by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Around this time last year, Beamdog and Overhaul Games did a little nip & tuck on the original Baldur’s Gate, releasing an “Enhanced Edition” version of the 1998 classic RPG that worked on modern PCs. While that is a boon all by itself, the rest of the game didn’t exactly scream enhanced. The interface was quirky, the graphics remained virtually untouched and nothing had been done to try and fix the pathing issues that were all too present in the original. In the grand scheme of things, however, these things mattered little. It was after all Baldur’s Gate we were playing.
A year later, Beamdog is back with Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition which includes both the original game and the Throne of Bhaal expansion. I was eager to find out if they learned from their 2012 release and was not disappointed.
Like its predecessor, the original Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is a role-playing classic. It is the type of game that fans feel very adamantly about that everyone should have played it, regardless of their age or interest in the genre. It is easy to forget that quite a few of us who have played the game when it first came out had more hair – quite possibly of a different color – and less weight than we do today. If you weren’t around back then, here’s a quick rundown of the game.
Shadows of Amn picks up where its older sibling left off. You find yourself imprisoned by a mad magician with no idea about his intentions whatsoever. What is clear, however, is that your background – being a Child of Bhaal – plays some part in your imprisonment. With the help of an old friend you manage to escape your cage and set out to break free of the magicians disturbing home. Events unfold quickly after that and it is clear that once again the world needs a hero.
Baldur’s Gate II is as hardcore a role-playing game as you are likely to find out there and it can pride itself on unseen levels of depth and freedom of choice in any game even today. You create your own character, can opt to go at it alone or as a team of 6 and have complete control over how your characters progress. Combat is real-time, but pausible. It is a feature that you will be employing often, as combat can get really tough. In most battles, you will simply point your party at a single enemy and then assign individual orders for any that should not be using their default attacks. Magic, ranged, melee… Every character has its own specialty and the game will remind you of that fact at every corner. Mages fight from the back, Paladins at the front. If you forget to keep your ranged fighters safe, you will most likely end up finding out just how fragile they are without armor.
Throughout its staggering 300-plus hours of content, you will meet a great variety of challenges that range from combat to puzzles and – in some cases – sheer persistence. But it is worth it. As you start unraveling the – superbly written – storyline and see everything come together, you will realize that Baldur’s Gate II is an experience that you will remember for a long time to come.
While I wasn’t too impressed with the ‘Enhanced’ side of last year’s re-release of Baldur’s Gate, I am much more positive about what is on offer today. Similar to that release, Beamdog added new characters, additional quests, an improved version of The Black Pits and the ability to play full screen on modern-day PCs. The new quests are a little bugged and while the new characters are quite colorful, the purist in me doesn’t need any of them to get excited about this re-release. Don’t get me wrong, all new additions have been implemented so well into the game that you’re not even sure they weren’t there in the first place, but having a playable Baldur’s Gate II is what counts.
No, my real excitement comes from the new ‘Scale User Interface’ button. It not only allows players to downsize the sidebars to give more space to the actual game but it also increases the amount of visible space inside the main window – by a magnitude. You are no longer looking at a tiny, upsampled and cramped bit of the map, but a rather large slab of it. It is a game-changer that makes the game feel maybe 5 or 6 years old. There are several other improvements to the game’s interface, each seemingly designed to remove clutter while increasing it intuitiveness. Much to Beamdog’s credit, these same changes have been applied to last year’s release as well, finally making that game deserving of the ‘Enhanced Edition’ moniker as well.
While the Scale User Interface is the true hero of this release, it would not exist if it weren’t in the service of Baldur’s Gate II and its expansion. If there was ever a good time to replay Shadows of Amn or to sink your teeth into its considerable flesh for the very first time, then it is now.
New Scale User Interface option modernizes the game.
Your spouse needs attention too.