Baldur’s Gate II review

Written by Julian Schoffel on . Posted in Role-Playing

Baldurs Gate 2 game image

I first reviewed Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn some 12 years ago and it still stands out as being one of the all time classics in the single-player PC role-playing genre.

Baldur’s Gate II was the sequel to one of the best AD&D computer role-playing games of all time. Like its predecessor the game was set on the Sword Coast, but this time most of the action took place in and around the huge city of Athkatla.

The storyline of Baldur’s Gate II followed on from the events of the original game and shortly after defeating “Sarevok,” your character had been captured and transported to a mysterious dungeon. As the game began, a cruel mage (later identified as “Irenicus”) subjected you to all manner of diabolical experiments.

While you weren’t exactly sure what Irenicus wanted, you suspected that it may have somehow involved your dark heritage. Just when there seemed little hope of escape, an old friend (“Imoen”) popped up and rescued you. With Imoen’s help you soon discovered that two of your former travelling companions were also being held captive: “Jaheira” and the slightly insane ranger “Minsc” (complete with his miniature pet space hamster “Boo”).

A massive gameworld to explore!

The sheer scale of Baldur’s Gate II was simply enormous. Told through a series of in-game cinematic sequences, the epic storyline revolved around your quest to track down the enigmatic and despicably evil Irenicus.

Apart from the vast city of Athkatla, your search took you to some very daunting and dangerous places. These included everything from an Asylum for mages, to a sprawling Drow city located in the Underdark itself.

But unlike the first game players never found themselves wandering aimlessly around in huge empty wilderness areas. All the quests and sub-quests of Baldur’s Gate II had been carefully integrated so there was something interesting to do in every area.

For Baldur’s Gate II Bioware implemented a host of refinements encompassing almost every facet of the game. Of these the most obvious would have to have been the improved graphics which now featured 3D accelerated spell effects and support for higher screen resolutions. The game could be run in a variety of modes including 800×600, right up to 2048×1600 (which was pretty impressive back in 2000). While screen resolutions over 800×600 were not officially supported, I managed to play Baldur’s Gate II all the way through in 1024×768 with no problems at all.

The game also included new character portraits and a re-designed interface. It was even possible to remove the interface altogether and play in full-screen mode which looked fantastic.

The experience point limit of Baldur’s Gate II topped out at 2.95 million so players were able to get their characters up to levels of 17 to 23 (depending on the class). Naturally with such high level characters players could expect to encounter some really formidable foes and during the game you found yourself up against some of AD&D’s nastiest denizens including: Mind Flayers, Dragons, Vampires, Liches, Elementals, Beholders, Adamantite Golems, Drow Sorcerers, and a range of Demons. Of these the Dragons were particularly spectacular and their massive bodies took up most of screen! Creature AI had also been improved and some foes would even follow you into new areas – so you couldn’t always just run away…

Deep and involving gameplay

Despite the improved visuals and new bestiary Bioware also did a magnificent job of adding depth and complexity never before seen in a computer role-playing game. Players could create characters from a range of new classes (i.e. Monk), and there were also tons of new skills to learn (i.e. single-weapon style, two-weapon style, sword and shield style). To clean up the character inventory Bioware added specialised containers (i.e. gem bags, scroll cases). There was also an improved mapping feature which automatically recorded important locations.

To top it all off the game had a great soundtrack and made excellent use of 3D sound (i.e. dungeons sounded dank and threw realistic echoes), the voice-acting was top-notch and AI scripting had been refined so you could assign specific combat behaviours to your characters (i.e. tell your fighter to target enemy spell-casters).

More attention had also been paid to interaction within the party itself so players would periodically have to respond to the dialogue of other characters. Naturally this affected overall party morale and could result in better (or worse) inter-party relationships.

I shudder to think how many hours I put into Baldur’s Gate II, but without exception the experience was incredibly enjoyable. While most of the improvements lay just under the game’s surface, they made Baldur’s Gate II a far better game than the original and that’s really saying something!

Review Summary
Score: 100%
Info: I first reviewed Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn back in 2000 during the Sydney Olympics, if memory serves. It stood out as being a flawless classic in all respects, in fact some 12 years later it’s still one of THE best single-player PC RPGs I’ve ever played! And I’ve played most of them…
The Good: Improved visuals. Absorbing storyline. Gameplay was incredibly refined. Sound-effects and music top-notch. One of the best computer RPGs ever.
The Bad: Eventually the game actually ends…dammit!

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Julian Schoffel

From 1994 to 2007 Julian was a contributing editor for Australian PC User Magazine. He has also written for numerous publications which include Australian Personal Computer, PC PowerPlay, Hyper, Ralph, Megazone, The Disc, PlayNow, TechLife, The Sydney Morning Herald and IGN.

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