To Hell…and back? Baldur’s Gate 2, 24/3/15

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It’s all done, well sort of. I finished Baldur’s Gate 2 yesterday, which was good timing, because Pillars of Eternity comes out in two days’ time. Pillars was one of the reasons for playing BG2 as I wanted to see if I could cope with playing an ‘Infinity engine’ game; as you have probably guessed, I could and then some. BG2 turned out to be a masterpiece; this will come as no surprise to all the people who have played it at some point during the 15 years since it was first published. But it was a surprise for me because I was doubtful about how well it would hold up given its age.

BG2 holds up so well because it is really good; the writing is excellent, the characters are portrayed with humour and empathy and it has a story that keeps things moving forward. None of these things age, which is heartening since it shows that computer games are maybe coming to a point in which the quality of the work is able to overcome the limitations of the technology that the game was made on.

The story was strong enough to keep me engaged despite the length of the game. Initially, the focus of the story is mostly on trying to rescue Imoen, your half-sister, who is captured, along with the main villain Jon Irenicus, by the Cowled Wizards. But halfway through this focus shifts towards dealing with Irenicus. This works mostly because of the overbearing arrogance of Jon Irenicus. His arrogant goading and overall condescending manner meant that by the end I was happy to travel to hell to end his miserable life. But the developer was correct in understanding that the feud wouldn’t work as the initial drive to action.

Overall the writing is strong and is used to add depth and nuance to the world. Text is used sparingly, it is rare that a text box is longer than two lines long and normally the options available to the player are limited to three or four. This discipline results in tight relevant writing that is a joy to read.

I don’t much rate AD&D second edition. Whilst I have gained an appreciation of its merits over time, it is no RuneQuest. So the fact that BG2 manages to create a good interesting game using these rules is again testament to the skill of the developer. The AD&D rules are nicely integrated into the game and much of the heavy lifting in terms of rules and calculations is done behind the scenes. Whilst this work is obscured it is still visible in the combat log if you want to read it. I found that at a certain point near the beginning it was essential to study this log in order to actually understand how the game was working in the background. Once it is understood the log fades into the background for a long time, only becoming relevant when fights go awry, at which point discovering why you are getting your ass kicked is really helpful.

I should say that some of the systems have aged more than other parts of the game. The graphics, even though they have been updated, still don’t hold up to close scrutiny, but they are functional and sometimes, in certain light, look damn good. The item management is clunky and moving stuff around can be a real pain, particularly when you are in a long dungeon and everyone is carrying a lot of stuff. The amount of times you hear

“I am sorry I can carry no more I had to leave your item on the ground”

Can be really annoying, especially when four characters in a row mutter it and you end up having to perform a long complicated stuff-shuffling process to give one item to a specific character.

The other very noticeable issue is that the pathfinding is pretty dodgy. Generally, at least one of the characters will get stuck if you ask them to travel any great distance. At which point you will hear the immortal words

“You must gather your party before venturing forth”

Whilst these issues are a pain and can get annoying they are by no means a deal breaker, and considering the game’s age, all are understandable.

So that’s that, Baldur’s Gate 2 is great, part of me wants to say that’s that. But it’s not, not by a long stretch, because now I need to play it all in order. This is marvellous, because frankly BG 2 is great and I would love an excuse to play it again.

I won’t play it again straight away, I think I’ll give it a year or so, but at some point I really want to play the whole thing; BG1, BG2 and BG2 Expansion. Till then, if you haven’t played BG2 I would highly recommend it.

 

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