Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Windows - 2000
Also released on: Mac
Description of Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Hear all across the land! Can it be BioWare's done it again? That's the question I asked myself as I installed the recommended 1168 MB's and some 200+ hours of gameplay that make up the sequel to the smash hit, Baldur's Gate! I was sceptical. I doubted. I had burned-out on BG1 's long hours slogging through open fields, fighting little monsters and solving numerous messenger quests. Beautiful and amazing as BG1 was - in the end it wasn't enough. And here I was, faced with BG2: had the developers listened -- could they surpass Guido Henkel's genius with their own engine, Planescape? Well, they could and they did... sort of!
The Children of Murder
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn begins where BG1 left off. Allowing you to import your party from the prequel, it also offers new classes which include barbarian, sorcerer and monk in addition to 20 new kits. The kits, such as assassin, beastmaster, undead slayer, and bounty hunter must often be obtained by solving specific in-game quests, adding unique abilities and stats. This variety adds depth and replayability, however, that wouldn't be enough alone. Some 300 spells (more than BG1's 120), and a myriad of cool weapons help.
The story unfolds in the deepest, darkest bowels of some foreign dungeon. You have no idea where your are or how you came to be there. Cages hold bodies, dead and alive, and torture looks to be the captor's favourite past-time. Suddenly, Imoen is there but she seems altered, distant and disturbed. She releases you and as a battle between those within the building and those outside ensues, you are able to make your escape. Searching the cages, you find old friends, Minsc with Boo (of course) and Jaheira. Assisting them and forming a party, while picking up stashed armor and weapons, you weave your way through the labyrinth of sections which reflect the personality and hobbies of the powerful wizard who wants you to give in to your gift, being the child of Baal. Here you pick up Yoshimo, a bounty hunter who appears rather relaxed but does have his own designs on your future.
Sounds normal enough, but the BioWare and Black Isle teams really have put together intricate stories and sub-stories which bind me to my chair with an addiction that even BG1 didn't hold for me in the end. Being the child of Baal is everything, and everyone from Jaheira to the Shadow Thieves Guild wants a piece of you for their own means. Hard choices selecting affiliations means the story unfolds differently depending on how you determine your fate. Quests are no longer messenger runs, but heroic (or parasitic) deeds which find you battling to save various keeps or halls, which you can keep for yourself afterwards! I find it extremely immersive, and often dark and disturbing. While my character wanders about, she is continually haunted by dreams directed by her former captor, who just happens to have Imoen in his grasp. Imoen didn't escape.
The quest does not just lie with you alone, as your party members have personalities now and partake in long conversations with each other, you, and NPCs you find along the way. Depending on where you go, various plots can crop up and you must decide if they are worth your time and trouble. Also, one of the most commendable additions to BG2 is the ability to truly play evil characters of all alignment types even in the main story-line. It's heartbreaking, also, to stick with going by your alignment, because they offer you the choice of going ahead with quests anyway. But, by role-playing your alignment, the replayability is vast!
As a matter of fact, you will find nine complicated new NPCs that can join your party, in addition to five old friends who make a come back. They are a wide variety of alignments, races and classes. Don't expect them to be easy to deal with either - the developers listened to fans. The NPCs in Baldur's Gate 2 will wrap you up in a turmoil of role-playing decisions. At every encounter, I find myself tormented with what choice to make, how to play this out, and which NPC to kill off, join to my party, or release for further use. They are no longer flat cardboard characters; well-timed banter makes them come alive, and each has several quests locked up within them. Often, after making your escape and discovering you are in the city of Athkatla, party members will be hauled off or leave due to encounters in town or elsewhere. This means the single-player experience of the game is far deeper than making up your own party of characters and you better leave some NPCs alive to replace those that take off! And be prepared for some very... cough interesting relationships (without wanting to give too much away). My problem is that I play a "Lawful Evil Female Mage"...and none of my members are interested in her!
A Fighting We Will Go!
It's impossible to praise enough how well the stories suck you in. The longing to discover what happens next and thus dive into the next set of battles to find out. Battles in BG2 are far from mundane. They are much more challenging than most of BG1 requiring thoughful skill and planning. Monsters have various immunities or resistances so the same approach cannot be used each time: range weapons may be ineffective, or magic resisted. A group with a wide variety of abilities is far more versatile. BG2 is amazingly non-linear... to a point. The game does restrict certain areas from you until you've obtained certain information on them (keeping the party from getting too far over its head).
What this means, however, is that I found myself at times trying to take on groups I couldn't handle. One in particular (my party at level 10 or so) was a group of thieves in the sewers. I'd killed most of their group, but one stubborn mage just wouldn't go down. I gave Minsc his two-handed sword for melee, and the next thing I knew he was dust in the wind - literally. The mage had cast Disintegrate and that was the last of Minsc, just a pile of powder. This can be problematic at times if you like your role-playing pure because it sets up a situation where you have to pre-test an encounter to see how the monsters behave. Then reload and try it again after you've sorted out your strategy, which can happen quite often. Annoying for some, however, I found it challenging and enjoyable -- most of the time, that is, especially when I finally learned that sometimes you have to just give up and try when the party is bigger.
Where the Monsters Lay
While the aspects of story and character development are far superior, BG2 's problems lie in what is now an ancient game engine. Granted, the graphics are improved to 800x600 resolution and include 3D options, and they look good. The spell effects are lovely in 3D with new animations and outdoor areas have lost their flatness. Trees and cliffs are tall and tower over your characters rather than looking like a Warhammer playing board. The interface, although nearly identical to BG1, has new artwork and there are new portraits. Or you can use the old/custom ones - I did this with the entire Icewind Dale collection. Full key-mapping, various difficulty settings, new voices (although not enough for me!), gem bags which allow you to store jewelery and gems, and scroll cases which free up inventory space all make using the interface more comfortable. Other useful additions are annotated map locations, helping you find your way around, and a user section of the journal that allows you to write in your own comments. Oh, and guys: thanks for putting in the pause while in the inventory screen!
However, and this is a BIG however: the inability to run, or as in Planescape, go to the map, click on a location and instantly transport your characters there, is sorely lacking. The fact that there is no teleport/group teleport to towns slows things down (even real AD&D; has teleporting). Also, having to "gather your party before venturing forth" because they are scattered due to the silly pathfinding algorithm, is just plain annoying - you should be able to switch locations regardless of your party's positions and being unable to rest because your party is a few paces too far from the right spot inside the Inn is especially frustrating. Add to this that with all the graphical bells and whistles on, the game will sometimes slow to a crawl on my Celeron 566MHz, 128 MB RAM, Voodoo3 system and crashes when I exit (both, I'm guessing, repairable with a patch). I should add, though, that they did do an excellent job reducing the area sizes so that although you need to walk about a lot, they are not as excruciatingly long distances and multiple exits help alleviate having to trek back.
Forgotten Realms Forever
Despite these drawbacks, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn is what the original Baldur's Gate should have been. The depth of character development, the fact that now you get to those really interesting character levels (up to level 23 for some classes), superb -- and I rarely use the word "superb" -- story scripting, freedom to play various roles including evil alignments, deep NPC interactions which drag you as a leader through muck and mire just as it should be, and appropriately scaled graphics all result in rich, well-paced, thoughtful quests and addictive gameplay.
Yes, I curse at the annoyances, but that hasn't stopped me from being glued to the game. The fact that the developers chose to use the same engine as the predecessor gave them the time to include the excellent elements, and I just can't stop playing. I want to know what will happen next in this complicated world you can't help getting involved in. And I want to play it again... and again (I couldn't say that with BG1). They really did everything right; if they had just added teleport or, better yet, the movement elements from Planescape, it would have been flawless instead of the current love/hate relationship. But no matter - if you can overlook this and a few other minor bugs, this is a must-buy game with an experience close to perfection.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
angry 2015-07-09 -2 points Mac version
when i opened the baldur's gate 2 application in the BGII ToB2.1.2 folder it says the following: "An Assertion Failed in ChDimm.cpp at line number 666 Programer says: Unable to Open BIF:data:MISSSound.bif" please help fix this somehow
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