Saturday, June 25, 2011

THEPLAYGAMER3: Baldur's Gate DARK ALLIANCE











Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is an action role-playing game developed by Snowblind Studios for the PlayStation 2; later released for the Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance. It was re-released on the PlayStation 2 as a Greatest Hits title. It's gameplay is based on the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Development history

The game was officially revealed to be in development by Snowblind Studios in the year 2000. Fans of the game were highly excited that the Baldur's Gate game series was coming to the PlayStation 2. However, even though Interplay revealed that the game was unrelated to the previous Baldur's Gate games it still maintained a very high fanbase. The game was officially released in the year 2001 to critical acclaim.

Ports

Despite the second game being announced shortly after the high success of the first game, Interplay revealed that it had hired Magic Pockets to handle ports of the game. The first port was released on to the Xbox in 2002 to mixed reviews, same with the second port on the Gamecube in 2003. The third port of the game was much different than the console games as it was released on the Nintendo Gameboy, this port of the game was critically well received but featured many noticeable differences from the console versions of the game.

Characters

The game features three characters to use, Kromlech, a Dwarven Fighter; Vahn, a human arcane archer; and Adrianna, an Elven Sorceress. In the games canon storyline, all three characters fight the Dark Alliance together. However, all three characters are only playable at the same time in ports of the game on the Nintendo Gamecube and the Xbox. Depending on the characters type, magic, range and close-combat, they can upgrade their class. Such as the Human Archer being able to cast normal arrows and then ice arrows after leveling up. After completing the Gauntlet mode, the character Drizzt Do'Urden is available to play.

In the first act there are many characters such as Alyth the bartender and Bartley the merchant. Ethon of the Old Thieves Guild gives the character some quests to do. Other characters in the Elfsong Tavern also give sidquests. Jherek of the Harpers and Kharne of the Zhentarim are also encountered in the first act. The boss of the first act is the beholder, Xantam.

In the second act, there are few Dwarves that can be interacted with. There is also the Drow Mine Camp where only the Drow Queen is interactable with. The final boss of the second act is the white dragon, Ciraxis.

In the third act there are once again many interactable characters such as Sleyvas the Lizard and a ghost. There are also more bosses such as Sesseth the Lizardfolk Chieftan and Eldrith the Betrayer.

Setting

The game takes place in The Sword Coast and The Western Heartlands, areas in the Forgotten Realms. One chapter of the game takes place in a different location than the next, in the first chapter Baldur's Gate is explored. Many important regions in the city of Baldur's Gate are seen: The Elfsong Tavern, the sewers, The Crypts of Illmater and a Thieves Guild hideout. In the second chapter, the Sunset Mountains are explored an area only known to fans by map. In it, a Dwarven Village and their mines are played through. Through the mines a part of the Underdark is able to be explored, in the game it is referred to as the Drow Underworld and a Drow Campsite is featured. Winds Walk, Mount Burning Eye and the Ice Caves, all part of the Sunset Mountains are ventured through. In the third chapter, the Marsh of Chelimber is explored, another area only known to fans by map. In the Marsh, the main marsh and a fairly large bog are ventured through. The main marsh has a road built through it called the Adderspine Road. Eldrith the Betrayer also has the Sunken Chapen and the Sinking Temple created as a place for worship to her, it is guarded by many undead and Minotaurs. Lizardfolk inhabit their city built beside the Adderspine Road in the main marsh and Chelimber's Crown. In Chelimber's Crown, the Keep of Lizardfok Leaders lies. In the main menu and the cover a castle and a forest are featured, these locations are never playable throughout the game. The forest is located in the Battle of Bones and the players are captured by Nightwalkers at the end of game in the forest and the castle is the Keep of Pale Night. The Keep of Pale Night is the home of Mordoc SeLanmere, the main enemey of the second game. Both the forest and the Keep of Pale Night are playable regions in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II.

Story

The game begins with Vahn, Adrianna and Kromlech's arrival in the city of Baldur's Gate whereupon they are attacked, robbed, and left for dead. They are brought to the Elfsong Tavern by guards to recover. There, the first hints about a great evil hiding in Baldur's Gate are revealed.

The three begin by clearing the tavern's cellar of rats and vermin to get the key to the sewers. There they discover a thieves' den in the sewers where it is learned that one of the guests at the inn has been captured by thieves. Delving further into the sewers, the three find an entrance to the crypt of the local temple where the dead are being reanimated by a magic orb, which must be destroyed. The destruction of the orb leads to meeting Jherek, agent of the Harpers, who tells the player that the Thieves' Guild is only one "part of a greater whole", and the guild must be destroyed. The three then infiltrate the guild's secret lair, defeats Karne (also spelled Kharne) (associate of the Zhentarim and the second-in-command of the thieves who had ambushed the player at the start of the game) and meet Xantam, a beholder who reveals that he is controlling the thieves' guild on behalf of some greater power. After defeating Xantam, the three finds a portal which, after joining the Harpers, is instructed by Jherek to use it and find the source of the guild. However, before using it the player meets Keaira, a caravan guard, who instructs the player to bring her a box of spices from the Thieves Guild. After getting Kearia her spice box, the three descend into the portal.

The three are sent to the Sunset Mountains, where he faces the treacherous Wind's Walk, with yetis, ogres and gnolls. At the end of this mountain path, lies the Dwarven Mining Camp Village of Easting. The dwarves have been driven from their mine by drow, and have sent a party to light a signal fire to request reinforcements, but that party has vanished. Torregir, a dwarf, charges the three to scale Mount Burning Eye to discover the fate of the signalling party, and to light the signal. The player finds that the dwarven signaling party was ambushed and scattered by Ciraxis, a powerful white dragon. The player is able to light the signaling fire and retrieve the key to the mine, however he alerts Ciraxis of his presence while doing it. The three enter the mine and engages the Drow forces therein. On the lowest level of the mine, they combat Valsharess, the drow queen, who again refers to herself as a servant of another power. In the drow holding cells the three discover a dwarf that is also a Harper. This dwarf leads the three to a cave in a nearby forest where they fight Ciraxis, who had ambushed the dwarven signaling party. Afther a hard and enduring fight, the group of three manages to kill the ice dragon. Ciraxis guards another portal which transports the player to the Marshes of Chelimber.

The heroes emerges in a ruined sunken cathedral filled with undead, but are able to fight to the surface where they meet Sleyvas, a humanoid lizard who explains that the local lizard tribes are being controlled by an Onyx Tower that dominates the landscape. The tower has no visible entrance, but can be accessed via the water stair; a conduit to the elemental plane of water. The path to the water stair is blocked by the local lizard tribes, and only the defeat of their chieftain will cause the tribes to scatter. The heroes travel through the swamps and the remains of the ancient human kingdom of Chelimber to defeat the chieftan of the lizardfolk. He then fights through a temple filled with minotaurs, and at the end of the temple, lies the water stair. The player then travels to the Onyx Tower.

At the penultimate level of the tower, the player meets a number of ghosts of fallen soldiers who explain that their general, Eldrith the Betrayer, once served Baldur's Gate, and fought a crusade against dark forces of the Black Horde who intended its destruction. Upon her defeat, she was betrayed by the elders of Baldur's Gate, who were angered by her defying their orders not to march. Furious, she rallied her unwilling soldiers to attack Baldur's Gate, but was fought back far to the Marshes of Chelimber and was killed. Her rage brought her back to life, caused the tower to come into being, and gave her the power to open portals between distant locations. Seeking revenge, she has orchestrated the attacks against Baldur's Gate and its allies, and created a dark alliance between the thieves' guild, mountain creatures, drow, and lizardmen.

The heroes learn that defeating the Betrayer will destroy the Onyx Tower, but will free the ghosts to pass to the afterlife and free the Elfsong as well, but will trap them in the elemental plane of shadow. However, they learn of one last remaining portal in the Onyx Tower's roof and decide to use it to escape. The heroes proceed to the roof to join combat with the Betrayer. He finds the Betrayer alone on the roof of the tower with another portal. She again reiterates her plans for the destruction of Baldur's Gate, and attacks the player. Eventually, the player defeats and kills the Betrayer, who repents for her rage. With the tower crumbling around them, the heroes enter the portal.

In the final cutscene, Sleyvas' true motives are revealed: he has manipulated the player to defeat Eldrith so that he and his masters, the Zhentarim, can gain control of the tower to return to their former glory. He also expects the heroes to have died in the tower, referring them to as the Harpers. The player emerges in an unknown forest and walk only a few steps before they are surrounded by nightshades and nightwalkers, and the game concludes on this cliffhanger.

Original plot

Originally there was a different story for the Baldur's Gate games.

A rising shadow had fallen over the port city of Baldur's Gate. The cities militia had been defeated by thieves and brigands who now roam the countryside surrounding the city. The thieves drive the player away from their farmland home in the fields of the dead. The player seeks safety in the walls of Baldur's Gate, but are attacked by thieves when they get there. The thieves claim to be looking for the player specifically and attack his family, scattered by the attack, the player finds his sister has been abducted. Once in Baldur's Gate, the player finds that they are the only thing standing in the way of a great evil and travel from Baldur's Gate, to the wind-torn peaks of the Sunset Mountains, to a final showdown in the deadly Marsh of Chelimber. The players quest to defeat the powerful entity that is wreaking havoc over the Western Heartlands culminates as a bloody war showers the Sword Coast.

Game dynamics

The gameplay is based on a limited set of 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rule-set; compared to other D&D Games, there are not enough rules implemented into the game, however there are still many rules included. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is an hack and slash Action role-playing game presented in Real-time tactics combat. The battle system in the game is simplistic, but allows for customization. Character statistics at the game's beginning are preset, and the player may only customize his or her character's statistics through gaining experience points. Experience points are gained by winning battles, and at specific levels the character gains new ability points to spend on enhancements specific to the character class. The ability choices affect the fighting style of the character. The human archer, for example, can assign experience points to enchanting arrows rather than to strength, which results in a more powerful ranged attack. However, it is possible to make the human archer a melee fighter as well, it all depends on what the player decides to use his experience points on, but a human archer can only enchant his range abilities and not his strength abilities. While a human archer and elven sorceress can improve upon strength, they can not enchant their strength like the Dwarven Fighter can. Like the original Baldur's Gate series, the game camera is in a 3rd person isometric view, the difference in gameplay though is that Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance has real-time gameplay whereas the original series was displayed through a tactical mode. Enemy AI was very advanced for its generation, enemies would chase the player and archers would stay far away from the player and in an area where they could do a lot of damage on the player. It was possible for the player to use tactics against their foes as well. They would be able to swarm up the enemies and then hide behind a pillar to have them scatter and then go after the one that would stray from the rest. The limited amount of tactics in the game were praised for the fact that they were able to stand out, whereas in other games they were not as clear.

In the console games, there are four classes present throughout the game: Human Arcane Archer, Elven Sorceress, Dwarven Fighter and Drow Ranger. Arcane Archers are archers that mix arcane magic with arrows to create deadly and precise attacks; archers can pick up any kind of weapon. Sorcerers are wielders of arcane magic that have innate magical ability unleash this magic without restraint; Sorcerers can only pick up weapons that are one handed. Fighters are skilled in the use of many weapons and do not use much magic, they are trained to protect the groups that they are with and are capable of killing many enemies with one blow; Fighters can hold any kind of weapon. Rangers are warriors and hunters that are most powerful when there are environs involved in the fight, they use only natural armour; the Drow Ranger uses only his two scimitars.

Gameplay is linear, and any current quest must be completed successfully before the story proceeds. There are also relatively few non-player characters (NPCs), of which only those who are part of a quest or side-quest may be interacted with. There are not that many sidequests available in the game, however doing sidequests for characters like Keaira and Ipswitch helps players gain experience and level up. Weapons, armor and items are only available for purchase from one location at a time in the current region, and are increasingly valuable later in the game. The game is a 3rd person video game with the camera at an isometric angle, much like the original Baldur's Gate series. Gameplay strategy is different for all characters: the human relies on ranged attacks and stealth, the elf character can cast magic spells, and the dwarf is an all-around fighter. A local co-op mode is available. The second player can select one of the two unused characters, and plays with the main character on a shared game screen. In co-op, players level up depending on how many hits they got on a certain enemy and if they were alive when the enemy died. One player can take all of the money and leave the other player with nothing, this is described as being greedy. 


D&D Rules

There are many 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons rules present throughout the game

Classes: the game featured classes prominently available for play in the board game. The game features two classes and one prestige class, the prestige class is the Arcane Archer. The figures are automatically set, they are placed logically according to the classes strengths and weaknesses (Dwarves being strong but less intelligent, and sorceresses being wise, but with low constitution).

Progression: the customization of the character and how they progress using the experience points gained in battles. This can be a customization of AC (Armour Class), the ability to dodge and deflect and how much a player can carry is all brought from the 3rd edition ruleset.

Feats and Spells are available to the player through progression. Feats are drawn straight through the rulebooks and are given to the appropriate class (hall of arrows for the arcane archer and bull-rush for the fighter). Instead of points being distributed to stats, instead, points are placed into feats and spells.

The Monsters featured in the game are brought directly through the 3rd Edition Monster Manual.

The playable species are described properly.

There is an ample number of side-quests available to the player for experience points.

There is an apt amount of strategy required to play the game.

The Weapons featured, the amount of damage done by them and their effects. Each weapon or armor item will be listed with its applicable weight, value, defense, and damage. Potions are similar, but instead show only their weight, purpose (healing, restoring mana or recalling) and how much mana or health they can restore. Different potions have different weights and the potions weigh differently when put into different quantities in larger and smaller sized bottles.

The magic and spells featured to the game are given appropriately to each character. (A Sorcerer does not use a Wizard's spells and a Fighter does not use a Barbarian's abilities). There is a wide variety of spells featured in the game for use to the Sorcerer and Arcane Archer, the Fighter is also given special feats such as bull-rush.

Abilities are given based on the pen and paper version of the game.

Console version features

Console version of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance begins with a choice of three pre-built characters:

Vahn, Human Arcane Archer: archer with weapon-related magical abilities.
Adrianna, Elven Sorceress: spell caster, limited to smaller weapon classes.
Kromlech, Dwarven Fighter: strong melee fighter with limited melee magic.

Once the game has been completed once, a new challenge is unlocked, called the Gauntlet. Choosing to play the Gauntlet gives you the following character and 15 minutes to complete it.

Drizzt Do'Urden, Drow Ranger/Fighter: strong melee fighter with two scimitars

After completion of the Gauntlet, a new mode of gameplay is unlocked called Extreme mode, which is much harder than any other level of difficulty in story mode. Upon selecting Extreme mode, the player is prompted to choose a character from a preexisting save to play through the story again in Extreme mode. Upon completion, Drizzt, mentioned above, is then available for play in story mode.

Game Boy Advance features

The Game Boy Advance (GBA) version of Dark Alliance features some noticeable differences from the console versions.

There can only be one save at a time, although it can be saved anywhere.

There are no playable characters like in the original game. Instead, a human male is playable. A player can choose his class, however (fighter, wizard, archer). After the completion of the game, a new class, titled Elven Fighter, is available.

Players cannot import a character to play through the story again; they must start a new game.

No multiplayer mode.

The town of Baldur's Gate is much more interactive. Players are able to talk to people, enter houses, and use weapons (to break barrels, etc.).

The town is split into two sections: North and South. The southern region cannot be entered at the beginning of the game.

New side-quests.

Lack of recall potions.

Players can no longer jump.

Players can switch between melee and ranged combat using the "R" button.

Larger enemies will sometimes get trapped behind doorways, allowing the player to shoot them with the bow while staying out of harm's way.

The white dragon Ciraxis (who was the final boss of Act II in the console version) is absent.

The wizard (comparable to the sorceress in the original game) is no longer as strong and has a lower mana pool.

Graphics engine

While GBA version used its own engine, the console versions used a more graphically superior one. The console versions of the game used the Dark Alliance Engine, it was built for this game and is the foundation for other games on the PS2 including Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel and The Bard's Tale. Graphically, the Dark Alliance engine is a drastic improvement over the Baldur's Gate series that debuted on the PC, which utilized the Infinity Engine (1998), the earlier versions were only able to render 2D sprite characters and static environments. The Dark Alliance engine makes use of Sony's PS2 platform, allowing for such improvements as dynamic lighting, real-time shadowing and 3D models of characters and environments. The graphics, in particular, were considered a highlight of the game by many critics.

Sequel

Due to the massive success of the first game, a sequel was highlighted. The game was not to be developed by Snowblind Studios but rather Black Isle Studios, the company that produced (funded) the development of the game's engine. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II was released in 2004 to extremely positive reviews and it too left off with a cliffhanger, giving the possibility of a third sequel. However, when Interplay declared bankruptcy the game was canceled. A petition has been started for Atari to partner up with Interplay and create the third game.



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