Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance
System: GameCube
Publisher: Interplay
Developer: High Voltage Software/Snowblind Studios
Released: 2002
Genre: Action-RPG
Capabilities: Memory Card compatible

Review Written: January 6, 2003

I never really followed any of the other Dungeons & Dragons games that have been around (except for the superb Eye of the Beholder on Super Nintendo, now thereís a classic!) until now. The latest one is Dark Alliance. I first caught a glimpse of this game when I watched one of my friends play through the PS2 version last year. It looked like an impressive title and reminded me a lot of Diablo. Unfortunately I was never to keen towards Diablo, especially the second one. There was just too much stat tracking and item swapping going on that made things tedious for me. Needless to say, I wasnít looking forward to playing Dark Alliance, but something was etching at me to ďgive this one a chance.Ē

Right as you boot up Dark Alliance and pick to play the quest as a Dwarf, Archer, or Sorceress, youíll vaunt your way into trouble.  The second you step foot in the town of Baldurís Gate you get jumped by a trio of thieves who escape with all your possessions. They wouldíve killed you if the guards wouldnít have come by. You are escorted to the Elfsong Tavern where you question the locals about these thieves so you can get your belongings back. To no surprise, you have to end up helping out everyone else in Baldurís Gate too.

Finding a good control scheme for any GameCube game is a troublesome experience. However, the developers at High Voltage Software found one that works well with this kind of hack Ďn slash title. The primary A and B buttons operate as attacking and casting spells, respectively. X acts as your action button to pick up weapons and enter areas, while Y is strictly for jumping. The Z button is used for blocking, and the control pad is used for switching magic spells. What I think is the best part about the controls is that the L & R shoulder buttons operate as hotkeys for magic & health potions. This comes in handy when youíre in heated battles and donít want to hassle with the cumbersome procedure of pausing the game and using the potion through sub screens. 

As I said above, Dark Alliance is very similar to Diablo. Itís a dungeon fighter with plenty of RPG elements thrown in with an indulging storyline with the same kind of isometric perspective Diablo uses too. DA has enough features to separate it as its own game. What I like best is the fact you donít have to repair weapons like you were forced to in Diablo. There are also more puzzles incorporated into DA. You gain access to better weapons, armor, and spells as you level up your character by vanquishing foes. All the amounts of experience received and item names are dictated by the 3rd Edition rules of Dungeons & Dragons. The weapons have some of the most mind-boggling names Iíve seen. Hereís the one that sticks out the most: ďFrost Bastard Sword.Ē Need I say more?

Youíll become familiar with game play and get adapted to the controls right away in Dark Alliance. First youíll quibble your way through some side quests by exterminating the rats in the cellar for the gorgeous Alyth (the bartender of the tavern), and fetching a bottle of the best wine for the town drunk. Eventually youíll get on track to hunting down the thieves that robbed you, and make your way through countless mazes and dungeons. The dungeons you battle in can get fairly complex, but thereís a trusty auto map that aids you out of misguided locations. Frequent save points aid you through your journey too. The enemies drop loads of items, and youíll want to make sure to grab as much of it as possible so you can sell it to the shopkeeper.

The three characters you start off with all have diversified strengths and weaknesses. I prefer the Dwarf, heís a killer fighter but he canít use magic. The sorceress is a superb magic caster, while the archer rules for long distance attacks. There are also two other hidden characters, one of which is a GameCube exclusive. Picking your character for the main quest on your own is vital, but playing in Co-op mode eases matters some by outweighing the weaknesses. I enjoyed the Co-op mode a lot with my friend; it seems like a different experience than going through the game on my own. Itís single screen like the PSone version of Diablo, except there arenít the large amounts of life bars and such cluttering your view. It provides for a far better multi player experience.

I wasnít expecting any award winning graphics for Dark Alliance, but I was stunned nonetheless. It isnít until I dug deep into DA that I appreciated the visuals for what they are. Every single character model for every human and monster you encounter are incredibly well done. Each foe you vanquish has their own distinctive animations for ways they attack and perish, among others. Their corpses will remain on the ground whenever you revisit an area. The spells you can cast also look spectacular.

There is one main drawback about the graphics, and that is the frame rate. I wouldnít think the GCN version would have it, but I randomly experienced slowdown at the oddest intervals. It made my quest a pain in the ass to complete. After a while I did get past the slowdown issues, but itís still baffling that the GCN is the only platform that contains it.

While there was a nasty flaw for the graphics, I couldnít find a single one about the audio. The sound effects for all the sword slashes, death groans, and everything else are all well done and are varied enough so they never get repetitive. One thing that stuck out of Dark Alliance is the beautiful musical score. The tone of the music captures the essence of game play, and immerses you in a wonderful atmosphere. All of the dialogue you encounter with the NPCís is done by voice acting. Interplay mustíve hired the most experienced voice actors out there. Iím at a loss for words for the quality of the voice acting. Superb isnít the right word, but is the first word that comes to mind. I know most gamers donít want to waste their time listening to lengthy monologues, but this is one of those rare instances you want to.

Unfortunately, Dark Alliance only clocks in at about a good dozen hours to complete. And that was my first time through. Completing it again with a buddy in co-op mode is a worthy experience. There are some hidden goodies to unlock like two characters, an ďextremeĒ mode of difficulty, and a gauntlet mode. Itís up to you if you want to warrant the extra time to unlock them. Spending all that time can make the stupendous game play start to get awfully mundane. While these extras are appreciated, I just donít think they compensate enough for the short time it takes to finish DA.  

RATINGS 

Graphics: 7.6
Sound: 9.5
Game play: 8.1
Replay Value: 6.5 

Overall: 7.9

Make sure to enjoy Dark Alliance while it lasts. The first time I ventured through it I was addicted like mad. Finishing it a second time on your own or with a friend in Co-op is fun to see if you missed anything or if you want to unlock any of the extras. You might start to get bored of DA then and everything will start to get too cumbersome if you want to unlock everything. It only took me a good week to get everything unlocked, and Iím not too sure if one weeks worth of game play is worth your hard earned $50. So youíll probably be better off renting Dark Alliance, or borrowing it from any D&D geeks you know.

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