When I was 13 years old I walked out of the store having bought my very first PC game: Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. I was excited and very proud of myself with the purchase. Having just finished a successful D&D campaign, I was thrilled to have a game governed by the ruleset I thought I mastered. I didn’t realize at the time that there was a first part to this saga (the number “2” on the box had eluded me). All I knew was that I was ready to begin my foray into the lands of the Forgotten Realms.
I took the game home and quickly realized that the only PC in the house that could adequately run the game was my older brother’s. We put disc one into the drive and patiently read through the game manual as the installation took place. Disc 2 was inserted and I was already plotting the backstory to Gem, a Blade (subset of a Bard) from Waterdeep. Disc 3 was almost complete when all of a sudden, the screen went blank. I panicked, and ran over to the flimsy desk holding the giant computer tower and checked all the cables to the monitor. Everything was connected, and I could still hear the disc humming in the drive. My father recommended restarting the PC and then reinstalling the game. One little problem: the PC would not turn back on after completely shutting it down. Come to find out, my brother’s PSU had fried from the Vegas heat. Heartbroken, I put the two discs I had still in my possession (I wouldn’t get disc three out for a few days) back in the game box, but still held onto the manual. It would be two years before I could actually play the game.
When I was finally able to play the game, I was instantly hooked. Enthralled really. It’s as if BioWare had cast a “Command” spell on me to play this game, and I wholeheartedly listened.
So imagine my excitement when it was announced last year that Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition was coming out, I was excited (in fact, you can hear how excited I was in our Quest Legion podcast. Episode 2), but I really wanted to see if SoA would also be released. I have a greater connection with it due to my history regarding the game.
Overhaul made me a very happy person indeed when it was announced that Baldur’s Gate 2 would be given the same “Enhanced” treatment. The Enhanced Edition comes with not only “Shadow of Amn,” but also the conclusion to the epic Bhaalspawn Saga, “Throne of Bhaal.” Also included is the “Black Pits” arena, and has become a continuation to the story found in the first “Black Pits” with Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition.
Overhaul has really kept the feel of the original Baldur’s Gate 2, much like they did with their enhancement of the first entry of the series. The story that kept me ignoring friends and family the summer of my junior year of high school is still there, and it had me ignoring my wife and daughter the past few nights as I battled Duerger, goblins and hobgoblins throughout the landscape of Amn.
Visually, the team at Overhaul has done an amazing job remastering the original background art to fit a widescreen monitor. The comparison shots just don’t do the change justice. You really need to get into the game to see how crisp the environments really look. In fact, the only blemish on the screen is the sprite you control! While the character models could look better, I would rather have it this way as it reminds me of crudely painted figurines on a pen and paper version of D&D. The ability to zoom in and out of the environments makes a return from the previous Enhanced Edition, and it really makes selecting targets in combat a lot easier sometimes, especially when you are using a hallway as a choke point for your enemies and the sprites get clustered together.
The UI has been revamped, giving you more room to appreciate the amazing remastering of the visuals.
The combat is as unforgiving as ever, and fans of the series would have it no other way. While archaic by today’s standards, the combat really makes this game both free flowing and a real-time strategy game. My spacebar has taken a beating these past few nights, constantly pausing the game to set up my party’s attacks and counters. Many times I was required to dust off my old AD&D 2nd Edition tomes to refresh myself on how AC and THAC0 worked, types of weapons and tactics, and to examine spell descriptions. The inner strategy of not only positioning your party correctly, but also the make-up of said party kept me second guessing myself for hours, and I loved every second.
Because of how unforgiving the combat can be, as well as trying out different party combinations, the trusty quick save button should become your best friend. The UI has also been cleaned up since even the enhanced version of the Baldur’s Gate. The buttons seem more streamlined and the UI seems a tad bit smaller, giving you more room to enjoy the high resolution environments.
Hexxat, the mysterious Theif, is easily my favorite addition to the game by Overhaul.
Three new characters and story lines were introduced in Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition, and this edition picks up the story where you left off seamlessly as if they were part of the original game in 2000. In fact, had the game not reminded me that they were new, I probably would not have noticed. Additionally, Overhaul has added another character on top of the three returning entries: the Thief Hexxat. Out of the new additions, her story had to be my favorite, though all of the character’s story lines and interactions are beautifully written and well voice-acted. The only disappointment in the voice-overs I found was the owner of the Black Pits. Otherwise, the new content is well done, and the music and sound effects really hold up over time.
The game is not without some problems, however. During one playthrough the game did crash a few times. A patch seemed to take care of that, but it was still annoying nonetheless. One other point of aggravation is the AI pathing in the game. While BGEE didn’t seem to clear this up, my hope was that with the second Enhanced Edition, Overhaul would be able to work something out to fix this issue. Sadly, I found myself times beyond count having to regroup my party in a central location so I could move them where I wanted, otherwise some instances I would find Minsc or Neera off in some corner of the map trying to find me. Other than these issues, the game as a whole really handles well, and a lot of the additions and enhancements made in the first Enhanced Edition find their home perfectly in BG2.
In the end, the Baldur’s Gate series has always been about the story and the characters driving that story. The superb story line that defined the original version is as compelling today as it was thirteen years ago. Gamers new and old will find themselves lost in the world of Faerûn, battling scores of enemies, uncovering the mystery of Jon Irenicus, and busting out in laughter at the banter between Minsc and the Miniature Giant Space Hamster Boo. Overall, the enhancements do just that: they “enhance” the original experience without taking away from what made the game great to begin with. Supplement the original with the additions of Neera, Dorn, Rassad and now Hexxat, Baldur’s Gate 2 Enhanced Edition will give you hours of enjoyment, on top of the amazing content that was present in Shadows of Amn and Throne of Bhaal. Add in The Black Pits addition and you’ve got a package that, in my opinion, is worth every penny.
+ Story from the original release is still as compelling as ever, and the enhancements don’t detract or distract from this
+ Combat is as unforgiving, yet satisfying, as the original
+ New Characters and The Black Pits add-on give hundreds of hours of extra gameplay, on top of the already superb story line
– Some stability issues
– AI pathing still a hindrance, especially in hallways and caves
Release Date: November 15, 2013 (PC). Coming Soon on Mac, iOS and Android
Price: $24.95 (PC, Mac), TBA (iOS, Android)
Developer: Overhaul Games