Baldur's Gate 2 - Retroview

From Tabletop to Desktop
By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 5
   Music & Sound 9
   Originality 8
   Story & Plot 8
   Localization NA
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Moderate
   Completion Time 40-80 Hours  

Good luck getting out of this mess...
Good luck getting out of this mess...
Baldur's Gate 2

   The original Baldur's Gate was in many ways a milestone in PC gaming: it captured the quintessential essence of D&D and brought it more or less intact to everyone's computer screen. Has Baldur's Gate 2 done the same? No. Baldur's Gate 2 does more than simply take the essence of D&D, it recreates it. Improves it. Refines it. In other words, Baldur's Gate 2 is the closest anyone could ever get to tabletop role-playing short of actually playing it.

   The story in Baldur's Gate focuses once again on the main character being a child of Bhaal, Lord of Murder, yet its scope has widened dramatically. At the onset of the game a wizard bent on manipulating the vast potential power you control captures you, but a rival clan soon assaults the dungeon in which you are being held. Under the cover of battle, escaping the dungeon opens a world that is unbelievably vast. While the plot can be quickly advanced from the start, any veteran of this genre knows that the side quests are pretty much mandatory if you hold out any hope of beating the game. What most veterans will not realize however are the sheer number of them. Completing all the available side quests in just the first chapter alone can take anywhere from 15 to 30 hours; the actual story quests are significantly longer. While I'll refrain from mentioning any specifics about the plot, it has one of the best ones this side of Squaresoft.

   Although Baldur's Gate 2 does not need a Localization score, it would be a crime to not mention how utterly superb the dialogue and voice acting is. Every time you talk to someone you are presented with a minimum of three different things to say, with many of them being very humorous. It is not uncommon to spend up to five minutes debating which one of many the dialogue choices you should choose rather than the others that would be cool and/or incredibly evil to say. The voice acting itself is some of the best I've heard outside of the Metal Gear Solid series. This is a good thing as BG2 has a surprisingly large amount of voice-acted material.

   What is also very good is the musical score...when it actually plays. I suppose it is more of a decision of style to play ambience instead of music while adventuring across the countryside, but I view it as a somewhat bad choice when the music is this good. The music sounds like it could have been lifted off of the biggest of budgeted Hollywood movies, and the songs would fit right into something like the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Unfortunately, you'll only ever hear them sporadically at best, perhaps walking through a town or forest. Being denied such beautiful music is the only reason why that score was not granted a perfect ten.

It's 2 a.m.: do you know where your characters are?
It's 2 a.m.: do you know where your characters are?

   It is unfortunate that such great plot and music had to be included in a game with a battle system that borders on being physically painful to use. Anyone who has played the first Baldur's Gate will be right at home with the battle system of this game...and that's the fundamental problem. The first BG had a bunch of design issues such as: not allowing the player to open up the item screen while the game was paused, horrible character AI, bad collision detection, insidious traps, and so on. While some of these issues have been addressed, the AI and collision detection apparently have not. For example, telling your party to move to a location across the screen sees them consistently split up, wander in random directions, engage in combat on their own, find traps the hard way, and generally do everything but go to the location you wanted them to go to. There is an option for those with faster processors to increase the "path finding cycles" and frame rate and such in order to apparently off-set this known problem, but after having my computer upgraded halfway through the game, I must testify that the AI is still pretty bad even at the highest settings. What this means for the player is that you are going to have to intensely micromanage all six of your party members all of the time if you do not want them wandering off and getting themselves killed. While the battle system is not otherwise unplayable, the fact that it has not improved very much from the first game is cause for serious concern.

   Playing the game again however should not be that hard a decision, painful battle system or no. Character creation is even more elaborate from the last game, with a whole slew of new classes to choose from and even a number of prestige classes that makes playing something like a paladin or rogue much more interesting than usual. I've already mentioned the number of optional quests above, but there are also different quests for different races, genders, and alignments as well. While the core story does not change much in relation to your race, gender, or class, the way in which you fulfill your ultimate goal does change a bit depending on your actions during the early part of the game. Overall, there's a good chance that unless you completely hate the series to begin with you'll want to experience BG2 at least once again.

   In the end, the plot, music, and general gameplay were more than enough to carry this reviewer through BG2's 60 hours of game time. While it was disappointing in respects to the unimproved battle system, everything else has been not just improved, but evolved and polished as well. There are not very many games out there that can quite emulate D&D so well. Baldur's Gate 2 essentially delivers well on the promise and potential from the first game, and the expansion pack, Throne of Bhall, looks to be a fitting end to this epic saga.

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