As RPGs go, Baldur’s Gate II is generally heralded as one of the all-time classics. Built on the Dungeons & Dragons rule set, the game makes for a very deep experience. The Enhanced Edition gives players the chance to relive their fond memories, including the Throne of Bhaal and The Black Pits II expansions. That being said, the dated mechanics and high learning curve may be a turnoff for those who haven’t played it before, and the developer seems to be perfectly fine with that.
The game begins when players select one of four characters, or create one of their own, selecting their own combination of skills and attributes. Throughout the game, other characters will join and leave the player’s party, each bringing their own skill set into the picture. The game ends when the main character falls in battle, but losing a party member can be disastrous as well. For instance, in my game I lost my thief early on, losing her ability to detect traps in the process, and I fell victim to many of them as I continued my adventure.
Characters can be directed individually or as a group, and the game can be paused at any time, allowing the player to issue orders, which are then carried out when the game resumes. Use of this ability is key to success, as it allows players to strategize both before and during skirmishes, and do things like move melee focused fighters into position to protect ranged fighters.
The game is essentially a turn based RPG, with the turns handled in the background. When a character engages an enemy, there is a turn every six seconds. The attacking character’s THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0) minus the armor class of the target is the theoretical “magic number”. A virtual 20-sided die is rolled – if the number rolled is the same or higher than the magic number, the attack hits. If it is lower, the attack misses. There are other factors that influence combat and specific actions for rolling certain numbers, but this is the basics of the combat (as I understand it).
The “as I understand it” qualifier in the previous paragraph is there for a reason, the reason being that there are many elements of the game I simply don’t understand. The original BGII came with a 250 page manual. All that’s available here are 13 “how to” videos, each 30-45 seconds long, covering the very basics of the game like how to move characters around. To say that they don’t come anywhere close to explaining the systems at work here is a wild understatement. For a game that’s as deep and complex as this one, it’s a baffling decision.
Realizing that when the game originally came out (2000) manuals were still commonplace, I set out to finding one. After digging through the menus and game files on my hard drive with no luck, I turned to the internet for help, eventually finding them on baldursgateii.com. Once I dug into them it became apparent just how under informed I really was. Without the manual I never would have known about THAC0 and how combat works, how weapon damage is calculated, that a lower armor class is better than a higher one and that I could rest my party to restore HP. I could go on and on about the things that I learned, but suffice to say that the manual is an absolute requirement to play this game, and even after reading it,there are things I’m unsure of. Its lack of inclusion (no mention anywhere, not even a link) is one of the most bizarre decisions I have ever come across in a game. It’s as though the developer assumed that only players of the original would pick this version up.
It’s a shame that it makes such a bad first impression, because Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition is still an enjoyable game, just a dated one. The in-game menus can be clunky at times, and in general lack the sort of polish that’s generally seen with modern games. The graphics, despite the game sporting new artwork, still show their age. The game plays perfectly fine though, and I had no problem with the general mechanics. The soundtrack still sounds great, and the only issue I had with the audio was that characters felt the need to say something every time I clicked on them. I realize it’s fairly standard for games of this type, but it got annoying pretty quickly.
The Enhanced Edition boasts improved multiplayer support over the original, making it easier to connect to and stay in games. The host of a game has a wealth of options at their disposal, including the ability to grant various levels of control to the other players in the game. Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually able to test the multiplayer – almost all of the games I came across were password protected, and the few that weren’t had hosts who had already filled up the available character slots, leaving me unable to actually join the game. I tried hosting a game, but didn’t have anyone join.
Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition is a game with a very specific audience – those who are familiar with the inner workings of D&D and/or played the game when it first came out. It’s not that newcomers can’t enjoy it, but the game almost deliberately stacks the deck against them. As a piece of RPG history, it holds up reasonably well, and gives players another opportunity to enjoy this deep game. However, those experiencing it for the first time will be well served to do some research before diving in.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.