Note: This review was originally posted January 1, 2002
Release Date: 2001
Baldur's Gate.. for anyone who ever has played an RPG, you will know that Baldur's Gate is a huge city on the Sword Coast that is full of adventure. The game originally came out for the PC, and was based on the Dungeon and Dragons rule set. Baldur's Gate 2 for the PC was a role-playing landmark, both in terms of a deep story and offering about 200 hours of Gameplay. Due to the popularity of the series, the company saw fit to release a game for the Playstation 2.
How did it work out? If you believe the press out there, they will tell you it is one of the best RPGs made for the Playstation 2. Well, that is true, but only because there are not that many RPGs out for the PS2. By the same argument, Dark Cloud would be in the top 10.
The main problem with Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is that of identity. Like so many titles before it, the game does not know what it wants to be. It could have been a game based on the D+D ruleset, but any similarity to D+D is only in names of classes and monsters, not to rules or stats. It could have been an adventure game, but the plot got watered down and involved no twists or turns. It could have been an action fest like Diablo 2, but the skill system is too minimalist. The game fails to be a great game on any front, but despite that, it is still kind of fun.
Baldur's Gate plays like Gauntlet, you move your characters through dungeons, clicking your attack button to attack, and another button to use magic or abilities. Although it plays like Gauntlet, it looks about a thousand times better. Reviewers have often talked about the effects of running through water in this game. It is an amazing effect. I could of wrote an entire review on how nice the water effects were, but unfortunately Final Fantasy 10 outdid them, and I will save my enormous water speech for that title. The monsters are extremely well detailed, and the characters are on a paper doll system that nicely display fire and ice weapons when you put them in your hands. Even the characters close up look amazing when you talk to them, just watch the female bartender with her +5 jugs.
The spell system and ability system are dummies down of any D+D rules. There are only about 12 spells to pick from, and most of them are not that impressive. Although the effects are enjoyable, the spells always seemed to be a step behind the monsters. The fighter's abilities were ho hum, mostly translating to hit and damage bonuses. The elf got different types of arrow.
The variety of monsters is the biggest plus in this game. It reminded me of a trip through the original Monster Manual. Frost Giants, Dragons, Beholders, Gelatinous Cubes and Winter Wolves are all here in beautiful detail. Most the monsters follow their abilities perfectly, Winter Wolves breath frost and Frost Giants will hurl rocks. The monsters are well done, with the exception of the boss monsters. At the end of each section of the game, you fight a boss. The first encounter is extremely well done, but after that, they are weak, and I was able to tackle monsters that should of made quick work of me without burning as much as a healing potion.
The game sports some puzzles early on, including a couple lever puzzles and a few jumping puzzles. This gave me a lot of hope for the game, but after Act 1, they were nowhere to be seen again. I was extremely let down by this, while the game initially appeared to have the same quality as the Summoning (anyone remember this game?), it turned into a hack fest before the end.
Multiplayer is great, two players can work side by side completing all the quests. When I say "work side by side", I do not mean it is co-operative. In theory, you are working together and can't hurt each other, but the characters do not split loot. What this meant was while Ryder was tackling the hordes of giants, I was bravely ridding some vile treasure chests of their wealth. By the end of the game, the most fun we had was accumulating items and cashing them in to see who had the most gold.
In the end, the game is a pretty fun fifteen-hour romp through some dungeons. Those looking for depth, either in a stat system or a storyline should look to titles like Final Fantasy 10 or Shadow Hearts. Seriously, I finished Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance about three days ago, and I can't even tell you what the plot was about; it is that forgettable. The game engine is great, it just does not get used to its potential. I would recommend this as a weekend rental with a good friend, but $50 is a high price tag for a game with this little depth.
Final Grade: B-