BioWare has been working on Baldur's Gate II: The Shadows of Amn for less than two years, during the course of which it's created one of the single biggest role-playing games to date. Now, the sequel is nearly finished and is presently scheduled to ship in the middle of September, barring any last-minute delays that might occur during the final testing phase. In addition to being such a large game, Baldur's Gate II is also mostly nonlinear, which makes the important process of thoroughly testing the game especially difficult. BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka described testing the game as "taking two steps forward, one step back."
Not only is BioWare's sequel the biggest role-playing game so far from publisher Interplay's Black Isle Studios role-playing game division, but it should also be relatively easier to get into than some of its predecessors. Specifically, Baldur's Gate II will include a detailed in-game tutorial that walks you through character creation, combat, inventory management, and more. This tutorial should help acclimate game players to the particular rules and conventions of second-edition Dungeons & Dragons, which were assumed to be common knowledge in previous D&D-based Black Isle games like the original Baldur's Gate and the recent Icewind Dale. The tutorial should also provide an amusing refresher course for players who're more familiar with D&D.
Interplay handled the casting and production of all the speech in BioWare's sequel. Previous Black Isle Studios games have featured professional voice-acting performances from Hollywood stars like David Warner and Dan Castellaneta, and Baldur's Gate II will carry on this strong tradition. Baldur's Gate II will also include a massive print manual that describes the setting of the game, the second-edition D&D rules, the hundreds of available spells, and more. The spell book portion of the manual may or may not be included as a separate bound volume along with the rest of the documentation. The game itself will ship on four separate CD-ROMs. It is not known as yet whether Interplay will also release a DVD-ROM version of the game.
Baldur's Gate II will take you through dozens of different settings in the Forgotten Realms universe. Interplay has released a number of screenshots depicting some of the highlights of the epic adventure, and GameSpot has had a chance to explore some of these regions firsthand. Collectively, we have over 40 new shots that should give you sense of what to expect from Baldur's Gate II this fall. But of course, BioWare hasn't shown all its cards just yet - the game still has several big surprises that won't be seen until it's out in stores.