Review

Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition Review

  • Game release: November 15, 2013
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

Gather your party and venture forth.

Where Dungeons & Dragons is concerned, I've always been old-school. I got into the game as a child at the end of the 1970s, during the Gygaxian glory days when the big game was still Advanced and still loaded with more inscrutable numbers than a corporate tax return. That's how I've always liked it. The newfangled rules that supposedly make everything easier with changes like flipping around armor class just make my head hurt. If you can't understand that -10 is better than 10, I don't want to know you.

So Baldur's Gate II is the pinnacle of role-playing games for me. The BioWare epic got almost everything right about the original, unforgiving D&D when it was released back in 2000, and Overhaul Games hits the goblin right on the schnoz in 2013. The developer's reworking of one of the all-time greats into Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition combines the original Shadows of Amn, the Throne of Bhaal expansion, and a new gladiatorial combat side game into a bursting-at-the-seams package. Even after more than a decade, this sprawling saga remains the most authentic treatment of D&D to ever hit a computer. And it is even better than ever, thanks to numerous graphical tweaks and a pile of new content that shows how much Overhaul has gotten its act together in comparison with the problematic release of the first enhanced Baldur's Gate game last year.

Memorize spellbooks and light up the dungeons, or your party won't last long in one of the toughest RPGs ever made.

Not that the original game could ever be said to be in need of more stuff. Completists will put in a good 100 hours with Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, while Throne of Bhaal adds another 40 or more. Both games are loaded with memorable (and personable, depending on how much you take to space hamsters and self-righteous druids) non-player characters and party members and challenging tactical combat--not to mention quests that play out like classic pen-and-paper modules and a rogues' gallery of monsters and villains ranging all the way from mephits and vampires to mind flayers and a spectacularly snotty red dragon. The game hardly needed extras, although the new characters, quests, and gladiatorial games are a good impetus for players who can get a lot of the $20 "enhanced" presentation by loading up free user-made mods with the original game, which can be purchased online for less than $10.

Battles are intricate, tactical affairs where you have to blend careful use of melee fighters with the smart use of mages, clerics, and the like.

The original plot remains impressive, telling the continuing Bhaalspawn saga about the protagonist coming to terms with his or her identity as the offspring of the dead god of murder. Script and story are much more mature than what was presented in the first Baldur's Gate. Even the main villain, a dead-faced sadistic monster named Jon Irenicus, whom you are first introduced to during torture sessions in his dungeon, is more memorably evil than the previous game's more prototypical baddie, Sarevok.

Because of the above, plus a more careful design, all of your actions are more directed and more purposeful. Where the first game saw you crawling through every square inch of what seemed to be endless wilderness maps, looking for battles to earn you enough experience points to level up and take on gangs of murderous kobolds and the like, here you accept a quest, go more or less straight to its location, and get right to slaying powerhouse mages, parlaying with demons, challenging vampire clans, and so forth. The ante has been upped across the board, starting with an introductory-level adventure for first-level characters, and moving to a much more challenging foray with experienced heroes who start at level seven and above. You feel this with every monster you kill and every magical item you loot from a corpse.

Baldur's Gate II is much more of a high-level adventure than its predecessor, complete with high-level adversaries and even visits to other planes.

Coming along with this epic feel is epic difficulty. Baldur's Gate might be the hardest RPG ever made. Battles are intricate, tactical affairs where you have to blend careful use of melee fighters with the smart use of mages, clerics, and the like. Battle preparation is vital. You should memorize the spellbooks of your characters to see what works best for each possible situation. If you don't maximize your chances of survival with smart spellcasting, which includes prep work like throwing out some haste and bless spells before even going into fights, you will not survive for long.

In many ways, this is more of a strategy game than an RPG, particularly by today's standards. Some battles are excruciatingly tough without the use of certain spells. I ran into trouble at various points in the game, and it's impressive just how many encounters require you to exercise some gray matter instead of whipping out a sword and some magic missiles. I kept beating my head against one early battle with a group of Hulk-like golems who activated as soon as I swiped the magic items that they were protecting. After 30 minutes or so of getting beaten into a fine red goo, I realized that I could use something as basic as a cleric's sanctuary spell to put up a cloaking field, then wander in, steal everything, and slink on out without being spotted by these murderous guardians.

All that said, sometimes the game goes too far. The difficulty is artificially ramped up, and the game's reach exceeds its grasp in some aspects of the design. Dungeon levels consist of far too many tiny corridors that present daunting challenges to your party of six adventurers. Pathfinding remains abysmal, so characters frequently perform Keystone Kops routines where they walk into one another and turn around. These guys take the long way around far too often. I can't recall how many battles I stumbled into, went to my go-to mage to soften up baddies with a little summoning or fireballing...and then realized that she was wandering through a chamber all the way on the other side of the crypt or cavern.

The game's reach exceeds its grasp in some aspects of the design.

Things that haven't been enhanced? Too-narrow dungeon corridors and the horrific pathfinding.

Even worse, the game design often relies on the small size of the dungeons to make battles harder. You frequently walk into a tiny room and get gooned by foes right on the doorstep. This little trick typically results in the back-line heroes in your party formation (almost always your vital spellcasters) being unable to get through the logjam. As a result, they can't get involved in the battle, even to fire off arrows or cast those oh-so-necessary spells. Even your fighters up front don't fare well here, since they can't move. They wind up sandwiched between the enemies in front of them and their useless allies behind them. Say hello to an old-fashioned beatdown. The only way to deal with these battles, and many others that begin on more of a level playing field, is to lose first and then use that experience to figure out what spells need to be cast, before loading a save and going into that battle again.

New party member Nexxat comes with an interesting backstory. But she's as evil as it gets, so good guys will have a tough time getting much out of her bloodthirsty predilections.

New content doesn't add all that much to the original games. It is nice to have, although the fit isn't perfect. The four added adventurers (including the three introduced in last year's Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition and a fourth brand-new one) add some variety to your parties, but there are some oddities. Their dialogue often seems out of place. They come off a little too modern (sex jokes do not work well in a game this buttoned-down) and self-referential in comparison with the original characters, who played things mostly straight and serious. The most unimpressive additions, however, are the crashes to desktop, which are common enough to frustrate.

Hexxat, the lone all-new character, has an intriguing backstory and can be of use in battles, but she's inaccessible to good parties due to her evil alignment. (Good luck trying to justify keeping her around in a party led by a paladin.) Her romance option is same-sex-only, which makes her off-limits for any male protagonist who wants to knock some boots before venturing forth; if you're porting over a dude from the first Baldur's Gate, you're out of luck when it comes to the new romantic content. The combat-heavy new mode of play, The Black Pits II: Gladiators of Thay, is a worthy sequel to its predecessor, but it doesn't offer much more than a succession of the same sorts of tactical battles you get in the main games, only there you also get the benefit of great storytelling and more involving quests.

Despite all of the above, I have to admit that I am probably most fond of Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition because of nostalgia. Not that this is entirely a bad thing. As much as I've gotten used to modern, hold-your-hand RPGs like Mass Effect 3, there is something to be said for this take-no-prisoners blast from the past, especially if you love old-timey D&D as much as I do. And even if you don't have this particular predilection, you should check the game out anyhow, because an experience as legendary as Baldur's Gate II is well worth the effort.

The Good
One of the best, most comprehensive D&D games ever made
Epic story, epic quests, and epic length
Incredible tactical depth, particularly when it comes to spellcasting in combat
Enhanced game adds quests, characters, and improved visuals
The Bad
Enhancements don't address longstanding issues with pathfinding and dungeon size
Crashes to the desktop are too common
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast Brett Todd dedicated a solid month of his spare time to Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn and its Throne of Bhaal expansion for the purposes of this review.

Discussion

26 comments
harteman
harteman

Best game I ever played, and I am a gamer through and through.  I come back to this game more than any other.  Multiplayer was pretty fun back in the day too, if you had some like-minded friends looking to role play.

harteman
harteman

You do realize, those spots where you get jammed up due to narrow spaces, you can simply have everyone back up, then draw your enemy into those same spaces, where you can face them a couple at a time, with full use of your mages etc.


Tactics.  Just saying.

Wej_accept_it
Wej_accept_it

BG2, an RPG with the size of skyrim, the challenge of dark souls, addictive nature of diablo and an amazing blend of story and characters that wasn't mired in a rubbish ending (Mass Effect?)
That's how I desribed this game to a friend who loves RPGs but had never heard of BG, he genuinely thought I was making stuff up and that there was no way a game from 10+ years ago had all that

uglypinkmoose
uglypinkmoose

Only ever played Dark Alliance unfortunately... I'd like to play the others 

richardfitzinya
richardfitzinya

about 10 years ago i went searching for this in bargain bins at best buy when i was on a business trip...i ended up finding Ice Wind Dale 3 which to me was a very enjoyable game.  not on par, by any means, with BG2 but a great game.  I never found BG2 so I am SO PHUKING STOKED (sorry for caps) that this has been done.  Enhanced edition whatever...who cares they could just re release this sucker and I'd pay up $60 on the spot.  absolutely going to play.


anybody know if they have a MAC version?  


happy new year to all my fellow old-school RPG players.  i thought i was the only one alive :)

xsa
xsa

For those wondering, I have played the game for 150h+ now. Two playthroughs(good and evil), very few crashes that were all mod-related(and the mods have been updated with fixes for those problems).


Highly recommend playing with the mods BG2Tweaks, Sword Coast Stratagems, Rogue Rebalancing and aTweaks at the minimum.

sonicare
sonicare

This was my favorite game of all time when it came out.  Amazing experience.  Not sure how well it translates now, but I think I'll have to try it out at some point.

Hurvl
Hurvl

"New party member Nexxat comes with an interesting backstory. But she's as evil as it gets" But it says that she is neutral evil and isn't chaotic evil as evil as it gets?

emilio721
emilio721

to gamespot masters:

hi, you should put the [ G e n r e ] there also :P

--- \/ ---


X Rebirth Review
Game release: November 15, 2013
Reviewed: December 20, 2013

shtldr
shtldr

I like BG and Icewind Dale but Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant is likely the most awesome RPG I've ever played. It even had NPC parties lead by faction heroes, roaming the huge world, competing and fighting against you and each other in the main quest of the game. I don't recall seeing anything like that before or after this game.

EXODYS
EXODYS

Great review Brett Todd, honest and spot on :)

Baldur's Gate II ranks as one of the best games I've ever played, it's the pinnacle of fantasy RPG, and a quick look at metacritic also shows this: "Universal acclaim" by both critics and users alike :D

However, a jewel such as Baldur's Gate II should not be disrupted by crashes to desktop, so even though I'm looking forward to a nostalgic replay, I'll wait until Overhaul Games fix this new problem. When they do, I'm ready to revisit this beautifully created and yet dark and deep world again.

hrcules
hrcules

BGII is still one of the most expansive and immersive video games I've ever played. The scope is huge, even by modern standards. And while the graphics are basically 13 years old, as the graphical overhaul's quite limited, it's still a beautiful looking game! It's a great example of what can happen when technical ability, artistic ambition and execution align perfectly. Developers could still learn a lot from this game, in terms of finding a visual style that fits the technical ability and limitations of the dev.team, instead of trying to make everything look "realistic" and failing because of clunky models and low-res textures.

Imperiusmax
Imperiusmax

Just make a new Baldur's Gate game already! I mean even Dark Alliance was popular so what is the problem?

hiphops_savior
hiphops_savior

The criticisms are fair, better pathfinding has nothing to do with dumbing down. It's just shoddy programming. Still an excellent game and a must play RPG.

pug987
pug987

Baldur's Gate 2 is considered by some the best RPG ever created. It's certainly one of the best. For any RPG fan who hasn't yet played it it's a must. It's even worth doing multiple playthroughs to see all characters, interactions and quests.


What I don't know is if it's best to get the enhanced edition or the normal game (that you can find for half the price of the enhanced edition in GOG.com) with all the recommended community mods.

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

just started my first game of DnD with some friends a few days ago (pathfinder 3.5), i couldn't believe what I was missing out on! i've never tried baldur's gate either, so I guess i'm gonna have to try it!

katerinafm
katerinafm

I still haven't finished BGII, but the story is really, really good. I personally enjoyed Baldur's Gate 1 more though due to the different areas you could go to (revealing every inch of the map doesn't bother me). Having to spend so much time in the same city bores me (I wasn't really fond of the city in the first game either. I kept getting lost and don't even get me started on the sewers...). 

The difficulty seems to not be as balanced as it was in the first game too. Spells are ESSENTIAL this time around, and you're done for if you stumble across enemies that require very specific spells to be put down (like unavoidable vampires that tore apart my low level party because I didn't have a sunlight spell x_x )


Not sure if the enhanced edition is worth it though since you can get both games and then just install a couple of mods that basically do the same thing for the same or less (GOG.com is an excellent site to get them from as well as other old games). You can even merge all the BG games and expansions into one big game so you don't have to pause the gameplay at all. Recommended.


auron11022
auron11022

This game is tough, but certainly not the toughest ever.


People are spoiled by games like Skyrim and Mass Effect, where the game almost refuses to let you fail, even if you try.


The game has right and wrong choices.  If you make the wrong choice, you are punished for it.  Modern game design is full of "you can't be wrong" options.  That is not the case in this game, if you want to be an idiot and murder somebody, be prepared to die.

Wej_accept_it
Wej_accept_it

@uglypinkmooseSorry but you've never played BG then, DA was a cool little hack and slash but the point and click is where the series shines.

Axass
Axass

@HurvlNo.

Chaotic Evil and Lawful Evil are characters that abide to certain criteria to perpetrate evil. Neutral Evil is like saying "pure evil", they just want to see the world burn, no matter the way.

xsa
xsa

@Imperiusmax It's coming, sort of, under the name Pillars of Eternity.

jesot
jesot

@pug987 It's best to get the GOG version.  The mods go so far as to make BG1 operate under the BG2 ruleset and make the games run together as one.  So it's one, giant, continuous game.  The mods also address modern resolutions ("HD") and many other REAL problems with the original.  You can also get Icewind Dale I & II and they have mods to do the same with those games.  Really freaking cool, imo.

Overhaul basically just applied some mods and resold the game.  Cheap, imo.  But I have heard rumors that they're trying to make a Baldur's Gate III.  That might be cool, but this studio has yet to show if they can even program.

Poodlejumper
Poodlejumper

@auron11022 And you could make several choices. Some would affect the end game and others would just allow you to not do something or do something epic eventually: like the golden pantaloons combo...


Very little hand holding.


Sigh...I really love this game.


Now people think action games with skill trees are RPGs.


Damn I feel old.

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

@auron11022Agreed.  I generally agree with the reviewer (and LOVE the opening paragraph), but let's throw "Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant" way in front of BG2 for the title of "hardest."

uglypinkmoose
uglypinkmoose

@Wej_accept_it how does the point and click work?  If it just works like Diablo I don't see what the difference would be.  

Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition More Info

  • Released
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    You have been kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured. Do you have what it takes to survive Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition?
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    Developed by:
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