Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance Review
The AD&D Franchise Can’t Save This Title From Mediocrity
One of the greater success stories of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons franchise in the last few years has been the Baldur’s Gate saga. Starting with the original Baldur’s Gate game in 1998 for the PC, this series of games has raised the standard for AD&D titles in general. So it is no surprise that developer BioWare teamed up with Snowblind Studios to make a similar title for the PlayStation 2, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Despite their best efforts and excellent work with the voice acting, the title simply cannot hold up to some of the more recent RPG titles for the PS2.
Why so bland? The game seems to make a substantial effort to include many of the favorite elements of the AD&D universe in it. While this is done with good intentions, AD&D puritans will doubtlessly be horrified to know that in the game, a drow elf queen is now more powerful than a beholder.
The whole hook to the quest is questionable as well: the hero seeks revenge after being mugged by a new thieves’ guild. Some may argue that this is acceptable because it is like any campaign set up by a dungeonmaster playing the pencil and paper game…but, considering the scope of the Baldur’s Gate universe, the story could have been more sound.
In a further attempt to lower the learning curve, the interface of the game has been drastically reduced from its PC counterparts. This is to be expected in a PC to console port, and like many others before it, the game suffers as a result. The ability to customize characters with minute detail is gone; players must pick from three predefined classes that can be found in hack-and-slash classics like Diablo.
To the game’s credit, those three classes work well in the game when battling the various monsters that come their way. Most maps can be viewed from any angle, as the game makes use of both analog sticks of the controller: the left is used for movement, and the right is used for changing the viewing angle. “Hotkey” access is great: healing potions, rejuvenation potions, and spells can be used instantly with the R2 key; saving a trip to the menu.
While trudging through the game’s quest, it is not hard to tell that the game developers spent some time with the graphics. The visuals, like the water effects, prove that the gap between PC and console graphics is fading. Comparing the minimum required specs for Baldur’s Gate II (a 233 MHz Pentium II) and the power of the PlayStation 2 (a 294 MHz CPU), finally we see some console titles competing toe to toe their PC counterparts in terms of visual quality. It looks as if the developers of the game did not waste the resources they had, and this bodes well for future PlayStation 2 titles.
Equally impressive is the voice acting, a welcome sound in comparison to many console titles that have dabbled with voiceovers in recent years. The game has an impressive repertoire of voice actors in its credits: including John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Fellowship of the Ring), and Dwight Schultz (Lt. Barkley of Star Trek fame).
Despite the list, the game made a few errors. While shopping for weapons or items, the shopkeepers have an annoying habit of advertising their wares — and they don’t shut up! Any player who tries filling up their stock of healing potions will find this annoying after a time, and even the game’s better-than-usual acting quality cannot make up for this.
Also of note is the music. Only one track is notable throughout the game: the “Elfsong”, which serves as background noise to most of the quest. In this case, there’s nothing too wrong with the music, just nothing that incredible.
Refusing to be a solo experience, the game can be played with a friend as both players attempt to topple the evil that threatens the city of Baldur’s Gate. After beating the game at least once, players may also unlock a higher difficulty mode, which should provide enough challenge for most gamers, as the first two modes are relatively easy.
While looking at many of the individual aspects of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Black Isle and Snowblind Studios did a remarkable job in many departments…largely because they used the power of the PlayStation 2’s console to mimic (if not beat) the graphical quality of the PC Baldur’s Gate games. To boot, the game is very quick…one run-through should take 10-20 hours at the most.
So why give this game such a bland overall score? If it were released last summer, the game would have clearly dominated any PlayStation 2 RPG at the time. However, with the introduction of two strong titles for the console with very superior storylines (Shadow Hearts and Final Fantasy X), Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance stands behind the two by a long ways. For the time being, the game is a sure-fire rental title, but unfortunately for the developers, it is not worth the $50 asking price that many retailers sell it for.