Game Over Online ~ Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn

GameOver Game Reviews - Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (c) Interplay, Reviewed by - Rebellion / Pseudo Nim /

Game & Publisher Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (c) Interplay
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 91%
Date Published Tuesday, October 24th, 2000 at 08:14 PM


Divider Left By: Rebellion Divider Right

A couple of years ago, everyone was complaining about the lack of a good role-playing game. SSI's Gold Box games were well past their prime and in addition to the lack of AD&D organized games, there was pretty much a vacancy waiting to be filled by a new breed of RPG's. The AD&D license was returned to the scene in the impressively designed Infinity engine and its initial use in Baldur's Gate, and then with Tales of the Sword Coast, Planescape Torment, and Icewind Dale. Capitalizing on the success of its predecessors, Black Isle has revamped the Infinity engine for yet another adventure. Dusting of the laurels received by Baldur's Gate, the adventure returns to continue the story from where it left off at the end of this previous installment (TOSC, if you haven't played it, did not advance the storyline, just added some additional sub-quests, so you're really not missing anything by not playing TOSC) with Baldur's Gate II - The Shadows of Amn.

Shadows of Amn starts off big, with you awakening to capture by a sadistic mage named Jon Irenicus (superbly voiced by David Warner). Your past exploits and fame has become known to all. You are the offspring of the God of Murder himself and though you don't particularly want to bad, there are others out there who want to use you, primarily Irenicus. You're still not sure of exactly your place in the world so, like BG1, the story develops around you.

I'm sure everyone that had any interest in this game has read every preview (and by this time a number of reviews), so I'm going to not elaborate too much on the background. Like BG1, you are one single character (unlike Icewind where you had a party of your making) and you are able to go around and have others join your party. Returnees of BG1 are Imoen (though not for much of the game), Jaheria, Minsc, and a couple of evil people who I don't remember from BG1 (Ok, ok, so I didn't actually BEAT the first one), Edwin and Viconia. Lots of new NPC's are also around to join your party, ranging from flighty elves, to rich boy clerics, to insane gnomes, there's a lively assortment of potential party members. One comment I'd like to make is that there's too many multi-class/dual class characters. Not really anything wrong with dual class, but when half your party is multi-classed it takes a long time to get leveled up. To comment further, I've seen a lot of webpages criticizing this and people saying that they're all going off to play the game as a multiplayer game just so they can create their own party. While this is perfectly acceptable, you lose a lot of the interesting dialogue between characters. This is somewhat annoying, but at the same time, gives the game more depth and allows you to better develop relationships with your characters. Yes that's pretty sappy, but it gives a more fulfilling game experience. ( of course if you thought Imoen was annoying in the first game, I've got good news and bad news, good news is, she's hardly in any of the game, bad news is, there's someone even more annoying)

Gameplay hasn't advanced any from the previous BG1, although after recently playing Icewind Dale prior to playing this, I found out quickly that they weren't exactly the same game style that I had thought they were. There are two major additions to BG2 that create what I feel is a superior sequel. The first is the huge assortment of spells. There are more than 300 spells in BG2 (I think that's approximately twice what BG1 had) up through the ninth and top level of spells. Expanding the spell books to level nine would have increased the spell count some, but Black Isle didn't stop there. They added tons of new spells to all the spell levels, many which have never been seen in AD&D computer games before. I was delighted by the amount of counter spell and anti-magic spells in the game. After playing AD&D computer games for years, I had been pretty much been limited to Dispel Magic as the sole anti-magic spell. Tons of new ones have been added, creating new strategies for combat. Now mages serve a greater purpose than artillery.

The second aspect is the game world itself. BG1 was huge, covering tons of sectors of playable terrain. This made it a monster of a game, but was heavily disorganized and had too much of a randomness to movement and game progression. The world of BG2 may not be as big in terms of playability, but it is done on a grandiose scale. The main city is huge, but it has been broken down into sectors, while the outlying areas have also been broken down. From this aspect, it's taken a lot from Icewind Dale, where instead of having individual sectors on your map that you traveled through, you had dedicated spots to go to. BG2 lends a sense of epic nature to the game that was not felt in BG1. If you read my BG1 review back in Jan 99, I was the only one of the three reviewers to NOT give BG1 a Gamers Choice award. It was too disorganized and didn't inspire me to get really involved in the game. BG2 succeeds very well in this aspect.

In addition to the inclusion of hundreds of new spells, there is also the addition of 21 AD&D Class Kits. Classes are the main breakdown of adventuring professions, from thief to fighter to mage. Kits are a further breakdown into subclasses. While previous AD&D games have seen borderline class/subclass choices, like bards, druids, and specialist mages, this is the first to really put full-fledged kits in. Each kit creates a specialty class gaining benefits as well as possible disadvantages. I love the addition of kits because it allows unique specialization so you can further specialize character traits. I've always enjoyed using a ranger with a bow, and the Archer kit in BG2 is exactly that. A couple other interesting additions are the monk, the master of martial arts, and the sorcerer, who can cast spells without memorization.

Another advance in character specialization is the added depth to the weapon specialization trees. Since your characters will actually be able get high enough levels to advance past the skilled level, you will be able to gain more combat bonuses. In addition to the actual weapon proficiencies, there are also fighting style proficiencies, like two-handed weapons or weapon and shield style. Its just more details that help incorporate a deeper level of role-playing. While a computer RPG still isn't able to attain that which pen and paper games have, depth is good (besides I get cool graphics and I don't have to make a mess with piles of paper and dice).

The amount of sub-quests in Shadows of Amn is also impressive. Early on, you'll easily be overwhelmed by quest offers, many of which, you may not be powerful enough yet to handle. It leaves you with a lot of picking and choosing, although running back from one scared out of your pants to go pick another won't be all that surprising. The monsters in BG2 aren't your usual assortment of orcs and trolls. Vampires, werewolves, and strong demihuman parties can easily be found early on. I had many a reload early on (and then some later) just because the quest I picked was near impossible based on my current abilities and weaponry (like only having +1 weapons and going against monsters that require +2 or better ones).

I was also happy to see that, like Icewind Dale, there are less generic magic items as compared to unique ones. While unique items aren't usually any better than generic ones, it just adds detail to the game by giving your items a history and sometimes-added bonuses. BG1 was a rather unpolished game and now with the success of its spin-offs, a lot of work has been put into detailing and making the game feel more finished. The quest system has also been really revamped so that there's less of the random missions that you don't really feel like you're accomplishing anything. Many of the quests are sprouted off other quests and this helps tie things together.

Visually, Baldur's Gate 2 has progressed beyond its predecessor. Many of the 3D spell effects that were added to Icewind Dale also carry over to BG2. While these aren't significant advances, they do make things look better. The major overhaul to the graphics system is the ability to run the game in resolutions higher than 640x480. It officially supports 800x600 and unofficially all the way up to 2048x1536. Higher resolutions are greatly affected by your CPU and graphics card though, so if you want to run the high ones, you need the very best. On my PIII-750 with my TNT1 (yes it's well past its prime), 1024x768 could get laggy (at my estimate 10-15 FPS) at times. Are there advantages to running at high resolutions? Well, I was only able to play at 1024x768 for max resolution (my monitor supports 1280 but for some reason that option was grayed out and 1600 wasn't), so I'm not really sure, other than the fact that it allows you do see more of the game area (one of my biggest gripes about BG1 was that your field of vision was bigger than your screen, so there could always be stuff that was visible but wasn't on your screen. It does look better, but only up to a certain point. The game was designed for 640x480, so the outside border has a lot of extra space and information windows are not resized for the higher resolutions, leading to a small box and tiny fonts. One further addition to the graphics system is the ability to toggle the outside button bars on and off, making the game be just your playing screen without all the button clutter. I think it looks way nicer without all those console icons around the outside, so get your shortcut keys down so you don't have to toggle the console on and off on a frequent basis.

The audio for this game is quite impressive. I also got to hear first hand what EAX can do to a game as I purchased a new SB Live while I was playing this game. I was amazed by the audio detail added by EAX. There's a whole other level of environmental audio that you're missing by not having it. Aureal had me hooked on A3D and I followed them to their unfortunate ending, but now I have jumped on the only major bandwagon left and am sheepishly carrying the SB Live name. The musical score is also well composed, with a wide arrangement of tracks creating a multitude of moods.

Multiplayer has also gone under the knife for a little cosmetic surgery. Parties are no longer subjected to the leader when it comes to buying and selling items. This is definitely a major improvement to the game. Along with shopping, the non-critical dialog has also been distributed to the individual, so you don't have to sit there waiting for your host to click through conversations. The other major pieces of leadership are still delegated to the host, like who can join, who gets what characters and so on.

The pauseable real time combat system is still one of the finest methods of combat in an RPG. It allows you to stop and think while at the same time allowing you to watch the action take place in real time. As with all of the Infinity engine games, BG2 really does a superb job of giving you enough action while at the same time allowing the action to not be mindless clicking. With the forthcoming Neverwinter Nights, I really wonder if the Infinity engine will have the lasting power that the engine that powered a pile of Gold box SSI games (of which I can think of nine games that were on a multitude of platforms). The new Pool of Radiance uses the next generation Infinity engine so I guess that may mean we'll at least see another series on this engine.

Is Shadows of Amn revolutionary? Not really. Does it build upon already proven formulas and technologies? Definitely. Does it surpass its predecessors? For the most part, I think it does. It's far better than BG1 was, it's more grandiose than Icewind Dale, and the dialogue is almost up to par with Planescape. It's hard to properly compare BG2 to PT and ID though as those games went in different directions (although ID still fits into the stereotypical AD&D game).

I can't say my Baldur's Gate 2 experience was totally without flaws. It seems that there still are a few little bugs inside the game that need to be squashed still, although I haven't heard or seen anything on patches, but after talking with a few other people that also noticed similar problems, I'm sure someone's working on these problems. The one major issue I've noted was that for some reason wands all only appear to have one charge on them. Seems like something's messed up here, because I'd doubt that EVERY wand I pick up would only have one charge and disappear after I use it once. One of the other reviewers here also somehow managed to get a Horn in the very beginning of the game that he sold for 5.9 million gold pieces, so basically he's already completed one of the major quests and bought all the really good equipment. Maybe it was just a random fluke, but I've seen it so it might happen to you (although I don't really see a downside to this other than the complete loss of economics in your game).

Some additional comments I'd like to make before I wrap this up are some minor features I haven't already covered. You can import your character from both BG1 and the TOSC addon, but you'll lose all of your equipment (so if you're like my friend and spent hours going all over the place collecting those books to raise your stats and now have 25's for everything, sure you can bring your "superman" into BG2). Another cool thing relating to this is that you can import your BG2 character into the upcoming Neverwinter Nights (hopefully this doesn't mean that BG2 is the end of this series though). I'm somewhat disgruntled at Interplay for packaging an additional cd with the Collector's Edition and with the preorders that add two additional shops to the game. While I did get both these cds, it seems somewhat unfair to those that didn't to not have access to the interesting items for sale (one shop carries items from Planescape and the other carries items from Icewind). This is also the first game I'm going to buy the strategy guide for, just because there's so much to do and I have this desire to find everything I can in this game, something I never really felt from BG1. The experience cap has been raised substantially higher than BG1 (you could get about to level 7 or so and 9 or 10 with TOSC) up to between level 17 and 23 based on your class. Yep, you're one big dude by the time you cap out.

All and all, BG2:SoA is an impressive game. Like BG1, you will spend hours upon hours playing it. I'm not exactly sure what Black Isle has for an expected gaming time, but I'd assume it's at least more than BG1 (over 150 hours). RPG's can be somewhat short these days, but this doesn't look like it's anything close to short. If you liked the original, then I don't see any reason why you won't like Shadows of Amn more. If you didn't like BG1, but liked Icewind Dale, then you might want to give this series another try because some of the ideas from ID have been carried over to BG2. Now if you liked Planescape, but didn't like any of the others, then I'd say it probably hasn't changed enough for your liking. This ain't your dad's (for all you post Win95 gamers) AD&D computer game, but that doesn't mean this game is anything but a classic.

Highs: Improves an already excellent series
Lows: Minor glitches, engine updates aren't particularly revolutionary

[ 46/50 ] Gameplay
[ 08/10 ] Video
[ 10/10 ] Audio
[ 10/10 ] Controls
[ 09/10 ] Plotline
[ 09/10 ] Bugs

 

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Rating
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Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

The original Baldur’s Gate was a game that most awaited quite anxiously, since it was based on authentic AD&D rules, something most rare in the day. There have been other games before, but they were a little bit too hardcore for the occasional gamer, and most never ever heard of them. Now comes Baldur’s Gate II; and while it’s not as groundbreaking as BG, it’s quite an amazing game, and well worth its name. In a purely personal opinion, it’s nothing like Planescape: Torment (somehow, I feel this game radiates happiness with all the green forests and all - I liked the “post-apocalyptic” world of Torment much more), but its perks are most peculiar nonetheless.

You start off as the character you were in Baldur’s Gate, shortly after being caught and imprisoned by a powerful mage. He takes off to do some business with invading thieves or whatnot, and you take the opportunity to be saved by your good old pal Imoen. That’s about as much introduction as you get (besides the intro movie, which fills you in on roughly what happened in BG1, in case you’ve not played it). You don’t start as a level 1 character, though, and this is where you will notice the first difference with BG1, among many others - some subtle, some fairly obvious. You, almost immediately, have a semi-full party, as well - all consisting of good all friends: Imoen, Jaheira, and Minsc with his stupid hamster. I have no idea how many years passed after the ending of BG1 (assumably no more than just a few) - but they haven’t been kind to Minsc’s intelligence. His character stats say he has an IN of 7, but I think it’s a limitation in the game that it doesn’t roll over into the negative numbers - and it’s actually a -7. He will consistently make the most retarded comments throughout the game, and if the whole hamster fetish doesn’t drive you nuts by about 1/4 of the game, then nothing else will. You can drop him, of course - but I’m in Chapter 3, and I haven’t found anybody more useful than him - his longbow and sword proficiency is most useful.

While I’m on the subject of annoying characters, you will also come across several other ones that will most likely annoy you to a fair degree. They are Aerie (is that a pun on Aeris, the FF7 character?) and Jaheira: especially when they start interrupting your journey with deep thoughts of their own. It’s extremely poorly veiled, and you soon come to realize that, in real-world terms, they’re both essentially hitting on you. I’m sure some might consider it “cute”, but I believe most will grow weary of it. It gets a little bit strange if you play a female character, too - I acknowledge that some people will feel that appropriate, but by and large, I think it comes out really weird. There are plenty of other characters you will encounter, few that are noteworthy besides the one I mentioned. Interesting, perhaps, is the thief that goes by the name of Yoshimo - the creators made him with Japanese overtones in mind, up to his being proficient with a katana and speaking a few Japanese words. The downside (from a purist point of view) is that Japanese samurai that wielded katanas were rarely (if ever at all) thieves; and his Japanese, at least to my (perhaps untrained ear) doesn’t sound quite right - the accentuation is wrong. Of course, that’s minor, and I like the character otherwise.

As you play on, you will encounter many people, enemies, and stuff to kill them with. I liked the increased selection of items a lot - especially magical weapons. There are many more than in BG1, and some of them are quite amazing. But you won’t be left gazing at your +5 sword for a long time, though - you will likely shortly need it in battle, and against a creature that can only be beaten by a +5 sword. This is another area where BG2 has been made more difficult than 1: some creatures are incredibly powerful, and you can forget about defeating them with simple spells. Case at point: Adamantine Golem. There are several ways to kill it, but none are easy: you can either beat on him with a +4 and above weapon, which isn’t very easy to find; or you can use a level 5 spell, Lower Magic Resistance, in hopes of getting his immunity dispersed enough to pummel him with spells. But it’s nowhere nearly as easy as it sounds. To begin, it’s not easy to get a +4 weapon. Next, it’s not easy to find the Lower Magic Resistance spell. And last, it takes some time to get your wizard to a level where you can remember several of these so that it’s actually useful against an Adamantine Golem. In a most entertaining fashion, this isn’t nearly the most powerful figure in the game, either.

What makes battles fun, though, is that most enemies make a feeble attempt at intelligence in the second incarnation of the game. In the original game, most mages cast Mirror Image, perhaps a Shadow Door, and that was about the extent of it. Sometimes they would be protected against normal missiles, but that’s about it. Here, mages do everything they can to stay alive: they cast invisibility, globe of invulnerability, mirror image, they clone themselves, they summon things, they cast high-level offensive spells, they reinforce their party members, and so on and so forth - the only thing I haven’t seen them do so far is heal. Though people do drink potions, so I suppose that roughly balances it out.

There are many things to do in BG2. There is, of course, the primary storyline. But there are also many side quests, and the word “many” does not accurately describe precisely how many there are. In my view, in fact, most of the game is played through the side quests, rather than the main story line - though rarely do they tie into the storyline, or into each other, which is most unfortunate. Some of the side quests are rather funny: as an example, there is one quest of the Uman Witch Project, which, you may have guessed, is a pretty decent copy of the Blair Witch Project, complete with the three young’uns, two of which were called Michaellus and Joshellus, gone to explore the woods, never believing in the Uman Witch - only to never be seen again. Others involve saving people from the claws of Evil, helping those in need, and the occasional stealing, robbing, killing and maiming. One improvement that I liked a lot is that you no longer have to go from area to area one by one - even if you haven’t been to an area before, you can (most of the time) just click on it from anywhere on the map - and you will be transported there.

All things considered, this isn’t quite as groundbreaking a game as BG1; however, the multitude of improvements, not the least of which is the graphics boost, is most welcome, and makes the game just as much, if not more, fun than BG1 was. I still think Planescape: Torment, while being somewhat more linear, was much deeper and more satisfying in the end, but BG2 will definitely appeal to you if you enjoyed the original - and even if you didn’t, I think it’s still worth a try. It truly is worthy of the Baldur’s Gate name (even though there’s no more city of Baldur’s Gate in it, so the name is just a marketing ploy); and builds on finely on the foundation laid by the previous games in the series.

[ 46/50 ] Gameplay
[ 08/10 ] Video
[ 09/10 ] Audio
[ 09/10 ] Controls
[ 08/10 ] Plotline
[ 09/10 ] Bugs

 

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Rating
90%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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