Genre : RPG
Developer: Black Isle Studios
Release Date: January 20, 2004
Here is a brief test to see if you will be interested in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II. Are you ready? Here we go.
Do you think drow elves are hot?
If no, then be silent, heretic. If so, then you're covered; among the five new characters for Dark Alliance II is a drow elf monk. While you cannot remove her outer layer of clothes to reveal underwear made from string, she is a drow, and an elf. Let the party begin.
I mention this, because it was the major selling point to the friends who helped me test-drive Dark Alliance II, the sequel to the wildly popular dungeon-crawler, and Black Isle Studios' last hurrah. She is a drow; and she is a monk. The combination of two such wildly kickass things sent them into paroxysms of geek joy, culminating in their high-pitched fanboy bleating causing me to throw them off the fire escape.
But never mind that. Dark Alliance II is here, and it's just as shamelessly addictive as the original was. The first thing you see, when you load the new game up, is that the three heroes of the first Dark Alliance were rewarded for their deeds by, well, being trussed up like turkeys and thrown into a dungeon. Whoops.
In their place, five young adventurers approach Baldur's Gate one fine day, having inexplicably chosen to take a long journey with only the clothes on their back. They promptly run into the aftermath of a raid by a band of goblins, and despite their inexperience and complete lack of equipment, agree to rescue several captives. So begins the usual story of life in Baldur's Gate; in the name of adventure, and perhaps saving the entire city, you must go kill stuff over four acts in several multi-level dungeons. It is ostensibly based upon the third edition of the popular and misunderstood Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, but deviates from the rules in some important and understandable ways, such as the lack of the dumbass spell memorization gimmick.
The first thing that has to be said, here, is that this is really just more of the same; to use an analogy that comes to mind because I am hungry as I write this, Dark Alliance II is a second, larger helping of a mighty tasty soup. I'd never played Dark Alliance, but I tried it this morning to help out with this preview, and the two games, on the surface, are almost identical.
Once again, you'll be fighting in a free-rotating, top-down dungeon environment, dispatching hordes of monsters and humanoids with sword and spell, using a cast of customizable characters, each of whom can be leveled up, over time, and gradually shaped in whatever direction you choose: melee combat over ranged, special attacks over simple ones, summon spells over direct damage, and so on. You will be doing this for a very long time, because both games have magical time powers and make hours pass like minutes.
Dark Alliance II even has the same control scheme as the last game, so veterans of the original will be up and running before they know it. When you are deep in the dungeon, up to your neck in dead goblins with more on the way, you will find that the game differs from its predecessor only in the specific manner in which those dead goblins are generated.
You see, the original game was a bit slanted towards hack and slash. Yes, there was Adriana, the elven sorceress, and she was a mighty force for destruction in our times, but the other two characters were straightforward warrior-types. (Don't get me started on Drizzt.)
In Dark Alliance II, you've been given a wider variety of character types. Dorn Redbear, the barbarian, can go into a berserker rage and pummel his opponents with a variety of special attacks; Vhaidra Uoswilr, a drow refugee and the aforementioned monk, is his opposite number, opting for speed over raw power and most dangerous when she's unarmed. Ysuran Auondril, the moon elf necromancer, can summon undead to help him, drain life from his enemies, or attack with spells like Contagion. Allessia Faithhammer is a cleric of Helm, a melee tank and healer who is nonetheless capable of smiting opponents with bolts of holy fire. Finally, and maybe most interestingly, Borador "Goldhand" is a treasure hunter who can sneak around dungeons to avoid enemies or attack from the shadows, Ransack chests and dead monsters to collect some extra gold, and set explosive traps. There's literally something here for almost any play style, as long as one of those play styles isn't "parley with the monsters," because, well, you're playing the wrong damn game, Jimmy Carter. If you want to befriend monsters, there's always Pokemon. The rest of us will be over here making orcs die.
A further addition to the game is the ability to custom-design your own magical weapons. As you dig up equipment from enemies or treasure chests, the quality of its construction will be listed. A Fine long sword, for example, does more damage than a Shoddy long sword would.
More importantly, you can take weapons and armor that are rated Fine or better to the workshop in Baldur's Gate and, by paying insane amounts of gold, have a blacksmith affix magical runestones and gems to them. The runestone grants the weapon a magical "plus," as has been made famous by junior-high school AD&D games across America; the gemstones give equipment abilities above and beyond that, such as extra or improved feats, immunities to certain statuses, the infliction of certain statuses, or boosting your armor rating into the upper stratosphere. In my game, Vhaidra is currently running around Baldur's Gate swinging an Emperor's Staff that, owing to the presence of a chunk of jet and a moonstone on its haft, gives her additional regenerative qualities and an Armor Class that is roughly comparable to that of Jesus. Arrows just kind of bounce off, like a refreshing spring rain, while I happily kill goblins with one hit each.
If you want to kill goblins, and you will kill some goblins (and bandits, and orcs, and wargs, and zombies, and ghouls, and skeletons, and giant spiders, and I think I beat up a tree once, I'm not sure), Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II is scheduled to come out on January 20th. Don't make any long-term plans, either; this is the kind of game that eats entire weekends.
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