GamingBaldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II is a curious name. It's like calling a movie Part Two: The Sequel. Dark Alliance was a chapter in Baldur's Gate's history and this game continues what was started in the first, including many of the same characters and voice talent.

To wit, all the efforts in the first game to prevent the teleporting Onyx Towers from falling into the wrong hands was for naught. Mordoc Selanmere (a vampire) has located the towers on the Shadow Plane and manipulates both the Harpers and the Zhentarim into bringing it to the Prime Material Plane so he can teleport right into Baldur's Gate itself and turn all the citizens into shambling undead.

Our three heroes from the first game (the elven sorceress, the human archer, and the dwarf) have been captured and apparently are in for a long torture session. Meanwhile, five new heroes are recruited to the cause:

My wife chose Vhaidra and I played Ysuran, because they were the most interesting characters. I mean, come on, Dorn Redbear sounds like a Klingon.

Vhaidra is known mostly for her sarcastic comments and the inability to walk without crouching like Elmer Fudd. Ysuran is identified mostly by his bare nipples, which he seems to have a pathological need to display at all times. It must be a necromancer thing.

The heroes must journey from place to place to retrieve certain items at the behest of various employers, whom ultimately all happen to be connected. The same merchant sells and buys all things with the same annoying and repetitive banter. The twist is that finding masterwork equipment and then augmenting them with gems can improve items. In this way, you can end up with an Exceptional Helmet of Viper's Quickness.

Also new to the Baldur's Gate games is the notion of prestige classes. After reaching 20th level and doing enough research about their past (which always costs gold, of course), the characters can join prestige classes. Ysuran's can join Shadow Adept and Vhaidra can join Assassin. These classes give you new nifty abilities. The only problem is that by the time you're 20th level, these abilities are marginally more effective at best.

The Baldur's Gate series uses a simplified version of the Dungeons & Dragons game system to good effect. All spells, feats, and class powers have been turned into feats. At each level, characters start with a certain number of points in certain feats. For example, Vhaidra starts with 1 dot in Armor Proficiency, Sprint, and Unarmed Combat. One dot in Armor Proficiency means she can only wear light armor, like leather armor. Role-players, look in horror upon that which is possibly Dungeons and Dragons 4.0!

We played the game on Medium difficulty, which was probably a mistake. Ysuran is capable of surviving just fine by himself, because of Skelly.

What, you don't know who Skelly is? Why, he's the skeleton that arises from Ysuran's Animate Dead spell. Unfortunately, Ysuran doesn't really animate any dead-Skelly just rises out of the ground and does not require any actual corpses to create him. Another missed opportunity for gaming coolness.

The world hates Skelly, but he doesn't seem to care. Every monster in the game has an inexplicable desire to kill Skelly (again), but Skelly just whacks away at them with his bare fists. Fortunately, Ysuran's protection spells extend both to his undead as well. Which really makes them unstoppable. There were a few situations wherein the boss monster killed Vhaidra and Ysuran prevailed with just Skelly and the Life Drain spell.

If Skelly makes the game less challenging, the Life Drain spell makes it a cakewalk. In essence, Life Drain inflicts damage and heals Ysuran. However, Life Drain doesn't require any targeting-Ysuran merely needs to point in the direction of his victim and red darts of energy flow out of his foes towards him. Yes, I ate several cookies while Ysuran sucked up the souls of his enemies like a Shop-Vac.

Because you can craft magic items, things quickly get out of hand. With enough money, Ysuran had a +4 helmet that protected him from 15 percent of fire, cold, and acid damage. And then because he was such a wuss, I gave him a ring that gave him a +4 bonus to Strength so he could carry all the crap Skelly found.

There were some challenges, like the Elemental Plane of Air, where Skelly and Ysuran often fell to their doom. Although really, how long did it take for them to hit "doom"? It's all Air, right?

Dark Alliance II seems to be dumbed down a bit. There are no longer ammunition limits, so ranged weapons effectively fire forever. Stocking up on arrows kept the archer in the first game in check. Here, it's all bolts, all the time.

The graphics are more or less the same, although my wife appreciated the fact that most of the main characters didn't seem modeled after porn stars (remember the bartender of the Elfsong Tavern, Lady Alyth?). And no, you can't strip down the drow chick to her underwear like you could with Adrianna in the first game.

For reasons I cannot comprehend, the map function was moved to the touch pad instead of pushing down on the stick. Since spells are up and down on the touch pad and the map requires pressing to the left (right switches from ranged weapon to two-handed weapon to one-handed weapons), more often than not I brought the map up in the middle of a combat. Please guys, if ain't broke, don't fix it!

Baldur's Gate II is an inferior sequel that offers more of the same, only easier. It's probably more entertaining in a single-player game, but it was definitely not balanced for two players. Restricting the necromancer to a single-player might have been a good start.

Although I feel obligated to tell you that Skelly thinks that's a stupid idea.