripples and waves created realistically in real time. The environments you fight in are detailed, but some of them could definitely do with less invisible walls. Overall though, Dark Alliance II’s visuals are polished and glitch free, complementing the game’s medieval tone well.
Dark Alliance II’s lifespan is better than you’d expect, with around 100 hours of gameplay to be found in singleplayer if you count all five characters separately. The multiplayer adds to the replay value as well and should keep you and a friend busy for a few hours. If you really get into it, you’ll be playing Dark Alliance II for quite some time, and even if you don’t then you’ll still be pulling it off the shelf if a friend comes round.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II is good, but not great. With solid gameplay mechanics, a relatively long lifespan and a decent multiplayer mode, it should keep RPG fans who are looking for more action occupied for weeks, maybe even months. The audio and visuals work well together, and the intuitive controls and commands keep the pace rolling forward at a steady pace. Online multiplayer would have been nice and less linearity would have also been welcome, but even without these, Dark Alliance II is a well rounded take on the RPG and action genres.
Eight out of ten