Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition Review
From zero to hero, to zero again.
Once again, I find myself writing a review for the Baldur’s Gate series, though it is not for the first game: no, it is for its superlative sequel, Baldur’s Gate II, enhanced, yet still a classic. What can be said that has not been already said about this game? Well, a lot of things. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to write a review. It is very much like the first game, using the same D&D ruleset (2nd edition) and mechanics, except it improves on what BG1 had to offer, making BG2 a much more engaging game for me. Stay with me, dear reader, for I shall share with you the insight of what 52 hours have revealed to me.
A foreign city
I hope you have played through the first game because Baldur’s Gate II starts off in media res with you imprisoned inside of a dungeon. The Siege of Dragonspear expansion fills in the missing gap between the first game up to what led to your capture. To put it in the immortal words of Dorothy,
Despite the game still having the eponymous name of Baldur’s Gate, you are many moons away from that city. No, the dungeon that chains you resides beneath the Amnian city of Athkatla! As it turns out, being in a city of a different nation means that no one there knows you—perhaps they have heard of your deeds, but they don’t know you. And so, you start off once again as an almost literal nobody, forced to rebuild your reputation as either the Hero of Baldur’s Gate or the Butcher of the Flaming Fist; really, you messed up big time if you had a bad reputation in BG1.
Fortunately, you’ve nothing to fear from the Flaming Fist in Athkatla. Instead, your main source of sorrow will stem from the Cowled Wizards of Amn, a cabal of wizards that forbids any unauthorized use of magic in the city. Translated to gameplay, you can slaughter citizens to your heart’s desire with no complaints from the Cowled Wizards, but Gods forbid you decide to use a knock spell because you lost the key to your home in the Slums. Not to mention that with every attempt at travel across the city you risk an ambush by the local thieves’ guild. Welcome to Athkatla.
Not quite the same game
Mechanic-wise, it’s the same game. Almost. There are quite a few improvements over the first game that serves to maintain our sanity. In Athkatla, most of the districts of the city are fully revealed. That means that although there is still a fog of war, you don’t have to traverse every inch of the zone to know where things are. In fact, you can open your area map and it will label the significant buildings of the district right away. Speaking of labelling, the districts of Athkatla have names now. Whereas in Baldur’s Gate the districts are referred to by cardinal and intercardinal directions (e.g. northwest Baldur’s Gate), in Athkatla the districts would be dubbed with names like the “Bridge District” or the “Temple District.” It is much easier to undertake quests in the city when you actually know where you’re supposed to go.
On the topic of going places, the overworld map design is similar to how SoD did it. There are no longer any forested buffer zones that you must trudge through to get from one location to another—good riddance, I say. The encounters you could find in those zones were interesting, but many of them were spread across a large area that was at least 80% filler. And who could forget Cloakwood? Five different zones you had to go through for a single iron mine and you’d have to be blessed by Tymora to not be waylaid and forced to defend yourself. I give thanks to BG2 for saving us from such shenanigans.
When I first began the game, I had a specific party setup in mind, mostly comprised of the original gang of BG1. By the end, however, I found I had adjusted my party multiple times throughout the run: there was just too many companions I found interesting enough to keep in a single party. Compared to BG1, there was more party banter to be had with each companion, either talking directly to you or with other members of the party. As with the first game, the banter can just be pure fluff or lead to two companions forming some sort of bond or feud, the latter potentially ending with the coming of blows. Besides improved interactions, the quests they offer feel more involved, in some cases spanning more than just one quest such as Nalia’s family affairs or Neera’s fight against the Red Wizards of Thay.
Romances are also officially a thing with BG2: the original BG1 had none at all and the romances of the enhanced edition served only as a taste of what BG2 could offer. I won’t go into any specifics, but the romances add additional party banter and provide a mini-storyline that transfers over into the Throne of Bhaal expansion. They aren’t necessary to pursue, of course, but they do add some finality toward the end of the game. All in all, nothing but straight upgrades toward companions. They still have the abysmal pathfinding issue where they merge together into a single entity, but we learn to accept that it happens and move on.
I spent 25 hours before I finished the second chapter. There was just that much content to go through outside the main storyline. Most of the quests aren’t simply a matter of “go kill this monster” or “go fetch me this item” as you always have people to talk to and different paths you can take on a good number of quests. There are many more voiced lines of dialogue compared to BG1, with some NPCs being or nearly being fully-voiced. It’s great because there’s a good chance the nobleman NPC you’re supposed to talk to for a quest won’t start off his dialogue with “AWAY WITH YOU, PEASANT.” My two favorite NPCs in this game are a spectator beholder and a flying imp called Cespenar. The spectator wasn’t voiced, yet I could clearly feel his pure, unadulterated mordancy stemming from being bound to guarding an unwanted chest for decades on end. As for Cespenar—who you meet in the expansion—he is quite … conspicuous, to put it nicely, but he is almost fully-voiced and is a break from the usual demeanor of the characters you meet. He also likes shiny ones.
With a lot of quests and NPCs comes a lot of writing, and the writing is very good. I found the story to have been much more engrossing than the plot of BG1, though that can be attributed to the fact that BG2’s plot felt much more personal. You not only spend the main game getting back at the one who imprisoned you, but you will also once and for all conclude the prophecy you and all Bhaalspawn are forced to be involved in. While both games spend time to delve into the nature of your divine essence, it is in the second game that you truly become introspective and challenge who you are inside. In many instances of dialogue, you have a choice to affirm your desire of either claiming your birthright or denying it; it is in Throne of Bhaal that you finally make do on your intent.
In truth, I did find myself winded midway through the game due to how lengthy the adventure was, but cRPGs tend to be like that, I suppose. Nevertheless, completing the main game plus the expansion gave me a sense of resolution. The story of Gorion’s Ward, spanning across two games, finally concluded. I do wonder if Baldur’s Gate III will be able to compete with its predecessors in terms of story, but because it will be a different story by a different studio, I will attempt to judge it by its own merits. Until then, I hope Baldur’s Gate II will give you the same sense of awe and frustration (i.e. Time Stop users) that it has given me, dear reader.
Just stay away from Watcher’s Keep. Demogorgon doesn’t like visitors.
You can find this game on Steam here.
You can also find this game on GOG.com here.