There’s nothing quite like a shadow drop is there? The excitement of a sudden announcement or surprise game release is always sky high, even if (or should that be especially if?) the game in question is twenty years old. So here we are, with the surprise remaster of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on modern consoles for our adventuring pleasure.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance begins much alike an average Dungeons and Dragons game with your dumb character walking around the city of Baldur’s Gate at night and being violently mugged. You then go on a murderous rampage to take out those that mugged you and were foolish enough to not kill you at the time. The tale then unfolds in typical D&D fashion as you travel the world and follow the normal satisfying trajectory of transforming from a mewling nobody to a practical slayer of gods.
You begin with creating your player character, with a Human Archer, Dwarven Fighter, and Elven Sorceress up for grabs, each of which comes with their own strengths and weaknesses. Then you jump into the world of the Forgotten Realms and begin levelling up, completing quests, finding new gear and running through a variety of different environments killing everything in your path.
The action here plays out in an action RPG manner, with different characters and weapons resulting in distinctly different play styles, alongside your usual block, attack, and magic buttons. In other words, you run through doors and kill everything in that room, open chests and smash crates to steal everything, then move onto the next. It’s satisfyingly straightforward.
Dark Alliance plays to its D&D strengths. The player chooses where to place points into their stats, earning spells like Magic Missile and Fireball (if you’re the sorceress), dispatching classic enemies and powerful bosses straight out of the Monster Manual, and … travelling with friends with 2 player co-op. This allows you to bring along a friend for the ride, with all the added fun of tackling an increased challenge and the biggest obstacle to progress: trying to distribute the loot fairly.
To be honest though, this port is a bit of a mess. During our time with the game on Xbox, we experienced the joy of the game constantly crashing and booting us out, including one occasion during the final cut scene forcing us to fight the final boss again to finish the game. Also, there were severe frame rate issues throughout with Dark Alliance slowing to about the speed of an average PowerPoint presentation, even during points of minimal action. It’s been quite some time since we last played the original on the PS2 but we don’t remember such considerable dips in performance.
Finally on the gameplay, we have to acknowledge the Beholder in the room. It is utterly baffling that this game has been remastered for modern consoles without online play when it has such an excellent 2 player co-op mode. Although having the game back in its original form is great, online multiplayer is one of the things that could have been improved in this version. It’s a missed opportunity.
For a game that is essentially simply an upscaled PS2 title, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance has aged pretty well. Aside from occasional graphical mishaps, including the right breast of the Elfsong Tavern’s barmaid continually clipping through her top as she talks, the game still looks pretty good. The isometric viewpoint really lends itself to the classic D&D action RPG feel of the title, and the monster design throughout is great, even if their animations now look more than a little clunky.
The sound design is decidedly mixed bag. The effects used in battle are satisfyingly chunky, if a little generic, and the music is still great after twenty years. On the other hand, the voice overs throughout are so early 2000s it’s almost painful to hear, making them unintentionally amusing. Unfortunately we occasionally lost all sound effects entirely, and we can tell you it’s very off-putting walking around a dungeon with music and no other sounds.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance had so much potential with a re-release, and we were excited to revisit it. Unfortunately, little-to-none of this potential was realised. The relatively high price point ($30/£30/€30) for a practically unchanged PS2 title would put off many, especially when the upcoming successor Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance will be just a few quid more, but that’s before considering the technical issues with this remaster. We just hope for much better with the rumoured remaster of the sequel and that spiritual sequel as well.