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Review by: Michael Rack
Published: December 3, 2002
Pre-dating the existence of video game consoles lies the godfather of gaming, Dungeons & Dragons. Not only has D&D survived accusations of promoting devil-worship and violence, but also many revisions to its rules-set, change of ownership, and several transitions to the electronic world. The legendary Gold Box series for the PC pleased fans throughout the world with titles like Curse of the Azure Bonds and Champions of Krynn. Recent attempts have been made to breathe 3D life into the PC D&D universe in the form of Pool of Radiance 2 and Neverwinter Nights; D&D has even penetrated arcades with the lesser known releases of Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance for the Xbox strives to realize a next-generation console iteration of the classic RPG experience, but what type of fans will this title attract?
The story begins with your character’s arrival in Baldur’s Gate. You’re quickly made aware of where you stand in the city, as you are knocked out by thieves within seconds of passing through the city gates. Fortunately, the city guards scare the offenders off before they have a chance to slit your throat, but not before your pockets have been pilfered. After a brief dialog with the night watchmen, you’re led to the Elfsong tavern, where you can gain some insight as to who might have assaulted you and what you might do to make life unpleasant for them. The first person you meet there is Alyth, a barmaid. She speculates that it was members of a new thieves guild who attacked you, but warns you away from confronting them. When you question further, she suggests you try searching the sewers, as the thieves may be using them to travel around town unnoticed. Alyth then proposes a trade that may benefit both you and her: If you promise to clear her basement of a rodent problem, she will give you a key to the basement which leads to the sewers, and hopefully the thieves. After speaking with the rest of the tavern patrons, you’re on your way to save the city from ruin.
The gameplay is best described as a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl. There are both outdoor and indoor environments, but the difference is only in appearance, as both feature distinct paths.
The third edition rules are only vaguely represented in this game, which isn’t surprising considering its realtime nature. One feature similar to third edition rules, is that players gain levels by defeating enemies, and are awarded with an increase in their maximum health and magic points, as well as a few skill points to spend on gaining additional abilities. Each talent has a scaled cost based on its effectiveness, so the more powerful effects will require you to attain high levels and save up points. The skill list available varies with each character, but is essentially a combination of third edition skills, feats, and even spells. Some skills are constantly in effect, while others must be enabled. Every time you use a skill, it costs you magic points, which replenish over time or through the use of mana potions.
Dark Alliance presents three characters initially, each offering their own style of play: The mighty Dwarven Fighter has the strength and constitution to dominate hand-to-hand combat, but lacks any magical skills. His skill list is primarily involved with melee weapons like the ability to block with a two-handed weapon, and a few special attacks like Bull Rush, which causes the Dwarf to charge an opponent with a powerful attack. The Human Archer is a solid middle ground character, with average melee and magical attacks. His specialty is of course the bow, as his skill list includes many missile-weapon enhancing skills such as enchanting arrows or firing multiple missiles at once. The Elven Sorceress is primarily focused on magical attacks. Her spell list is extremely short when compared to that of third edition rules, but is more than sufficient. Available spells include burning hands, meteor swarm, and Mordenkainen’s sword.
Whoever your chosen hero is, some melee combat should be expected, as hordes of undead or fleet-footed foes will often close in upon you quickly. Fortunately, the Sorceress and Archer aren’t left too vulnerable in these situations, as they can both swing swords or hide behind heavy shields.
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