I’m going to be honest with you. This is the second time I’ve tried to write this review. I’ve been avoiding putting my thoughts into actual words. I’m trying to reconcile how I feel with how I think I should feel. They’re in conflict. When I finished writing this review the first time, I read it back. I sounded like playing Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II was a horrible experience, and every second was marred with issue after issue, which is simply not true. As the kids say, the struggle is real. I should not have had as much fun as I did with Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II. It’s excellent; it’s also terrible. It’s easy; it’s also challenging. It looks great for its age; it also happens to look like a dark turd. The couch co-op works precisely as advertised but is frustrating. Never have I felt so conflicted with a review. Putting thoughts to words has never felt so challenging. Even that last sentence took two days to craft. But for all the nit-picking, I loved my time with Dark Alliance II. I just can’t seem to understand why.
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II feels like the Dark Alliance II of the PlayStation 2 era. I recall spending hours with several different friends, several different times, in front of several different TVs playing several Dungeons and Dragons video games. Dark Alliance II was the one that received a lot of playtime back in the mid-2000s. Dark Alliance II still gives off the same vibes of the PlayStation era. Some of those vibes are great; others feel dated. Movement with your character is fine, but invisible walls still exist. Some cave pathways can feel narrow and linear. Features like this are better hidden in more modern hack and slash games.
The hack and slash gameplay of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II is just as fun as I remembered. Switching between characters when I feel like changing my playstyle is simple. Baddies start as basic, simple goblins and gradually become menacing, like in an actual tabletop Dungeons & Dragons campaign. But Dark Alliance II can not help but feel dated when comparing it to modern hack and slashes. At times I found my character swinging aimlessly against creatures. Thinking I was about to hit the enemy, I would take a swing, they would move out of my way, or my character would make an unplanned last-second turn, causing me to miss. I felt the same way when it came to using a ranged character. I had times where my arrows would automatically hit without having to aim; other times, they would go wide, not even close to hitting. The same would happen when casting spells like magic missile. All of that is not to say I wasn’t having fun. Typically I would be surrounded by enemies, and I didn’t have to worry about missing; there were so many enemies, even if the ones I was aiming for were missed I would unintentionally hit another one.
Another combat issue involves playing in co-op. Range classes earn less experience playing with a melee partner because the melee character gets most of the kills, giving them more XP, and the melee guy takes most of the gold, even if inadvertently, causing them to level up faster. If I was playing solo, I never felt the unbalance between the five classes. But when teamed up, it felt one-sided. While I felt the need to play melee so I could best my friend I invited over to play, I realized it didn’t matter. Once the gaming session got into full swing, I was having fun, regardless of how I was doing compared to them.
Sadly when it comes to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II, not much has been updated with this release. 4K resolution is here, but not on the Switch; it is on all the other newly released versions. Online co-op is only available on the Steam version; everyone else gets couch co-op. When it comes to the Switch version, there isn’t anything new to brag about. No updated items, quests, or even quality of life updates. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II doesn’t look hideous, but it does look like it was hit with a sock full of quarters a few times. Ok, it looks rough. The characters look blocky, the dialogue feels aged, and the city of Baldur's Gate feels small and void of life. Adding NPCs that make the city feel like a living, thriving place would have been nice. Instead, it feels like a small section of the giant city I am familiar with. The lighting is horrible. When you are in a well-lit area, like the city of Baldur's Gate, there is no issue. But even walking into a building, or cave, the area is hard to see. I found myself having to turn my Switch’s screen to the brightest setting to see everything around me. Once I adjusted my brightness, I have zero issues with visibility.
All is not straight-up doom and gloom. A feature that typically goes unnoticed unless it’s not working is the load times. With Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II, loading into anything is near instant. I’ve found myself reaching for my phone to check something - and then setting it right back down. When it comes to the Switch and loading times, it doesn’t matter if it’s a brand new triple-A title or a remaster of a PlayStation 2 game; loading times can be awful. Loading times were noticeable because of how non-existent they were, something that feels abnormal but welcomed.
Another welcomed surprise was the frame rate. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II did not stutter or lag for me once. This is something that shouldn’t need to be talked about. A game originally released in 2004 should work without much issue. But remasters that have been released recently have come with a handful of known issues, lag and jumpy frame rates among them. It is nice to see that was not the issue here. Honestly, having to talk about it, to begin with, is the real issue. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II remaster runs and runs well on Switch.
Everything feels straightforward in Dark Alliance II. Stats aren’t overly complicated. Each of the five classes fits into its mold. I don’t expect to make my barbarian a ranged attacker. I have the freedom to do that, but it doesn’t make much sense. The necromancer is going to cast spells; that should be his focus. Choosing how to level up each character didn’t require much thought, but that’s refreshing. A system that probably felt complex 18 years ago feels simple. The same can be said for the crafting system. The more gold I have, the easier it is to craft the gear I want.
I found more issues than I thought I would when it came to the remaster of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II. This game feels like it came right out of a time machine from 2004 and onto my Switch. And when all is said and done, that’s why I loved my time with it. I loved easy it was to get into. Customization feels old and outdated, but I don’t care. Choosing how to level my characters is straightforward; I can do it and keep playing without much thought. The lighting is dim and dark, making me turn my brightness up. But none of the issues mattered to me. I can look past them and enjoy my time with Dark Alliance II, especially when playing alongside a friend. The charm and nostalgic feelings this game brings back make playing again worth my time.
If I hadn’t played Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II when I was in high school, would I have enjoyed it now? I don’t think so. The simplistic look did not age well. The city of Baldur’s Gate feels empty and lifeless. The couch co-op is good; being able to play online would have been great, but only the PC version has that. The only real update was the rapid loading times and smooth frame rate. But I did play this back in high school. The memories carried over from 18 years ago. I’m lucky that the nostalgia was strong enough for me to look past the obvious flaws of Dark Alliance II. Because I was able to distance myself from the flaws, I was able to have a blast playing. Exploring, fighting, and the characters all had a familiar feel that made my time enjoyable. It might not be as sharp and crisp as a modern hack and slash game, but it didn’t matter.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I'm pulled towards anything that isn't driving or sports related; having said that, I love a good kart racer. I Can't get enough RPGs, and indies are always worth a look to me. The only other subject I pay any attention to is the NFL (go Colts!).
While writing about games is my favorite hobby, talking is a close second. That's why I podcast with my wife Tessa (it's called Tessa and Elliot Argue).View Profile