Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II is just like the first one, but there's more of it.
That's it; that's all; you can all go home, or to the store, according to your individual preference. There isn't a hell of a lot else to say.
Dark Alliance II begins about thirty seconds after the end of the first game, after the fall of the Oynx Tower. The three heroes of the original game step through a magical portal. They wind up in a dark forest somewhere, surrounded by shadow knights, with what is clearly a very bad man ominously lurking in front of them. He thanks them; the knights close in.
Fade out, and fade in on the road to Baldur's Gate, where five new adventurers are coming to seek their fortune. Dorn Redbear is a human barbarian from the Western Heartlands, hoping to soak up some of the remaining glory to be had in Baldur's Gate; the drow elf monk Vhaidra Uoswiir is one of two survivors of her family, and hopes to exploit the troubles in the city in such a way to expedite her bloody revenge. Borador, a dwarven rogue, just wants some money, while Allessia Faithhammer hopes to protect the innocent, as befits a cleric of Helm. Finally, there's Ysuran Auondril, a moon elf necromancer, whose motives are a mystery, even to himself.
Each of these characters begins the game at first level, with the clothes on their back, and a couple of them know a couple of spells. Almost immediately, you'll run into a few goblins, celebrating a successful attack upon a merchant caravan, and be begged by a surviving guardswoman to rescue the wealthy merchant in question.
That's the beginning of an adventure that'll take them around, across, above, below, and through Baldur's Gate; to several towns and dungeons surrounding it; and even to other planes of existence, to challenge those who'd resurrect the Onyx Tower, and use it for their own evil ends.
In other words, you'll be killing things.
You will kill them by sword, arrow, spell, and bow; by summoned undead or holy fire; via explosive traps, crossbow bolt, or a punch to the throat or throat-like organ. Where Dark Alliance II differs from its predecessor is in its character variety, and thus, the myriad of ways in which you can make bad things die.
Dark Alliance II is, like its predecessor, a dungeon crawler. You'll be sent on a variety of missions to benefit the good people of Baldur's Gate, all of which seem to involve going to a dark place full of monsters and hitting them all until they stop moving. Whether it's the city sewer or a dank hole in the ground sixty miles away, the safety of Baldur's Gate seems to depend in large part upon the wholesale slaughter of bad things.
Perhaps I am dwelling a bit much on the whole "killing" issue, but I've been playing this game for ten hours now and I have a higher body count than Stalin. Characters in this game kill six goblins before their first cup of coffee, skewer hobgoblins for light entertainment, set bandits on fire just to see their expression, and take a running punt-kick at an ogre's groin just because it's there. You're not an adventurer; you're an exterminator.
I'm a gamer; I've been playing AD&D since I was eleven. Dark Alliance II is like a killer DM's fever dream. We're talking about vast, mazelike dungeons, filled with what occasionally seems like a wholly insufficient amount of treasure, and populated entirely by monsters that someone has deliberately beaten and underfed to keep 'em mean.
Dark Alliance II features a rogue's gallery of many of the stars of the AD&D bestiary, like equipment-eating rust monsters, goblin shamans, fire giants, kuo-toa, zombies, skeletons, spectres, ettins, troglodytes, gnolls, poltergeists, and, just to keep things interesting, an archlich. In the first chapter. To put it in perspective for those of you who don't sling dice, in AD&D, an archlich appearing this early in a campaign is like firing a nuclear missile as a warning shot. You don't do it, unless the players got together one day and keyed your car.
Then again, you'd need that kind of a crowd in order to just slow the player characters down. The five main PCs of Dark Alliance II are a particularly powerful lot, all of whom have a wide array of abilities and forty levels in which you can customize and specialize them as you see fit.
If you enjoy straight-ahead, no-frills fighting, you should probably pick Redbear or Vhaidra; the former's good at hitting people with enormous swords and axes, while the latter is all about speed, precision, and pummeling monsters many times about the neck and face. Redbear takes a hit and keeps on coming, because he has more hit points than Godzilla, and eventually uses that pain to get really pissed off, while a properly equipped Vhaidra with the right feats simply won't get hit. She'll somehow manage to just not be there, using a combination of agility, skill, and light armor to achieve an armor class that you usually only get by taking cover behind a small moon.
Those of you who played as Adrianna in Dark Alliance, which appears to be most if not all of you, will get to pick between Allessia and Ysuran this time around. Allessia's a cleric, and as such, her magic tends to lean towards defensive uses: healing wounds, protection spells, and so forth. Then again, she will utterly annihilate any undead creature who so much as looks at her funny; she can call down holy bolts of cleansing fire with the regularity of a metronome; and Allessia is the only character who doesn't need to blow feat points on Armor Proficiency in order to wear plate mail.
Ysuran, by comparison, prefers the company of the undead. With the Animate Dead spell, he can summon skeletons and zombies to serve as his bodyguards, intercepting incoming monsters and setting them up for a spell like Contagion or Enervation. If he gets wounded, he can use Drain Life to suck vitality from the monsters around him, harming them while healing himself.
Finally, there's Borador, who combines a talent for archery with a talent for not letting himself be seen. He can conceal himself in the shadows of a dungeon, picking off stray monsters one at a time, or luring them into a hallway where he's set a wide variety of explosive traps. Direct confrontation really isn't his style.
The point I'm trying to make here is that raw character variety prevents Dark Alliance II from being anything which can be remotely compared to a game that might kind of look like a button-masher if you squint. Each character has plenty of special moves, bonus specialties, and extra skills, which you can use, abandon, and improve as you see fit. As you progress through the game, you'll find extra dungeons and objectives which are unique to your current characters, and by completing these sidequests, you can unlock even more feats and abilities, or at least get a lot of experience points dropped on your head all at once.
Another method of customization available in the game comes in the form of the trader's workshop in Baldur's Gate. It's difficult to find magical equipment in the depths of a dungeon in Dark Alliance II; instead, you'll be building your own weapons and armor.
When you find a weapon or piece of armor, it'll be assigned a quality rating based upon its construction and craftsmanship, from Shoddy to Flawless. The better the item is, the more it might sell for, and the bigger a bonus it gives to your attack or defense. A piece of equipment that's rated Fine or better can be enchanted, using magical rune stones and gems purchased from the trader or found over the course of an adventure. It costs a lot--as a matter of fact, most of the reason to get money in this game is to fund your experiments at the workshop--but you can eventually assemble some visually spectacular and powerful magical items.
If Dark Alliance II has a notable flaw, it's really that there isn't as much adaptability and exploration to be found in the game as I'd like there to be. It follows a fairly linear plot track.
I also don't understand why there's no ability to strafe in the game. If I'm using a missile weapon, such as a crossbow, I'd like to be able to lock onto an opponent and run backwards or sideways while shooting at him. It'd not only make things easier, but it'd feel like a more natural fighting style than my typical Sprint-shoot-Sprint-shoot approach. Instead, when you press R1 to lock on, you stand in one place and acquire some kind of medieval laser sight. This is goofy. It's like all the characters are big Resident Evil fans or something.
Anything else I can think of is really just nitpicking, or a complaint about a difficult part of a given dungeon. While Dark Alliance II is still, at its core, a game where you run at people shouting and cut them in half, and as such, suffers from the inherent flaws in the "run at people shouting and cut them in half" genre, it's a versatile and entertaining example of its breed. It isn't going to win any new fans over to the genre, but it is very good at what it does.