Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal Review aka “… chaos shall be sown in their passage.”
Throne of Bhaal is the solo expansion pack to Baldur’s Gate 2, and completes the tale that began all the way back at the beginning of the first Baldur’s Gate. Unlike Tales of the Sword Coast, the expansion to Baldur’s Gate, Throne of Bhaal’s additions are inextricably linked with the main plot line, and end up resolving the saga.
This is no small task, as there was a lot left unresolved at the end of Baldur’s Gate 2, so how did Throne of Bhaal manage?
(If you haven’t read my Baldur’s Gate 2 Review, I suggest you do so before continuing, as this review will probably make quite a bit more sense afterwards.)
Story and Immersion aka “Of course, any story about me is going to be grand simply by virtue of the main character.”
As the third and final part of the saga, Throne of Bhaal has an awful lot of loose ends to tie up, but less time to do it in. Brevity is clearly the game here, as there is a large amount of story progression condensed into one expansion pack. Events move very quickly in Throne of Bhaal, but fortunately, this fast pace serves the plot quite well. Unlike Shadows of Amn and the original Baldur’s Gate, time isn’t on the protagonist’s side, and there is no time for comfortable dilly-dallying.
The story itself is quite good, although it lacks some of the flair of the previous instalments, and there are a few continuity errors (or retcons) present. The errors are not glaring, however, and it is largely enjoyable. The brief nature of the story does lose some of the granularity present in the previous games. It seems clear in some areas that there was a lot of thought that went into a back-plot, but little ended up being done with it. Without giving away spoilers, a good example is a particular encounter with a small army, which lacks truly good justification for its presence aside from a few notes left on corpses. The execution of a proper exposition clearly would have taken too much time.
Another problem is with immersion. In Throne of Bhaal, your character is able to reach truly legendary levels of power… but strangely, many of your foes are also very powerful. There is something jarring about there being so many people with such great power just wandering about and serving as household guards.
The one exception to this is Watcher’s Keep, which is a very long and in-depth dungeon crawl which still manages to retain a good feel and internal consistency to it. There’s actually a good reason that all of your opponents are high level, for instance.
Fortunately, the NPCs are still very engaging, and the quests are noticeably superior to previous offerings. As story-time is at a premium in Throne of Bhaal, almost all quests relate to the main plot line in some way, even if just because the story behind any particular quest was clearly impacted by the overall events of the game.
Overall, the story and immersion is less good than Baldur’s Gate 2, but is still more than sufficient to be highly enjoyable.
Gameplay aka “There is so much to keep a great magus such as myself busy here! Look! A rock! How fascinating!”
Unsurprisingly, the gameplay in Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal is a lot like the gameplay in Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. As touched on briefly, the power level is wildly increased, so much so that the developers were forced to stray from the standard Dungeons and Dragons ruleset in order to accommodate the heights your character can grow to.
Meteors, the summoning of Elemental Princes, deathblows capable of felling lesser mortals and more are all the disposal of the player – and the player’s enemies – in Throne of Bhaal. The combat encounters are definitely more sophisticated than they were in Shadows of Amn, and the tactical options have been greatly increased due to the amount of abilities now available. The enemies have more options as well, so the combat can be a lot more involved.
In addition to the combat, the quests are better both in terms of choices available (evil options are actually options!) and generally in how interesting they are. When compared to the quests in the original Baldur’s Gate, the developers really pushed the bar, and the quests in Throne of Bhaal almost exist in a transcendent realm when looked at side by side. Even the smallest quest is very engaging and polished.
Graphics and Audio aka “Ooo! Shiny ones!”
There is little new to add here when compared to the standard Baldur’s Gate 2, except to say that graphics, voice-acting and music remain at a high quality. The new spell effects in particular can be quite pretty.
Mods aka “An armored, deep-voiced penny of most sinister evil!”
Throne of Bhaal has the rare distinction of having mods produced for it by one of the developers. Apparently, many of the major battles were toned down a lot for release, and they have been made significantly harder by these (and other) mods. Due to the game being far more of a railroad than its predecessors, most mods produced for Throne of Bhaal alter existing encounters or add abilities rather than creating entirely new areas or quests.
Conclusion aka “Bye! Good luck with the dragon!”
Whilst less strong than the previous games in some respects, Throne of Bhaal is still a worthy finale to the Baldur’s Gate saga. So much is packed into Throne of Bhaal that it verges on being a new game rather than a simple expansion, and represents one of the highest value for money present in an expansion pack.