Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance Updated Preview

A new build of the PS2 Baldur's Gate falls upon us.

Subterranean environments are among the many types you'll encounter.

After spending some time with an updated version of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, we can safely say that it is one of the more exciting console games currently in development. Combining the level of immediate accessibility found in quasi-RPGs like Diablo with the high-flung heroics of the Forgotten Realms milieu, the game looks like it's going to do interesting things to the console-RPG category. As our earlier previews have mentioned, the game bears only an aesthetic resemblance to the PC Baldur's Gate games. In truth, other than the name, the only thing the game shares with its stepcousins is its adherence to the heavily developed setting. It's also more of an action game than its name and heritage would imply, and, to be honest, if it were stripped of its RPG elements, it would probably still flourish.

Do you like umber hulks?

But it does indeed bear some RPG-isms, though they are admittedly light. You'll get to equip weapons and armor, which help determine how much damage you deal out and take. There are also other kinds of magical accessories, which most often bestow certain statistical bonuses upon you. Your stats are determined by the character you choose at the outset, though as the game progresses, you'll be awarded points, which you'll use to boost your character in certain areas ("feats," they're called). All this is a mutated, simplified take on the third edition of the D&D rule set (the "Advanced" prefix was dropped after TSR's acquisition by Wizards of the Coast), which suits the game's focus on hacking and slashing well enough. So, although players expecting something akin to the tabletop game will definitely have another thing coming, they'll likely get into Dark Alliance's frantic minute-to-minute action and appreciate the bombardment of D&D imagery.

Our 2805459last preview did much to brief you all on the game's mechanics and its technical characteristics. This time around, we're going to focus on the actual environments you'll play in and the magical abilities your characters will have access to. Each of the three characters has his or her own specialty. The human ranger-type is very good with the bow and enjoys a number of bow-related feats and spells. The elven sorceress is the most adept spellcaster in the game, giving her a larger mana pool (at which D&D purists will scoff) and easier access to the high-level spells. The dwarf, finally, is the game's "tank," granting him the heartiest frame and the burliest arm--he can dish out and absorb tons of damage.

When you set these three in the game's lush, creature-thick environments, it's a definite recipe for madness. The real-time environments are among the best we've seen on any platform to date, and they're varied, for the most part--we say "for the most part" because of the developer's seeming predilection for arctic environments above all else. Though when you consider that the developer's name is Snowblind Studios, it makes a little bit of sense. Still, there are ruinous swamps, flooded chapels, lonely mine settlements, and decaying temples mixed in with the icy excursions, and the variety is indeed welcome.

Read on to learn more about the environments you'll encounter and the attacks you'll use to clear them of monsters.

Populating these lovely environments are a host of creatures whose visages will definitely warm the hearts of longtime D&D fans. Kobolds, bugbears, ogres, hill and frost giants, gnolls, flinds, and more all await you, ready to tear your hit-point count asunder. They're all marvelously rendered as well, and, if we were so bold as to point it out, we'd say that Tony DiTerlizzi's amazing Monstrous Manual illustrations were at least used as reference material when creating the game's monsters. Said artist arguably did the most for AD&D's look in the late '90s (if not fantasy art as a whole), and Snowblind seems to be on the same wavelength. Rather than being predictably bulky, Snowblinds giants are lanky and fierce, while its kobolds are yapping and tangibly houndish. Other, more spectacular monsters are also present--including beholders, dragons, and more-- though we'll leave it at that to avoid spoiling things with further details.

Many wolves were harmed by this fire shield.

In any event, you'll have a good number of tools to fight these monstrosities with. Foremost is magic, which, to some extent, all characters have access to. On the low end, there are spells like burning hands and magic missile, which, true to their D&D incarnations, increase in power as you do and become quite cost-effective at higher levels. The former causes you to issue forth a flowing stream of fire that deals constant damage to enemies, while the latter allows you to shoot bolts of magical energy at a number of your enemies, the actual count increasing every few levels. Fire shield and snowblind are good mid-level spells--the first traces an arcane sigil on the ground that quickly catches fire, while the second (aside from serving as the developer's ode to itself) behaves much like burning hands, if you swap the elemental subjects. The high-level spells are simply out of hand. There's meteor shower, which summons forth gorgeous polygonal flaming chunks of earth that mercilessly pound the ground and all the enemies populating it. Chain lightning is another good one--it's like burning hands and snowblind, but it spreads from enemy to enemy, greatly increasing its damage potential.

This spell is ridiculously powerful.

Given the effectiveness and variety of the game's spells, it would be easy to assume that the sorceress has the overall advantage. Not so. Both the ranger and the dwarf have abilities that--aside from their inherent statistical specializations--allow them to stand tall as well. Players using the ranger will likely make much use of the "arrow" line of spells: flame arrow, frost arrow, multishot arrow, and the like. Each one costs a bit of mana, as well as an actual piece of ammunition, though, when used, they greatly increase the effectiveness of your bow attack. Multishot arrow, for instance, allows you to simultaneously fire three arrows that take the form of magic missiles. It's a relatively low-level ability, too, making it quite effective once it's available. Finally, aside from his hardy melee abilities, the dwarf has a few of his clan's tricks up his sleeve: a crazy Diablo II-barbarian-style whirlwind attack, a bull rush, and a deadly move called Clangeddin's fist (Clangeddin being the dwarven god of war). That one is especially deadly--executing it causes the dwarf to punch the ground, creating a force distortion that damages all adjacent enemies. Couple this with some formidable hand-to-hand attacks, and you have quite a devastating character.

Clearly, there's a great deal of variety between the characters, from both statistical and aesthetic standpoints. And in a combat-based game, that is certainly important. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is due out this November.

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