I'll admit it. At first play, I was completely entranced by Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance
. It's everything that Diablo II
wasn't--gorgeous, fast-paced, and with a huge variety of environments to keep you interested. But as I got further and further into the game, I realized that it descended to the same sort of 'mouse click' syndrome that the aforementioned game had, with just a few twists on the gameplay. After beating it, I realized that it was merely a good game, one that can serve as a nice appetizer to the meatier courses of more serious RPGs. The addition of a Cooperative mode makes for an even more satisfying experience, if you have a friend to play with, but in the end that's really all that will have you pulling the game back out.
Unlike most action-RPGs, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance actually has a fairly solid plot. The quests that you do are occasionally arbitrary, but just as often you're doing something to further your own goals, rather than those of the people around you. It's a nice change of pace, and while the plot certainly won't win any awards for originality--the game's title just about gives it away, after all--there's at least one good twist to the game that will have you waiting for the inevitable sequel.
You can choose to be one of three characters--the Elven Sorceress, the Human Archer, and the Dwarven Fighter. Each has their strengths and weaknesses; the elf casts mighty damaging spells with ease, but has more trouble with hand-to-hand combat; the archer can toss spells out as well, but is best with the bow and arrow; the fighter is all about mixing it up with the big weapons and causing serious melee damage.
Unfortunately, by the end of the game you may have found some decidedly cheap ways to get around the game's AI. I blazed through the last half of the game with my Elven Sorceress by using a particular spell almost exclusively. The melee combat engine is actually a little more intelligent than its brethren, because you have to block the enemies attacks with a well-timed press of a button; this is actually necessary with some of the magic-resistant foes, and it makes for a more harrowing combat experience.
Along the way, you'll be picking up vast amounts of money, tons of weapons and armour, and gaining the requisite levels. You put points in 'feats', which may be spells or skills, and occasionally you even get a stat point to boost. Your inventory is limited by weight, although you can carry any amount of money (which is a little disconcerting), so careful item management is sometimes a must. There are almost always new and badder weapons to use, making for a sense of 'growth' with equipment.
The game spans three different chapters, each with a number of unique and gorgeously-rendered settings. Unfortunately, the variety of enemies is lower than I would have liked, and the coolest enemy in the game (a beast of, ah, displacing personage) appears not nearly often enough for my tastes.
You can play the game solo, but you can also play it with two folks at once, making for an enjoyable game experience. Unfortunately, the game compensates by making the enemies twice as strong, which makes for frustrating fights. What's nice is that you can import characters from other games, so you can bring your butt-kicking sorceress from another game in to help your friend that's just starting out. You can't trade money back and forth, though, which seems a little silly, since the best way to play two-player is to let the character with the most Charisma pick up all of the cash and buy everything since their prices are lower.
Add in some nice secrets when you complete the game and you have a fairly complete game experience.