Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 Review – Viable Port in a Storm
Developed by Square One Games Inc., Black Isle Studios
Published by Interplay Entertainment Corp.
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch
If you’re fightin’ for a smitin’, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 dropped its remaster on July 20. Having streamed a marathon run on the PlayStation 2 just before the launch, I felt I was in a great position to directly compare them. 18 years after its launch, does it hold up? Bottom line, yes it does, but it might be a little pricy for what it is.
Set in the Forgotten Realms, a Dungeons & Dragons setting with a massive amount of content, Dark Alliance 2 was the last title by Interplay and Black Rock Studios. It launched on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2004, gamifying many of the parts of Third Edition D&D. Every spell and effect is a feat, rather than engaging players in the minutiae of spells per day, feat chains, skill points, and the like. It simplifies a lot, but makes things rather silly when a rogue can disarm traps instantly yet can’t pick a locked door.
Five characters form the initial playable cast. You have barbarian himbo Dorn, incredibly petty Drow monk Vhaidra, amnesiac necromancer Ysuran, greedy little dwarven rogue Borador, and Allessia, cleric of Helm and all-around absolute bean. Drizz Do’Urden and Artemis Entreri are available as well after completing the game once and on Extreme difficulty, respectively. Each has their own playstyle: Dorn uses large melee weapons, Vhaidra her fists, Ysuran a variety of offensive spells, Borador uses a mix of ranged and melee, and Allessia buffs before wading into melee. No character is outright bad, with the latter three tending to be stronger than the former two as their options open up. Honestly, pick your favorite and invite a buddy for co-op.
The gameplay is standard top-down fare. You have your melee or ranged attack, an ability button, and a menu to slot up to four abilities for easy access. It’s a significant improvement over the previous game. Anybody could complete the game on Easy, Normal is about right for newbies or those engaged in co-op, and Hard felt “just right” to me. Extreme, unlocked after beating the game, lets you carry over levels and character data, but no money or items. Enemy balance seems mostly the same as the original. You can still create busted equipment thanks to the simple but effective Workshop. Other games have refined the formula and gameplay, but Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 is a glimpse into a bygone age.
Upscaled, the visuals look pretty good. We can see details on the character models now, such as the holy symbol of Helm embroidered onto Allessia’s default outfit. There are a few areas where it upscaled poorly, such as parts of the flooring in Bloodmire Manor. Randalla Brasshorn’s undershirt is another example, which seems like it was just painted on top of her model’s skin. These existed in the original, but it’s more apparent that there were some shortcuts taken with the higher resolution.
The team did not improve the sound, which is a shame. The score is great thanks to legends Jeremy Soule and Craig Stuart Garfinkle. The veteran voice talent delivers great performances, but the tinny sound compression is incredibly sloppy. Options are also quite sparse. You can’t adjust the resolution except on a slider, and the game launches in fullscreen mode. You can fix this using Alt+Enter. Little has been done to remaster the game or modernize it beyond the visuals. Melee combat can be clunky. This is a problem alleviated with Combat Reflexes and Weapon Focus. Like the source material, there are still trap options. Several (patched) bugs at launch caused crashes. Remote Play is a great idea and usually works well, but it can be laggy and finicky.
The asking price of $30 may seem steep, but checking Amazon I didn’t find anything significantly cheaper. Most PlayStation 2 versions of the game cost more than the remaster. The Xbox discs were cheaper, but not at a huge discount. The disc is a collector’s item thanks to a small print run, so this doesn’t seem likely to change in the near future. If you don’t have it, you could do much worse than this remaster, bare bones it may be. It’s still enjoyable, and it stings a little less if you think of this more as a slightly fancier port rather than as a remaster. Overall? Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 is still a novelty aging ARPG at its best with couch co-op.
DreadXP received a free code for this product on the Steam platform in exchange for a review.