Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance

So, what's up with this game's title? I don't know if it would be possible to make this any less like a Baldur's Gate game than it currently is. A more accurate option might have been: Generic Diablo Ripoff 6: Predictable Heroes Save World.

The whole game feels simplistic, easy, and rushed. This really is a lot like Diablo II, except a lot shorter and with nowhere near as many features. You'll choose from one of three character types at the start, and they aren't creative in the slightest. You've basically got a fighter, a mage, and an archer. Whichever you pick though, the story proceeds the same way... you just have to change your style of fighting slightly. Wouldn't it have been nicer to not have such predictability? Spend about two minutes and you'll probably have thought up several interesting classes to replace these tired ones.

As you play, you'll kill countless enemies, gain experience points, and level up once you have enough. At that time, you get points (the number is equal to your current level) that you can use to learn new abilities and improve different aspects of the character. Every four levels, you can also upgrade more important things, and be able to purchase items for less and get more experience points from enemies. It's a fun system overall, and building up your character is really the most fun aspect of the game. But what I didn't like is that you can't simply stop to level up. The enemies you defeat don't come back again, and so once you clear an area there's nothing left to get experience points from. Sometimes you might want to stop until you get a little overpowered, or have the option to not fight so much now and do your leveling later on. Not possible here.

In general, the areas you go through play too similarly, despite the visual differences. You fight hordes of enemies nearly nonstop most of the time, and that consists of simple button mashing far too often. This might vary from person to person, but I find mashing the attack button on the controller to be even less satisfying than simply clicking on an enemy over and over, as in Diablo. It started to feel like the game was playing itself and I was just in charge of healing. You'll find an excessive number of items from the corpses of enemies and from boxes and things that you can break open. Like the leveling, finding new gear is the other aspect of the game that might keep you playing a little further.

Eventually, after navigating the simple dungeon mazes using the handy onscreen map, you'll reach a boss that's pretty easy to defeat and then continue to the next boring dungeon. The pattern keeps repeating itself for most of the game. It's fairly fun for Act I, but by the end of the third and final act, the repition will surely have gotten to you. And fortunately, Dark Alliance has the decency to end after only about eight hours. Any more and the game would no longer be tolerable at all without some major changes in gameplay. With the short length, it's not as daunting to replay to see what the other classes or difficulty settings are like. Unfortunately, I didn't actually like the game enough to want to do any of those things.

Dark Alliance simply doesn't compare to Diablo II despite having very similar gameplay at times. With Diablo, there are many more inventive character classes, character building is much more complex, there's more equipment and treasures to find, and there's a challenge. The story was also more interesting, enemies kept returning to areas you've cleared, and you could really get lost in the experience. Once single player got boring, you could also adventure and interact with other gamers online. Those things make Diablo II an excellent game, and the lack of them makes Dark Alliance a really sub par ripoff.

Dark Alliance was disappointing in terms of story as well. It doesn't compare to even the gameplay oriented Diablo II and comes nowhere close to the true Baldur's Gate titles. While in the beginning, there are several NPC's to talk with and get sidequests from, this flow comes to an abrupt end at the end of the first act. There are only a few more characters to interact with for the whole rest of the game and they don't have anything interesting to say, anyway. You can't make any choices that will alter the course of the story or change how the person you're speaking to reacts... the best you can do is change the order in which things are told to you. It's an extremely simple and linear plot, about as boring as can be.

On the plus side, this was one of the best looking games I had played at the time of it's release. The level of detail is amazing compared to the other games I keep bringing up. It's too bad they weren't creative enough to design really interesting places to make use of the technology. You'll explore all the usual places, including a crypt, sewer, snow covered mountain, and marshlands. At least there's variety, but it all feels pretty lazy. On the technically impressive side, you'll notice snow start to fall as you climb the mountain, and whenever you walk through areas of water, you'll see it ripple impressively or respond appropriately if you jump right in. The attention to detail in small things like this really pays off. In many areas, generally the indoor ones, you can rotate the camera completely around, which makes navigating much easier.

Perhaps the most visually impressive aspect of the game is the enemies. With realistic movement and great detail, these are some menacing looking foes. You'll encounter spiders, giants that cover most of the viewing area, dragons, walking corpses, and many other amazing looking beasties.

I rather liked the equip screen, too, as it allows you to see with great detail how you're character will appear with the new weapons or piece of armor you just got. You can also see the same changes in the character model during gameplay, but it's pretty hard to notice compared to this up close 3D version.

All things considered though, I just can't recommend Dark Alliance. It's pretty looking at times and you might have a little fun with it, but the bad far outweighs the good, and there are far better choices if you want a decent hack and slash RPG.