Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition Review – Worthy
Every fan of PC role-playing games should play Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. Along with Throne of Bhaal, its expansion, the game includes dozens of hours of engaging Dungeons & Dragons tactical combat, quality side quests, an epic main story, memorable party members, and thoughtful dungeons filled with increasingly difficult encounters. Baldur’s Gate II is one of the best role-playing experiences ever created. Now, with that out of the way I can address the issue at hand: is the Overhaul Games developed “HD release” worthy of its title? Our Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition review will tell you.
Players begin Shadows of Amn as the prisoner of the evil madman Jon Irenicus. Who he is and what he wants become apparent as you play the game, but once you escape the lengthy opening dungeon, collecting party members and equipment on the way, the whole city of Athkatla and its surrounding countryside open up for exploration. Quests reveal new areas on the world map, but just the city itself is full of districts, tombs, homes, and temples. The Enhanced Edition adds several new NPCs that can join your party, including a monk voiced by Mass Effect’s Mark Meer. For the most part, I was pleased at the quality of the new NPCs – their individual quest lines are both lengthy and entertaining, and they offer good loot as well.
The game strikes a great balance between story and combat. While its peers Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment respectively specialized in combat and story, Baldur’s Gate II offers a quality experience in both. Character arcs lead to interesting combat scenarios ranging from spell-slinging mages to dragons and everything in between. Classes have their own strongholds that can be obtained through quest lines, and the game world is full of legendary weapons and unique armor to discover. With Throne of Bhaal, the level 40 cap means your characters will essentially become godlike by the end of the journey – the combat encounters will test your tactics, equipment, and party makeup. That said, people have completed the game with a single Sorcerer player character, so becoming familiar with the systems in play will benefit you.
My favorite part of the UI enhancements is that it surfaces more stat information about how what your equipment is doing for you – now you can clearly see how your dexterity bonus, chain mail armor, and magic ring are affecting your armor class. It’s not a complete makeover however, as clicking back and forth through the inventory tab, character sheet, and spell lists to set up a character to your liking is still a tedious affair. Video tutorials teach you the basics, but concepts like THAC0 (“To Hit Armor Class 0″) still require previous knowledge or a quick Google search. It’s a shame Overhaul couldn’t find a more convenient way to organize all of the information available to the player, but I guess this is Enhanced Edition and not “Remake Edition.”
What’s disappointing is that some of the issues I had with Baldur’s Gate 2 in the year 2000 are still apparent in the Enhanced Edition. Scripting still breaks during cinematics and the AI will often get stuck on the environment and path-finding in general is a hassle. Party movement is slow, and you’ll definitely notice how slow it is when you need to send your party across a large city or through a twisting dungeon. They’ll navigate to the end point eventually but, if I knew I was safe from attack, I’d just alt-tab until they arrived. And while possessing some nostalgic quality for the voice sample, “You must gather your party before venturing forth” nevertheless remains an annoyance.
While the original game boasts some fine, but rare, voice acting, a lot of the newer content here features mostly bland performances. Sometimes the voice over doesn’t quite match what’s written. The arena mode is back from Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, and this time the developers added more story bits. Unfortunately, it’s accompanied by some poor writing and voice overs all around. The mode itself is what it is: an arena mode with a hub in between rounds with shops you can use to equip your party. The more powerful magic items available at the vendors offer a nice carrot-on-a-stick, but The Black Pits II: Gladiators of Thay won’t wow you. Players can participate in multiplayer with Shadows of Amn, Throne of Bhaal, or The Black Pits II using Overhaul’s functional server browser, but it’s best to stick with friends.
Modern resolutions are available and while the game still maintains a certain charm, the backgrounds get blurred as you zoom in – it’s best to just stick with a zoomed out view. It’s a tragedy that the team at Overhaul weren’t able to replace the background art with the original, higher-resolution artwork, as some of the background are really quite stunning, but that’s hardly their fault (lookin’ at you, Bioware). I was able to play the game comfortably in a window, resizing it to my heart’s content, and while I’ve read some players having unfamiliar bugs with this new version, my experience was quite similar to the original game, for better or for worse.
For $25, it’s hard to deny that Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition is worth the money of an RPG, D&D loving fan. The number of hours of quality content is staggering, and I’m pleased to say the added NPCs turned out to be worthy additions. For all the improvements made to the engine and the UI, I can’t help but feel that Overhaul could’ve done more – or at least fixed some of the technical issues from the original release. Still, it’s hard to deny that the tactical role-playing offered here is a must-play experience for fans of the genre, and if you want to jump right in without fiddling with (albeit free) fan mods, then Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition delivers right out of the box.