2001’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was an underappreciated little game. Built on the Dungeons and Dragons RPG system and connected tenuously to the earlier Baldur’s Gate games, it was a short, self-contained little fantasy adventure that avoided most of the pitfalls of the genre. Hubs and NPCs were few and the vast space between them was filled with some serious dungeon crawling. The gameplay was straightforward hacking and slashing with very little to complicate it. The inane fantasy dialogue was rare and mostly not spoken aloud—and the voice acting wasn’t half bad. It was short enough that you could complete it in a day, and the sense of continuity of gesture that this provided greatly enhanced the game. The plot made continual ill-fated attempts to shock you with twists, but this just added to its charm. It was like a daytime soap meets Tolkien meets Half-Life 2.
The sequel came out in 2004 and became instantly scarce. It is almost impossible to find at used game stores—and has been for nearly a decade now—and even online it has held steady at an exorbitant markup for the past few years. The upshot of this is that I, no doubt like many others in my situation, matured or at least grew significantly older during the time between playing the two games. I know now that Dark Alliance‘s story-telling is nothing to write home about, and that the game’s strengths lie in the overall experience it offers, not its literary quality. So some of the disappointment of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II could be due to the loss of youthful enthusiasm. Read the rest of this entry »