Video Game Thoughts: Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn

Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn was a 2000 role-playing game by Bioware for the PC. I didn’t have many bad things to say about the original game, but the sequel was pretty much the perfect role-playing game for its time. Everything was polished to a mirror shine. Bioware took the great start they had with the original and turned it into a masterpiece. I especially loved the new party member interactions. Venturing out in the wilderness could be quiet in Baldur’s Gate, but here the party kept things lively. There was the possibility of romance between party members but it was clean, no nudity or graphic animations. That is the only kind of romance acceptable for Catholics.

The number of quests in this game was staggering. The original game took around 100 hours to do everything; the sequel was closer to 200 hours. There were quests all over the place in this game. They weren’t simple fetch quests either. These quests were all detailed stories with multiple endings. The amount of quests and the detail with the quests together brought the world to life. It felt like a living, breathing world.

This game had great replayability too. There were tons of classes to play, all with different play styles. A Monk played totally different from a Fighter even though both were melee classes. More than that was that each type of class got their own special home base during the game. They were called strongholds. Fighters got a medieval castle. The servants would collect taxes from the lands owned by the castle and deposit the money in a drawer in the player’s personal chambers. Wizards got their own personal dimension as their stronghold and could get apprentices to serve them.

I loved how the world didn’t revolve around the player. In most games, the player has infinite time to complete any quest no matter how urgent it seems. That was not the case in Baldur’s Gate II. Many quests had time limits. If I didn’t help the quest giver, they would do it on their own and they might even be killed. In some cases it was very hard to get all the quests done successfully. After my first few times through the game, I followed guides to do everything in the right order.

This realism carried over into the party members. When the player accepted a quest from them, they expected them to get to it in a timely fashion. If the player didn’t, the party member would nag them and eventually leave the party. Sometimes this was even permanent. The player could never get them back. Party members could also get into fights with each other. As the party leader, the player had to make sure to pick party members whose personalities went well together. Otherwise, one of them might end up being killed during infighting. Party members could also get angry with the player’s choices during quests. Killing an innocent person might cause a party member with good morals to leave. Likewise, helping out the less fortunate too much could cause an evil character to leave.

Of course, there is a downside to realism. That is tedium. I experienced this in Baldur’s Gate too, but it was much more evident here. The tedium combined with the much longer length meant a lot of times I got bored of the game before finishing all the quests and stories. Every time I came back to the game I wanted to start from the beginning. I’d get halfway through the game again, get bored again, and start over again. It probably took me five starts to finally have the patience to finish the game.

Throne of Bhaal expansion

The expansion, Throne of Bhaal, continued where the story left off in Shadows of Amn. Basically, the Baldur’s Gate story was a trilogy: part one was Baldur’s Gate, part two was Baldur’s Gate II, and part three was Throne of Bhaal. The story in Shadows of Amn was pretty epic, but it went to a whole new level in the expansion. In Shadows of Amn I was mostly fighting other fighters and mages, but now I was fighting giants and dragons. The characters could go into epic levels. The Dungeons & Dragons ruleset they used for the game didn’t actually have any rules for epic levels. Bioware had to write those rules from scratch. In the end, the new spells and abilities Bioware created were not as balanced as the ones from the official Dungeon & Dragons rules.

I also didn’t like how this was expansion was so closed off. It wasn’t open like the base game. There was a very strict story to follow. Many times previous areas would be closed off once I finished the main quest there. The player did get a cool home base though. They could teleport to it at almost any point. This saved a lot of travel time.

The only sidequest was tied to a dungeon. It was a cool idea but really just a combat simulator. I would have liked it better if it wasn’t part of the actual game world but a separate game mode. The developers could let players create a party from scratch to test their skills in this special dungeon. Instead, the dungeon was in the main game world. It did have some of the best loot in the game though, reason enough for it to be in the world for the player’s party to use in the story.

Much like the base game, the expansion was tedious. In fact, I never even beat the expansion. The most I got to was about halfway. I don’t know if it was the story or the epic levels not being as interesting. I just couldn’t stay interested long enough to beat it. I ended up watching someone else play it on YouTube. When it got boring, I could just skip the long combat sequences to get to the story parts.

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