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Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Bioware
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 6
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

Since Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal is an expansion pack for Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, you'd expect the two games to look similar. And you'd be right. Shadows of Bhaal still uses the venerable Infinity engine, which means that while the graphics aren't going to be as sharp as you'd like them to be, the environments are still crisp and detailed and the spell effects are ever more impressive. Sure, all of the characters are sprite-based, but is that so bad? I know I'm biased towards Planescape: Torment--It's Planescape, after all--but Throne of Bhaal does some pretty amazing stuff with the Infinity engine, and I can't find much to complain about.

And as for the sound, there is nothing to complain about. The music is sweeping, epic, and precisely in theme with the game. You may not hum it, but you'll definitely feel that it's appropriate for the situations that you find yourself in. The sound effects are the same typical sound effects you've been hearing in the Baldur's Gate series; neither overly impressive nor detrimental, they get the job done with a minimum of fuss. Voice acting is superb as always, which is to be expected for a production such as this.


And the game is just as solid as ever. This is the end of the Baldur's Gate series, and it definitely goes out with a bang. You can think of Throne of Bhaal as consisting of two major additions to the content of the game--a new dungeon that you can access from Amn, and a number of new Chapters that occur immediately after Shadows of Amn is completed. That's not counting the gameplay tweaks, of course, which are many.

It's hard to give a basic storyline bit here, because people who haven't completed Baldur's Gate II all the way don't want their experience to be spoiled, and I can sympathize with not having a couple of hundred hours to throw at a game. Suffice it to say that the storyline of Throne of Bhaal is as entwined in the Baldur's Gate mythos as any of the titles, and your adventures as Bhaalspawn bring you deeper and deeper into the whole mess. Some of the nasties that you meet are very, very nasty. Everyone's talking about the dragon, and for good reason.

Fortunately, there's enough to talk about outside of the plotline. There's that added dungeon I was talking about, Watcher's Keep. It's huge, and it'll take up many hours of your time, but it does some very neat things with the Infinity engine that make you realize that the old beast still has some life in it. It's also damnably hard if you're not prepared.

To make the game even more expansive, the experience cap has been busted to eight million XP (!!). This means that many characters can get up to level 40. Frightening, neh? Along with the severely expanded level range, you'll find a number of new abilities to play with as your characters advance past level 20. Things like special attacks, new 'tenth-level' spells, and awesome priestly magics will make every AD&D gamer tingle with delight.

And the wild mage. I actually own a copy of the Tome of Magic, where the wild mage was introduced as a PC class, and I have to say that actually playing one in a game is just as amusing as running one for a character. Their magics are, well, wild, unpredictable, and usually quite intriguing. You may not want to attempt to complete the main adventure with one, but it's a lot of fun to play around with.


Throne of Bhaal is hard. Because of the insanely high levels that you're dealing with in the game, the experience becomes much more chesslike than random. You have to determine what sorts of spells and equipment you need to have readied and out before each major encounter, because brute force won't get you anywhere in the game. It can be frustrating at times, because the opponents may blow through your countermeasures and wail on you without remorse, but there's always a way to defeat the other side. Plan to save a lot, however, as you experiment with different tactics in the major battles.

Game Mechanics:

The mechanics of Throne of Bhaal are identical to those in the previous titles. The game is almost completely mouse-driven, with the regular pauses during battles to give your troops orders. You know what to expect by now, and it all works rather well. The game is absolutely massive, and there's a ton of things to do and play with; the new abilities of the characters only add to the experience, making the game more varied. The menus are simple enough to navigate, and while a good install of Baldur's Gate II with Throne of Bhaal will suck up massive amounts of hard drive space, it makes up for it with near-instant load times.

If you're a fan of the Baldur's Gate series--and what serious computer role-player isn't?--you'll find a lot to love in Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. The added adventure parts make up more gameplay than most full games, and the new abilities and new class make for an even more enthralling experience. There's no doubt that you get a lot of bang for the buck. But if the real-time RPG style of Baldur's Gate does nothing for you, and you've never found yourself spending late nights hunched over the computer as your little guys run around trying to find their destiny on the shores of the Sword Coast, you've definitely come to the wrong place. Just move along; the rest of us will make up for your lost chance, never fear.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x, P2 233, 32MB RAM, 1.2GB HD Space (BG2 needs included), 4x CD-ROM, 4MB video card, keyboard, mouse

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Aliens vs. Predator 2 Windows Black & White

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated