Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Interplay Entertainment
Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2000-09-24
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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1998's "Game of the Year" and "RPG of the Year" award winner, Baldur's Gate, brought such a revolutionary mix of graphics and gameplay that people have been in an uproar to see a sequel ever since. The game provided every RPG and AD&D fan alike a means to escape to the world of Faerun, an intricate world set in the Forgotten Realms setting. Over the years, people have fallen in love with this world... a world where gods have been cast from the heavens and magic is the essence of life. They've grown accustomed to its people, learned of its environment, and have ultimately nurtured in the hope that the world would survive the forces of evil that continually plague it. For these very reasons, people wanted more of what Baldur's Gate was. They wanted a sequel, and two years later, BioWare has delivered to us what we craved. Does it live up to our expectations? Let's find out...

There really is something to be said about BioWare's Infinity engine. We've been exposed to the engine for several games now and I think that many of us have taken the graphics for granted. When I sit back and really look at BG2's detail, magnified by the higher resolutions now offered, it brings back the feeling of appreciation I had when I first played the original Baldur's Gate. Since then, a large number of refinements have been made to the engine and interface. Some have been subtle, but some have brought the eye candy and playability to a much higher standard, thus keeping us all coming back for more.

I really feel that BioWare has breathed life into their Infinity engine more than once. With Baldur's Gate II, they've brought even greater detail to the world of Faerun, without the demand of high-end video cards. From the chaotic dungeons of Spellhold to the magnificent gardens of Suldanesselar, one can really lose scope of the real world. They've accomplished what every game on the market hopes to obtain: immersion at its finest.

Probably the most overlooked elements of the game, the sound effects and music in Shadows of Amn contribute to almost every aspect of the game. With a good sound card and surround speakers, dungeon excursions really come to life. For instance, while traveling through the caverns of the Underdark, the music will create an ominous feeling to the place, giving you the sense that you are not alone. The enhancements to gameplay are simply fantastic.

The sound effects are of equal quality. The only drawback that can be found are that some of them have been used in BioWare RPGs previously. For instance, some of the character speech, such as inn and tavern patrons, has been reused. This is hardly a complaint, however, since I would much rather see them work on other aspects of the game than to have spent time refining some of the unimportant dialogue.

I have thoroughly enjoyed many, many RPGs in my life. The Black Isle/Bioware RPGs, with their AD&D ruleset and in-depth storylines, have provided me with probably the most intriguing and immersive gameplay to date. With the release of Shadows of Amn, however, my idea of a good RPG has been redefined. Not only does Baldur's Gate II have the excellent storyline and the intensive gameplay, but it provides a means to be on both sides of the scale between good and evil. How many games have ever included both a good and evil standpoint, each with its own plot and storyline, and additionally given the player control over his own fate? Not many, and it is a welcome addition to RPGs as we know them. I can only hope that future games learn from BG2's creativity.

Whichever path you choose, the gameplay will keep you on your toes. There are plenty of dungeons to scavenge, artifacts to plunder, spells to cast, and adversaries to overcome. There are even strongholds for your character to gain, oversee, and manage. Overall, Baldur's Gate II provides everything that an RPG should be and then some. To say the gameplay is anything less than superior would be a lie. Period.

Before going over the replayability aspects of Baldur's Gate II, I'd like to resurface one of the disappointments I have had with this area in previous Black Isle/Bioware RPGs. The experience cap has always been something that annoyed me. The original Baldur's Gate limited your character to a meager 89,000 experience points and the recently released Icewind Dale kept you at 1,801,000. I understand the need for some sort of advancement restriction due to possible expansions, but I don't think we should forget the idea behind a role-playing game. Character advancement and customization are the most critical aspects to any RPG. Suppressing a character's potential only keeps people from coming back for more.

Luckily, Shadows of Amn raised the experience cap to 2,850,000, which gives you a substantial amount of power. After a series of games with low experience caps, this comes as a welcome upgrade. However, this isn't what makes Baldur's Gate II the game of games when it comes to replayability. With numerous class-specific quests to embark on, class-specific strongholds to conquer, subplots for each NPC party member, a plethora of new magical items and spells to find, and both a good and evil storyline, Baldur's Gate II is quite possibly the most replay-worthy game I have ever played.

In the many weeks that I have been playing Shadows of Amn, I've only encountered two bugs. I'm not really sure that the first one is even a bug, it could just be a driver incompatibility. When I initially installed the game, I had to run the GLSetup program in order to get my ATI Radeon to work properly. The second bug was brought to my attention when I tried using the effect of one of the items included with the Collector's Edition, Vhailor's Helm. It simply wouldn't work. Other than that, my BG2 gaming has been free of bugs, with only the occassional misspelling or grammar error in the dialogue of the game.

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn is an absolute masterpiece. If you are interested in AD&D or role-playing games whatsoever, then this game is a requirement to your collection. Hell, this game is a must-have if you are simply human. I will warn you, however, your expectations of what a good game really is will be redefined. You probably won't see another game quite like Baldur's Gate II until... well, until Neverwinter Nights.