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Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance Review
game: Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance
three star
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: Interplay
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Nov 24th, 2002
last revision: 04:55 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

Baldur\'s Gate ? the name rings in the ears of every PC RPG aficionado, and sounds vaguely familiar to console RPG fans. It is one of the most well-known and beloved franchises on the PC, and revered for its beautiful graphics, engrossing gameplay, adherence to D&D rules, and, most importantly, its epic scope. Let me reiterate that ? Baldur\'s Gate (on the PC) is a very, very long game that you will play for weeks and weeks. Baldur\'s Gate: Dark Alliance brings the action to console systems, starting a year ago with the PlayStation 2 version. Now we see the release of the Xbox port, identical to the PS2 port except for the acid green packaging, and all the bitterness that I felt last fall has come back to me. The problem is that Baldur\'s Gate: Dark Alliance is a very good game, one that you would like to play for weeks and weeks, but it is also an inexcusably short game, and the fact that Snow Blind Studios and Interplay failed to respond to our criticisms last year only compounds my disappointment.

Before we launch into the diatribe about what is wrong with the game (and that really only takes a minute), let\'s discuss what is right. Baldur\'s Gate: Dark Alliance transfers the fun and action RPG good times of its PC predecessors to the consoles. Controls have been customized for console controllers and some other small interface changes have been made, and these efforts pay off in spades. The graphics come through brilliantly, looking wonderful (and easily as good as the Infinity engine of PC days) on the PS2 and Xbox. The isometric perspective gives a clear view of the action, and the programming seems impeccable ? everything responds in the right way and there are no glitches or oddities.

BG:DA is the first game to bring Third Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules to the consoles, which is welcome. The system allows for an engrossing, intricate, and textured method of developing your characters. You can only play three different characters, so the breadth of this Third Edition implementation is fairly stifled, but these characters get the job done. You may choose the dwarf fighter, the elven archer, or the sexy magestress. Each of these characters have utterly predictable abilities and drawbacks, and each of them play the game fairly differently. And there are special characters, but we won\'t mention those.

Fortunately for BG:DA, the folks at Snow Blind had the insight to include a cooperative multiplayer mode, making this game more than a bit unique (although significantly less unique on the Xbox since the release of Hunter: The Reckoning). But this multiplayer allows you and a friend to make use of two of the three characters to maximize your butt-kicking capabilities. And what a good time playing the co-op mode is ? if there\'s something we\'ve all learned in the past few years of console evolution, it\'s that co-op modes rule. Working together is more fun in many situations than blowing each other up.

The story of BG:DA is not much. It all starts out with you hunting down the corrupt thieves\' guild (no, I mean, more corrupt than your ordinary thieves\' guild), which leads you in an adventure through the sewers and grimy underbelly of Baldur\'s Gate, but soon you\'ll find yourself fighting your way through snowy wastelands and swamps until you eventually save the world from impending doom. Along the way you\'ll meet busty barmaids, dastardly minions, doublecrossing lizard men, and more standard fantasy RPG fare than you can shake your +2 mace at. The whole thing is terribly stereotypical.

But the conventional fare doesn\'t much matter because gameplay is so much fun. You control your character in standard form, and the good idea that BG:DA makes use of is to allow you to easily shuttle through your spells and items for quick use on the fly. This is an action RPG, which means you don\'t have days and days to decide what spell you will use and where. The fast pace, intuitive and simple controls, and good level design keep you moving right through the game. That is, until it is over.

BG:DA will be beaten in 12 hours on the first play through. Last year, after three (only three!) major chapters, I was furious to reach the ending. My character was loaded down with good stuff to trade for even better stuff, I was just getting into it with my good buddy, Jeff, and it\'s all over. I seized the opportunity to ask a Snow Blind representative at E3 2002 what happened, and he said they were under the impression the game was a lot longer because it took their beta testers much longer to beat it ? and then he acknowledged that they were logging bugs at the same time as testing it. Of course it took them longer!

In BG:DA\'s defense, there are a couple of things that extend the gameplay a bit, but no more than an additional 5 or 7 hours. You can play through the entire game over again, this time with harder monsters. It\'s fun and all, and it\'s definitely tougher, but it\'s just a rehash of the same game, same story, same dungeons ? it\'s not a new experience and it\'s a barely satisfying repeat of the first time through. There is also a gauntlet run where you can play the infamous secret character in a truly challenging timed dungeon crawl. So that\'s good. But in the end, if you spend more than 20 hours playing BG:DA, you\'re beating a dead horse.

Perhaps the most despicable aspect of BG:DA on the Xbox is that nobody took the time to improve the game. What is here is a work of art, a masterpiece of multiplayer and action RPG gaming, and could easily have been one of the biggest games of the year. As it is, BG:DA will be relegated to a niche market of the folks who have already played Morrowind and Hunter on the Xbox and need another RPG fix. What has already been created in BG:DA could be extended to double the length of the game ? it\'s all so short you don\'t even have time to be bored with it. It feels like the rug is pulled out from under you when you hit the ending, and the hints at a sequel just rub salt in the wound. Snow Blind should have made amends in the Xbox version, and had they done so they would have been able to easily achieve the status of a great RPG on a console that has too few RPGs. However, as it is, BG:DA doesn\'t come close to dethroning Morrowind as the king of Xbox RPGs, and I can only caution you again to rent this before you buy it ? you\'ll beat it three times in a weekend.