Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II is a real-time hack and slash/action role-playing game presented in a 3D perspective, with a rotatable isometric three-quarter top-down view.
At the beginning of the game, character stats are preset, with the player able to choose from five race/class combinations; a human barbarian (Dorn Redbear), a drow monk (Vhaidra Uoswiir), a moon-elf necromancer (Ysuran Auondril), a dwarven rogue (Borador Goldhand) or a human cleric (Allessia Faithhammer). The player can customize their character's stats through gaining experience points from defeating enemies. Every time the character increases in level, points are awarded corresponding to that level; i.e. if a character increases to level twelve, the player will gain twelve experience points to spend on the character's spells and feats. For every four levels which the character increases, the player is given one ability point to spend on one of the six core attributes (strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, charisma).
Each of the five characters have their own unique fighting style and their own specific set of spells and feats. Gameplay strategy is thus different for each character. Dorn is a Barbarian, and his feats tend to focus on increasing his brute strength and ability to resist damage, as well as granting him powerful abilities to aid in melee combat, such as the ability to wield two-handed weapons in each hand. Vhaidra relies on unarmed combat, so her feats tend to focus on increasing her speed and combos, as well as granting her close-range abilities, such as pushing enemies away from her. As Ysuran is a necromancer, his feats tend to focus on increasing the power of his magic and granting him new spells, such as the ability to use shadow magic. Borador tends more towards archery, but is also capable of melee combat. His spells tend to focus on allowing him to use a shield offensively, and granting him the ability to set traps for enemies and disarm traps intended for the player. Allessia is a cleric and has access to many healing and defensive spells. She can also use melee combat. Later in the game she gains the ability to reanimate the dead, and have them fight alongside her.
Gameplay is semi-linear; most of the main quests can be performed in different orders, but only from within a group of given quests. For example, in Act I, the player can choose to tackle a series of kidnappings or investigate a spate of murders, but no other main quests are made available until both quests are complete. There are also optional side-quests, which do not have to be completed immediately. There are more NPCs than in the first game, and the player can interact with many of them. Depending on which character the player is using, these NPCs may or may not provide information and assistance. Weapons, armor and items are only available for purchase from one location throughout the game, a shop in Baldur's Gate, although the stock changes at the commencement of each act, with the weapons increasing in expense and power. The HUD features the option to use either a transparent map that covers most of the screen, or a mini-map, with the player also given the option to turn the map off entirely.
The game also features cooperative gameplay with another player. Both players share the same screen, and are thus limited in how far they can move away from one another. In co-op mode, both players get 50% of the experience for each kill, no matter which player makes the kill. Additionally, unlike in the original game, all treasure is shared 50/50 between both players, irrespective of which player collects it.
A new feature in Dark Alliance II gives players the ability to create custom weapons and armor. Players can improve items by using runestones and gems. To increase the strength of an item, at least one runestone must be used. Gems are optional, although adding gems increases the strength further and enhances certain of the items' attributes. The player cannot place more gems on an item than runestones; if the player wishes to place four gems, they must have a minimum of four runestones attached. Each item can have two different types of gem attached at any one time, in addition to the required runestones. There are several different kinds of gem and each has a different effect on different types of item. For example, a pearl attached to a piece of armor gives +1 additional treasure drop, attached to a weapon gives +1 "Improved Critical", and attached to a trinket gives +1 Wisdom.
The game contains four difficulty levels; "Easy", "Normal", "Hard" and "Extreme". Extreme is unlocked once the player has completed any of the other three levels. Extreme mode takes the form of a New Game Plus, and can only be played by importing a saved character from another game. The game also contains two secret characters; Drizzt Do'Urden and Artemis Entreri. Drizzt becomes available to use in the main game upon beating any difficulty level. Artemis is unlocked upon defeating Extreme.
While the original game focused on three areas in the Sword Coast and Western Heartlands regions of the Faerûnian continent, the second game is predominately based in and around the city of Baldur's Gate itself.
The game features five main playable characters; Dorn Redbear, Ysuran Aundril, Borador Goldhand, Vhaidra Uoswiir and Allessia Faithhammer, each of whom has come to Baldur's Gate for different reasons. Dorn seeks fame and glory. Vhaidra has come looking for vengeance against those who have attempted to destroy her family. Ysuran is suffering from amnesia and has come in the hope of finding clues to his past. Borador comes for wealth, in order to release his clan from its debt to the drow. Allessia comes to spread the word of Helm and advance to become a high-ranking priest.
The game begins by revealing the fate of the three protagonists from the first game; after jumping through the portal at the top of the Onyx Tower, Vahn, Kromlech and Adrianna are taken prisoner by the vampire Mordoc SeLanmere.
Meanwhile, outside Baldur's Gate, fate brings Dorn, Vhaidra, Ysuran, Borador and Allessia together. Upon meeting on the Trade Way, they learn that since the collapse of Xantam's Guild, the route has become increasingly dangerous due to the rise of the Red Fang Marauders, a goblin army who prey on travelers. After infiltrating a nearby Marauders cave, and freeing the caravan guard Randalla, the heroes head to Wayfork Village, a nearby fiefdom. There, they rescue the village from the Marauders and kill their hobgoblin leader, Harnak.
Upon entering Baldur's Gate, to assist them in earning some money, Randalla hires them to investigate a series of murders in the city. At Bloodmire Manor, they learn that Luvia Bloodmire has been combining the body parts of various creatures in an attempt to make a new species, and has been giving her creations to Lady Aragozia Firewind. Her first creation, Argesh, has set up the Hands of Glory, a thieves' guild faction of the Marauders. The heroes kill Argesh, crippling the Hands of Glory, and infiltrate the main base of the Marauders. There, they defeat but do not kill the Red Queen, leader of the Marauders. They follow her to Lady Arogazia's manor, and learn that Arogazia is actually a member of the Zhentarim, a criminal network intent on ruling Faerûn. She has been using the Marauders in an effort to bring back the Onyx Tower. Along with her associate Kharne (a former member of Xantham's Guild, who was presumed killed in the first game), Arogazia escapes from the heroes, transforming into a Fire Dragon, Aizagora. Impressed with their efforts, Jherek, a member of the Harpers, approaches the heroes and requests they retrieve four elemental objects. At the same time, the Zhentarim are also trying to attain the objects in an effort to reactivate the Onyx Tower. During their journey, the heroes encounter Sleyvas, the humanoid lizard who betrayed the protagonists at the end of Dark Alliance. He too is working for the Zhentarim, although the heroes kill him. Having successfully found the four objects for Jherek, each of the heroes then pursues their own personal quest.
After killing the dragon Baragoth, the druid inside Dorn is awakened. Ysuran realizes his horrific past and his hate crimes against humans, determining that he will not worry about the past, but instead build a good name for himself in the future. Borador frees Gandam's Hold and reclaims the Goblinbreaker name for his clan, who begin working on new forges to free themselves from their debt to fey folk. Vhaidra travels to Cloud Peaks and gets her revenge on a murderous black elf who assisted in the fall of her family's house. Allessia frees the Church of Helm in Baldur's Gate from Goreth Vileback, a cleric of Cyric.
After the five return to town, Jherek enlists them once again, for a journey to each of the Elemental Planes to activate the Elemental Foundations using the four objects they recovered earlier. In each plane, they are attacked by the Zhentarim, who are in control of the Foundations. Two of the Zhentarim who attack them are Luvia Bloodmire and Aizagora, but both are defeated. However, upon returning from the final plane and speaking to Jherek, they are all shocked when they are approached by Kharne. He tells them the Zhentarim no longer wish to reactivate the Onyx Tower, and that the Harpers and the Zhentarim have a common enemy; Mordoc SeLanmere. Mordoc believes he can use the Tower to bring about the downfall of Baldur's Gate, which will please his "allies in the east." His steward, Xanhast, interrogates Vahn, Adrianna and Kromlech, finding they know little of the larger scheme playing out. However, Kharne, Jherek and the five adventurers storm Mordoc's Keep of Pale Night. They rescue the trio of adventurers, forcing Mordoc to speed up his plans, and relocate the Onyx Tower into Baldur's Gate ahead of schedule.
Now called Mordoc's Gate, the entire population of the city are turned into zombies. The five adventurers attack the Tower and kill Xanhast, finally attacking Mordoc in the Elemental Plane of Shadows. After killing him, they destroy the Onyx Heart, supposedly destroying the Tower forever. This releases the citizens from their zombification, and led by Randalla, they gather to thank the heroes for saving the city. Meanwhile, in a room with an Ancient Egyptian milieu, a servant tells a stone sarcophagus that Mordoc has failed and Baldur's Gate still stands. The sarcophagus says that Mordoc's failure will not interrupt "my sacred mission," and orders his servant to prepare the army and ready his sun barge. As with the first game, Dark Alliance II ends on a cliffhanger.
Dark Alliance II was first mentioned as early as April 17, 2001, when Interplay Entertainment confirmed that if the first game was successful, a sequel would enter development immediately. However, the game was not officially announced until March 24, 2003, when Interplay revealed they were working on a sequel for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The only information available at the time was that the game would introduce item crafting, have five playable characters and was slated for a simultaneous PlayStation/Xbox release in the winter of 2003. On May 6, IGN published an interview with Kevin Osburn, head of the development team at Black Isle Studios and the game's producer. Osburn revealed the developers had taken on-board criticisms of the first game, and addressed those problems in the sequel, as well as making everything bigger, with more enemies, characters, weapons, locations and quests.
At E3 in May 2003, Interplay showcased the Xbox version of the game, revealing three of the new characters: a human barbarian, a moon-elf necromancer and a drow monk. Interplay stated that if the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions sold well, they would consider porting the game to GameCube. In July, demos for both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions were released. All five characters were available for play, and their character-specific sidequests were finalized. Weapon creation was also showcased, as was co-op mode. The game was set for an October release. Both IGN and GameSpot were impressed with the demo, although both expressed some concern that the graphics were essentially the same as the first game. At the 2003 Gen Con in July, Interplay revealed the game was 90% complete and on schedule for an October release.
However, on September 29, Interplay announced it had canceled its distribution deal with Vivendi Universal Games, due to alleged breaches of the working agreement and failure of payment. Herve Caen, CEO of Interplay, stated
In the interest of our company and its shareholders, we had no choice but to terminate this agreement. After several notifications to Vivendi of its failure to perform in accordance with the terms of our agreement and, in particular, in refusing to pay Interplay certain monies due following our latest release, Lionheart, we still did not receive the payments owed to us. We are currently evaluating several other distribution options. We fully expect to release two of our strongest titles, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel for Xbox and PlayStation 2 in the fourth quarter.
In October, EB Games and GameStop websites changed the release dates for the game to January 2004. Interplay initially denied the delay, stating it was still aiming for a fourth quarter release, and would distribute the game themselves if need be. On November 6, Interplay announced it had resolved its legal dispute with Vivendi, and had returned to their prior distribution agreement. On November 12, they officially confirmed that Dark Alliance II would be delayed until early 2004.
On December 8, reports surfaced that Interplay had shut down Black Isle Studios, although Interplay itself made no formal statement. On December 16, IGN reported that Black Isle Studios had definitely been closed, and now existed only as a brand under the Interplay label. They reported that when Black Isle's director had quit, the studio was placed under the management of Digital Mayhem, but with the agreement that Interplay would adopt a more hands-off approach. By this stage, Black Isle had already begun work on Dark Alliance III. However, the title was cancelled after Interplay failed to retain the license to use the Dungeons & Dragons label from Wizards of the Coast, so Black Isle shifted focus to Fallout 3. They handed in a 95% complete demo, including all game functionality. The next day, however, Interplay, who were several million dollars in debt, with just over $1 million in the bank, began to fire people from Digital Mayhem. Two weeks later, all but two members of the Fallout team were fired. This effectively meant Black Isle Studios no longer existed as anything other than a brand. Apparently, staff were told by Interplay that "we will continue to produce titles. If we feel that a title is worth of [sic] the Black Isle Studios' name then it will be released under that brand."
However, on December 18, Interplay denied shutting the studio, claiming "Black Isle Studios remains open with projects pending, the status of Fallout 3 is under review, and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel will ship on January 13." However, the very next day, December 19, an anonymous former Black Isle employee confirmed to IGN that the studio had been closed, and that although Dark Alliance II would still be released, Fallout 3 and Dark Alliance III had been officially cancelled.
On January 5, 2004 Interplay announced that Dark Alliance II was complete and would be released for both PlayStation and Xbox on January 20. Interplay published the game, with Vivendi distributing in North America, and Avalon Interactive distributing in Europe.
In November 2003, Snowblind Studios, developers of the original Dark Alliance and creators of the Dark Alliance engine, filed a lawsuit against Interplay. Snowblind alleged that Interplay had used the game engine in several games without their permission and withheld royalties due from the sale of those games. These games were the GameCube version of the first Dark Alliance game, which was developed by High Voltage Software, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, and Dark Alliance II. The lawsuit was settled on April 19, 2005, and determined that while Interplay could continue to publish materials already using the Dark Alliance engine, they could not use the engine in any future projects. The lawsuit also saw Interplay transfer the Baldur's Gate trademark to Atari and temporarily transfer the Dark Alliance trademark to Snowblind; "Interplay hereby grants to Snowblind a security interest in the Dark Alliance Trademark to secure the investment and expected return of Snowblind and its licensees in the event of bankruptcy of Interplay."
A formal or official soundtrack for Dark Alliance II was never released. However, in September 2013, composer Craig Stuart Garfinkle did release an album called Songs of the Dragon, V2 featuring primarily music from the game.
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II received "generally favorable reviews," with the PlayStation 2 version holding an aggregate score of 78 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on forty-four reviews, and the Xbox version 77 out of 100, based on forty-four reviews.
Game Informer's Andrew Reiner scored the PlayStation 2 version 8.5 out of 10, calling it "role-playing bliss." He praised the range of characters, missions and weaponry, the item customization, the non-linear structure and the range of environments. Comparing the game to the original, he called it "a much deeper play with a higher level of interaction."
IGN's Ed Lewis scored the game 8.4 out of 10, writing "Black Isle Studios have made an appropriate continuation of the story, but don't create enough changes that some may feel a sequel deserves." He was critical of the similarity of the gameplay to the first game; "there is still all of the dungeon crawling action that has worked well in the past and still works here, but there's still not enough that's new to truly keep pushing the genre forward. There could be more weapons and more characters, but the real issue is that the world is still a fairly linear adventure with a steady pace towards the end."
GameSpot's Ryan Davis scored the game 8 out of 10, writing "Though not as impressive as the original game, Dark Alliance II will surely satisfy players looking for a well-crafted, accessible action RPG experience." He praised the range of missions, and the ability to craft new weaponry, but was critical of the graphics, which he felt hadn't really advanced from the first game. He concluded "Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was an RPG for people who didn't like RPGs, and its sequel does a fine job of maintaining that design philosophy."
Eurogamer's Ronan Jennings scored the Xbox version 7 out of 10, writing "in terms of progression, the only real difference between this and Dark Alliance is that the first game felt like it had better structure to it. In fact, DAII feels more like an expansion pack in that regard, with players sometimes given the option to complete quests in any order they choose [...] It's hard not to be disappointed in Dark Alliance II. However, it's equally hard to criticise such a polished effort. On the one hand, it offers more of the great hack and slash gameplay that no one has emulated properly since the first Dark Alliance. On the other hand, the magic of the original has definitely been diluted, where it really should have been enhanced."
GameSpy's Raymond Padulla scored the PlayStation 2 version 3 out of 5. He praised the differentiation in the fighting style of the playable characters, writing, "the additional variety in Dark Alliance II is one of the few cases where more translates to better." However, he felt that when compared with the original game, "while it is superior in a few ways, it's inferior in others." He was critical of the graphics, writing "there are a smattering of areas and effects that are cooler than the original, but for the most part the visuals look dated and uncreative [...] That isn't to say that the graphics are offensive, but compared to the original -- whose graphics were a strong point -- it's definitely a step down." He concluded "I was convinced that more of a great thing would be an even greater thing. I thought Black Isle would do as fine a job with the series as Snowblind did. I was wrong on both counts. While Dark Alliance II is a good game, it has barely progressed the series." Writing later in 2004, Allen Raucsh said much the same; "Black Isle Studios took over the development chores on this edition, and essentially delivered the same game again. Unfortunately, gamers had moved on [...] In short, while Dark Alliance II was by no means a bad game, it badly needed updating before it could become relevant again.".
In 2015, Ian Williams of Paste rated the game #7 on his list of "The 10 Greatest Dungeons and Dragons Videogames". He commented: "The console market wanted in on the fun after so many years of rad D&D RPGs being on PC either exclusively or first. And that's how a loud, brash, fun as heck hack and slash RPG series set in the Forgotten Realms was born. It's way more Diablo than Baldur's Gate, despite the name. That means, aside from the style of play, you can't design your characters from scratch. But the playable characters offer a wide variety of playstyles, while the customization as you level means that you can fine tune as you go. Topping it off is a co-op mode which is so much fun that even Drizzt showing up can't ruin."