Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Sword Coast: The Next Generation
Published by Interplay
Posted on 03/16/2000
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Shot One The detailed interiors in Baldur's Gate II are even richer than those in the original game. Hey, no lightning bolts indoors, kids!

A long, long time ago in a northern Canadian kingdom lived a little known company that called itself BioWare. One day in the year some of us remember as 1997, it sent emissaries to our offices to speak to us of an RPG it had christened Iron Throne. These were eager and passionate pen and paper enthusiasts who had spent many, many hours with dice and rulebooks, and who felt that there was a considerable lack of all that is nitty-gritty about the world of Dungeons & Dragons in the computer RPGs that were available at the time. We agreed. Little did we know that what would emerge from their efforts would be what many consider the most significant evolution of diehard role-playing games ever: Baldur’s Gate. It was a "real RPG-er"’s RPG—still is, for that matter. It beautifully incorporated the AD&D Second Edition ruleset, and its Infinity Engine gave the best of both worlds to fans of real-time and turn-based RPGs. We drooled. We wiped our mouths. We played lasciviously for 60 hours and then some. We raved about Baldur’s Gate. We paid homage to it with our Game of the Year award. We waited. We plowed through its expansion pack, Tales of the Sword Coast.

Now, we find ourselves waiting again for the next chapter in the Forgotten Realms universe, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. Lucky for you, Interplay’s Black Isle Studios and BioWare again graced us with their presence with an early but playable peek at the game.

The land of the Amn-ish

Shot Two There are a lot of enhanced spell effects this time around. Here, a mage brightens an otherwise drab and boring cavern with a pyrotechnics display

For anyone who is not familiar with the Forgotten Realms from the world of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (although avid D&D fans may gasp at the possibility), it is an area on the world of Toril—a classical habitat of humans, dwarves, halflings, gnomes and other fantasy creatures. Baldur’s Gate is a city on the Sword Coast, a western portion of the Realms that had not been used in a good portion of the AD&D pen and paper interactive fiction. South of Baldur’s Gate is the kingdom of Amn, one of three kingdoms that compose the Empire of the Sands, a group of traditionally extremely strong nations whose influence has been felt throughout the Realms. It is in Amn that you will be called upon to fulfill your destiny. This kingdom includes many varied environments, such as the Elven forests of Tethir, underwater cities, the Cloudpeak Mountains, cities of the Drow-infested Underdark, the Astral plane, the Abyss, and Amn’s capital city Athkatla. You’ll also visit the Pirate Isles and Hell (in case you’ve not had the pleasure).

Shot Three The atmosphere is rich and thick at this dinner party. Looks like our guests are fighting not to be the main course

Athkatla is the mercantile center of Amn, and is also the fledgling nation’s oldest city. Anything and everyone is for sale, and even the rule of law can be tempted by the right price. Not every trader prospers, however, and those that fail in business often find refuge in the Slums, the underbelly of Athkatla’s shining front. If one wishes to look, the Slums will yield any number of desperate people eager to ply a mercenary trade, or perhaps even more suspect professions.

BioWare promises that these locations will be a lot more lavish and a lot more packed with "stuff" than some of the seemingly endless expanses of forest in Baldur’s Gate. From what we were able to see, the locations are stunning with wonderful detail in resolutions as high as 1600X1200. The game will supply pretty much whatever resolution your video card can display, but it only officially supports resolutions up to 800X600. (Although the game will look wonderful in even higher resolution, the GUI really suffers.)

All you want to know about the plot (not)

Shot Four "I fell down, down, down in a burning ring of fire...."

Shadows of Amn will be a direct sequel to the events of Baldur’s Gate, which ended in your victory over the evil Saverok and hence the avoidance of a war between Baldur’s Gate and Amn. Says a booming PR voice straight from movie-trailer-dom, "You are a product of the Time of Troubles, a cataclysmic period in the Forgotten Realms when the gods were made flesh and forced to walk the earth among their followers. One such deity foresaw both the event and his inevitable downfall because of it, and left a score of mortal progeny across the land, intended to fuel his rebirth. Your fate is intertwined with that of this god, this Bhaal, Lord of Murder." Although Black Isle and BioWare were reluctant to reveal much more of the plot than this, they did say that the game will be a lot more story-intensive since they did not have the engine-building to contend with (much) during the development of this game.

Shot Five This shot of a battle with an unwelcome castle guest shows off the incredible architecture found in the game. The best castle textures since the 100 Years War?

The plot will be linear during the first Chapter, Chapter Two will involve a large moneymaking expedition that is for a specific goal other than to send your party off to buy diamond-plated +2 longswords at Tiffany & Co., and Chapter Three reveals the main storyline (critical path) more concretely. After this, the path branches rather widely—something that did not happen in Baldur’s Gate. They expect that the critical path in BGII—if you do no side-quests whatsoever—will be as long as the entire original game. "Will this be too long?" we asked. After all, there are folks who don’t necessarily want to spend three billion hours solving the game. They told us that the critical path is more easily identified in the sequel; the journal entries will point the way a lot more clearly, hence the folks who want to finish up and relinquish their hard drive space to other pursuits will be appeased. But for those who want every last bit of Gaming GoodnessTM, there will be at well over 100 hours of gameplay. Move over, Daggerfall.

NPCs in the flesh

Shot Six Night magewars on the tower top. What will the neighbors think?

After the intro movie (as yet uncreated), in a somewhat Planescape: Torment moment, you’ll find yourself incarcerated in an area that you do not recall and you have no idea how you got there. You do know who you are, however, and the first voice you’ll hear is a (cough) friendly one. As the game begins, you’ll find yourself face to face with Imoen, your thief companion from Baldur’s Gate. "Heya! It’s me, Imoen!" she emotes cheerfully, in her unmistakable saccharine tone. Whether you choose to remember Imoen or not, she stubbornly forces your recollection and frees you from your cell. Most folks who played the first game either loved Imoen or hated her, and from the collective "ewwwww" that resulted from her appearance in our demo, it was apparent that we were a roomful of the latter.

Shot Seven A view from a bridge far, far from Brooklyn

We didn’t need to fear, however, as a few feet away in another cell is BG’s better appreciated fighter Minsc ("Who wants some?") and his beloved space hamster Boo ("Go for the eyes, Boo, GO FOR THE EYES! BRAAAAACK!"). This was a relief indeed—not a player in recollection resents Boo for the precious inventory slot he occupies ("Squeak"); and no one will admit to not having kept Minsc as a party member for the duration. Before long, you notice Jaheira in the next cell, and as usual, she talks your ear off. But her onetime companion Khalid is nowhere to be seen—a relief, as he won the "Party Member Most Often Left to Die" award in the original game. "Remember you would take him out into the backwoods, strip him down, take his stuff and shoot him?" said BioWare’s Ben Smedsted, producer on Baldur’s Gate II. "We all did." Jaheira’s verbosity is just a small sample of the miles and miles of scripting and dialogue you’ll see here. "In this game, Jaheira alone will have as many scripted events, and as much dialogue and interjections as all 25 of the party characters in BG," said Smedsted.

Shot Eight Warehouses just aren't safe to play in anymore

The lives and universes of the NPCs are very, very well defined in this product. For instance you might be walking down a street and talk to a shopkeeper, when all of a sudden one of your party members might greet him, and have an exchange because they’ve known one another before. They are trying to make the whole world feel as though it exists and goes on without you.

You will encounter several other old friends including Edwin, who will be able to join your party, and several who will simply make cameo appearances and will interact and then go on with their own affairs. And don’t be surprised if you come across a certain Drow of some notoriety—and woe to you if you killed him in the first game. Of course, many new characters will be waiting to interact with you and your party. Three of the most notable are Keldorn Firecam, a Human Paladin of the Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart, Aerie, an Avariel (Winged Elf) Cleric/Mage, and Jan Jansen, a Tinker Gnome, Thief/Mage.

by Cindy Yans

Next: Playing with sharp objects.

©2000 Strategy Plus, Inc.

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