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23. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance
Snowblind Studios | Interplay | 2001
The definitive hack and slash dungeon crawler of the PS2 - it cast a long shadow... and left behind a big pile of dead rats
What made it so great?
When it came out, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was a complete surprise. It brought the hard-edged fantasy of its Dungeons & Dragons backdrop to life with astoundingly detailed graphics - that wobbly, perfect water was particularly amazing in 2001 - and addictive gameplay. With the perfect blend of hand-to-hand weapon combat, an excellently balanced difficulty curve, and devastating magical abilities, it became the "it" game for RPG fans thirsty for some action.
The game was simple enough to be instantly enjoyable, but with just enough character customization and treasure-hunting to keep the game meaty. Sure, the story was trite fantasy nonsense and the characters are freakish, but the whole package was completely irresistible and fiendishly addictive. That is, of course, why such a huge proportion of the PS2's dungeon-crawling library is a slavish recreation of this one game, with only obvious upgrades.
Get ready to play
Even now, this game should suck you in, particularly if you've never played it before. The mazes are just long enough, the bosses are just hard enough, and the adventure is balanced just right. Sure, you could pick up Champions: Return to Arms, the latest and arguably greatest game to build on this game's foundation, but the original still feels the best.
Been there, done that?
If you like the serious fantasy trappings but would rather play something more tactical, the criminally overlooked Culdcept offers one of the deepest gameplay experiences on the PS2. Consigned to the slagheap thanks to most gamers' fear of the phrase "card battles," it's actually an intense and intricate game totally unlike anything else on the PS2. Buy or regret.