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Gulf News' Game Masters column has a retrospective of everyone's beloved Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. The game definitely deserves all the attention it continues to get, even considering that its original release happened back in the year 2000. The retrospective makes a point that despite the game's age it still offers a sense of immersion few games can today. An excerpt:
One of the first things to strike you when playing it again after a long time (or for the first time) is amount of freedom you’re given, whether it’s in terms of character creation and development, weapon and armour use, party composition or ways to resolve quests, to mention just a few examples.
You really get the sense that BioWare tried to be as true as possible to the spirit of tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, encouraging players to engage in actual roleplaying, instead of playing it in the same way as they would an action game that happens to have some roleplaying elements.
The aforementioned freedom is combined with the imposition of certain strictures that are rare in modern RPGs. Quests can have time limits — if someone runs up to you and begs for help rescuing someone in distress, you have to go to their aid within a certain amount of in-game time. Contrast this with the approach taken by most other RPGs these days, which seem to forego any attempt at a real sense of in-game time; in these games you could have a little boy begging you to rescue his mother from a group of bandits, and if you were to then spend 40 years of in-game time improving your armouring skills and collecting wild mushrooms, you’ll still find the poor woman and the group of bandits dutifully waiting for you. Nobody, the child included, would of course have aged a day in all this time.
This is just one aspect that contributed to a sense of realness in BG2 that’s missing from a lot of later games, despite the dated technology behind it. It’s realness that comes not from trying to have the most photorealistic graphics, but from little details like the above one, details that make you feel as if you truly are inhabiting a real world and spending time with real people, however fantastical the setting or characters involved may be.