Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II
Dark Alliance II
|Developer(s)||Black Isle Studios|
|Engine||Dark Alliance Engine|
|Release date(s)||PlayStation 2
|Genre(s)||Action role-playing, hack and slash|
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II is a 2004 action role-playing hack and slash video game for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It is the sequel to the 2001 game Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Developed by Black Isle Studios, published by Interplay Entertainment and distributed by Vivendi Games in North America and Avalon Interactive in Europe, it was released in North America on January 20 and in Europe on February 6.
At the beginning of the game, character statistics are preset, with the player able to choose from five race/class combinations; a human barbarian (Dorn Redbear), a drow monk (Vhaidra Uoswiir), a moon elf necromancer (Ysuran Auondril), a dwarven rogue (Borador) or a cleric (Allessia Faithhammer). The player may only customize their character's stats through gaining experience points from winning battles. Every time the character increases a level, points are awarded corresponding to that level; i.e. if a character increases to level twelve, the player will gain twelve points to spend on the character's spells and feats. For every four levels which the character increases, the player is given one ability point to spend on one of the six core abilities (strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, charisma).
Each of the five characters have their own unique fighting style and their own specific set of spells and feats. Gameplay strategy is thus different for each character. As Dorn is a fighter, his feats tend to focus on increasing his brute strength and his ability to resist damage, as well as granting him powerful abilities to aid in melee combat, such as the ability to wield two-handed weapons in each hand. Vhaidra relies on unarmed combat, so her feats tend to focus on increasing her speed and combos, as well as granting her close-range abilities, such as pushing enemies away from her. As Ysuran is a necromancer, his feats tend to focus on increasing the power of his magic and granting him new spells, such as the ability to use shadow magic. Borador tends to focus on archery, but is also capable of melee combat. His spells tend to focus on allowing him to use a shield offensively and granting him the ability to set traps for enemies and disarm traps intended for the player. Allessia is a cleric and has access to a many healing and defensive spells. She can also use melee combat. Later in the game she gains the ability to reanimate the dead, and have them fight alongside her.
Gameplay is semi-linear; most of the main quests can be performed in a different order, but only from within a group of given quests. For example, the player can chose to tackle a series of kidnappings or invesitage a spate of murders, but no other main quests are made available until both quests are complete. There are also some side-quests which allow more freedom as to when to complete them. There are more non-player characters (NPCs) than in the first game, and the player can interact with many of them. Depending on which character the player is using, these NPCs may or may not provide information and assistance. Weapons, armor and items are only available for purchase from one location throughout the game, although the stock of the shop changes at the commencement of each act. The HUD features the option to use either a transparent map that covers the entire screen or a mini-map, with the player also given the option to turn the map off entirely.
Unlike the first game, Dark Alliance II gives players the ability to create custom weapons and armor. Players can improve items by using runestones and gems. To increase the strength of an item, at least one runstone must be used, but gems are not necessary, although adding gems increases the strength further. Each item can have two different types of gem attached at any one time, in addition to the required runestones. There are several different kinds of gem and each has a different effect on different types of item. For example, a pearl attached to a piece of armor gives +1 additional treasure drop, attached to a weapon gives +1 "Improved Critical", and attached to a trinket gives +1 Wisdom.
Another new feature in the game is the non-optional ability to use companions in certain levels. For example, the characters Kharne and Jherek fight alongside the player in some levels in Act IV. Companions can not level up, gain any abilities or die.
Unlike the first game, in which Baldur's Gate was only featured during one act, the city appears in all but the prologue act in Dark Alliance II. It acts as a hub, from which most quests are begun, although few take place within the city itself. Rather, they are commissioned from the city, and it is from Baldur's Gate that the adventurers travel to and fro. The city also allows access to a world map from which players can participate in sidequests.
The game contains four difficulty levels; "Easy", "Normal", "Hard" and "Extreme". Extreme is unlocked once the player has completed any of the other three levels. The game also contains two secret characters; Drizzt Do'Urden and Artemis Entreri. Drizzt becomes available to use in the main game upon beating any difficulty level. Artemis is unlocked upon defeating Extreme.
Cooperative gameplay with another player is also available. Both players share the same screen, and are thus limited in how far they can move away from one another. In co-op mode, both players get 50% of the experience for each kill, no matter which player makes the kill. Additionally, unlike in the original game, in Dark Alliance II all treasure is shared 50/50 between both players, irrespective of which player picks it up.
Setting and characters
While the original game focused on many areas scattered throughout the Sword Coast and Western Heartlands, the second game is predominately based in and around the city of Baldur's Gate with much more of Baldur's Gate itself accessible.
The game features several new playable main characters; Dorn Redbear, Ysuran Aundril, Borador Goldhand, Vhaidra Uoswiir and Allessia Faithhammer, each of whom comes to Baldur's Gate for different reasons. Dorn simply seeks fame and glory. Vhaidra has come looking for vengeance against those who have attempted to destroy her family. Ysuran is suffering from amnesia and has come in the hope of finding clues to his past. Borador comes for money, in order to release his clan from its debt to the drow. Allessia comes to spread the word of Helm and advance to become a high-ranking priest.
The game begins by revealing the fate of the three protagonists from the first game; after jumping through the portal at the top of the Onyx Tower, Vahn, Kromlech and Adrianna are kidnapped by the vampire Mordoc SeLanmere.
Meanwhile, as they journey towards the city of Baldur's Gate, fate brings Dorn, Vhaidra, Ysuran, Borador and Allessia together. Upon meeting on the Trade Way, they learn that since the collapse of Xantam's Guild, the route has become increasingly dangerous due to the rise of the Red Fang Marauders, a goblin army. After infiltrating a nearby Marauders cave, and freeing the caravan guard Randalla, the heroes head to Wayfork Village, a nearby fiefdom. There, they rescue the village from the Marauders and kill their hobgoblin leader, Harnak.
Upon entering Baldur's Gate, all five need money, so Randalla hires them to investigate a series of murders in the city. At Bloodmire Manor, they learn that Luvia Bloodmire has been combining the body parts of various creatures in an attempt to make a new species, and has been giving her creations to Lady Aragozia Firewind. Her first creation, Argesh, has set up the Hands of Glory, a thieves' guild faction of the Marauders. The heroes kill Argesh, destroying the Hands of Glory, and infiltrate the main base of the Marauders.
Upon infiltrating the base, they defeat the Red Queen, leader of the Marauders, and follow her to Lady Arogazia's manor. They learn that Arogazia is actually a member of the Zhentarim, and has been using the Marauders in an effort to bring back the Onyx Tower. Along with her associate Kharne (who was presumed killed in the first game), Arogazia escapes the heroes and transforms into a Red Dragon, Aizagora. Impressed with the efforts of the heroes, Jherek inducts them into the Harpers, and requests they retrieve four elemental objects. At the same time, the Zhentarim are also trying to get the objects. During their journey, the heroes encounter Sleyvas, an NPC from the first game, who betrayed the protagonists at the end of the game. He too is working for the Zhentarim, although the heroes kill him. Having successfully found the four objects for Jherek, each of the heroes then pursues their own personal quest.
After killing the dragon Baragoth, the druid inside Dorn is awakened. Ysuran realizes his horrific past and his hate crimes against humans, determining that he will not worry about the past, but instead build a good name for himself in the future. Borador frees Gandam's Hold and reclaims the Goblinbreaker name for his clan, who begin working on new forges to free themselves from their debt to fey folk. Vhaidra travels to Cloud Peaks and gets her revenge on a murderous black elf who assisted in the fall of her family's house. Allessia frees the Church of Helm in Baldur's Gate from Goreth Vileback, a Cleric of Cyric who attempts to destroy Helm.
After the five return to town, Jherek enlists them once again, for a journey to each of the Elemental Planes to activate the Elemental Foundations. In each plane, they are attacked by the Zhentarim, who are in control of the Foundations. Two of the Zhentarim who attack them are Luvia Bloodmire and Aizagora, but both are defeated. However, upon returning from the final plane and speaking to Jherek, they are all shocked when they are approached by Kharne. He tells them the Zhentarim no longer wish to reactivate the Onyx Tower, and that the Harpers and the Zhentarim have a common enemy; Mordoc SeLanmere.
Meanwhile, Mordoc brags about bringing the Onyx Tower back. He believes he can use the Tower to bring about the downfall of Baldur's Gate, which will please his "allies in the east." Mordoc's steward, Xanhast, interrogates Vahn, Adrianna and Kromlech, finding they know little of the larger scheme playing out. However, Kharne, Jherek and the five adventurers storm Mordoc's Keep of Pale Night. They rescue the trio of adventurers, forcing Mordoc to speed up his plans, and relocate the Onyx Tower into Baldur's Gate itself.
Now called Mordoc's Gate, the entire population of the city are turned into zombies. The five adventurers attack the Tower, but Xanhast seduces Randalla, turns her into a vampire and orders her to guard the entrance. After defeating, but not killing, Randalla, the heroes enter the Tower and kill Xanhast, finally attacking Mordoc in the Elemental Plane of Shadows. After killing him, they destroy the Onyx Heart, supposedly destroying the Tower for good. This releases the citizens from their zombification, and led by Randella, they gather to thank the heroes for saving the city.
The game then cuts to a room in an Ancient Egyptian milieu, where a servant tells a stone sarcophagus that Mordoc has failed and Baldur's Gate still stands. The sarcophagus says that Mordoc's failure will not interrupt "my sacred mission," and orders his servant to prepare the army and ready his sun barge. As with the first game, Dark Alliance II ends on a cliffhanger.
Development and cancelled sequel
Dark Alliance II was first mentioned as early as April 17, 2001, when Interplay confirmed that if the first game was successful, a sequel would enter development immediately. However, the game was not officially announced until March 24, 2003, when Interplay revealed that they were working on a sequel for the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. The only information available at the time was that the game would introduce item crafting, have five playble characters and was slated for a simultaneous PlayStation/Xbox release in the winter of 2003. On May 6, IGN published an interview with Kevin Osburn, head of the development team at Black Isle Studios. He revealed that the developers had taken on-board any criticisms from the first game and addressed those problems in the sequel, as well as making everything bigger, with more enemies, characters, weapons, locations and quests.
At 2003's Electronic Entertainment Expo in May, Interplay showcased the Xbox version of the game and revealed three of the new characters: a human barbarian, a moon-elf necromancer and a drow monk. Interplay stated that if the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions sold well, they would possibly consider porting the game to GameCube. In July, demos for both the Xbox and the PlayStation 2 version were released. All five characters were available for play and their character-specific sidequests were finalized. Weapon creation was also showcased, as was co-op mode. The game was set for an October release. Both IGN and GameSpot were impressed with the demo, although both expressed some concern that the graphics were essentially the same as the first game. At the 2003 Gen Con in July, Interplay revealed that the game was 90% complete and on schedule for an October release.
However, on September 29, Interplay announced that it had canceled its publishing deal with Vivendi, due to alleged breaches of the working agreement and failure of payment. Herve Caen, CEO of Interplay, said
|“||In the interest of our company and its shareholders, we had no choice but to terminate this agreement. After several notifications to Vivendi of its failure to perform in accordance with the terms of our agreement and, in particular, in refusing to pay Interplay certain monies due following our latest release, Lionheart, we still did not receive the payments owed to us. We are currently evaluating several other distribution options. We fully expect to release two of our strongest titles, Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance II and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel for Xbox and PlayStation 2 in the fourth quarter.||”|
In October, EB Games and GameStop websites changed the release dates for the game to January 2004. Interplay initially denied the delay, stating it was still aiming for a fourth quarter release, and would publish the game themselves if need be. On November 6, Interplay announced it had resolved its legal dispute with Vivendi, and had returned to their prior publishing agreement. On November 12, they officially confirmed that Dark Alliance II would be delayed until early 2004.
On December 8, reports surfaced that Interplay had shut down Dark Alliance II developer Black Isle Studios, although Interplay itself made no formal statement. On December 16, IGN reported that Black Isle Studios had definitely been closed and now existed only as a brand under the Interplay label. IGN reported that when Black Isle's director had quit, the studio was placed under the management of Digital Mayhem, but with the agreement that Interplay would adopt a more hands-off approach. By this stage, Black Isle had already begun work on Dark Alliance III. However, the title was cancelled after Interplay failed to retain the license to use the Dungeons & Dragons label, so Black Isle shifted focus to Fallout 3. They handed in a 95% complete demo, including all game functionality. The next day, however, Interplay, who were several million dollars in debt with only just over $1 million in the bank, began to fire people from Digital Mayhem. Two weeks later, all but two members of the Fallout team were fired and the game was cancelled. This effectively meant Black Isle Studios no longer existed as anything other than a brand. Apparently, staff were told by Interplay that "we will continue to produce titles. If we feel that a title is worth of [sic] the Black Isle Studios' name then it will be released under that brand." However, on December 18, Interplay denied shutting the studio, claiming "Black Isle Studios remains open with projects pending, the status of Fallout 3 is under review, and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel will ship on January 13." However, the very next day, December 19, an anonymous former Black Isle employee confirmed to IGN that the studio had been closed, and that although Dark Alliance II would still be released, Fallout 3 had been officially cancelled.
On January 5, 2004 Interplay announced that Dark Alliance II was complete and would be released for both PlayStation and Xbox on January 20. The game was released as scheduled, under the Black Isle Studios label.
The original music for the game was composed by Craig Stuart Garfinkle, with additional music supplied from the rest of the Baldur's Gate franchise, written by Jeremy Soule. An updated re-mix of Garfinkle's score was released in October, 2013.
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II was well received on both platforms, although was generally seen as inferior to the original game. The PlayStation 2 version holds aggregate scores of 81.19% on GameRankings, based on fifty-four reviews, and 78 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on forty-four reviews. The Xbox version holds scores of 78.53%, based on forty-seven reviews, and 77 out of 100, based on forty-four reviews.
GameSpot's Ryan Davis scored the game 8 out of 10, writing "Though not as impressive as the original game, Dark Alliance II will surely satisfy players looking for a well-crafted, accessible action RPG experience." He praised the range of missions, and the ability to craft new weaponry. He also welcomed the differentiation between the gameplay style of the five characters. He was slightly critical of the graphics, which he felt hadn't really advanced from the first game, but he concluded positively, arguing, "Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was an RPG for people who didn't like RPGs, and its sequel does a fine job of maintaining that design philosophy."
IGN's Ed Lewis scored the game 8.4 out of 10, writing "Black Isle Studios have made an appropriate continuation of the story, but don't create enough changes that some may feel a sequel deserves." He praised the five selectable characters, and the range of gameplay styles available, but criticized the weapon creation, finding it too expensive in relation to the amount of gold the player can collect. He was also critical of the lack of progress in terms of gameplay from the first game; "There is still all of the dungeon crawling action that has worked well in the past and still works here, but there's still not enough that's new to truly keep pushing the genre forward. There could be more weapons and more characters, but the real issue is that the world is still a fairly linear adventure with a steady pace towards the end."
Eurogamer's Ronan Jennings reviewed the Xbox version, scoring it 7 out of 10, and finding it inferior to the original. He wrote "For the most part this is a worthy sequel, but a few of the changes made - and the changes that weren't - might divide fans of the original." He praised the variety of gameplay styles, but was highly critical of the co-op mode and the 50/50 treasure system. He argued that "in terms of progression, the only real difference between this and Dark Alliance is that the first game felt like it had better structure to it. In fact, DAII feels more like an expansion pack in that regard, with players sometimes given the option to complete quests in any order they choose [...] It's hard not to be disappointed in Dark Alliance II. However, it's equally hard to criticise such a polished effort. On the one hand, it offers more of the great hack and slash gameplay that no one has emulated properly since the first Dark Alliance. On the other hand, the magic of the original has definitely been diluted, where it really should have been enhanced."
Game Revolution's Ben Silverman reviewed the PlayStation 2 version, giving it a B, and also finding it inferior to Dark Alliance. He was critical of the core gameplay; "even those who loved the original might be a little miffed that the game still doesn't have any sort of interesting combo system. Mash, mash, mash, then mash some more! Man, it's been three years...is one other attack button too much to ask?" Heather Newman of the Knight Ridder Tribune was mostly positive, saying that while the story was uninspired, the high quality voice acting kept the game from being "corny". She also praised the audio and increased options compared to the original Dark Alliance game, but noted Dark Alliance II shared many of its technical problems. Writing later in 2004, GameSpy's Allen Raucsh said of the game, "while the Dark Alliance II was by no means a bad game, it badly needed updating before it could become relevant again".
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