I don't know why developers are so averted to bringing computer-style role-playing games (RPG) to home videogame consoles. The Baldur's Gate series is a critically acclaimed, popular title in the PC gaming world. While Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance for the PlayStation 2 brings gamers closer to the Dungeons And Dragons RPG setting, the title proves that sometimes the apple falls a bit too far from the tree. In short, Dark Alliance doesn't represent the same caliber game to which PC gamers are treated.
Dark Alliance, as Thom said, is easily associated with games like Gauntlet and Diablo. It actually falls somewhere in between, as it is a little more exciting than Diablo but a little less fun to play than Gauntlet. Regardless of where it falls, all conflicts, problems and story progressions are driven by a player hacking, slashing and smashing enemies in a variety of dungeon settings.
On some level this works for me. I can't pretend I'm above enjoying a good hack-'n-slash title. The Gauntlet-style gameplay is a plus (especially with a friend in the two-player mode). Dark Alliance's gameplay, though, is hindered by the story elements of the game. A basic Dungeons And Dragons-type story comes tacked on to the gameplay. This results in a good deal of downtime spent in long conversations with non-playable characters (NPCs), when all you really want to do is go chop up more monsters.
Additionally, players can only interact with a few of these characters. For each of the three chapters in the game, only one or two characters provide information about everything going on in the world. Male gamers might take a keen notice to the overtly female tavern keeper early in the game, but much later they'll find themselves having a lengthier conversation with a lizard man than they ever would have imagined.
In the end, the story becomes rather mundane, and players won't care what any of the NPCs have to say. All gameplay elements in Dark Alliance are relegated to three tasks: (1) clear a level of all enemies, (2) collect as much treasure as possible and (3) obtain any important items laying around the dungeons. Regardless of what happens in the story, those three tasks drive the gameplay, making story feel somewhat detached.
Boring stories, though, are nothing new in hack-'n-slash titles. So, what drags Dark Alliance further down? Thom alluded to the fact that the playable characters fall a bit onto the mundane side. I know very little about the Dungeons And Dragons world, but I'm certain more interesting characters exist than a human archer, dwarven fighter or elven sorceress.
A second drawback comes from the lagging action. Dark Alliance may resemble a Gauntlet title in its setup, but it lacks the intense Gauntlet-style action. With the sparse number of enemies that come at a player, the game doesn't have the fast-paced flow that makes hack-'n-slash titles fun to play.
The beautifully rendered graphics is the only thing saving Dark Alliance from complete mediocrity. As Thom said above, this game is one of the best-looking titles on the market so far. Yet, eye candy only carries a game to a certain point, and it doesn't carry Dark Alliance above the average mark.
I'm all for Dungeons And Dragons games for home videogame consoles, as long as it comes from the RPG series. Plenty of Dungeons And Dragons PC titles exist for developers to port to other systems, and I bet gamers would give them a warm reception. But if Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance represents the best they're willing to do for video gamers, I say thanks—but no thanks.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.