Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: VU Games
Developer: Snowblind Studios
It’s time to delve into the vaults and pick out another buried treasure, kiddies. This time it’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance for the PS2, a diamond in the rough to be sure. I think there was a Baldur’s Gate game for the PC before this one, but that game doesn’t matter at all because chances are slim that it’s as good as its console counterpart.
Dark Alliance sets you in the middle of the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons and Dragons; a town called Baldur’s Gate, to be exact. You show up, get mugged by some goons working for the new Thieves Guild, and are rescued by the city watch, who take you to the Elfsong Tavern to recover. Not exactly a heroic debut for your character(a Human Archer, Dwarven Fighter, or Elven Sorceress), but that’s okay, because pretty soon the fur starts flying – literally – when the barkeep asks you to help clear out the rats in the cellar. An exterminator job sounds lowly, but pretty soon you’ll be lopping off kobold limbs and hacking apart big gelatinous cube things and other fantastic monsters on a quest to save the world from the Dark Alliance of the forces of evil.
The gameplay is solid, featuring hack and slash style combat coupled with the RPG elements that would be expected from a game using the D&D license. There’s a button to attack, jump, use magic, and interact with the environment. You can pick up or leave items at your liesure, not only because they’ll still be there later but also because your character will complain loudly if you try to cram too much stuff into their pack. New weapons and items can be found by looting the corpses of dead foes as well as raiding the weapons stockpiles of the more organized enemies such as the Thieves Guild or the Dark Elves. You can also buy weapons and armour from the various shopkeepers, although you’ll want to keep your trips to their establishments quick, because after a while they’ll get irritating with their incessant banter.
That leads me into the sound. The voice acting in this game is, simply put, amazing. Each character that you meet has their own personality and voice, and, surprisingly enough for a game with this much dialogue, the voices don’t sound like actors reading off of scripts in a studio. I know, I was shocked too. The music isn’t spectacular, but you rarely hear it over the din of battle anyway. What you can hear between bloody clashes adds to the ambience though, so that gets a thumbs up from me.
The level up system makes up for the lack of characters by allowing you to individualize your chosen champion in a number of categories. Aside from the usual characteristic increases, you can also give your character upgrades in the various skill sets available to them. The Dwarven fighter, for example, can gain an ability called Whirlwind which allows him to heft a mighty warhammer and whip it around him in a dervish of destruction, while the Elven Sorceress can learn a magic spell called Buring Hands which allows her to spew flames from her palms to roast her enemies.
I picked up Dark Alliance at the Blockbuster by my house for ten bucks, and I found an amazing game that got me hooked mere moments into it. That alone nets Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance Buried Treasure status.