Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance

I am a seasoned player of Forgotten Realms games on the PC, including Baldur’s Gate. This, of course, is nothing like those; it’s a first-person hack and slash, rather than a top down rpg. That said, I’m a D&D tabletop gamer too, so this should be right up my alley. Er… so to speak.

01 - Cover Pic

Turns out I owned this on PS2 as well as XBox. Against my better judgement, it’s the PS2 version I’ve let go, since I also own Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II on the XBox and it offends my sense of order to have them split across consoles when there’s any other choice (Grrr, Tomb Raider franchise switching from Sony to Microsoft *spit*).

I can immediately tell I’ve switched up a generation from my last post. Just three years after Deathtrap Dungeon was released, the hardware upgrade, improved graphics and consoles designed for the big screen means there’s barely a pixel in sight. I’m pretty sure I’ve played at least one of the Dark Alliance games before, because decent two-player co-ops are like gold dust and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a relationship with someone who wasn’t a console or computer gamer of some form. In fact, I suspect it was one that I played with  gonzohistory who suggested this game for my next post. Also, while I’m here, I know XBox is oft lauded for it’s ‘man-sized’ controllers, unlike the Playstation ones which, as my partner puts it, are only any good for tiny little girl hands. That said, this controller is just ridiculously unwieldy and I’m having the opposite problem. I have to shift the position of my hands to reach different buttons and sticks. Hmph.

02 - Character Selection

It would seem my character options are sparse, and if I want to play a girl, I have to play a witch in a leotard. My preference in dungeon hackers are always ranger/thief builds, to the closest of which in this selection is a tall, stout male archer.  Grumpy though it makes me, I’m going to go against ‘type’ in order to play the female; elven sorceress it is.

The opening is a traditional ‘You are weary from your travels and head for a tavern’ type, but on the way I get thonked on the head and have all my stuff nicked. I guess that’s one way to start you with nothing. And the thieves were so subtle!

03 - Super Sneaky

The town guard scare them off before they can kill me and I head over to the Elf Song Tavern, where I’m purred at by the very bosomy bar wench, Alyth. Also, there is a lot of hip-waggling and leaning forward and sultry thigh-stroking going on for such a brief conversation.

04 Wench

Hips don’t lie!

The male NPCs, however, are more or less clothed oblongs with wrinkles, however I found one that wiggled almost as much as Alyth. Alas, I think it is because he’s a drunk (who promptly enlists me to steal some alcohol for him). Anyhoo – I’m told to look for the thieves in the sewers, and I can’t get to the sewers from the streets like any normal thug; I have to go through the rat-infested cellar first. I’m sure I’ve played this mission before. >.>

Down below, the first thing I learn is that you can smash up barrels for loot. Definitely my kind of game. So I go around vandalising everything, kill a bunch of rats with my little pig-sticker and then, in investigating all the buttons on my controller to try and find the inventory to equip the rusty sword I just picked up, I accidentally set fire to something. Oops.

06 Accidentally on fire

And this is why I don’t play mages or sorceresses. Last button I press is the inventory. It seems my character is also in perpetual wiggle mode. So restless, these women! I also learn that my name is Adrianna.

I have to say, for a tavern so small, the footprint of this cellar is fucking huge. I kill all the rats, and carry on to fight some… I don’t know… kobolds? In the hopes of finding the wine and some more loot. I also find myself dead three rooms in. That’ll teach me to be so hasty when I’m playing a weakling witch.

07 Death by kobold

Course, having been reminded that I’m a sorceress and not meant to be relying on my rusty sword alone, I then burn my way through the next dungeon until I can go no further. I bet if Alyth knew there was a full one hundred and forty one gold pieces, twenty two health potions, twelve rejuvenation potions, two recall potions, two swords, a shield, a club, some leather boots, two hundred arrows and a ruby down here, she’d’ve cleared it out sooner, eh?

Alyth digs seventy five gold coins out of her ample bosom to pay me for dealing with her rat problem and gives me the key to the sewers, I give the drunk his bottle of wine and he gives me a healing potion, and I sell a load of junk to the merchant loitering in the corner giving me juuuuuust enough to buy a shortbow. Who says I can’t both be a girl and be an archer! Course, that leaves me with no money for armour, but then again at least I’m not playing a… oh. Wait.

Oy vey! Off we go to rescue the useless runt who came running after me and apparently got lost despite me having to run back through every single chamber of the cellar without seeing him in order to get paid! I counted, by the way, and there are a full seven corridors and fifteen chambers down here, including the secret room I missed first time round.

08 Secret room

I get treated to a little cut scene with some bad guys plotting Bad Things (TM) and the guy I came to rescue, locked in a cage. I also get to witness a conversation about how he is not to be harmed, which I guess means I take take my merry old time looting and killing. So, on into the sewers I go. Tell you what, despite the number of boxes around, this dungeon is far less breakable than the last. I was spoilt, I think. I leave my little avatar wiggling away on the inventory screen while I pause to get a drink and roll a cigarette, and my housemate points out that she appears to be periodically yelling something. Or at least, opening her mouth and mouthing words. With her shield and huge club, I have to saw she looks like she’s shouting ‘COME ONNNN!’ followed by a snarl that is perhaps meant to be a smile. Regardless, I take the hint.

10 Shouting

I’ve worked out how to switch between my bow and club quickly, which is just as well since there’s no auto-aim in this game, and you can’t smash up barrels with arrows (or I can’t be arsed to waste enough arrows to try), so I charge on. The loot drops from the beasties make up for the lack of barrels and boxes, and I equip some more armour and switch to a better weapon. You do die easily in this game; it’s good that saves are frequent. Alas the loot dropped changes every time, so luck of the draw I guess. Also, when you pick up particularly good loot, run back and save if there’s a save point nearby.

There’s a section part way through the first sewer where you literally encounter a wall of goblins/kobolds, at least a dozen or more, guarding three levers. After five attempts, pretty much the only way I managed to kill them without dying in a volley of spears was to push a box in front of me up to one end of the line and shove my way down the line, burning and hacking them up in twos and threes and healing a lot. With only two healing potions left, I (save and) carry on but my hopes are not too high at this point.

11 Line of kobolds

This is about a third of the corpses

I’m amazed I carry on as well as I do. Narrowly surviving more bugbear attacks and hordes of kobolds, I come upon a kobold assembly and the Bugbear Chieftan who holds the key to the jail.

12 Bugbear chieftan

Funnelling the kobolds off through a doorway is easy, but unlike the previous bugbears this one won’t be taken down with prolonged use of burning hands, a healing potion and a rejuvenation potion. Instead, I’m reduced to old school boss run arounds, where I lure him back to the save point and the pair of us chase each other around it two or three times til he gets tired and starts strolling back to his dungeon, I shoot him in the ass with an arrow and the chase begins again. And thus, he dies, and I get a Masterwork Club for my trouble.

13 Dead dawg

I free the guy from the jail cell, get a key to another part of the sewers from him, go back and clear a closed off section of the level which is full of dead kobolds and gold and then a giant mother rat and thank fuck there was a staircase back to the town in the prison, because I’ve literally just had to drop my clothes to pick up the last piece of loot to sell. So now I’m running around with my padded helmet, my leather boots, my club, shield and bracers aaaaaand my strapless bra and thong. You know, I don’t know how the art team imagined this sort of get up would stay up. Apparently I have magical adhesive breasts.

14 Adhesive breasts

In a world of dungeons and dragons, where the laws of physics do not apply…

I have enough money from all this to buy some studded leather armour, which solves the underwear problem, (but pretty much means I can never carry loot again) and at this point my boy gets home, so I save and he opts in as a second player. Of course, that doesn’t help us much since it’s all bugbears from here and he has no xp and no armour or weapons, so at this point I’m closing up the blog post and we’re restarting with his level one dwarf and my level three sorceress to go kick some kobold ass.

Over and out, folks!

Deathtrap Dungeon

…Which is, of course, ‘Ian Livingstone’s Deathtrap Dungeon’ but it sits under D on my shelf, so it’s up next. Like most people who went through the nerdening when they were young enough, I played through a whole bunch of Fighting Fantasy roleplaying gamebooks when I was a kid. I think my brother considered it homework for D&D while he was away at university, and though he swears he used to have this game back when my first round of console gaming was going strong, I think I must’ve either never played it, or played and died very quickly and given up. I was playing a lot of Tomb Raider, Suikoden and Final Fantasy in those days – it’s easy to see where my time may have gone.

01 Cover Shot

So I boot it up to watch the opening trailer, which is great. A lovely tale of terror in a town called Fang, an annual challenge laid down by the baron for adventurers to try their skills against his dungeon with the promise of vast riches to be won, and all the townsfolk quivering in their tavern waiting for a champion to come and conquer the ‘perilous depths’ of Deathtrap Dungeon. Cue evil cackle. You have to say it with a good growl in your throat, too, or it’s no good. Deathtrap Dungeon. Go on, you know you want to.

02 Opening Movie

“Whilst some adventurers get ready for battle on the eve of the quest, others, less experienced, walk foolishly into battle.” This is the picture accompanying that line. It just makes me think of Will & Grace’s Karen. “No, not round ones! I want them pointy like claws!” A good manicure is, after all, important preparation for any budding adventurer.

I also take the time to flick through the beastiary, because if they take the time to give you seventy-one pages of beasties, you know it’s worth a look. And how awesome is this? Four automata, a bloodbeast, the circus of the damned, dragons and dragon knights, the giant hand, plus all the usual imps, orcs, ratmen, zombies and skeletons and so forth. Love it.

03 Giant Hand

First thing I notice is it’s dead silent. Also, I appear to have started as the guy with no selection process, so I quit back to the main menu and have a fiddle with the controls. I opt for the girl. How I’m gonna protect myself against crippling leg injuries in a tiny plate leotard I do not know, but there you are. The fx and music selection screen is great, though; you can hear a guy being tortured at various volumes while you pick your fx levels, and have a bunch of orcs play a nice adventuresome tune for you to set the music volume. Despite all this, I still seem to start the game as the guy – with no sound, so at this point I switch to a different platform to see if that fixes it. (I was being lazy and playing on the PS3 so I could use the wireless controllers.)

04 FX and Music

Come on, now. That’s pretty cool!

Right – this game does not like being played on a PS3 apparently – take note. Anyhow, it’s working good on a PS2 so we’ll carry on and hope for the best. First things first, let’s all just agree on this: the graphics are pretty awful. Considering this came out in 1998, and is contemporary with Metal Gear Solid, preceded by Final Fantasy VII in ’97 and Tomb Raider in ’96, there’s really no excuse for the gritty, bitty dungeon ahead of me. Even Windows ’95 could do better than this. Secondly, the movement controls are gonna wind me up, I can tell, because instead of the d-pad controlling the direction you move in, it controls the direction you face. That’s gonna get frustrating when you’re outrunning traps, manoeuvring around enemies and trying to push switches. I can see why this game has a reputation for being so hard, and sadly, I suspect a large part of it is down to this rather than the challenges within the game. Anyway, enough bitching; we’ll give it a go. Taking bets now on how long before I die. One minute? Two? Twenty?

I’ll be honest, about twenty seconds in I thought I’d just died to a collapsing floor, but apparently this is just how you begin the game; (hurt). But since the loading screen tells me I missed six pickups in a four section piece of corridor with four fireball traps, I reboot. Note to self: must do better! This time I notice the climbable block to the right after the fireball traps. Climb to ledge, three razorspells, pull a lever, jump a gap, two fireballs, hop in a teleporter, one more fireball and that’s six. Back down we go. I’ve taken four hits in falling damage so far, and since the last time I ran over this collapsing floor I took a load more, I now stop to notice that there is, in fact, no where to run to, so I inch backwards onto the crumbling floors and pelt back toward the closing door just as the floor begins to go to catch the shallowest part of the slope beneath. No falling damage this time! Hah!

05 Collapsing Floor

Seriously? That armour isn’t protecting shit. I’m gonna get shivved in the buttocks. 😦

Next level: Kill three orcs, grab a razorspell and a warpig from ledges in the room (seven falling damage!) The door to right has more things to hack and slash, a bunch of moving platforms and lifts (I managed to miss the jump twice and did myself approximately forty damage which I begrudgingly healed), a load of stuff to climb and a spike pit; the one to the left has a fireball trap activated by a lever (which I noticed just in time), more orcs and a secret door that gets you access to something called an Arc of Power – ooh err – and completing both rooms lifts the cage in the main section of the dungeon which grants you access to the next area. I’ve picked up a bunch of healing potions and spells along the way too. I have to say, I’ve mostly gotten over the dodgy controls – they’re not as fluid as Tomb Raider but it’s much the same idea: run, jump, hack and slash rather than shoot. It’s not quite a platformer but much like a lot of action-adventure games, it’s a hybrid. The low-level beasties are just lulling me into a false sense of security, I suspect. They die in a hit or two and announce their arrival by snarling, squealing or growling at me. Thus far we’ve had orcs and – I want to say gremlins, because they’re little gnomish blue things that remind me of the master gremlins in Heroes of Might and Magic III – but the bestiary tells me they are in fact imps.

06 Imps

…with their little ‘Death’ hoodies, red trainers, and blood-soaked cutlery.

Before I head on to the next section, I realise that the little floating skull in a silver glowing cylinder that’s appeared is a save point. I encountered one of these a couple of rooms ago and was very disappointed to find the skull was not loot. Suppose I should’ve hit all the buttons or read that nice thick manual they gave us. Regardless, before I head on up to the next area I waltz in to a room that’s newly appeared to pick up a flame lance and activate another lever to open up a portcullis to a secret room with coins, potions and a bomb shot, whatever that is. Also, while we’re at it, who wants to bet that the male hero doesn’t need to do gymnastics in order to climb up blocks?

07 Gymnastics

Mind you, I never questioned Lara’s acrobatic climbing skills, and she had a special handstand move.

So next is a spiders’ lair – and these spiders shoot green goo, presumably poison (given it gave me an antidote as I stepped into the room). I don’t find out how crippling it is, however, because in running away for a bit, I learn that you can get one spider to accidentally kill the other and then just go in and hack up the remaining one without getting shot. Good to know. Next is a moving platform puzzle. I get up the gate first time, picking up a load of goodies on the way, but I can see a potion on a platform below that wasn’t part of the route up so I carefully jump my way back down and take a different, tricker route to get to the one remaining item. This is where I get into trouble, though. Either the platforms have fallen out of sync or it’s just much harder to get up there the second time and on the final jump, so high up I can’t even see the floor, I miss. This, folks, is the first time I die. Second time’s the charm, though – and I manage to get them all in one run. My score? Kills: 24/24; Secrets: 2/2; Pickups: 24/24. Aww yeahhh!

08 Cage

While we’re at it, just where is my waist, and how on earth is my spine holding up that rack?

The intro to the next level warns me that ‘knackerers’ can’t be harmed by any means; I just need to run away, apparently, and so I’m teleported up in a little cage with this god awful sound of something clattering about and I can see it flying past the door every few seconds. This music kinda reminds me of Silent Hill, when the otherworld starts to descend. It’s effective, anyway – I don’t particularly want to step outside. Still…

So there’s a a huge, automated steam-roller whizzing about, fire balls dropping from the ceiling, and as soon as I run through the portcullis and up into the lift, I have to get off it again before it roasts my ass.

09 Toasty

Toasty!

I cross to the next gate run through and pick up the three bombs and here, sad times, is the second time I die. The automata was following my movements as I approached and when I ran in to hit it, it spat fire at me – dead in one. Guess that’s what those bombs were for, eh?

10 Game Over

At this point, I’m a little platformed out to be honest – and given the next game on the PS1 shelf is Excalibur, I figure this might be a good time to jump to a different console for a while. I don’t have any 3rd gen consoles currently (though there’s a couple on the list to get) so my options are:

4th – Mega Drive – Lemmings; or SNES – B.O.B.

5th – N64 – Perfect Dark

6th – PS2 – 007: Quantum of Solace; Dreamcast – Jet Set Radioooooo; X-Box – Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance; Gamecube – Beyond Good and Evil; or GBA – Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

I do have a bunch of 7th Gen consoles, but I think until the 8th Gen is more soundly established, we’ll leave the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and DS off this blog. It’s not like I’m short of things to play!

Oh, also, just for shits and giggles, before I put Deathtrap Dungeon away, I rebooted and started a game as the guy, just to test my climbing gymnastics theory.

11 No Gymnastics Here

Noooope. No flippity-flips here.