The Gauntlet-style formula of maneuvering a character around the screen while hacking away at hordes of enemies may sound simple - and it is. That's why it works so well. However, as the original Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance proved, this need not preclude some nice Dungeons & Dragons depth and an intriguing story. DAII takes everything its predecessor was, and adds to it.
The most noticeable additions are the two extra character options (at least - there have been some hints of unlockables). The player can now choose between five new warriors, instead of the last game's three. They are Borador the rogue, Allessia the cleric, Ysuran the necromancer, Vhaidra the monk, and Dorn the barbarian. They start with 22 spells/feats and can wield two weapons at once. That means hacking AND slashing at the same time, fellow RPGamers. Fans of the previous game will be glad that Black Isle addressed one of the major complaints, as well. The characters now have ample room for customzation, which DAI very un-Dungeons-&-Dragonishly lacked.
The quest will again be fairly linear, but this time it will be amply fleshed out with numerous secrets and high-rewarding side-quests. The story again concerns the port town of Baldur's Gate, and how it has fallen to evil criminal elements. With the heroes from DAI having disappeared with the Onyx Tower, the aforementioned five appear to take up the challenge of finding the shadowy villain behind it all. The adventure will take them through various locales, many of them haunted and some of them in alternate dimensions. The player will have to play through the game several times to experience each branch of the story, but the developers promise that all of DAI's loose ends will be wrapped up.
Controlling the player-character is even simpler this time around, which is good, because the battles have not slowed down. The amount of enemies and projectiles that appear on the screen at once can sometimes be overwhelming. Happily, the two-player co-operative mode returns, and is friendlier than before: both players share a common stash of gold, thereby cutting down on the acquisitive pursuits.
One feature that is being trumpeted is the item creation system. Players can construct equipment by giving, say, a sword a prefix and a suffix - so it becomes a Swordful Sword of Swordness. Hopefully, experienced dungeon masters will be able to think up something more original. Speaking of original, frequent readers of this space will find the above-described system to be gnawing at their memory. This is because a very similar sounding system appears in Champions of Norrath, which had a development team that overlapped with that of DAI. Go figure.
One might think that the small figures and characters do not lend themselves to major graphical feature, but the developers do what they can. DAI was widely praised for the crafting of its details, and DAII has surpassed it, through improvements (if not overhauls) of the first game's engine. The player can get close-ups on the action that make for a more impressive spectacle.
Once again, the emphasis of the second Dark Alliance is the gameplay. There are 80 levels to be experienced in this title; double that of its predecessor. That amount of exploring easily makes up for the lack of online play. With the recent announcement of Black Isle's closing, fans had better relish the game all the more, because the prospect of a third Dark Alliance (and, for that matter, a GameCube port of this title) is not looking too good at moment. Nonetheless, merci pour les bon temps, Black Isle.