Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Interplay Entertainment
Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2001-06-22
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn continued the (Child of Bhaal) storyline that began back in 1998 with the release of the original Baldur's Gate and its expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast. The sequel was a huge success, which makes it no surprise that its expansion, Throne of Bhaal, is one of the most anticipated addons in recent times. ToB promises to bring a plethora of enhancements, a dungeon that Bioware has claimed to be one of their finest creations, and will additionally bring the (Child of Bhaal) storyline to a close. Will the expansion be everything that Baldur's Gate fans have come to expect from Bioware? Fortunately, GameBanshee was given the opportunity to play a press release of the expansion, allowing us to present this preview so that you can decide for yourself.

Just what sort of enhancements can you expect to see in the expansion? First of all, there's a whole new mage kit called the Wild Mage. Secondly, certain classes have had their previous abilities altered, such as the Wizard Slayer now being able to obtain 84% of base magic resistance. Additionally, all classes can now obtain either special abilities or quest spells as they reach some of the higher levels. The expansion also adds entirely new monsters, some being enhanced versions of previous monsters, while others are completely new. And what's an expansion without adding more spells and equipment (which ToB does generously)? Now add the fact that the experience point cap has been increased to eight million experience points (allowing most classes to reach level 40) and you have all the enhancements you need to bring your Baldur's Gate II gaming to a whole new level.

To start off, you are allowed to either create a new game or import a saved game from your previous Shadows of Amn adventures. Starting a new game allows you to take advantage of the Wild Mage, the new mage kit introduced with ToB. You won't have to worry so much about starting the game (naked), as ToB gives your character an assortment of magic items when you begin a new game (not to mention two and a half million experience points). For example, my Wild Mage began with fairly powerful equipped items and a Bag of Holding filled with various weapons and armor. If you don't wish to start over, importing a saved game will allow you to keep all of your existing equipment, as well as any NPCs that were in your party at the time you saved. If any of the characters from your saved game hadn't obtained two and a half million experience points, the expansion will automatically bump them up.

Your adventure begins when a cryptic prophecy is revealed to your character, after which you'll find yourself involved in a war between Bhaalspawn (the name given to children of Bhaal) in the city of Saradush. You'll meet up with a protector of Bhaalspawn named Melissan, who will tell you that the city is under siege by one of them and that the town's half-orc leader has lost his mind and locked himself inside the town's castle. You'll need to find a way into the castle, deal with the madman (and his battle mage bodyguards), and then find a way out of Saradush to deal with what turns out to be an invincible Bhaalspawn attacking the city. But don't think you're done just yet. Dealing with the town's mad leader and defending it against an all-out siege is just the first weight upon your shoulders.

Throne of Bhaal takes your characters to a vast number of new areas (including the Abyssal fortress of Bhaal), where plenty of battles await and treasure is abundant. Within the first leg of the expansion, my characters had found a multitude of powerful equipment, some of which make the Shadows of Amn equipment look. well, obsolete. You won't just find the equipment either, some of it can be constructed for you (similar to Cromwell's forge in SoA), or some of your existing equipment can even be enhanced via magical means. Getting some of this new equipment won't be so easy, however, as combat in the expansion can be extremely difficult. Virtually every enemy mage you encounter can destroy a good portion of your party within a few rounds if you're not careful. In Shadows of Amn, fighting a mage with high level spells was somewhat uncommon, but you are given no leniency in Throne of Bhaal. Expect to have the most powerful spells fired at your party, usually under the protection of a Time Stop. And if spells weren't enough to bring down your party, a majority of the NPCs you deal with in melee are equipped with magical weapons and armor, thus making them much more difficult.

However, along with more powerful adversaries comes more experience. And with the cap raised to eight million experience points, characters level up plenty. Until now, high levels didn't mean a whole lot aside from a few more hit points and maybe a THAC0 decrease. But in Throne of Bhaal, your characters gain powerful special abilities. Mages and Clerics are granted new quest spells that are relatively one spell level higher than anything you've seen previously. Reach level twenty with your mage and you can be casting Comet on your foes, an enhanced version of Meteor Swarm that strikes with massive damage and sends a shockwave out to bring your enemies to their knees. Or, if your character is a Fighter, he gets to pick from several abilities such as Whirlwind Attack (allowing him to unleash a flurry of super-fast blows), War Cry (allowing him to cry out and stun his enemies), or Critical Strike (to score critical hits automatically for a short period of time) to name a few. Some of the new abilities have a more powerful version, requiring you to learn the lesser before learning the greater. This ensures that as your character climbs in levels, they will have something to look forward to.

During the course of your travels, you will meet up with several of the Forgotten Realms' most famous NPCs, some of which haven't made an appearance in the Baldur's Gate series yet. And, if you haven't heard already, you will also encounter your archenemy from the original Baldur's Gate, Sarevok, early on in the expansion. Should you choose to utilize your powers, you can resurrect Sarevok and even have the option of adding him to your party. Yeah, I know what you're thinking - why would you want someone who caused you so much anguish in the past to be part of your group? Well, keep in mind that Sarevok is highly knowledgeable about Bhaal and his children, which may come in handy during the course of the game. And if that isn't enough to want him tagging along, once you see just how powerful he is, you'll think twice about leaving him.

Should you grow tired of pursuing the (Child of Bhaal) storyline in the expansion (even though I don't think that's possible), you can take a break and try Bioware's new dungeon, Watcher's Keep. Don't expect to breeze your way through this place, however. Bioware has stated that the six levels of this dungeon alone will take approximately twenty hours of gameplay, so you're in for a good dungeon crawl. The first two levels of the dungeon were available in the press release I played, and I can assure you the dungeon will keep you on your toes. Watcher's Keep is filled with riddles, cryptic scrolls, plenty of traps, extremely powerful enemies. and lots of treasure.

Overall, I think the expansion is going to be one of the finest products Bioware has ever released. If you were impressed with the number of features and amount of gameplay Baldur's Gate II offered over its predecessor, then get ready to be thoroughly impressed again. What Shadows of Amn did for the original Baldur's Gate, Throne of Bhaal is going to do for Shadows of Amn.