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Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Interplay / Black Isle
Developer: Bioware
Media: CD/6
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: RPG


Graphics & Sound:

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn uses the same Infinity Engine that the original, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale used. It supports higher resolutions out of the box, however, which is a nice treat for those of us with better video cards. It's not quite to the level of Planescape: Torment, but the Forgotten Realms aren't quite as rich in weird structural ideas as Sigil, either, so that's not fault of BG2. The spell effects are cool and all, but in the end, BG2 uses the same graphical engine that powered the original title. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though.

The music in Baldur's Gate II is top-notch, conveying the feel of the land and danger of the situation perfectly. It reminds me of Homeworld, not because of any similarities in the music, but because of the fit. The sound effects are there, and they're... well, they're there. There's nothing particularly good or bad about them. The voice acting, on the other hand, is top-notch. Everyone has little quirks of speech or accents, and they're not overplayed (well, Minsc is overplayed, but he wouldn't be Minsc if he weren't). This is good stuff, bringing back memories of the first time I played Metal Gear Solid.


Gameplay:

And if the graphics and sound weren't enough, Baldur's Gate II has enough gameplay to fill three other games and still have some left over. This is an epic adventure... nay, an Epic Adventure. One full of Twists and Turns and Interesting Characters, one with Lots of Danger and Excitement. In other words, if you're at all a fan of the genre, you must get it.

BG2 picks up some time after the first game ended, with the main character (you) running off to do your own thing. The game itself starts in the dungeon of someone with designs on you, and soon you meet up with old friends and bust the joint. After that, it's a freewheeling adventure in the massive city of Athkatla, underground (those wanting your Menzoberranzan fix will be pleasantly surprised), and beyond. The game is, quite simply, massive, taking more hours than anyone could possibly spend to beat all of the side quests. There's always something to do, and everyone has something important to say or somewhere for you to go.

As the game starts after the first title, your characters are of a higher level, and as such, get to play with cool new toys. There are tons of high-level spells in BG2, and most of the instruction book is spent detailing all of the available spells. Mages as a whole really come into their own in this title, which is to be expected -- in AD&D rules, which BG2 follows, Mages don't really hit their stride until the later levels. That's not to say that the other character classes are useless, however. Every class has its strong and weak points, and the fine folks at Bioware threw in a lot of Character Kits as well. Want to be a sword-swinging warrior of death? Hello, Kensai! This sort of thing really makes the game. You can also import your character from the first Baldur's Gate, for those of you pining for the Gold Box method of advancement.

The characters in Baldur's Gate II feel even more lifelike than the ones in the first title, as the game seems to have picked up a few cues from the majestic Planescape: Torment. The world feels less like a game and more like a living, breathing place. It forces you to make decisions that may not be easy, which is another good touch. And it just keeps on rolling with the intriguing plot advances.

And let's not forget multiplayer. Although it's unrealistic to expect to beat the game in one sitting, if you have a regular group of friends that can get together and LAN it every weekend, this is a superb title. You can also do a multiplayer game with yourself, allowing you to have more than one character that you design. With the new class and race options, you can try this game many different ways. And with the various romances in the game, it's worth giving a shot both as a male and a female.


Difficulty:

First-time roleplayers, and those of us that have been gone from the Infinity engine games a little too long, would do good to play the built-in Tutorial. It shows you many of the basics of gameplay, getting you into the swing of things. As for the game itself, it's not impossible, but it's certainly not a trivial title either. You can choose just how 'hardcore' you are, making the game easy or hard. And if you can't get past a battle, you can jack the difficulty level down and get through it that way. Most of the playtime comes not from the game's difficulty, but from the fact that it's so freakin' huge.

Game Mechanics:

The controls in Baldur's Gate II take a little getting used to, as is to be expected with any title so complex, but they're plenty simple once you know what you're doing. And there's always the quick-reference card that comes with it. The game itself is based on AD&D 2nd Edition, and follows it pretty closely other than a compression of time that makes sense for a game. The menus and inventory screens are easy to navigate, and most of the controls that you'll be using commonly are easy to see and find.

Of note is the instruction book, which is a whopper -- 263-odd pages. Good stuff is contained therein, including a running battle of words between Volo and Elminster. It makes for a good little read, although perhaps too much of it was devoted to engine stuff, and not enough to the world in general. It's still a good bit above anyone else's instructions, however.

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn is an evolution, not a revolution. It's tighter, longer, and more enjoyable than the first game of the series, and comes close to dismounting Planescape: Torment as my favorite computer RPG of all time. PS:T wins simply because I'm a Planescape nut, but Baldur's Gate II is pretty much as good as it gets in the genre. With more than 150 hours of things to do, interesting characters, and lots of things that'll just make you go, 'Neat,' no fan of the genre should be without BG2 Go buy. Now.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x, P2 233, 32MB RAM, 800MB HD space, 4x CD-ROM, Sound Card, Keyboard, Mouse
 

Test System:



K6-III 450, 256MB RAM, ATI Rage IIc, SB Live!

Windows Deus Ex Nintendo 64 Duke Nukem: Zero Hour

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated