As with most action-RPGs, players are treated to a “carrot-and-stick” approach for moving the game along. Here, the carrot is better and more impressive powers, loads of money, and tons of cool toys. DA2 has made a change in the magical item system, allowing for customization of magical objects to form some formidable weapons, armor, and trinkets. A crafting system has been integrated, allowing players to create magic objects from any equipable item of high enough quality. The craft system works by placing magical jewels into the item, with each of the 20 or so jewel types imparting a different effect. Each item can hold 2 different effects, and different items manifest a particular jewel’s enhancement in different ways, so there are tons of options for creating custom equipment. More powerful items are made by simply dumping more jewels into an item. Magic items can also be found intact, and it is possible to “break down” these items for their precious jewels, allowing for a sort of cannibalization of magic items for ones better suited to a particular character.
Thankfully, guiding these characters is just as easy as it was in the first game, perhaps even a bit more so, with improvements to ranged weapon use and the addition of 4 “quick-cast” slots for the abilities. I found ranged combat almost painful in the first Dark Alliance. In addition, characters in the original were limited to using only 1 spell or special ability during the heat of battle, since one had to run through a rather unwieldy system to change the ability set to the “special” button. In DA2, however, characters are much better at “locking on” to their ranged targets, making firing bows or throwing knives a lot more efficient. And the addition of the 4 “quick-cast” slots brings the total special abilities easily accessible to 5, making it much simpler to perform a wide range of impressive feats (and making the caster much more than a one trick pony).
Level design is pretty decent, although the game seems to run out of steam a bit toward the end. The first 3 chapters are very good, the last two are quite a bit shorter (and could actually be one chapter) and not all that interesting. Adding a huge boost to replayability, each of the characters has their own sub-quest available to them toward the middle of the game. For this reason alone it would be worthwhile to try each of the characters, just to be able to see all the levels the game has to offer. Also, the rewards for these character-specific quests are very much worth the effort. In addition to the optional character quests, there are a few “side dungeon” levels in each of the first 3 chapters, attempting to remove a bit of the linear feel of the game. Still, even with these extra choices, Dark Alliance 2 tends to move in a very straightforward manner of “clear dungeon, defeat boss, move to next dungeon”.
The graphics in Dark Alliance 2 are almost identical to those in the original—quite good a few years ago, still good now, but not nearly as impressive as they were the first time around. The characters are all animated very nicely, and the monsters (some of which are very familiar) are likewise well done. The voice acting is very good, and the dialogue is well-above-average. The musical score is also very good, and all the top-notch sound effects from the original make their way here intact. Overall, a still-good-looking game, although one would have expected a bit more advancement in the past few years.
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