Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance made a surprise re-release earlier this month, having originally released back in 2001 on the original Xbox. We never played the game back in the day, so this version was a perfect excuse to dive into the classic RPG and see what the fuss was all about. It received positive reviews on its original launch, but does the game sustain the same magic twenty years later? In some regards yes, but it comes with one huge caveat - its price.
The game is essentially an isometric dungeon crawler. It plays in a similar to vein to Diablo III, though being two decades old, not nearly as polished. You begin by picking one of three classes - a dwarven fighter, a human archer, or an elven sorceress. Each plays drastically different to the others, offering a fantastic amount of variety in terms of combat. The story follows you entering the town of Baldur's Gate, getting into a spot of trouble and uncovering a world ending plot. Y'know, the usual fantasy narrative.
There's not much new Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance delivers in regards to storytelling, but it doesn't really need to. There's the opportunity to speak to the town's locals, which was a lot more in-depth that we thought it would be, but the real showcase is the gameplay. As you explore decrepit sewers, dungeons, and other fantasy settings, you'll face a variety of inventive foes blocking your path. We played on normal and it's not long before these encounters quickly ramp up in difficulty. Unfortunately, there's no way to change the difficulty once you've begun your adventure, so if you feel it's pushing back fairly early on, it only gets worse.
What transpires to make this easier is the usual RPG fluff. You'll level up, learn new skills, and find a wide range of loot. Outside of combat, you'll be spending your time customising your character with new armour and weapons, or returning to down to enhance what you already own. The looter elements make exploring each area addictive - especially when trying to hunt down side areas for new gear. It also helps that even all these years later, the base combat feels great, and the loop of unlocking new abilities is rewarding.
All this can be enhanced with a friend in local co-op, adding a new dimension to combat encounters. Unfortunately, the loop becomes fairly stale in the game's later hours as the repetitive grind rears its ugly head. It's not the longest adventure, clocking in at around 10-15 hours depending on skill, but the fact that an RPG becomes a slog in the same time most just get going is not a great sign.
This wouldn't be so bad, but it brings us to our main problem - the extortionate price for the game. With nothing new to sink your teeth into, audio that's as compressed as it was in 2001, and very little done outside of bumping up the resolution, it's hard to recommend dropping £30 on Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. If more was done to modernise this, then sure, but its a barebones re-release of the 2001 game, and one that may not interest a huge audience.
Don't get us wrong, if this was cheaper, we'd be recommending this in a heart beat, despite our reservations. It's a great trip down memory lane, with some addictive combat that still holds up today. But when you can pick up more modernised and arguably better games for the same price, it makes the trip to Baldur's Gate one that's not worth breaking the piggy bank until a sale.