Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5472)
Written on  :  Mar 21, 2004
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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How to fly an Elemental Plane

The Good

The original Baldur’s Gate ended on a cliffhanger so it’s no surprise that BG:DA2 picks up where the first one left off. What may be surprising is that it begins many miles away from the first one with a mostly new set of characters. Of course if you’ve never played the first Baldur’s Gate, then the only surprise in store for you is an opening cutscene that serves as an advisory against jumping through eldritch portals (and where’d that dwarf come from?).

Unlike its predecessor, there are now five characters to pick from: a monk, cleric, thief, necromancer, and a barbarian. The characters come named (like Thor from Gauntlet), but as you advance in level, you can customize their attributes and abilities. There is also a wider array of arms and equipment this time. A new feature allows you to use a workshop to empower your weapons, armor, and accessories with magic. By adding rune stones and gems, you can create swords that drain blood, armor that increases your intelligence, or rings that improve your ability to barter.

An interesting aspect of this game is the fact that you are an Adventurer. Every RPG has adventurers, eccentric folk who feel compelled to wander around caves looking for trolls, but very few have Adventurers. In BG:DA1, you were an adventurer—people meeting you for the first time felt that, were you give a rusty dagger, you might be able to kill rats in the wine cellar and perhaps find a bottle of wine. In BG:DA2, you are an Adventurer—people meeting you for the first time have an overwhelming sense of conviction that only you can save a small village from scores of goblins.

The game itself begins on the Road to Baldur’s Gate. Knowing that Ultimate Evil threatens Baldur’s Gate, you feel compelled to offer your sword (or staff). Sadly, the Ultimate Evil was taken care of in the previous game, a fact that your character learns early on. Luckily there are still Lesser Evils to deal with while waiting for another Ultimate Evil to present itself (which it does). The sequel is less linear this time around, with larger levels offering more areas to explore and more areas on the World Map to liberate.

Level design is great, including an Alone in the Dark-esque mansion that houses sinister science experiments, a squamous temple to a forgotten sea god, and trips to the elemental planes. With hidden doors, goals that surpass just killing monsters, and missions specific to your character, this game offers much more than the original version.

So why is the original game more fun?

The Bad

While this game offers expansive levels and nonlinear game play, the story feels looser too. Although there are more areas to explore, this game covers the same ground as its predecessor. Baldur’s Gate is the New York City of the Forgotten Realms, but we only see one section of it—and after two platform outings, there’s nothing to suggest that it’s the major port city that it is.

It’s easier too. Way easier. It commits the cardinal sin of letting players buy experience points. You no longer need ammo for crossbows or bows so the pressure of the weight allowance is gone. My necromancer’s spells were killing characters before they even appeared on screen (which made up for my cannon fodder skeleton), while my wife was trying to decide which lame cleric ability to use.. The workshop allows players to construct better weapons than the kids on the old cartoon series ever had. Finally, I hate level capping, but we ended the game with our characters at level 30! We didn’t have to carefully decide where to spend our points, we could max out almost everything.

The Bottom Line

If you're a fan of the first game, then this one is definitely worth picking up. If you don't have anything invested in this series, you might want to pick up Champions of Norrath instead.