Few genres age well. Usually, the gameplay becomes dated; the graphics look horrific, and playing them quickly becomes a big mistake. RPGs, however, are timeless. The well-written stories, the memorable heroes, and the glorious quests are all worth another look. I don’t mind returning to an original game, even on a modern console, but when a remake is released, I jump at the opportunity to give it a go. This is exactly what happened when I saw Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. This re-release has stuck to the original mechanics, settings, and story, but has a 4K makeover for 2021.
Developed by Black Isle Studios and published by Interplay Entertainment, this is a classic D&D RPG with a Hack ‘n’ Slash twist, that is viewed from a tabletop perspective. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is a great example of an RPG adventure title keeping things simple, allowing the action and the story to do all the talking. I remember when this was first released, I loved it then, and couldn’t wait to see how it would compare all these years later.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance shows its age.
I will not sit here and say that this is a masterpiece. Yes, in its day, it was well-received, was afforded plaudits from the gaming community, and was much-loved by its fanbase. Yet sadly, its whole premise is dated, the simple approach doesn’t push you enough, and recent RPGs have a lot more depth to them. This being said, I still adored my time with it, and once I got started, I couldn’t stop playing.
Originally released in 2001 for the PlayStation, Xbox and GameCube, this RPG adventure Hack ‘n’ Slash title was set in the Forgotten Realms campaign under 3rd Edition Dungeon and Dragons Rules. It was the first console release in a long line of Baldur’s Gate games, having been PC exclusive. It had a basic but well-written plot that finished on a cliffhanger ending, allowing the developers the freedom to create the much-anticipated sequel.
Using a linear quest line your hero must move through four acts of this fabled tale. You begin your adventure in the medieval town of Baldur’s Gate. From here, you will travel across the world to different locations. You are offered the opportunity to complete side quests for extra gold and items. These are free-flowing with the only restriction that they must be completed before each act ends. The plot tells of dark powers, friendships, love, loss, and treachery. It is not the most complex of affairs, but it keeps you hooked from beginning to end, and the twists and turns keep you thinking throughout.
Three heroes with their own style.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance allows for a few player-based choices. The main one is which of the three classes you wish to use for your journey. Archer, Sorcerer, or Dwarf. Each has unique skills, pre-set strengths, and methods of attack. You must select the one that best matches your gameplay style and try to make them as strong as possible. Like with most RPGs, earning XP and levelling up is a must if you wish to tackle the more powerful creatures. You can unlock traits that will help you en route, and at set intervals, you can choose to increase your attributes. The limited customisation helped to keep the gameplay balanced, but felt too restrictive and won’t be to everyone’s liking.
This short game attempts to increase its longevity with a range of difficulty modes. Four are available; Easy, Normal, Hard, and Extreme. There is also a mode known as “The Gauntlet” which only becomes available once the game is finished. The Extreme difficulty is accessed through a New Game Plus option and allows you to select an additional adventurer for the main story. Even with the extra settings, the gameplay doesn’t change, making the action feel repetitive in places.
Weapon choices and healing potions.
The Hack ‘n’ Slash element will not be to everyone’s liking. During the easy difficulty, you simply slash away, mowing down enemies and looting their remains. How you wish to take them down is up to you, and an array of close quarters and long-distance weapons are at your disposal. Depending on who you have chosen, you will use magic to help eliminate your foes. The battles can overwhelm you, and a poor approach can leave you fearing for your life. Oddly, using your shield was a pointless affair. It takes so long to swap between shield and weapon that you may block the first attack, but further blows are impossible to avoid.
This is where plenty of healing potions come in handy. Get battered by each enemy, swig from a flask, and carry on. The lack of tactical nuance lends itself to the Hack ‘n’ Slash model but leaves you feeling unfulfilled. This was further emphasised with poor accuracy and enemies that flee as you approach. You’ll quickly discover that you lose more health through terrible accuracy than an inability to fight. You’ll also chase foes around a dungeon-like something out of a Benny Hill sketch. Yes, it was amusing, but it was also frustrating as you and the computer enemy ran around like headless chickens.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance’s 4K upgrade doesn’t polish out the dated presentation.
Whenever we hear the phrase 4K upgrade, we instantly expect a modern aesthetic. Sadly, this isn’t always the way. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance certainly has a crisper more polished look, but it can’t escape its dated approach. Poor lip-syncing, robotic animations, and NPC’s that spin in circles all return to the fore. Yet, I still loved its look. The tabletop perspective makes crawling each dungeon a wonderful experience. The dank colour palette adds a sense of oppression and doom, and the character models have a classic D&D appeal. Your enemies are varied and walk around unpredictably. Sure, it isn’t the modern spectacle I was hoping for, but it brings the old game back to life and makes it appealing for new gamers and fans alike.
The glorious thing about older RPGs was the ability to build suspense and atmosphere with little music. The silence is deafening, and only the wonderful acting and sound effects can be heard throughout. The cutscenes and narration help to tell and push the story on at a nice pace. Though the acting was a little wooden, the variety of characters you meet overcomes this slight negative. What I loved, however, was the sound of the eerie wind blowing, the screams of monsters, and the OTT noises that came from your magic and swords. This is what old-school RPGs are about, and though it may be lost on the new generation of players, veterans will adore what is presented.
The controls are still clunky!
When it was first released, I remember thinking that the controls weren’t as responsive as I’d have hoped for. There was always a feeling that it would be better with a Mouse and Keyboard. Unfortunately, time hasn’t changed these thoughts, as the remake is still as clunky as the original. Hitboxes can be a little off, and this impacts each fight. Yet these drawbacks won’t stop you from having a great time! The fundamentals are easy to learn, with a clean-cut UI, a simple inventory system, and an uncomplicated button layout. This is one game that you’ll master in no time.
The main positive is its four difficulty settings, and these truly add longevity to the gameplay. But this is also its major negative. The gameplay feels repetitive as you simply repeat the same story with no differences. Yes, the increase in the challenge makes you approach each act differently, but there are no surprises along the way. The achievement list also adds replay value, but will only interest completionists, or fanatics. If you wish to get 100% status, you must be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and try to complete it on Extreme! Best of luck with that.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is a blast from the past.
With so many games concentrating on making non-linear open-world experiences, it was refreshing to be reined in by this old-school classic. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance may be restrictive in its approach, but I loved how it pushed me along. With many short quests to undertake, a constant sense of achievement, and a modern polish, the developers have done a wonderful job in updating this much-loved title. I enjoyed my blast from the past and recommend you buy it here! It’s time to choose your hero, enter Baldur’s Gate, and save the world.