Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II Impressions

We got our hands on the final Xbox version of the upcoming hack-and-slash action RPG, and we bring you the specifics.

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Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II
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In the wake of the dissolution of Interplay's popular Black Isle Studios division, the company is still preparing for the release of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II next month. Sequel to the excellent 2001 action RPG, Dark Alliance II features the same exact style of gameplay and a similar look, but it introduces five new playable characters and presents entirely new places to explore and lots of new Dungeons & Dragons-inspired monsters to fight. Our first impression is that, yes, it certainly feels like Dark Alliance. And though the sequel's looks aren't as dramatic today as the original game's were at the time of its release, the hack-and-slash gameplay is still entertaining, and the RPG trappings make it addictive.

Dark Alliance II is a direct sequel to the original, and it begins with a brief introductory cutscene in which the three player characters from the first game--the human arcane archer, the dwarven fighter, and the elven sorceress--are captured by a small army. Now, it seems, the goal will be to rescue these adventurers. However, you will once again begin as a humble first-level adventurer. This time, the selection of characters includes a human barbarian, an elven necromancer, a dark elf monk, a human cleric, and a dwarven rogue. Dark Alliance II is based on the 3rd Edition D&D rules, and as such, each of these characters has certain unique feats and abilities, which may be unlocked by spending points earned as the characters gain experience levels.

The core of the gameplay is still the same. From an isometric perspective, you run around and attack stuff, and you must keep a good supply of healing and magic restoration potions on hand, which can quickly restore your energies when you're running low. The gameplay is action-packed, even from the start. Unlike the original Dark Alliance, this one pretty much cuts right to the action, as you'll be facing goblins, wolves, giant spiders, and other relatively weak creatures, in large numbers, almost right off the bat. Once again, two players may go at it at the same time, though unfortunately that's the limit--nor is there any option to play the game online.

Visually, Dark Alliance II looks similar to the first one, but the predominance of outdoor areas obviously makes it feel less like a dungeon crawl. Nevertheless, the outdoor areas are still very mazelike, and therefore, running around in the environments still feels very much the same as before.

Other than that, we haven't gotten far enough into Dark Alliance II to get to test any of the new character classes' advanced powers. Starting out, they're each effective but pretty similar. Still, they do have some unique traits, such as how the monk can effectively fight unarmed, while the barbarian prefers dual-wielding melee weapons. Another significant change is that ranged weapons require no ammo in Dark Alliance II. You can fire unlimited arrows with a simple bow, for instance, which seems to make these weapons very effective. Dark Alliance II also allows you to view the action from two slightly different zoom levels, one a bit closer up and one a bit farther off. Frequent save points and a convenient automap also make the game relatively easy at first at the default difficulty, though tougher settings are available. The game's interface and the specific mechanics are nearly identical to those of the original.

Though Dark Alliance II hasn't really surprised us so far, we liked the original, so we're liking what we've played so far. Stay tuned for a full review of the game.

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