Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition (review)

On November 15, 2013, fans were able to check out Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition, thanks to Beamdog remastering the BioWare classic. The original release, back in 2000, was during an age where PC games were a specialty and consoles were the champions of many households. If I were to ask who had ever played the Baldur’s Gate series, they would be more familiar with the hack-and-slash action game on consoles, rather than the RPG on PC. But before BioWare made an impact with its Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic, and the Dragon Age franchises, they rose to fame with Baldur’s Gate.

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Based on the 2nd Edition ruleset of the legendary Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game, BioWare took its Infinity Engine to create the lush world of the popular “Forgotten Realms” setting. Featuring a mix of real-time and turn-based combat, detailed environments, and a colorful cast of characters and encounters, it was one of the most well-orchestrated products of its time. When BioWare arrived with Baldur’s Gate 2, it brought the same charm as its predecessor, but on a larger scale. If you were to contrast the first iteration with the second, you would find that the scale was epic in scope in the latter version. But with a greater journey being unfolded in Baldur’s Gate 2, there was no cutback on the quality of its combat, events and dialogue.

A vast majority appreciates Mass Effect and Dragon Age’s scripting, and their roots originated from the cleverness and ingenuity in Baldur’s Gate 2‘s writing quality. The banter between characters and the interactions with the main character expressed the desire of Bioware to ensure that you are not playing a cookie-cutter dungeon crawl. Your companions are individuals with their own agenda, and they make sure you do not forget that they’re there!

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Beamdog was created by Trent Oster, who was one of the original co-founders of BioWare. With Oster and their lead programmer, Cameron Tofer, they made it a mission to remaster a lot of these classics and bring it to par with being enjoyable for today’s gaming standards. All remastered games are created under Overhaul Games, a division of Beamdog, allowing the Beamdog team to focus on its own products beyond the product overhauls.

So let’s get to it!

Are you required to play the first iteration to play the sequel? No. You can jump right into Baldur’s Gate 2. If you have played the former, however, you do have the chance to import your character from it.

With the age of widescreen formatting, Beamdog has allowed you to see much of the landscape without requiring to pan the camera around so much, which was something of an annoyance with games of the previous era. Another notable benefit is the inclusion of a Loot bar, which shows all the nearby loot around a selected character. No more trying to figure out which dropped loot is where, then sorting out which you wanted to keep! There is now also a quick-save button, in the event you feel you are about to get screwed.

bg2ee-03Starting in a dungeon in the city of Amn, far south of the city of Baldur’s Gate in the land of Faerun and in the world of Abeir-Toril, in the plane of I-know-too-much-about-this-stuff-so-I’ll-stop, you are in pursuit of a madman who has centered a devastating plot around your existence. Hot on his trail with vengeance in mind, you’ll be traveling across forests, islands, the Underdark, other planes of existence, and a nightmarish dreamscape, all with the same moral questions that are the underpinning of impacting storytelling on an epic scale. And if you’ve played the classics, you’ll definitely notice the improvement of sharpness in the graphics. (But amusingly, there are cutscenes in this game which were rendered in the same low-quality of the original, to keep things consistent.)

There are four new characters in Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition. Two evil aligned and two non-evil aligned. I intentionally sought out the new additions to see how their storylines played out and how they fit with the scheme of this established tapestry, and they worked perfectly! I will refrain from spoiling the details, but the wit, sass, and the colorful dialogue are present in these new characters. They each have a backstory and involvement with the game that is on par with much of the others who have preexisted. Not to mention that the voice acting is not noticeably different in quality and holds up to a polished consistency. (You wouldn’t even realize that these characters were additions in the enhanced edition if it were not for the constant reminders each time you start up the game, it says these characters are new.) Not to mention that there is dialogue between these new characters and the old ones, which goes to show Overhaul/Beamdog’s attention to detail!

bg2ee-04This enhanced edition, like its predecessor, also has its expansion, “Throne of Bhaal”, which wraps up the Bhaalspawn story first introduced in the original Baldur’s Gate game. What I also found attractive was that the new companions also have their stories continued and wrapped-up with the same finesse of the main game. And while there were complaints back in the day, the main Baldur’s Gate 2 story did not directly continue the storyline alluded to in the ending of the first Baldur’s Gate. Throne of Bhaal was a powerful and challenging conclusion to what was promised by that ominous cutscene.

While much of the new material atop the original incarnation is seen through these additional companions, you get to see some of Overhaul Games’ personal handywork through their challenge mode, “The Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay”. I thought this would be a straight round upon round of tactical D&D fighting, but it has a highly entertaining storyline around it which continues the charm left off from “The Black Pits”. (Please note, “The Black Pits” was not a part of the original Baldur’s Gate series, so what you experience here is unique to the Enhanced Editions.) With something so serious as a challenge mode, the personalities involved with this arena are hard not to find amusing. Whether other members of the arena are picking fights with each other or concocting some dastardly deed for sabotage, the twists and turns are refreshing.

bg2ee-05There is much hope that Baldur’s Gate 3 is still the intended goal for Beamdog, as they have impressed upon me that they have all the tools in their possession to produce the kind of material that had me fall in love with BioWare as a company. Their insight into great storytelling, carried by a solid gameplay system and being able to capture the key elements of what I found amazing about BioWare, I’m starting to see Beamdog is clearly a solid successor to that legacy.

Although it took me some time to get through the game and experience much of its improvements, this was the kind of game I did not mind playing over and over again. If you have not tried the series out, or found the first Baldur’s Gate a bit slow, I highly advise you to pick up Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhance Edition.

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You can acquire Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition through Beamdog’s main website or through STEAM. It is currently available for PC and Mac, with the intent on porting it to iOS and Android in the future.

I’d like to personally note that one of the best things about Baldur’s Gate 2 is the inclusion of the Wild Mage. There’s a 50% chance that any magic spell you cast will have a random effect, whether you summon an exploding cow down onto someone, manifest gems in your pocket, or accidentally turn yourself into a chicken. The possibilities of shenanigans can either be amazing or amusing!

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Jaynesis Ong
Jaynesis Ong 162 posts

He is currently a graphics designer by trade, illustrator for indie games, fashionisto, film production assistant, socialite, sampler of fine music, and taster of various new MMO games. JB likes destructive walks on the beach, visceral plot points, maniacal villains, and collapsing galactic empires.

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