Re-Explore a Classic With 4K 'Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance'

Smash every barrel like it's 2001

Key Takeaways

  • The original Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was recently rereleased in 4K for modern platforms.
  • Surprisingly, it’s still a perfectly decent co-op game, and there are never enough of those.
  • It’s an utter slog if you’re playing alone, though.
Cover art for Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance

Interplay Entertainment

The original 2001 Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is one of those games that doesn't quite get the respect it deserves, and with its new rerelease for PC and current consoles, maybe it'll get a second chance.

It's getting rereleased now to build up hype for its sequel, simply called Dark Alliance, which is set to release on PC and consoles early next month. Playing it in 2021, I'd forgotten just how foundational it is. It's very much a diet Diablo, an attempt to port the smash-and-grab gameplay of a good dungeon crawler into a console-friendly, Dungeons & Dragons-themed format.

The original Dark Alliance does end up feeling a little bare-bones now, but it also puts almost zero nonsense between you and the action. It knows that you're here to break things, hit monsters, and scavenge for loot, so it throws you directly into your first adventure and doesn't let up. It hasn't aged that well, but it's still surprisingly solid.

It's always fun to loot dungeons and smash zombies with a friend in tow...

Smash Barrels, Get Money

You play the original Dark Alliance as one of three nondescript adventurers—a dwarven fighter, a human archer, or an elven sorceress—who've come to the city of Baldur's Gate in the Forgotten Realms in search of fame and fortune.

Naturally, within minutes of entering the city, you're hit over the head and robbed. With a single rusty knife and no money left, you get to start from scratch, beginning with the by-now-traditional introductory quest where you clean giant vermin out of an innkeeper's basement.

That starts you on a linear sequence of missions that ends up feeling like a greatest-hits tour of Dungeons & Dragons, taking you all over the Sword Coast. Before the end of the game, you'll fight most of D&D's classic monsters like green slime, gelatinous cubes, beholders, drow elves, lizardfolk, intelligent undead, and, of course, a dragon.

Screenshot from Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance

Dark Alliance is running off a simple formula, where it blends the classic D&D monsters with a simplified but playable version of Diablo's just-one-more-room addictiveness, but it still works now. Unusually for many of this year's recent rereleases, it's not just running off nostalgia; the core gameplay is still here and still entertaining.

It really isn't a solo-friendly game, however. I get the feeling that Dark Alliance was designed with co-op in mind. The enemies are pretty stupid, and it's easy to take advantage of their patterns, but there are a lot of them. It's easy to get overwhelmed in one-player mode.

That goes double if you play, as I did, as the sorceress, who's a traditional "glass cannon" archetype. She's a force of nature once you can learn the fireball spell, but at low levels, you really want another player there so you can hide behind them. You’re suffering through a few levels of weakness, so you can turn into a one-woman apocalypse later.

All the Right Mistakes

That's actually the strange thing about playing Dark Alliance today. It doesn't hold your hand.

Over the past 20 years, video games. in general, and specifically dungeon crawlers, have adopted a lot of quality-of-life mechanics to make themselves more user-friendly, a lot of which I've grown to take for granted.

Screenshot from Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance

It's a lot of simple things, like auto-saves, adding a colored outline around items that can be interacted with, making loot glow, so it's easy to spot, or being able to compare two pieces of equipment's stats at a glance. For that matter, it’s also having a character at all who’s utterly useless for the first five levels or so, even if she is a squishy wizard.

Dark Alliance doesn't have any of those useful features. Since it was a hit back in the day, which led to a sequel and a lot of imitators, I'd go so far as to wonder if Dark Alliance's various quirks are part of what led to later developers making these improvements in the first place.

It gives the game a feel like it's a playable rough draft. Dark Alliance has surprisingly good graphics, solid gameplay, forgettable music, a skippable story, and a lot of petty irritations, many of which got worked out of the genre later.

It's worth checking out now as a cheap co-op game, as long as you keep your expectations low. It's always fun to loot dungeons and smash zombies with a friend in tow, and Dark Alliance is simple enough at its core that those irritations I mentioned never really advance beyond being petty.

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