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Game of the Week-Not Quite D&D, but Sort Of

Hello all! Last week, we took a melodramatic trip into a courtroom.

This week, I replayed a PS2 dungeon crawler that still kinda holds up.


Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance first came to the PS2 way back in 2001 (Xbox and GameCube versions would come a year later). Based in Dungeons & Dragons' Forgotten Realms setting, the story has you selecting one of three playable characters and arriving in the city of Baldur's Gate. From there, in typical D&D fashion, you're quickly tasked with clearing rats out of a cellar. And you rescue a guy, and you fight more guys, and the story gets bigger and bigger. It's standard dark fantasy, D&D stuff, but it gets pretty good, even though it ends on a cliffhanger.

Right off the bat, fans of the PC games, titled simply Baldur's Gate (and Baldur's Gate II) will notice Dark Alliance is nothing like those PC classics. Most jarringly, Dark Alliance plays in real time; you jump, attack, and block whenever you want. It's a standard dungeon crawler more akin to Diablo or Gauntlet than it is Baldur's Gate.

That fact alone could lead to Dark Alliance easily being dismissed by "purists." But I think the game deserves some credit.


For one, the game isn't trying to be a Baldur's Gate clone; rather, Dark Alliance sets out to do its own thing. As I said, it's more like Gauntlet; Dark Alliance is an RPG that plays like a beat-em-up, in that instead of waiting for behind-the-scenes dice rolls, you hack away at enemies, jump over stuff, hold R1 to block...

All of this flies in the face of "traditional" Baldur's Gate gameplay, where the emphasis was on character building, strategy, and generally making your own story. In this sense, yes, Dark Alliance is more restrictive; you can only pick from three characters, they're all set as more or less Lawful Good, and the game is hyper-linear, with but a sprinkling of side quests.


But one must remember Dark Alliance was made for consoles. And the developers of Dark Alliance, Snowblind Studios, smartly made a game that played to the PS2's strengths rather than try to dilute a previously PC-only experience into a console (thought they totally could have done that). The end result is a game that should be judged on it's own merits instead of being hopelessly compared to it's PC non-counterpart.

For one, the game is just damned fun.


There's a kind of visceral thrill you get from dungeon crawlers you can't get from slower, more focused RPG's. Dark Alliance uses the same rule set as classic Baldur's Gate (Advanced D&D 3rd Edition), yet the fighting system is more meat-and-potatoes, relying more on blocking and mashing the Attack button instead of hoping for a good offscreen dice roll. Don't get me wrong, I love Baldur's Gate, but sometimes you're not in the mood for it. Sometimes, you crave a more "hands on" experience, and that's the kind of thing Dark Alliance provides. Hence, it shouldn't really be compared to Baldur's Gate; the games offer two wildly contrasting experiences. Dark Alliance isn't trying to be the PC Baldur's Gate. It's trying to be a fun hack-and-slash, and I think it succeeds pretty well. It's pretty standard stuff if you're used to these kind of RPG/dungeon crawlers, but it's still a fun game to play, if at times a bit clunky.

Did I mention how good it looks? Dark Alliance was one of the best looking games for the PS2 at the time (freaking 2001), and while you look at most things through an isometric view, things still look detailed, and it all runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. Armor, clothes, and weapons all appear on your character, which is a plus for a game this old, and the character models themselves are big and varied. Same goes for the enemies, which is good, given D&D's variety of monsters to slay.


And the voice acting reads like a who's who of great voice actors. You've got Michael Bell, who voiced Raziel in Soul Reaver (soon to be Game of the Week, no doubt), Jennifer Hale, who has voiced seemingly everybody (look here), and the late, great Tony Jay, also coming from the Legacy of Kain series where he voiced the Elder God. Or, if you prefer, Shere Khan from TaleSpin, for you slightly older, awesome-er readers. Sound wise, the game is okay. Weapon effects kind of blend into the background. The music is nice, but it disappears for long stretches at a time. I like the town theme from Act 1 though; shades of the Tristram Theme from Diablo abound.

Dark Alliance is kind of a rough gem today. It's fun to play, but you might not appreciate the comparatively simplistic gameplay in light of Baldur's Gate and more recent offerings like Dragon Age. But, like I said, it's not supposed to be like any of those games. It's like comparing Street Fighter III's fighting system to Final Fight: don't bother. Just enjoy them both.


Thanks for reading! Hit me with questions and comments, and suggest future games for me to write about! You can tweet me, follow my series Re: Gaming, and help make Game of the Week bigger by supporting me on Patreon!

Next week, I look back at a game that takes place in a sort of heavy metal paradise.

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