Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance XBox review

I'm NOT an RPG fan. The occasional one may catch my interest, but they really are few and far between. I'm more of the hack/slash/kill repetitively type. Hence why I'm so infatuated with Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance here on the X-Box. There are a few instances where you'll be annoyed, but most of this 8-hour romp should be a highly enjoyable experience.

As most of you probably know, this game is based on Dungeons & Dragons, a pen and paper game that would most likely get you beaten up back in high school. This game is based on the 3rd generation of rules (or something like that since I know nothing about D&D), so for those of you who needed to know that, you're welcome. You have 3 choices as far as characters go: An archer, dwarf, and sorceress. Each one of them should affect the way you play, though the archer and the dwarf could be played in the same way if you so desire.

There are numerous ways to upgrade your character. As always, experience is a key. Weapons, armor, and shields can be purchased or found as the game progresses. If you find something you already own, sell it off for more cash to buy yourself some better items. You'll need to be careful as your character can only carry so much weight and deciding what to keep/sell/buy is a major part of the game. Potions of course are also available which can heal, restore magic, or take you back to a previous "safe" area, without having to walk back through who-knows how many finished rooms, a feature that this game simply wouldn't be the same without.

The meat of the gameplay is a basic hack and slash, filled with the usual assortment of blobs, the undead, rats, spear flinging skeletons, lizards, and a few others. There is very little speaking (a rarity for the genre), but even these segments are interactive. Your allowed to choose how to respond to each character which could very well change the story of the game, albeit only slightly.

Each of this generation of consoles can show off some great water effects, but Baldur's Gate's is amazing. The water moves so, uh, "fluidly" that you can hardly tell it's being rendered in real time. The game is presented in a 3/4 overhead view (with a fully adjustable camera most of the time), which doesn't allow player to see a lot of the details put into the characters (though you can obviously see the armor change when you equip a different style), but the environments look outstanding. Also, when speaking to a character, the camera will zoom in to give you a close up view. These guys/gals actually act with their hands and facial expressions. It's simply something you have to see. Oh, and for a Teen rating, this one is damn bloody.

Music is generally sparse, but when it kicks in, the fully orchestrated soundtrack is unparalled. Some of the silence may seem a bit odd since it's so rare for any video game, but professional foley artists did all the sound effects. The voice acting is also better than anything to come before it lending a sense of realism to this game set in a fantasy world.

If you find the game a little to hard, the game does allow for 2-player co-op, a mode than seriously extends the life of the game. Already started a game? No problem. Your friends can join you at any time. Granted, they will most likely be significantly weaker than you, you are allowed to drop weapons and such to either give them to use or sell. Should one of you die, head to the nearest save point to respawn them, a feature that will get you out of even the most difficult scenarios. Once you've finished this one, you can import your characters right into a new game to power them up even more, maybe even taking them into a difficulty level to get a decent chunk of replay value.

If anything could pull this one's overall score down, it's the sheer monotony of hacking and slashing over and over and over and over. This is especially apparent in later levels when they begin to go on with no end in sight. Granted, the developers were more than generous with save points, but some of these levels could've been shortened to make room for some more variety. Also, 8 hours is a REALLY short for an RPG of any type. I'm also pleading for some type of battle mode in the sequel to relieve some stress caused by your idiot friend who decides NOT to enter a cave with necessary pieces to finish the game because "we've been there."

By the time you finish this one (and see the cliffhanger ending) there's no doubt you'll be clamoring for more. This is really an RPG for the masses, as it's not bogged down with excruciating cinemas, 45-minute CGI mini-movies, and crap loads of dialogue. The addition of the co-op mode really sets this one above any other action RPG. The melee action really can't be matched. Plus, it's got blood!!! Lots of blood! Just wait until you see the bosses get hacked up in real time. That should satisfy all of the little kiddies who only seem to care about the red stuff anymore. This is definitely a game for anyone.

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