Review by Skinny Minnie
Come in; come in from the frigid cold, stranger! Rest your weary
bones by the fireplace at the Elfsong Tavern, and I will impart
to you the tale of Eldrith of the Westering Sun. Barkeep! Bring
us a pint of your finest ale, for the night is young and this
legend long ...
Known in death as Eldrith the Betrayer, she was in life a great
general of the Sword Coast and a sworn defender of Baldur's Gate.
Her loyal comrades of the Company of the Bladed Crescent followed
her unquestioningly into countless battles, in which she was always
victorious. In her final battle, Eldrith's company took the field
and scattered their vicious enemies, the Black Horde. The Dukes
of Baldur's Gate thus decreed that war was over; too many lives
had already been lost. Was it not obvious that the Horde would
Eldrith was outraged! How could a final victory be denied her?
Against all odds, she led her weakened troops until they cornered
the Horde in a small valley. To her horror, the Company of the
Bladed Crescent was almost completely overrun. Eldrith sent back
to Baldur's Gate for reinforcements, which never came. A few meager
survivors, along with a bloodied and battered Eldrith, finally
returned home but were reviled by the Dukes. Fueled by Eldrith's
fury, the Crescent charged the walls of Baldur's Gate in a suicide
run. Eldrith herself was finally struck down from a distance by
crossbow bolts, as Baldur's soldiers so feared her skill with
a sword that none would dare approach within striking distance
of her. As Eldrith fell she cursed Baldur's Gate, and upon her
death the Dark Alliance was born ...
As you first enter the story, this new threat to Baldur's Gate
erupts from beyond the grave in three different vast lands, represented
in the game by three separate Acts. You are challenged through
simple but steadily escalating battles and quests to end both
Eldrith's siege on Baldur's Gate and her hold upon the spiritual
afterworld. The twisted cliffhanger ending will also leave an
opening for even greater dangers in a possible sequel ...
It is not only Eldrith's haunting tale that will engage you,
but also the stellar graphic scenery and stunning nonplayable
character close-ups that will draw you in to become part of this
fable of old. There are many long narratives given to you by various
characters in the game's cutscenes. These become new quests for
your character to accomplish and very much serve to accelerate
the plot. You may cut to the chase through the conversation trees,
but said graphics are of such warmth and richness and the facial
articulation so impressive that you may forgive such long-windedness
or even welcome it! The visually uplifting and vibrant color schemes
of each different Act make this otherwise tainted story less depressing
and dark than many medieval RPGs. It is also entertaining to see
the close-ups of each playable character whenever you change armor
or weaponry; their renderings are highly detailed and colorful!
You fight Eldrith's otherworldly minions in real time, alone
for single player or side by side in two-player cooperative mode.
The amount of baddies does not seem to increase in two-player
mode during any of the three Acts of this game. A great feature
of this co-op mode is that if one character dies in combat against
Eldrith's forces, the other character can instantly bring the
deceased back to life by merely approaching a save pedestal. All
character traits and inventory still remain intact with this resurrection,
too! These save pedestals are located liberally throughout the
game and are effectively placed for saving games with a minimum
of backtracking. Another nice feature is that you can import characters
from another saved game to make a one-player game into a two-player
game, or you may delete a second player and carry on alone.
You are given a choice of three characters to play as and build
up powers for: Vahn, the Arcane Archer, Adrianna, the Elven Sorceress,
or Kromlech, the Dwarven Fighter. If your venture is in two-player
mode, one of you may want to focus on melee and one on long-range
weaponry or attack spells, because certain big bosses cannot be
extinguished with close combat alone. The long range and quick
reaction time of the Sorceress's Chain Lightening spell can prove
invaluable, as can the Burning Hands spell, which acts as a massive,
long-range flamethrower. Besides the stunning visual effects of
these spells, many enemies are slowed or cannot attack at all
for brief periods while under these spells, leaving a second character
free to inflict additional damage with melee or archer's weapons.
If you are a loner, you may want to play as Kromlech, the Dwarven
Fighter, with his higher strength, faster health recuperation,
and larger carrying capacity for carting around all the gold,
weapons and armor you'll find as you go along. He is also capable
of wielding the heaviest and most damaging two-handed melee weapons.
As in any RPG, some weapons and spells are character-specific,
so you will be limited somewhat in those choices depending upon
which character you decide to inhabit, but you will be able to
finish this game no matter who you play as.
Eldrith's demonic legions are represented by packs of voracious
grey wolves, as well as by upright, sword-wielding, charging rams.
They also run the gamut from giant, vividly blue, mobile ice cube-like
creatures spurting deadly ice daggers (not kidding!) to swarms
of abominable snow monsters. There are, too, the more stereotypical
skeletons and headless undead, as well as packs of murderous archers
and flocks of clawing vultures. The bosses reporting to Eldrith
range from Frost Giants and a massive flying ice dragon to a regenerating
armor-clad hulk and a huge spinning demon head.
There are various adventure elements to this game. Your adventuring
will include opening secret passageways from remote areas, finding
hidden portals to other lands, and completing a pedestal placement
puzzle to advance the storyline. You must also collect inventory
items and information for various NPCs. You are hired by a young
lady to find out what has become of her lost love. You are presented
with the mystery of the ghostly elf who sings her eerie song of
sadness every night at the local tavern. You will even wind up
saving the life of one of the first friends you make as you enter
the story. There are actually many side quests that you can undertake
to help others, and you will always receive financial rewards
and assistance in your own quests as payment for your efforts.
Deadly traps also await you! Early on, fire bolt-spewing mechanisms
blocking your way must be strategically avoided. Later, disturbing
spinning eyeballs hover over pedestals, shooting out death rays
as you try to pass them in lever-pulling adventure sequences.
In one Act, you will encounter sets of jumping puzzles where vibrating
pedestals that link you to your next destination will begin to
fall away, plunging you to your doom as soon as you jump on to
them. It is your job to quickly notice the one "nonvibrating"
pedestal and jump on to it, after which you must repeat the whole
procedure multiple times to finish out each jumping puzzle.
The voice acting here is usually believable, and it is lip-synched
well. The musical score is neither extremely medieval nor overly
intrusive, sounding ageless if not a bit industrial. Settling
nicely into the background, the music swells only at appropriate
moments of danger. The sound effects embellish the story well,
be it whistling winds, enemies' grunts and howls, or the metallic
clanging of steel swords.
Control-wise, the PS2 gamepad button commands for attack, block,
inventory, and speech are simple to remember and fade quickly
into the background. The only snafu you may find is not being
able to scroll through your attack spells quickly enough with
the directional pad during battle. You may be forced to seek shelter
behind a pillar or tree while you attempt to change spells in
the middle of a heated fight. Weapons-wise, you can wield either
a ranged weapon or a one-handed melee weapon with shield, switching
between them with one directional pad clicknice!
You can utilize "recall" potions that you find as you
go along. As in other RPGs, these potions will, from certain predesignated
locales, transport you back to a safe zone like a friendly tavern,
mining camp or town if the fighting gets too rough. You may also
elect to recall if you need to buy better armor, weapons, health
potions, or more mana potions to fuel spell casting. There are
many gold-filled chests and hidden stashes for you to find throughout
the lands that will assist you with your purchases in town shops.
You may also sell to those shops any unwanted weaponry or armor
that you have picked up from slain foes.
The inventory and character buildup systems are simpler and more
streamlined here than in most RPGs, proving less burdensome for
newer RPG players but not offering the level of detail and character
trait options that more experienced gamers may clamor for. The
earning of experience points to apply toward traits like better
aiming, faster health rejuvenation, or stronger spells is much
speedier than in many RPGs as well. Once an area has been cleared,
subsequent treks back through that area yield no additional enemies
or inventory items, but the quick buildup of experience points
makes this unnecessary anyway.
Subsequent levels are opened up as you take on and complete various
quests, and the scenery ranges from dank underground sewers and
boggy brown marshes to sunny, whitened mountain peaks. Snow realistically
crunches underfoot, and aqua-blue ice glimmers both on the mountaintops
and in beautiful underground ice caves. You will cover much ground,
be it over the beiges and greens of lush forests and hills or
the bricks, stones and granites of intricately carved medieval
courtyards and structures. In the midst of your travels, the gorgeous
rippling water effects through clear azure pools and swampy bronze
marshlands will never cease to amaze you.
All in all, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is a fine RPG,
very loosely based upon a simplified Dungeons & Dragons motif.
The game mechanics are easy, leaving you to focus on the puzzles,
the high-adrenaline battles, and the lustful visuals. The story
is straightforward, except for an eye-opening plot twist delivered
via some wild cutscenes after the final battle with the beautiful
Eldrith (who slings her sword in ways that would make Sir Isaac
Newton roll over in his grave, I assure you). The replay value
of this title is somewhat limited unless memory fades, as maps
and enemies do not vary with each new game started. However, playing
through the game several times as each separate character in turn
or replaying with friends in co-op mode may offer enough variance
for some players. The adventuring in the second Act with all of
the jumping could well have been made shorter, but this is the
only gameplay shortcoming besides somewhat simplistic brevity.
Even so, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is a great introduction
to role-playing games for a novice, as its difficulty level and
its inventory and character skill systems are much less overwhelming
than in many other RPGs. It is also a fun, albeit somewhat brief,
romp for an experienced gamer.
Release Date: December 2001
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