I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a dungeon crawl and never finished it (let’s not talk about Neverwinter Nights). I always get off to a strong start, meticulously building my character and scouring every inch of the introductory quest for loot. But for some reason, I always reach a point where I’m no longer having fun, and I stop playing. Perhaps I just get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the choices that the virtual world affords me. Maybe the oppressive darkness of the caves and sewers that I creep through compel me to find solace in the real world. Or it might just be that I grow tired of attacking the same types of enemies over and over.
Whatever it is, I was quite proud when I managed to finish Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. I’m fairly certain that it’s the only dungeon crawl that I’ve ever successfully completed… but only after taking a 2 month break before the final dungeon. To tell the truth, I’m not sure why it was this particular game that I finished and not some other classic hack-n-slash title. I’ll be honest: there isn’t anything remarkably unique about Dark Alliance.
The plot of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is built on epic motifs that are fairly predictable. The character that you choose (a human archer, a dwarven fighter, or an elven sorceress) enters the city of Baldur’s Gate only to be immediately beaten and robbed. Don’t worry. You’ll survive, and what begins as your quest for retribution results in the discovery of a greater evil that pits you against a seemingly endless horde of baddies in a linear quest.
Such a reductive description of the game might make you wonder why anyone would play a game that is as generic as Dark Alliance. And while these kinds of games don’t have the mass appeal of a Final Fantasy, it really is fun to explore dungeons and find epic loot. There is treasure to be found in nearly every box or barrel that you smash, but you’ll almost never find the best weapons and armor right away. Keep swinging that sword! Dark Alliance rewards the adventurer who takes the time to seek out every enemy and treasure chest.
One added benefit of taking the time to thoroughly explore every dungeon is that your character does acquire the experience needed to level up. The leveling in Dark Alliance is nowhere near as involved as other hack-n-slash RPGs, but the choice to simplify the complex skill trees that are present in it’s predecessors is not necessarily a bad thing. Dark Alliance is a spin off of one of the most beloved computer RPGs, and streamlining the more complex systems that make CRPGs seem so inscrutable absolutely works in this Dark Alliance‘s favor. That might explain why I enjoyed the game enough to finish it.
In my opinion, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is a beautiful introduction to dungeon crawling for console owners. While Black Isle and Snowblind studios didn’t take any major risks on the formula that Diablo birthed way back in 1996, it would be difficult to find a flaw in the game.