Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn Review aka “Just like old times. Well, except for the torture and all.”
If you haven’t read my Baldur’s Gate Review, stop and do so now. As the sequel to Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2 shares many similarities to Baldur’s Gate, and was made with the same (albeit somewhat upgraded) engine. Many of the core factors regarding the difficulty of reviewing Baldur’s Gatedue to its age also apply to Baldur’s Gate 2, so bear it in mind.
Story and Immersion aka “I just came here to find some turnips, I swear.”
After Baldur’s Gate, your character swanned about a bit, enjoying his or her success, before being pulled into a new adventure of excitement, intrigue and imminent risk of death. Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn picks up very soon after Baldur’s Gate left off, and continues your character’s adventures in the Forgotten Realms.
It is difficult to describe the story of Baldur’s Gate 2 too much without spoiling Baldur’s Gate for those of you unlucky (or foolish) enough to have not played it. Obviously, Baldur’s Gate 2 advances the story from Baldur’s Gate, but it does so from a different perspective. Whereas Baldur’s Gate involved finding out what was going in the world and with the protagonist, the protagonist of Baldur’s Gate 2 pretty much knows what is going on, but is desperately trying to figure out why it is going on.
Worth pointing out also, at this point, is that the story of the Baldur’s Gate saga was definitely intended to be told in three parts – the last part eventually forming Throne of Bhaal, the expansion to Baldur’s Gate 2. Because of this, Baldur’s Gate 2 has the unfortunate position as the middle child; unable to advance the plot too far, but also necessary for character advancement and exploration.
Thankfully, Baldur’s Gate 2 manages this quite well, and there is not really a moment where one stops to wonder what the character is doing when there is a far more pressing destiny/imminent Reaper invasion/other miscellaneous MacGuffin left unresolved.
The NPCs in Baldur’s Gate 2 remain lifelike, and some of them have continued their lives since you encountered them in the first game. Sadly, there was no great attempt in Baldur’s Gate 2 to import decisions from the previous game as modern games (such as Mass Effect 2) have been trying. As with Baldur’s Gate, the game assumes a mostly Good inclination, which can hinder immersion in places when one wonders what certain NPCs are doing wandering around when you clearly recall dismembering them in the previous game.
This flaw pops up mainly with an evil game, and even then it is not common – most NPC interactions at least give you the option to option to comment on what you think your previous actions were.
Gameplay aka “You are but a gnat compared to my power.”
The gameplay is very much like that of Baldur’s Gate, but with even more options and a far higher cap on advancement. The higher level spells can be quite a lot of fun (such as the incredible Horrid Wilting), and the ability for warrior-types to dual-wield weapons are welcome additions, as are the numerous new monsters, items and areas.
As with Tales of the Sword Coast, the expansion to Baldur’s Gate, the developers played around with the engine a bit since the original release, and show far more sophistication with many of the in-game cutscenes and dangerous hazards and situations.
The quests are also generally more enjoyable, with far fewer postal service-style quests, and a more polished feel. The evil (or at least, non-good) options in the game are also more interesting, and represent a far more varied replay of the game.
Unfortunately for those of you wanting to play evil parties, however, the numbers of companions are skewed against the evil protagonist, with it not being possible to field even a single 6-character party solely with evil NPC companions. Whilst this was not highly unusual at the time of release, modern RPGs really try to give their players options regarding their moral activities, and Baldur’s Gate 2 still falls short on this count.
Graphics and Audio aka “Many many pretties, piled high into the sky.”
The look and sound of Baldur’s Gate 2 are very similar to Baldur’s Gate, although the graphic are mostly prettier. There are one or two situations when the Baldur’s Gate graphics are superior to the Baldur’s Gate 2 options (although mods can revert this), but these are definitely the exceptions.
As with the original Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2 has aged very well, and still looks very respectable. The audio is likewise of good quality, with the music once again being of high quality (‘The Domain of the Dragon’ is probably amongst the most epic combat music in an RPG), with the only possible flaw being the limited amount of voice acting.
Mods aka “Listen beefy, I may be an intelligent talking sword, but I’ve had no formal edjumacation.”
The modding community for Baldur’s Gate 2 is very impressive, and still going after a decade. Many of the mods and unofficial patches improve the game immensely, and are definitely recommended. These will be discussed in detail in a future article.
Conclusion aka “Hamsters and Rangers everywhere, rejoice!”
Baldur’s Gate 2 takes the strengths of the original Baldur’s Gate and improves upon them, making it a very solid RPG and a worthy investment for any fan of RPGs.