E3 2001 Hands-onBaldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal

We visited BioWare's booth and have hands-on impressions of the upcoming Baldur's Gate II expansion.

We got a good close look at Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, the near-complete expansion pack for http://gamespot.com/gamespot/features/pc/bestof_2000/p3_09.htmlGameSpot PC's RPG of the year 2000. Though the add-on will require the original game to play, it'll include an enormous amount of new content: more than 80 new and different areas to explore, 40 new monsters to fight, and more than 100 new and powerful weapons, armors, and items to collect. All told, the expansion will add between 30 and 50 hours of gameplay to the original game.

But Throne of Bhaal won't force you to play Baldur's Gate II all over again; the expansion will not only add an enormous and challenging dungeon, Watcher's Keep, to the original game, it'll also feature a full-length story-driven game in which you must deal with the armies of five exceptionally powerful characters--characters that, like your own main character, are the offspring of a dead god.

And like other games in the Baldur's Gate series, the expansion will let you choose your character from a great many different character races and professions as well as a brand-new character class, the wild mage--a magician with the ability to unleash powerful and unpredictable magic every time he casts a spell. And the expansion will also let you customize your party with any of the adventuring companions that joined your character in Baldur's Gate II as well as a new companion we revealed /pc/rpg/baldursgate2throneofbhaal/preview_2692770.htmlin an earlier preview--Sarevok, your character's brother and the primary villain of the first Baldur's Gate game. All characters will begin the game with at least 2.5 million experience points, which is enough to boost them to about the 20th experience level, though they can gain as many as 8 million experience points, which is enough to boost some characters to the exceptionally high 40th level.

Once your characters attain these extremely high experience levels, they'll have access to all-new innate skills known as "high-level abilities." For instance, the evil conjurer Edwin will eventually attain an ability called dragon's breath, which rains down a scorching gout of flame on an area and deals up to 200 points of damage to any enemies unfortunate enough to be within range. The mighty Sarevok can complement his already exceptional physical strength with a high-level ability called smite, which briefly causes all his attacks to count as damaging critical hits and also lets him hurl his enemies backward with the force of each blow.

BioWare has listened carefully to its fans and has made sure to include more of what players want. For instance, fans of Baldur's Gate II's player strongholds can use Throne of Bhaal's improved version: the "pocket plane"--a small fold in the fabric of reality tended by an ancient imp with a talent for smithing magical weapons. And fans who enjoyed solving Baldur's Gate II's countless side quests and puzzles should also enjoy tinkering with the Machine of Lum the Mad, a legendary artifact with a series of buttons and levers that can produce all sorts of random magical effects that may bestow protective magical resistance on your favorite character or blast that same character to smithereens. And like the previous games, Throne of Bhaal will feature cameo appearances by famous characters like the sage Elminster and the mischievous wizard Volo as well as the fearsome Demogorgon--one of the most infamous, dangerous, and evil monsters in the history of Dungeons & Dragons.

Though the expansion will let you advance your party members to exceedingly high levels, it'll be even easier to play than the original game. That's because Throne of Bhaal will feature a slightly refined version of the original game's interface, but since the add-on has been in intensive testing for about as long as it's been in development, it won't feature the degenerative bugs and glitches that plagued Baldur's Gate II. What's more, the game's difficulty settings have been scaled down to help less-experienced players become accustomed to their characters' abilities.

Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal looks extremely promising. And since the expansion will be out soon, Baldur's Gate II fans won't have to wait long to explore even more of the Forgotten Realms.

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