Grab a friend and revisit a classic action RPG.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was a hit back when it was released in 2001. The formula was simple: explore dungeons, kill enemies, pick up loot, go back to town to sell it. Do all this over and over, preferably with a friend. While it didn’t break new ground, for console players who could not turn to Diablo, it filled a niche.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 came out three years later giving players more of the same dungeon-crawling experience. And now both titles have been ported mostly untouched to the Nintendo Switch, a console with an already sizable offering in that genre, including a couple of Diablo titles. So is Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II worth getting today?
This release on the Switch is essentially the game as it was in 2004, displayed at a higher resolution. As soon as the intro CG cutscene plays in all its artifacted glory, something becomes obvious: this game is old! It comes from the era right before game studios started to use motion capture more consistently for animating humanoid characters. Puppet-like movements in important cutscenes or the playable Dark Elf’s weird bow legged stance are not without their charms if you’re old like me and grew up playing these games.
The animations are far from the only anachronistic element in this game. Details like harmless rats being crushed into a bloody pulp when you happen to walk over them come across as tryhard juvenile edginess today, to me. But back then, gratuitous gore was instead a sign that video games were aiming for a maturing audience, compared to the colorful family-friendly games that dominated the market before. Now we’ve come full circle: as I was fighting dogs giving out realistic yelps when hit, I couldn’t help but think that today’s games are more likely to give you a cute dog as a mount or as a pet that fights alongside you.
It is remarkable how much fun the game still is 20 years later, despite being barely updated at all. I had experience with Dark Alliance before, my partner did not, and we both could not get enough of slaying monsters, leveling up, and investing points into the skills that we thought would make us even more effective monster-slaying machines. The basics of the game were always solid and remain so.
This is not to say there is no room for improvement. Before the game even starts, the game has you select a predetermined character race and class blindly. No explanation what this character’s deal is. While it’s pretty easy to figure out what weapons you will be using throughout the game as a Barbarian, you can’t quite intuit what the Dark Elf will be like. She starts out equipped with a bow. Great! You spend the next 8 hours building her up as a ranged character, until a random loading screen tip reveals that she is most skilled in unarmed combat. Presumably this information was in the original release’s manual, which you don’t have here. Adding the information into the game itself seems like a basic and obvious Quality of Life improvement.
There are a lot of nitpicks one could bring up for things that ultimately don’t kill the fun of the game. But the most impactful omission is definitely the lack of online play. Just like in old beat’em-ups, the simple and repetitive gameplay works best when you’re playing with someone. Solo, the interest is limited. Not adding co-op to this release means most people cannot experience it the optimal way: with a friend.
Ultimately, if you and a partner have played the more modern co-op action RPGs already and are looking for your next fix, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 holds up where it matters. The gameplay is fun, and the both of you might find its outmoded aspects charming. But if you don’t have a buddy (or spouse, child, etc.) close by to pick up a sword and slay goblins with you, the appeal is much more limited.