It was close to a year ago that Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition was released by Overhaul Games and Beamdog. At the time, I covered the game and felt that while some of the new additions were nice, much of the new content paled in comparison to the original release's, and many of the new glitches introduced were a major black mark on the claims of a stabler, more user-friendly experience.
But, in that intervening time, Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition has been improved quite a bit thanks to a steady stream of updates, and the developers have had many opportunities to learn from their mistakes with the original Enhanced Edition. Now, they've put forward Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition, which is of course an updated re-release of Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn and its expansion Throne of Bhaal. Is the new content worth playing? Are the bugs and glitches all ironed out? Is it worth its asking price? And perhaps most importantly, do fans of the original game need this new version?
The Classic Updated
Baldur's Gate II needs no introduction. Suffice it to say, in the 13 years since its release, it's become a classic CRPG, and for good reason - it's huge, expansive, deep, got a compelling story with memorable characters, great tactical combat, surprisingly varied and interesting quest design, and while not a perfect game by any means, it's still great fun. I'm happy to say that the original game is preserved - it's just as good as ever, and remains eminently playable and enjoyable, provided one doesn't mind reading the manual for a few minutes to come to grips with the AD&D ruleset.
What's new in this Enhanced Edition? It mostly boils down to, like Beamdog's work last year, technical updates, a few new features, and a slew of new content added on top of the original game. For the most part, the changes do not in any way detract from the original, which is something I unfortunately could not say about Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, which was riddled with far more significant bugs on release than the old version ever had.
One simply need go back to the original to see just how much the improvements help Baldur's Gate II. Sure, there's a few questionable features, like the ability to zoom the "camera" in, which I feel is simply not that useful and looks rather ugly thanks to the pixelated sprite scaling, but most of the features genuinely make the game more enjoyable. The hyper-fast saving and loading, the updated interface that shows more information without requiring the player to hop between sub-screens, the new quick loot UI, all of these really help make the game far more playable in their own small ways.
Unfortunately, there are still some glitches, and some are significant. Off the top of my head: AI scripts for party members are inconsistent and sometimes cause them to do unpredictable things; sometimes my orders to cast spells got "stuck" and caused my mage to simply stand ready to cast indefinitely; saving/loading causes the scaled enemy spawns in levels to simply vanish at times; and some random crashes, which happened more than just once or twice for me. Other players have also reported game-breaking issues on the game's official forum, but fortunately, I never experienced any myself directly. Most of the issues, though, are confined to the new content, which at times feels like it didn't get the proper play-testing it required, manifesting in the form of scripting bugs, dialogue selections that end conversations suddenly and prematurely, and so on; while it's not really game-breaking, it is somewhat disappointing.
The actual gameplay content that's been added takes the form of four "new" companion characters, each with their own quest-lines and special areas to explore. I say "new" because three of them are actually reappearing characters from the first Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, specifically the half-orc Blackguard, Dorn, the wild mage Neera, and the Sun Soul monk Rasaad. Personally, after their somewhat limp first outing, I wasn't too eager to see them again. However, with Baldur's Gate II being much more character-driven and featuring far more involved companion stories and quests, I feel they're a much more natural fit for the game than they were for the first Baldur's Gate.
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