Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Initial impressions from a mad wizard's laboratory
Published by Interplay
Posted on 09/20/2000
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Screenshots

It's always encouraging to open a game box and find a really beefy manual. The Baldur's Gate II manual is a 260-page monstrosity that looks more like it belongs in a detailed flight sim than an RPG. Though there appear to be a few small errors in what can only be described as "The Instruction Tome," it's great to see that not every game features a manual sparse and useless enough to conveniently fit inside a CD case. Of course, spanning four CDs, the actual game isn't likely to fit inside a normal CD case. Though we've only just scratched the surface of the game, here are some first impressions that might help you decide whether to pick it up at your local software store or favorite online e-tailer.

Right from the start, it's clear that Baldur's Gate II is indeed more of the same. BioWare has tweaked their somewhat aging engine to allow play at higher resolutions than the previously-standard 640x480; 800x600 is the new default, though higher resolutions are available but not officially supported. You can now hide interface elements, but you're still looking at the same sprites-on-prerendered backgrounds as in Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, and the control and interface elements are almost identical. Fortunately, it appears that pathfinding has been improved, and although everything looks just a little too small at 800x600 (depending on monitor size, of course), the extra situational awareness is quite handy. Although you can import characters from the first game, the inclusion of the optional Monk, Sorceror and Barbarian classes in addition to three "kit" classes for each normal class provides a lot of incentive to start fresh. New characters begin at around 7th level, too, so you won't have to start off as a raw newbie, which wouldn't fit the game's storyline anyhow.

There are other relatively minor but welcome changes as well. The journal is better organized and more useful than before, and the designers have dressed up several interface elements, such as the spellbook. While the first game had a pretty slow start, this time things get interesting a lot more quickly. Still, at first glance the sequel certainly appears to be no more or less than a polished and tweaked continuation of the original, award-winning game. Which ain't necessarily bad, of course.

As we can see so far, this "sameness" is both the game's greatest strength and weakness. If you love the first, you'll love the second. It fits like a comfortable old pair of shoes—they're not the prettiest or newest things you could stick on your feet, but you wouldn't wear anything else. If hundreds of hours of playing Baldur's Gate, its expansion, and Icewind Dale have left you wanting something fresh, you won't find enough changes here to satisfy you. Now that they've released the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons materials, some of us at the office have been playing good old pen-and-paper D&D using the new rules. The use of 2nd Edition rules in Baldur's Gate II only serves to remind how dumb some of them are, and may really whet your appetite for games using the new rules.

Though we've only scratched the surface of what is an absolutely enormous game, it's pretty clear that BioWare and Interplay's Black Isle division have delivered just about exactly what you would expect from a sequel to one of the better RPGs in recent years. It's a bit aging technically and plays almost exactly the same way as the original, but is just as fun and absorbing for all the same reasons. Even Imoen is a little less annoying (and worldlier) this time around.

by Jason Cross

Screens
click to enlarge

Nice pad…is it rent controlled? The maps are more colorful this time around. Looks like an innocent circus tent...
...but it's a lot bigger on the inside. The journal looks a lot better. An indoor forest; now why didn't I think of that?
 
©2000 Strategy Plus, Inc.
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Baldur's Gate II: Shadow of Amn 5 out of 5 Stars CD 09/00 $42.95
Baldur's Gate II:Dark Alliance PSX 2 09/01 $49.95