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Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn

24 September 2000
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn - cover art
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536 Ratings / 1 Reviews
#50 All-time
#4 for 2000
After their exploits in Baldur's Gate, the Bhaalspawn finds themselves in the nation of Amn and at the centre of a mysterious wizard's nefarious plan.
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2000 BioWare Black Isle  
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2000 BioWare Black Isle  
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2001 BioWare MumboJumbo  
4xCD-ROM
XNA 8 11930 02090 3
Baldur's Gate 2 Complete
2010 BioWare  
Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition
2013 Beamdog BioWare  
2014 Overhaul  
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Title
The definitive RPG adventure
Back in the early-to-mid 2000s, when i was a lil kid, my older sister had a boyfriend. He was a really nerdy, friendly dude with glasses i think. But pretty much the only memory i have of him is watching him play a weird video game he had installed in our Windows 98. It had a weird name and a weird look.

I remember being intrigued by the game's aura, feeling something mysterious and arcane emanating from the character portraits, the top-down point of view and the painterly design of the environments. It was something completely alien, certainly compared to the games i used to play (pretty much The Lion King and Aladdin games, since i never had a console and my parents preferred i was outside with friends rather than playing those strange, addicting "computer games") and of course i didn't understand any of it.

Flash forward to 2015 summer vacation at my grandparents house, where me and my friends usually went to in the summer. But i was alone this time, and bored. So i started thinking of which game my shitty laptop could run, and the name of that old game my sister's boyfriend used to play came to my mind. It was Baldur... something. It was a relief when i googled it and found out i remembered the name right, since I'm terrified of permanently losing old memories.

And then it started. My journey through Baldur's Gate II took me from that summer vacation until the end of the school year. Almost a whole year of playing only this. Yes, this is one of those games: the adventure is so long, goes through so many locations, with so many charming characters and so many moments of frustration and euphoric triumph, that by the end you feel the characters' journey, your journey as a player and your journey as a person in real life during that period are one and the same. Btw, the game probably doesn't take THAT long: i played it with my laptop's touchpad, which in retrospect is absolutely crazy and not recommended. Don't be like me, use an actual mouse and keyboard.

Ok, but is this game actually THAT good? Is it really deserving of being a top 10 RPGs of all time, apart from the whole "it's long so you end up with a lot of memories attached to it"? Yes and yes. There are many reasons why this is considered a classic in the RPG genre, but I'll try to be as concise as possible.

First, what kind of game is this? In the isometric RPG genre, this site seems to favour Planescape and Disco Elysium over this, both extremely well written and narrative-centric games. This is NOT that. It isn't a purely combat-focused dungeon crawl like Icewind Dale or Diablo either. This is a nice middle ground, with a lot of great combat (leagues above Planescape, even if they are based on the same system), an expertly designed power fantasy narrative that isn't very deep but is always engaging and even manages to be emotional, and lots of great exploration and quests.

Basically, this is the complete package, THE oldschool isometric RPG you should play. Maybe it isn´t a 10/10 at everything, but it is a 8/10 at worst at every aspect of what makes a great RPG. You want an epic fantasy adventure with charismatic characters, great and varied combat, the best sidequests ever and a villain that pushes you to finish the story just to fucking kill him? This is it.

That said, it's undeniable that the single most difficult obstacle to get into Baldur's Gate is the combat system. It may seem arcane, unintuitive and needlessly complex at first. It IS, at least partially, all of those things. But it isn't all that, not the the extent some people claim. To summarize, all you need to know is: the lower your thaco the better; the lower your armor class the better; the higher your damage the better; slightly better thaco is better than slightly better damage, because thaco determines if you get to hit the enemy in the first place; items in blue means you have to identify them and spell scrolls in green means your mage can learn them; and buff the fuck out of your party before major fights.

If you do this, you'll be okay. The rest you can learn by playing, experimenting and paying attention. The combat system is complex but rewarding, with a puzzle element when it comes to status effects, resistances, buffs and debuffs. When it clicks, it's extremely satisfying. And the spells are the absolute highlight: the amount of crazy. epic, bonkers shit you can do with high level spells in this game you won't find anywhere else. Dungeons & Dragons, in which this game is based on, heavily favours arcane magic, which means mages are fucking broken. Is that "balanced"?. Not really. Is it fun though? Absolutely.

Did i mention the sidequests? Yeah, this has the best quest design in any RPG that I played, bar none. There is not one boring fetch quest that I can remember. Some quests are a fairly small and simple affair, but a lot of them have a really interesting structure that isn't replicated enough by other games: what begins with a simple event or task starts getting bigger and more complex until it ends up being an unexpected, epic mini-adventure of its own. Hearing a lunatic spouting nonsense in the street can end up with you fighting a suicide cult hidden under the sewers. A simple bounty can lead you into a whole other dimension. A nobleman asking you to kill some ogres can end up with your whole party roasted by a red dragon. There are serial killings, small town mysteries, infiltration sequences, pirates, vampires, asylums and underground cities.

Each companion comes with a unique series of quests, and you get a whole other series of quests on top depending on which class you picked. A lot of quests are interconnected, mutually exclusive or have multiple starting points. So there is a LOT of content, even by modern RPG standards. But unlike most mainstream modern RPGs, here quality is on par with quantity.

This is directly tied with the way the exploration works. This isn't really a true open world, unlike the first game. You travel directly between the main locations, with the roads only being the scenario for occasional random encounters with bandits or monsters. Though this is technically the case for BG1 as well, that game had a lot of wilderness maps between the main locations, which depending on your taste can enhance the sense of exploration or just feel like empty transition areas. While some consider the cutting of transition areas in BG2 a negative, it makes the experience much more focused and dense, without falling into the "theme park" trap; the world always feels believable and full of things to do. Actually, this was my first "open world" RPG, so I didn't know how big the world was gonna be. When I came out of the starting dungeon, and realized that the huge map I was in was only one district in one city in the whole world map, I sensed a feeling of freedom like never before in a video game. I could do whatever I wanted, I had an entire world to explore. A whole adventure ahead of me.

This is the spirit that best encapsulates this game's strengths, especially Chapter 2, which encompasses around half or more of the game's content. Baldur's Gate, like many western RPGs, has to deal with two contradictory motivations for the player: the drive to explore the world freely at your own pace, and the drive to advance the main plot forward. Chapter 2 manages to be a perfect balancing act between the two, having a somewhat urgent main goal as well as a good justification of why you don't chase that goal desperately and take your time with sidequests instead.

It's basically the "do whatever you want" chapter, with subsequent chapters being linear and more story focused. Even then, because of the great vastness and openness of Chapter 2, the linearity that follows feels like a fresh change of pace, and doesn't give away choice completely. You can even miss a whole city depending on your choices in exploration. Also, the game opens up again for the final act, letting you complete all your unfinished business and prepare before the final confrontation.

So about the story. Not gonna say much because of spoilers. Just gonna say that this game absolutely nails its main villain, who is by far the most interesting character in the game, with the charisma, hubris, tragedy and depth necessary to drive the plot forward. He's ever-present in the story, creating mystey, antagonizing and teasing you even when he's not physically present. He's what holds the narrative together and the reason you will be rubbing your hands in excitement when after eighty hours or so you have the opportunity to finally kill the mf.. I remember being in class one of the last days of school just thinking of tactics to finish the guy when I came back home. As a foil to the player character, he's a perfect villain.

But in the end, the heart and soul of Baldur's Gate and the reason you can remember your adventure fondly afterwards are the companions. They will comment on the story, discuss their ideals and dreams, crack jokes, bond, bicker, fight for your love (yes, this is the first Bioware game with romances, and they are... okay) or even fight to the death.

This is Bioware's early era, when romances weren't the main selling point and the characters weren't all archetypes painstakingly crafted and marketed to appeal to every taste and demographic possible. For this reason, players of modern Bioware games or even Larian's Baldur's Gate 3 will appreciate how relatively low-key and edginess-free the companions are. For the same reasons, they are a bit clunkier, a bit simpler at times. But they feel much closer to real people, real adventurers in this world. At the end of the journey, they are like actual friends who have been through every step of the road with you, and who will go down to hell for you if necessary. There is that special, classic fantasy adventure feeling here, and I don't think many games do it better.

The Enhanced Edition companions added by Beamdog, on the other hand, are mostly edgelords of the highest order, and stick out like a sore thumb. My sincere advice is to avoid them. They are characters inserted in an early Bioware game by developers poorly imitating the style of modern Bioware, with predictably poor results. Still, the Enhanced Edition is the way to go to play this because of UI and ease of use features. Just stay away from characters whose entire dialogue is suspiciously fully voice acted.

One last thing. This is an extremely replayable game. The three main factors that can make subsequent playthroughs feel significantly different are the party composition, the player character's class and mods.

Depending on the companions you keep in your party, you will have unique quests, interactions and romances. You can combine evil and good characters, very contrasting personalities or multiple romantic interests at the same time for maximum chaos. The basic "standard" party composition is to have at least a tank, a damage dealer, a rogue, a healer (cleric/druid) and an arcane spellcaster (mage/sorcerer); but you can really do whatever you want. You can experiment with any class combination (or play solo, or with just two or three party members) and still beat the game.

About the player character's class, apart from the unique combat mechanics, each has a potential "stronghold" that comes with its own unique sidestory and series of quests. For example you can be the lord of a castle (if you are a warrior class) or the owner of a theater (if you are a bard). So you can play through this game six times and still there would be things to discover.

And if that isn't enough, there's the mods. The Baldur's Gate series has a great (and still active) modding scene. The mods I recommend are, in order of installation: Rogue Rebalancing, IWDification, Sword Coast Stratagems, EEex, Bubb's Spell Menu Extended and BG2 Radar Overlay. They are all gameplay mods that don't make changes to any story element. That said, I recommend them for subsequent playthroughs, not for the first, because some of them make the game quite a lot tougher, even if in a "fair" manner.

So yeah, that's Baldur's Gate II. It's the kind of game where you download 100 custom protraits and name your character Aragorn. Where you spend 4 hours fighting a dragon to just barely win after dying a thousand times and using every cheese tactic imaginable, and you fist pump like you just won the World Cup or something. Where you spend minutes thinking about what to say to a companion about a delicate personal matter. Where your mage can stop time, trap an enemy in an extradimensional maze and invoke literal angels to the fight and you still get bodied. Where a small miscalculation can kill your entire party with one of your own spells. I know, because I've done all these things.
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+ Intricate and deep RPG
= Not really a fan of this style of RPGs, but this is a good and honest adventure.

Completed.
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Just play Fallout 1 and 2; they aren't quite as dated and it's the same harrowing RPG experience. I will say that BGII is much better than the first game.

I'd recommend playing the remastered versions by Beamdog, even if there's still some weird-ass bugs and glitches present.
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VaLeReFeICaO Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-04-23T02:39:26Z
2024-04-23T02:39:26Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
karhupuoli Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-04-22T07:31:11Z
2024-04-22T07:31:11Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
FirstMate Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-04-19T18:36:53Z
2024-04-19T18:36:53Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
DarK_RaideR Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-04-17T12:03:15Z
2024-04-17T12:03:15Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
deforge Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-04-16T19:58:30Z
2024-04-16T19:58:30Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Genly_Ai Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-04-07T12:49:00Z
2024-04-07T12:49:00Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
SergLeDerg Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-04-03T23:01:39Z
2024-04-03T23:01:39Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Gaige Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-04-02T13:23:43Z
2024-04-02T13:23:43Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Obywatel Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-03-28T15:27:56Z
2024-03-28T15:27:56Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
yaiez Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-03-28T11:25:57Z
2024-03-28T11:25:57Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Crentist852 Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-03-24T07:21:52Z
2024-03-24T07:21:52Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Dragonhawk Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn 2024-03-23T06:23:05Z
2024-03-23T06:23:05Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Content rating
ESRB: T
Player modes
1-6 players
Media
4x CD-ROM
Multiplayer modes
Cooperative
Multiplayer options
LAN, Online
Franchises

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  • Previous comments (11) Loading...
  • rengoestar 2023-04-24 02:59:20.069798+00
    the review that says fallout 1 and 2 are less dated than this is on crack. not saying they are bad games by any means, but i tried to play them recently for the first time and they were much, MUCH more clunky and arcane than BG
    reply
    • bobwilson 2023-08-15 23:38:25.108532+00
      100% agreed and i have a soft spot for FO2 over this if I had to force an answer. I'd also extend this to Planescape: Torment. BioWare was such a talented studio for nearly 25 years.
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • Connacht 2023-08-06 22:47:35.794768+00
    This game is not an open world, by all means.
    reply
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  • IgnacioMoreno 2023-08-14 08:07:02.434521+00
    A den of STINK-ING evil
    reply
    • algroth_89 2023-08-23 04:22:37.465323+00
      Cover your nose Boo, we'll leave NO CREVICE UNTOUCHED!
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • travisBickle2004 2023-12-03 00:50:08.628797+00
    I just finished BG3 (absolutely loved it) and suddenly want to return to this once more.
    reply
    • ResetRPG 2023-12-13 21:35:03.705122+00
      Do it, it is better.
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • LedriTheThane 2024-02-24 19:03:19.716425+00
    Every hamster has his day.
    reply
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • Regal_Throes 2024-03-08 06:23:04.282401+00
    GO FOR THE EYES BOO
    reply
    • More replies New replies ) Loading...
  • Genly_Ai 2024-03-21 10:41:27.368592+00
    I'm currently doing a full playthrough of BG1 & 2 for the first time. I'm about 50+ hours in and have just finished the Ust Natha section in the Underdark of Chapter 5. My current party consists of Jaheira, Anomen, Jan, Haer'dalis, and Aerie.

    I didn't much care for BG1 (though the expansion was cool) but I can see why BG2 is so widely praised even to this day. The writing, storytelling, worldbuilding, art, soundtrack, etc. are absolutely second to none. It's wild just what a huge step up this is from BG1, though I'm glad I finished it and Siege of Dragonspear to experience the full story.

    Planescape: Torment will always be in my all-time top 3, but this is incredible. Really one of those games I feel I'm going to complete and wish I could experience for the first time again.
    reply
  • headway8553 2024-04-05 11:54:07.482399+00
    i wanna play through this so bad, because i KNOW it's a good game, but i can't figure out the controls LOL
    reply
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