Publisher: Black Isle Studios
Developer: BioWare Corporation
N Amer - 09/21/2000
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn Review
Editor's Note: This review was revised 10/23/00 to correct two minor inaccuracies.
“Shall we go? The butts of evil await my bootprint!” – Minsc.
Beyond Baldur’s Gate lies another world, one of insipid evil where the nature of your hero will be revealed. The child of the Lord of Murder, your destiny awaits. But will you side with the dark forces, or deny the evil within you and battle for justice and right? The paths await.
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn is the sequel to the 1998 role-playing game of the year. But in this adventure, the plot thickens. Black Isle Studios, a division of Interplay (the publisher) and BioWare Corp. (the developer) have fashioned a program that immerses the game player in intrigue, with enough twists and turns of the plot to keep you working, fighting, thinking and enjoying every moment spent in this Forgotten Realm.
In Baldur’s Gate, you found out that the dead Lord of Murder, Bhaal, foreseeing his own end, had created children to replace him. You were raised in Candlekeep by a mage named Gorion, who was murdered by your half-brother (surprise) Sarevok, a malevolent being who sought to become the next Lord of Murder. Your character put an end to that nonsense. Now, in Shadows of Amn, you awaken in the dungeons of a mysterious being of vast power. He has been conducting experiments on living creatures, the remains of which live in tanks.
“There are things in these tanks. They used to be people.” – Imoen.
The first task at hand is to escape, but along the way you must free old friends from cages within the dungeon. These are characters familiar to those who played the original Baldur’s Gate. Like Minsc, the warrior who will go into a berserker rage and who listens to a hamster named Boo. Jaheira, the fighter-druid, is also there and you will need her spell casting if you hope to escape. With Imoen, the other charge of Gorion, who is a handy thief, you will be tasked to solve puzzles, battle an assortment of minions and try to figure a way out of the dungeon.
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn features a storyline that you can dip yourself in and thoroughly enjoy. The world is incredibly interactive. You should always explore every facet of the environment you find yourself in. That’s where your thief comes in – she will find and disarm traps, pick locks on doors and sniff out hidden objects. Protect this one; she is worth many times her weight in gold.
Yes, you can manipulate the look of the characters, determining hair and skin color, as well as color of the clothing worn. There are several portraits that can be selected from to indicate what your character looks in-game, or you can import an image into the root directory. Should you decide to import your own character, you must make that portrait available to any other players in the multiplayer game.
Many other options pop up in character creation. The race menu features the usual suspects – humans, elves, gnomes, halflings, dwarves, half-orc or half-elf. You also have to determine your character's class – the type of character they are – which is, once again, taken from the usual assortment such as barbarian, ranger, bard, thief, paladin, wizard, cleric, et cetera. But there are also kits available, or sub-menus to the classes. For example, under the warriors menu, you can pick up the fighter kit of berserker, which will imbue the warrior with the berserker rage. The drawback – and there are always drawbacks, is that your berserker cannot use ranged weapons. Or under ranger you may choose the Beast Master kit – in which case your ranger can summon natural animals to his or her aid. The drawback is that Beast Masters cannot use metal weapons. That means no swords, axes or mauls.
Once you've selected your character, you roll a cyber die to set ability scores. However, what you rolled is not always what you will receive. If your character has special abilities and the dice roll is less than the minimum needed for those abilities, you will receive the minimum point value. Then you must align your character with the forces of good, evil, or you can be neutral. But your character must remain true to his or her alignment. If not, consequences can befall your character, rendering special abilities inoperative.
If you think that a lot of time is spent in developing a character – you are right. But it is so important to the game. If you don't have the right mix of characters for the adventures to come, you are attacking the game woefully unprepared – sort of like sending a warrior into combat against a dragon (yep, there are dragons) with no weapons, or armor, and his hands tied behind his back.
Game play is real-time. But you should also snuggle up to that pause key – especially during combat scenes. The tutorial (highly recommended if you have never played this type of game, recommended as a refresher if you have played one before) will teach you how to pause the game, set your attack strategy, then unpause the program to let the combat play out. However, keep a finger over that pause key. You must be able to realign party members quickly to protect the injured, or to double up attacks.
Controls are intense and wide ranging in this program. You can reset the hot keys, or rely on the quick reference card (which provides anything but a quick reference – it is a cardboard foldout, 10 pages in length front and back). However the program provides a certain logic to the control elements. Once you have learned them, they make sense and are easy to activate.
Sound is a mixture of speech and typed text. Some of the characters have semi-lame characteristic responses to situations, battle cries that can get tiring, but the game features solid ambient sounds and terrific characterizations. Some of the NPCs (computer-generated, non-playing characters) actually seem to reveal trustworthiness in the sound of their voices.
This program does support multiplayer gaming. However, be prepared to find the game play at a slower level. And you can only explore one area of the game board at a time. There are constants though – experience points, and gold is shared between all players. And you do bring your own characters into the game. Just make sure that you are working on the same page as the host of the game. If you play it one way – say with the pause for strategy – and the host doesn't, you may find it a quick death, not an enjoyable outing.
The look of the game is reminiscent of high-end civ games. The game board is lavish, and you can march your tiny characters around in formation. You group just like in civ games. You drag your cursor through the party and they will advance in the pre-selected formation. The action can be bloody, especially if Minsc tees off with a battle axe – body parts fly all over the place. And you loot the bodies for weaponry, armor and gold. The program interface allows you to separate members for exploration. But the party really performs better when it stays close to each other.
The rules for the program, and the combat, are derived strictly from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.
Baldur’s Gate: Shadows of Amn is a well-designed program that will enthrall lovers of the RPG genre. The game has an assortment of quests and tantalizes players in a manner that will draw them back again and again to experience the wonders of the lands. Though the graphics may not be as rich as Icewind Dale, this program has all the elements necessary in a great game.
BGII is rated Teen for animated blood and use of alcohol.
“Live by the sword – live a good, long time.” – Minsc.
Install: Medium. The single player install is 752 megs while the install that allows both single and multiplayer gaming eats up 1,149 megs of hard drive space. If you want to do the full install, be prepared to lose 2,503 megs of hard drive space.
Gameplay: 8.5. The game boards are huge and take time to explore. And that is only one aspect of the program. Every time you hit a new area, the game autosaves. The major pauses are player-induced, in order to set strategy for battle.
Graphics: 8. BGII may not have the close, detailed look of Icewind Dale, but it does provide a wealth of characters and settings. The program doesn’t skimp on the animation and spell casting sequences. A flurry of light, or bodies torn asunder give this program the kind of look sought of games within the genre.
Sound: 7.5. The program uses a mixture of speech and text, with choices given for answers to the questions of NPCs. The music is wonderful, and the battle sounds are well rendered.
Difficulty: 9.5. There are five levels to pick from: Novice (normal mode with monsters do half the damage); Normal (hit points are maximum though characters cannot permanently die and spells are learned automatically); Core Rules (AD&D by the rules – every single one of them); Hard (monsters do 50 percent more damage); and Insane (monsters do double damage). You pick the level you are comfortable in because there is something for everyone.
Concept: 8. The adventure continues. This program is a sequel, but it reeks of freshness. If you haven’t played Baldur’s Gate, that’s quite all right. BGII brings you up to speed quickly and throws you to the monsters. No time to dally, the battle awaits.
Overall: 9.5. If you are drawn back again and again, the program has truly succeeded. And that’s the lure of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. This program intrigues, and delights. The characters have personalities, the game board is huge and the storyline is liable to go in almost any direction – or so it seems.
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn Comments
GameZone Review Detail
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn will entreat and delight fans of role-playing games.
Reviewer: Michael Lafferty
Review Date: 10/18/2000