Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance
Review of Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance
I thought I was prepared for Baldurs Gate. We have seen snippets of the game here and there and played the game a bit at E3… but holy cow… the completed game is a masterpiece.
Okay…I know I am getting way ahead of myself here, so lets start at the very beginning:
Set in the world of the Forgotten Realms, Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance transports gamers to a small port city on the continent of Faerun. The city was founded by a famous sea captain named Balduran, who erected immense walls around the town to protect his wealth and the people. As would be expected, Thieves Guilds were established and other means to gain entrance into the city were exploited (sewers and ancient crypts became access points). Now though, a new and much more dangerous Guild has come into existence. People are not only being robbed of their possessions, but slaughtered for the sheer pleasure of the kill. To make matters worse, a curse seems to have befallen the town and has darkened the skies, making townsfolk afraid to venture out of their homes.
Enter our hero…or perhaps I should say “heros”; as this offers gamers the choice of three characters to select to begin their quest, each with their own special abilities and attributes. Vahn, the Arcane Archer is from a sect of archers known for their supernatural accuracy with a bow. He also has good use of magical powers. Kromlech, the Dwarven Fighter is the brute of the bunch. His hand-to-hand skills are unmatched but his magical abilities are virtually nil. Finally there is Adrianna, the Elven Sorceress. Being an elf, Adrianna has a full cache of magical abilities at her command. She is definitely most advantageous when used in long distance attacks.
The story starts with our hero being mugged and quite nearly beaten to death while traversing through the streets of the Gate. Luckily the towns Night Watch was in the area and prevented that from happening. The character is told to rest in the Elfsong Tavern, which will become your “weigh station” throughout the game as you return there to purchase or sell items and get quests from the many people that are visiting.
Gamers begin the game with the sole purpose of getting their stolen cash and items back, but end up being recruited into a secret guild and accepting (or denying) a crapload of sub-quests throughout the game.
Baulders Gate is viewed from a 3-quarter top down perspective and plays out very much like the Diablo series with some Gauntlet thrown in for good measure. The title is very much “Hack & Slash” oriented, which I considered to be a very good thing. Experience points are accumulated as you kill enemies and complete tasks. Each time you “level up” points are awarded and can be added to give your character many new attributes that are magical or physical. Gamers will also notice that there is a limit to how much weight can be carried. This is important to keep track of because it really sucks when you kill a creature and it drops a valuable item or kick-ass weapon and you have to end up discarding something else in order to be able to pick it up. Luckily you can move to and from the Elfsong Tavern and other stations with the use of Recall potions so that items and weapons can be sold and extra weight can be eliminated from your inventory.
The game is played out in chapters with the first taking place in the dark, dank underbelly of the city. While you traverse the crypts and sewers there will be countless enemies that will need to be dispatched including a gruesome end boss. The difficulty of the enemies and the game in general ramps up quite nicely. I would say the first few levels gave me the chance to try my chops and get used to the games mechanics. As things got more difficult, I was always able to compensate with better weapons and spells and I never felt overwhelmed. Instead I found I thoroughly enjoyed the game the further I got into it…always anticipating what lied around each dark corridor.
Game control is right on the money with the left thumbstick being used to movement, the right one for camera control. Other commands are block, hit/slash, use magic and jump. Spells can be scrolled from the d-pad and weapons can be changed from here as well (one primary and one secondary). At it’s core, BD is basically a hack and slash adventure title with your character mowing down enemy after enemy. What keeps things fresh are the quests that you receive and choose to accept and the huge variety of creatures that you will face. It also helps that the environments are widely varied and completely engaging.
There is also a two-player cooperative mode where you and a friend can enter the Gate and team up on your adventure. This certainly added some replay to the game (in addition to being able to go back and play through with the other two characters) and helped in getting through some on the more difficult levels when the game is set on hard. What would have been perfect though is if this game had an on-line option. I wish Sony would get their online plans in gear already because a game like this would have scored perfectly with it.
As if the first chapter wasn’t impressive enough, gameplay really opened up (quite literally) from the second chapter on, where you will venture outside the confines of the town and visit other lands in the continent of Faerun. The game is quite enormous in scope and absolutely grand in its presentation.
Luckily the graphics engine used in Baulders Gate is up to the task of visually transmitting the world. Let me start by saying that I have seen a lot of visually impressive games in my time, but Baulders Gate is easily in the top 5. The first thing that will hit you is just how crisp and clean the display is…I mean it is practically PC monitor level crisp. It boggles my mind how other developers have moaned and groaned over the difficulty of programming the PS2 and then along comes a PC developer called Snow Blind that appears to have total mastery over the little black box. I can honestly say that at first it was just not registering how beautiful this game was.
Having played my fair share of games from 3-quarter perspective, it took a few minutes for me to begin to appreciate the level of animation and the care put into the minutest of details. The light sourcing for instance is friggin’ awesome with real time lighting effects and shadowing. Ah, the game is also bump-mapped with incredible floor reflections and ambient lighting. The list goes on…The water effects are brilliant. When you come across the many area that contain water, by all means take a stroll through it. The geometry used to create the rippling effects is simply mind-boggling. I intentionally changed my path time and again through the water just to see if the ripples and wakes followed accurately and sure enough they did. The water also appears to have some real substance to it and comes off looking a bit like mercury in its action (not coloring).
I also loved the fact that every enemy that you chop to pieces is left on the screen instead of disappearing seconds after they are killed. I loved walking back through some of the areas that I had already been through and admiring the absolute carnage that I had left behind. The frame rate is also quite extraordinary. Regardless of the amount of on-screen detail or enemies, the frame rate never dips or varies…it is rock solid at 60fps.
If I really had to nit-pick about the graphics in the game I would only be able to point out that there is the slightest problem with collision detection between the character and non-animated objects. I noticed for instance that I could be standing on top of a barrel and if I moved slowly enough, I could barely move off the barrel and yet still be floating in the air as if I was still standing on it. This is so insubstantial though that I feel bad even mentioning it. The graphics in Baulders Gate are truly incredible and as you progress through the game they just continue to get better and better.
The sound effects, voice acting and musical score are also spectacular.
The voice acting is fabulous. Inflictions, body and lip movement are totally in sync with the marvelous speech that line up so well with the characters that you will think a casting agent was hired and actors were hand picked to play these roles. It is that good.
The sound effects are equally impressive with great slicing sounds from the weapons as they drop onto the enemy and nice disgusting “squishy” sounds when contact is made. There is also a ton of ambient sounds throughout the game with howls and creature noises coming from the distance or water dripping off of the walls in the sewers, etc.
Musically, the score in BD is totally appropriate with grand gothic themes and soaring musically lines that add to the intensity and enjoyment of the game.
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Tom Rooney © Absolute PlayStation
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