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Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (Windows)

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Written by  :  kbmb (399)
Written on  :  Dec 06, 2002
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars

5 out of 7 people found this review helpful

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Summary

Throw away all your presumptions and play this game!

The Good

Let me begin by saying that I am not a fan of Dungeons and Dragons, and I am especially not a fan of the AD&D rules. The AD&D combat system is stupid and it's not something that should be ported into computer games.

Let me also say that computer games based on AD&D rules are usually stupid. In order to stay loyal to the AD&D fanbase, they never improve upon the basic rules. AD&D is fine on paper, but in a computer game, it's lacking.

And third, let me just say that Baldur's Gate was a stupid game. I dislike the "fantasy" genre in general and I hated the game. I thought it was a waste of time and was just plain stupid. I could go so far as to say it is the worst RPG I've played in years. The only redeeming quality the entire game had was the nicely detailed backgrounds. Other than that, I hated the game and was baffled by its rediculous popularity.

I don't like AD&D, I hate the rules, I hate "fantasy", I hate the Infinity engine and I really hate Baldur's Gate. That being said, I'd like to say that not only does Baldur's Gate 2 blow away all my expectations and assumptions, it's indeed one of the best RPGs - games, even - I've ever played.

Everything Baldur's Gate did wrong, Baldur's Gate 2 does right a hundred times over. Everything Baldur's Gate did right, Baldur's Gate 2 improves upon it. Baldur's Gate 2 has set a new standard for RPGs, one that will be next to impossible to top, and a great effort to meet. So if you're reluctant to pick up Baldur's Gate 2 - as I was - because you hated Baldur's Gate 1, believe me when I say the contrast between the two games is so great you'll wonder if Baldur's Gate 1 was just to test out the Infinity engine.

That isn't to say the game is completely different. The gameplay hasn't changed and it looks the same. That is the sheer beauty and genius of Baldur's Gate 2, that the developers were able to craft such a great thing out of something...not so great without it losing any familiarity.

The story in Baldur's Gate 2 is mostly original and extremely well-executed. Baldur's Gate 1 was cliche'd, predictable, and nausiating the way it was projected to you. Instead of adding some crazy twist to Baldur Gate 1's story, BG2 uses it as a setting for your character and your party.

The game begins some time after the events of Baldur's Gate 1, where you and members from your party find yourselves in captivity. As you rejoin your party, they give you some insight as to where you have been between BG1 and BG2 and, if you've never played Baldur's Gate 1, they can also brief you on what went on there as well. It's done convincingly through dialogue, rather than a narrative, which I felt was a nice touch because it gives your character more depth and can allow you to emerse yourself in it better.

The "big bad villain" in Baldur's Gate 2 is a great character that's both written and voice-acted extremely well. Unlike your shallow "evil brother" from Baldur's Gate 1, Irenicus has more to him than you'll probably know if you just play through BG2 once. He has a history, a purpose, and there are believable explanations for his power and his motives. And what I thought was the best part of the game: he's not just some "evil that must be stopped!" like in BG1 and most fantasy RPGs. Instead of you playing the good guy and hero of the universe, your motive for confronting him is to get your sister back and to stop him from doing evil things to you and to you only.

And you don't have to play the good guy in BG2. In fact, you can play however you want. You want to boss and kick people around? Do it! Consequences will come from your actions, and that is your motive for perhaps playing the "good" character, rather than "because you must defeat evil." One thing I couldn't stand about Baldur's Gate 1 was that you were more or less forced into playing a goody two-shoes character. Sure, there were some room for diversity - like joining the bandits - but it was nothing more than a few quests here and there for the "dark side", and that just doesn't cut it. Baldur's Gate 2 allows you to play your character how you want to play, with so many different paths to choose, so many different options throughout the game, I might just go back and play through it again, just to see what happens when I go down the other road.

Familiar characters from Baldur's Gate 1 are back, whether they'll join you or not. This is a great thing for Baldur's Gate 1 fans. Unfortunately, for me, it was interesting at best, since I just wanted to get BG1 over with so I can get it off my hard drive and free up some space. But for those of you who really enjoyed BG1, you'll get to see what became of those that you knew and those that you met only in passing. Some will even rejoin you once again, if you like.

You start out in the game at a reasonable level for what you might have beaten BG1 in (or the level you did beat BG1 in, if you imported your character - I think...I didn't do this), so there's no "I was able to slay a dragon not too long ago, but now I can barely work my sword!" foulness. Also, this allows you to jump right into the story and emmerse yourself in it, rather than having to go hunting (or "leveling" as it's often called) for monsters so you can take down a certain enemy.

Like in Baldur's Gate 1, battles are much more than your standard click-and-kill system. Sending your party at an enemy isn't going to ensure a victory, even if you greatly outnumber him. You'll need to use tactics, use an assortment of attacks and spells to defeat him. This was, probably, the one good thing I saw in Baldur's Gate, and while BG2 hasn't improved much (or at all?) on it, I feel that it isn't necesarry. It's a perfect system for the game.

I love the way the weapons appeared in the game. They actually made sense, this time. Special enchanted weapons are rare, and when you find them, they come with a description that explains why the weapon is enchanted and how it came to be in your posession. No "Fireblade of Doom" that you just happen to come accross that has no reason being there except to boost your power in combat. Also, the weapon alone isn't going to define your power in battle. You have to be good with it as well. That also means that just because you're facing a big tough bad guy and he's kicking your ass, it doesn't mean he has some special enchanted weapon - indeed, he's carrying nothing more than a longsword.

The characters in this game are brilliant. I don't think any RPG to date has had such interesting and deep characters. They're not just mercenaries-for-hire, they have a reason for joining you, and often times their personal business will come into play during your travels. They had a life before they joined you - they didn't just pop into existence once you started talking to them - and the life they lead will have an effect on you, your party, and the game. An assassin might come to take their life, or a visit to their family might end in finding their home village under attack by trolls, or something of that nature. Also, they'll converse with one another, even spark up a romance as they spend time with one another. And even you can become romantic with a party member (or so I've heard. I've never done this.)

The backgrounds, like Baldur's Gate, are all drawn by hand, and they're beautiful. Very detailed, every single area, and there are many areas in the game. There must be a thousand different backgrounds all hand-drawn!

The sounds have been greatly improved over BG1. The forest sounds like a forest, the Underdark sounds like the underdark. Your footsteps echo in caverns, and boards creek under your weight.

You can die in BG2. I mean, totally. In BG2, the most you could really do is fall unconcious or lie in a bloody heap. Nothing that couldn't be fixed by gathering all your belongings and getting you ressurected. In BG2, this isn't always an option, as your corpse will be totally kersplattered all over the place.

The journal is one of the best I've seen implimented in a game. It actually is easy enough to navigate without getting lost, but at the same time it's detailed so you know what you're donig. You can also make your own journal entries.

If for nothing else, this is one of the best RPGs because of the story and how it is executed. I've never really been fascinated by an evil villain before. It was always "Yarrr I'm evil! Yarrr die, mortals!" before.

Baldur's Gate 2 blows away everything I thought it would be.

The Bad

Such a great game, it is not without its flaws, mostly due to the AD&D rules.

First, it's a computer game, not Pen-and-Paper AD&D. They should have improved on the rules, changed them, or got rid of them altogether. AD&D is a turn-based game, and playing it in real time is awkward and doesn't always balance right.

You can't wear a ring of protection while you're wearing any other magical armor. It doesn't explain why, it just says you can't.

Classes are fine, but I'll be pissed if my mage is going to die because for some reason she couldn't wear a damn helmet. Some things I understand about class-specific armor. Wearing heavy armor reduces your freedom of movement - that I understand. You can't move very well, you can't cast spells. Fine. But if I'm not planning to cast spells, my mages should be able to wear some damned armor. They're strong enough to do it, so they should be able to.

Pathfinding in the game ranges from God-awful to I'm-going-to-stab-myself-in-the-eye bad. I like that they keep trying to find the way to where you sent them, but it gets pretty annoying if they decide to turn around and go allllllllllllllll the way around the entire map (getting killed in the process) because for a brief instant, the guy in front of him stopped walking. This is how battles in tight places are lost. If you have a hasted guy, and you tell him to do something, often times he'll disappear faster than you have a chance to pause the game and get him in the right direction, which by that time he found a nest of basilisks and is now a rock.

They could have spent more time with the water in some places. Since it's all pre-rendered and stuff, it wouldn't have reduced performance or anything to make the water look more realistic.

Spells never miss. Ever. It's damn annoying when you run away from a mage casting a spell, and then a minute later you see this slowly moving green blob chasing you down the corridor and it hits you and you die. It's one thing to guide your spells accross the gap to your target, but a spell shouldn't be able to track you like a homing missle if the caster can't see you or is distracted.

Armor is weird. It doesn't defend your body against attacks, it somehow either makes you super agile, or your opponent super clumsy. You'll never get his for 0 damage. Instead, the opponent will miss you entirely. It's not so bad in Baldur's Gate 2 like it was in BG1 where you could spend an hour just hacking away at an enemy because you can't hit him at all, but it's still there in many places.

"You must gather your party before venturing forth." Thank God the voice was at least soothing. You'll hear this a million times throughout the game, since you're not allowed to travel anywhere unless all your party is right next to each other at the exit - and even then, for every one that reaches the exit, you'll hear the guy say it again and again. That's five times when you want to exit (since the sixth doesn't count, as that would be your entire party, allowing you to venture forth). This is one thing that should have been fixed from BG1. There are parts in the game where I really don't want my entire party going. I may want to send my thief into someone's house to silently, stealthily steal something and then get out, but can't, so I have to take all six of my clumsy noise friends into the building and slaughter everyone because I couldn't get away with stealing the object.

The ending cinematic of the game is an obvious lure to buying the expansion pack. Boo!

Money is almost completely worthless in the game. At one part, you're required to obtain a large sum of cash (I'm not spoiling much here - it's one of the first quests of the game), and at first glance you wonder how you'll ever get that much gold. But soon, you'll not only have it, you'd have doubled, tripled, multiplied it by the tenth power.

There are a LOT of quests for you to do. I liked this, but it just got a little excessive at times. I'd be getting quest offers within quests within quests. I couldn't walk the streets at night for fear I might get mugged with a quest offer.

Some riddles were far too easy. They lead you to the obvious right answer every time.

It was a pretty good chance that at the end of every quest, you'd be facing some sort of spellcaster. It got a little old.

The Bottom Line

I was very reluctant to play this game. Whether you're a fan of the original, or AD&D, or not, or even if you hate it, you should love this game because undernieth the magic missiles and elves, there's a great story, executed better than any RPG I've seen before.