I find myself in the same position when it comes to playing Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II as I was for the original Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance from a year or so back. That position being that I am coming to this completely fresh, as I never got around to playing the game when it was first created way back in 2004. With this being a fresh set of eyes, a clear perspective, I will be looking at this as a game of today.
It comes from Black Isle Studios, and plays as an action RPG based on the world renowned Dungeons & Dragons franchise, a direct follow-on from the first Dark Alliance game. So come with me to a world of spells, swords and sorcery, and let’s see if a game from 2004 – albeit remastered – can still cut the mustard.
As we saw at the end of the last game, (spoiler alert, obviously) the heroes leapt through a portal at the top of the tower, before being captured by a nasty old vampire called Mordoc. In the meantime, in a little forest on the way to Baldur’s Gate, a new motley group of heroes – from which we have to choose our character – all meet up and decide to go on an adventure. They come across a caravan that has been attacked by marauders, and before you can say “Oi, stop poking me with that spear!” we find ourselves in a fight for our lives, with a mission to accomplish. From there, it’s very much a case of taking one step at a time until we are well and truly enmeshed in a titanic struggle between good and evil. Sounds promising, right? Well, I can honestly say that story – and being dragged through the narrative – is something that is never in doubt in these games. The one found in Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II is a cracker.
Graphically, the game is very much a product of the time – that time being 2004. It’s visually quite dark, especially when you are underground, navigating by torchlight. Other than this, the graphics are certainly up to the job of showing you what is going on, even if the enemies are quite good at hiding around blind bends and behind trees in order to surprise you. Further to that, the design of both the heroes and the enemies, large and small, is very good indeed.
You can throw in a suitably epic soundscape as well, with some good voice acting on display, whilst the roar of monsters, thump of arrows and swords clattering into monsters all hit home hard. There’s a good mark for the presentation of Dark Alliance II although I do have one peeve, and it is that of the sound of your character’s footsteps. It just doesn’t seem to follow any rhythm and is oddly annoying.
When you come to start Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II you are given the choice of five characters to choose from, all fully formed right down to their name. Yes, there is no character creation here, merely a choice of classes to play as. If you want to be a necromancer – and let’s face it, who wouldn’t? – you are going to play as a male moon elf called Ysurran, whether you like it or not. You can also be a dwarf, a cleric, a barbarian or a monk, all fully formed. The monk is an interesting character actually, being some kind of martial artist and able to fight with just her bare hands.
Finishing the game on any difficulty unlocks not only a new character to choose from, but also the Extreme difficulty – if you manage to beat that, then yet another character is unlocked for use in a new game. With the difference between the classes being high, and the rewards to be gained large, the urge to replay after finishing a playthrough of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II is very strong.
To help that along, the gameplay has to be on point and luckily it largely is. There are two main thrusts to the gameplay: the combat side, and then that of exploration and levelling up.
Starting with combat, every character can equip a variety of weapons, switching between them at will. Now, certain characters can’t use certain weapons, such as the moon elf necromancer not having the upper body strength to wave a great sword around. Similarly, some characters are able to use bows, while others can’t. Finding a loadout that suits your character and play style is a lot of fun, especially as new weapons and armour can be found and upgraded. Adding new abilities by fitting gems to weapons and armour is also possible.
Combat is pleasingly meaty, but there are a couple of things that do bug me. The first is the auto aiming that kicks in when you are fighting while surrounded. As you attack, your character will sometimes seemingly select a target, kill it, then move onto the next. At other times though they will continue to attack the empty air in front of them, while a monster is busy chewing their leg off from behind. The other issue is the rate at which your health bar can vanish when you are surrounded; you really have to be on top of your game.
All this fighting gains EXP Points for your character, and we all know that EXP equals levelling up, right? Well, it is no different here, and every couple of levels, you can choose to increase a particular trait, like health. There are also extra skill trees to spend your points in, with some giving you new abilities, or changing the sort of armour you can equip. They even affect how much weight you can carry. Once you hit the limit, you can’t pick anything else up, so you either have to drop stuff (bad) or use a Recall potion and make a trip back to town and sell your stuff (much better). Levelling your character, making sure that your gear is all in tip top condition and powered up is pretty much a full time job. With side quests to find (usually involving buying a map from someone) and lots of things to do, this isn’t a game that will be over quickly.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II is still an extremely good game, but it does come with some minor annoyances. There’s enough story to keep you guessing, enough missions to complete and plenty of gear to find, evaluate and equip. With rewards for playing through Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II multiple times, you’ll need to sacrifice a large part of your gaming life if you choose to dive in.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II is available from the Xbox Store