In honor of the release of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, it is Dungeons & Dragons week here at Diehard GameFAN. As part of this week, we will be opening up the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame to five nominees – all video games based on Dungeons & Dragons in some way. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted – or thrown – into their respective Hall.
Game: Dungeons & Dragons: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2
Developer: Black Isle Studios
Release Date: 01/20/2004
Systems Released On: Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft Xbox
Genre: Action RPG
Dark Alliance 2 is a big deal around this site. It won our 2004 RPG of the year award and it’s considered by many of the staff here and on other sites around the internet to be the best action RPG for that console generation. I know long time staffers like Alex Williams, Bebito and Chuck Platt were ravenous for this game, as is current IP Wrestling/Comic Nexus writer Pulse Glazer. I too count myself amongst the rabid faithful who dully worship this game. It was Black Isle Studios’ last title and while not their best, it’s hard to think of an action RPG from that era that even comes close to DA2, much less surpassing it.
For those that haven’t played the game, you’re probably wondering why we skipped the first Dark Alliance game, made by Snowblind studios (makers of the upcoming: Lord of the Rings: War in the North). Well, it’s simply because the first Dark Alliance isn’t as good. It’s a really fun game, but at the end of the day it’s a very linear hack and slash that offers two player co-operative play. It wasn’t very revolutionary and the story dragged on a bit. Dark Alliance 2 however did so much more.
First up, the awesome and yet odd characters. Moon Elf Necromancer? A steampunk-esque dwarven thief? Drow MONK? The only real standard characters were the human barbarian and the human cleric, and even the former hadn’t really appeared in a D&D video game as a playable class except for Ruins of Myth Drannor which kind of stunk. These playable classes were simply incredibly imaginative and they weren’t thrown together for weirdness’ sake either. This was Black Isle after all. Each playable character had their own unique story to tell. Each character also had their own set of side quests specific to them which helped to flesh out the game and your particular protagonist.
You could also completely customize each character in literally hundreds of ways thanks to stat bonuses and skill points. For example, my Eleven Necromancer actually became a brawler instead of a distance attacker and he DOMINATED. Hell, he was even able to wear full armour. These were all things you couldn’t do in RPGs before this. A physical attack based mage wearing armour? It just broke all conventions.
The gameplay was fantastic and you could really tell Black Isle made this for a console instead of a PC. Couple that with the fantastic story, branching quests paths, the ability to create and design your own equipment, an attempt to keep the game from feeling linear and some pretty impressive boss fights and you had one amazing game from beginning to end. About the only down side was the cliffhanger ending promising Dark Alliance 3 and an old school Ravenloft-esque Mummy Lord as the next big bad. Unfortunately we all know what happened to Interplay and the game was never made. Of course, much of Black Isle remains as Obsidian Entertainment, so it would be nice to see Atari (who currently has the D&D license) hire them (or Snowblind) to finish the trilogy off. Both Wizards of the Coast AND Atari are reading this, so make it happen already! Hell, some of the profits could even go to poor old Interplay so they can finish the Fallout MMORPG.
I could go on and on about what was so great about Dark Alliance 2, but to get into the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame, you need far more than a single person recommending it. Let’s see how the voting went down.
All in Favor:
Will Nobilis: This game is one of two that I cite as the reason my first marriage lasted ten years. While I still debate if this is a good thing or not, the game itself was fun, engrossing, and something that I could get into easily at the end of a long day. The basic gameplay was simple to learn and master, but trying to get the best combination of weapon effects and feats for each class took some time and lent some replayablitiy. For me, the main draw for why this game was played excessively was to get powerful enough to obtain the Easter Egg characters. Fortunately, the game was challenging and fun enough to make that task more than worthwhile. Minor gripe about the Easter Egg characters though – there is NO WAY either of them would be knocked over the head and have their stuff stolen.
Robert Capra: Couch co-op is a rare gem on its own, but none shine as brightly as Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2. This game really set the standard for me in terms of two-player RPG hack-n-slash. The storyline, setting, variety, and especially the ability to make magic items, keep it set out from the rest of the pack. Imitated, but never duplicated, I still throw this in the Playstation 2 from time to time just to have some quality family time with my wife while killing things.
Chuck Platt: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 is, short of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the best game of its generation. The visceral thrill of killing wave after bloody wave of enemies with my exploding crossbow still hasn’t been touched by recent games. Sure, the plot was unimportant and the characterizations were cake frosting, but the play of it was what mattered. There have been other Diablo-style RPGs on the consoles, but none made me stay up until dawn the way BG:DA2 did. This game is worth buying a PS2 for, even now.
B.J. Brown: Even today, this game and its prequel stands out as one of the more memorable and fun experiences during the Xbox/PS2 generation. I was surprised that more games like it in other generic themes (Champions of Norrath) weren’t published.
In a way, I saw these games as the perfect marriage between Bioware’s PC version of Baldur’s Gate and the old school classic Gauntlet. It’s a great dungeon crawl that looked to be a D&D version of Diablo. While the loot system was nowhere near as deep, the action and gameplay still managed to pull you in.
Probably the biggest reason for its popularity amongst the faithful was the ability to play as Drizzt Do’Urden as well as his enemy Artemis Entreri. Both of these characters are legendary characters in the Forgotten Realm‘s novels written by R.A. Salvatore. Though I never finished this one, the storyline seemed to be a bit stronger than the first one. Love and miss this game!
Alexander Lucard: Much like how Eye of the Beholder made me love in love with 2nd Edition AD&D, Dark Alliance 2 was the game that showed me how fantastic 3rd Edition D&D could be if done right. It’s rare that it is ever hard for me to put a controller down, but Dark Alliance 2 had me playing all night sessions when I first picked it up. I just couldn’t stop. I played as the Elf Necromancer. Then I played as the Drow Monk. Then I played as the Dwarven Rogue. Then I played as Drizzt and finally as Artemis. That’s five times I’ve beaten this game since it has come out and the only reason I haven’t gone back for more is because I have so many other games to play. Still, I constantly have a yearning to play this every time I look at my video game cabinet.
It’s hard to think of anything that wasn’t fantastic about this game. It was an amazing hack and slash from beginning to end and it has an incredible story to boot. I was giddy from voice actors that included Michael Bell (Duke from G.I. Joe), the two player co-op, the fact the game was inviting to newcomers and D&D zealots alike. Most of all I loved that we finally had a Black Isle D&D RPG on a console. Even seven+ years out, it’s hard to think of a hack and slash that has been released that is as amazing as this one.
Although, unlike everyone else that has commented, I picked this up for the Xbox instead of the PS2. What can I say – one had a hard drive and the other had memory cards. The PSX era taught me to trust the former over the latter.
Ashe Collins: While I enjoyed both Dark Alliance games on the PS2, I thought they were a bit of a step too far away from the other D&D titles I enjoyed. They were great games, but I think the lack of certain D&D staples from much older games and while excellent action RPGs, both felt less like D&D and more like a Diablo clone for the PS2.
Results: 5 in Favor, 1 Opposed, 80% = ACCEPTED
Conclusion: Three in a row for licensed Dungeons & Dragons games. Either we’ve gotten soft or we picked a truly incredible line of games. Either way, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 has definitely earned its spot in the Hall of Fame, living up to its reputation as one of the best hack and slash RPGs of all time.