Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Sword Coast: The Next Generation, Part 2
Published by Interplay
Posted on 03/17/2000
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Whose life is it anyway?

Shot One Notice the chiseled floor covering. Samsonite? We think not

You start out with approximately 89,000 experience points (about seventh or eighth level) either by beginning a new character or by importing a character that has finished Baldur’s Gate. The level cap is approximately 2.95 million. You will be able to reassign your class when you import a character so the entire gamut of new character selection options is yours for the taking. The Baldur’s Gate "add-this-or-else" crowd has been pretty verbal during the recent waiting period, and its biggest wish was for class kits. "Kits" are simply subsets of the major classes that offer a variety of skills and bonuses in specialized areas:

Fighter

Berserker

Wizardslayer

Kensai

Ranger

Feralan

Beastmaster

Stalker

Paladin

Cavalier

Inquisitor

Undead Slayer

Cleric

Priest of Talos

Priest of Lathander

Priest of Helm

Druid

Shapeshifter

Toemic Druid

Beast Friend

Mage

Eight specialties as in Baldur’s Gate

   

Thief

Assassin

Swashbuckler

Bounty Hunter

Bard

Blade

Jester

Skald

If you do decide to import your old character ("now where did I put those saved games?"), you will still begin the game without equipment as is necessary for the story, but you will readily come across the equipment you had (minus some of the extremely powerful stuff for which they will substitute adequate items to keep play-balance in order).

Shot Two Here's lookin' at you, Beholder

Your old reputation will accompany you as well, and all of the game flags will be set so that characters will remember you and your accomplishments and behavior, and treat you accordingly.

Each major class will be able to purchase real estate in the game at the closest Century 21—well, no, but you will be able to acquire real property through some pretty intricate questing. Fighters will gain a keep, Mages get a wizard tower, clerics a temple and thieves will get a thieves’ guild. Real estate quests are optional, and you may only have one stronghold—not for sale or purchase on eBay. Although the strongholds are safe havens, you will find that there is some upkeep involved in owning one. When you’re resting there with your pipe and slippers, for instance, often people will arrive needing you to perform some task for them. Speaking of tasks, the developers have bent over backwards to avoid the "Get this item and return it to me" type of quests (often called "FedExing").

Shot Three Noxious fumes do significant party damage

There will be eight major sub-quests that are class specific resulting in some pretty wonderful items (some of them real estate related), and they indicate that these will take rather a long time to complete. "I was doing the fighter’s quest last week," said Smedsted, "and we didn’t really know how long each of these quests would end up being. We figured about five to six hours per, but it turned out to be about 15 hours for me. It’s a tough little quest, but it’s a lot of fun."

To slash or cast aspersions

Many new items will be available here, including Staff of the Magi, Sunblade: Daystar, and the full plate Armor of the Heart. Although powerful melee weapons will be available for people who prefer to go hand to hand, magic will play a very big role in thwarting the creatures and monsters that roam the land.

Shot Four And they told us that flash-bulbs were not allowed

With the 2.95 million level cap, Mages will be able to attain spells of levels eight and nine—some very powerful ones indeed. There will be 300 spells available, compared to the 130 in Baldur’s Gate, including Contingency, Chain Contingency, Gate, Spell Turning, Delayed Blast Fireball, Time Stop, Disintegrate, Power Word: Kill, Finger of Death, Resurrection, Chain Lightning, Conjure Elemental, Blade Barrier, Meteor Swarm and Cacofiend. Wizards will be able to have familiars, and rangers may have animal companions. At this time they are trying to decide whether they will be able to implement spells like Wish, but feel that it will be a bit too tricky with current time constraints.

The game will support 3D (another item topping gamers’ wish-lists), and spells will have both 2D and 3D effects associated with them. While the 2D effects are still very nice, the 3D ones are pretty spectacular.

No more standing around scratching yourself

Shot Five Only you can prevent forest fires

Multiplayer gaming will be handled much the same as it was in Baldur’s Gate, with the person who starts the game acting as the protagonist and virtual dungeon master. However, shopping encounters no longer pause for everyone and multiple people can access the same store at the same time. They’re also changing how the dialogue works. They are selecting from all of the dialogue files the ones are ultra-critical to the main story. Everyone in your party will be required to read the necessary dialogue—everyone’s game will pause—but if you’re talking to someone like Townsperson Mildred or Farmer Bob, it’s just you who will be subjected to, er, be treated to that particular dialogue.

Although they are not sure that how this will work, they are trying to think of a way that the party does not have to revert to a saved game if the protagonist dies—how about a virtual Resurrect scroll in everyone’s pocket?

Here a tweak there a tweak

While the game mechanics are almost identical to those in the original, there are a few things worth mentioning that will really improve gameplay. Probably the most important enhancement is something they are calling "panel drop-off," so that you can play in full-screen mode. The best part about this is that when you pause, the panels all reappear so you can choose spells and give orders, and then when you resume the game, they all go away again. It makes a very big difference to be able to see the detailed rendering, gorgeous spell effects and combat in their full glory, without that little stack of faces to the right (as lovely as they are) and the menu list to the left.

Shot Six A thousand points of light—OK, four

This feature will also allow for more realistic use of bows, which were much too powerful in the first game as they did not apply the effects of range on combat. Probably their ignoring these rules had to do with a much tinier view of the action. You spotted a creature and in one second it was on top of you. Here with the full-screen capability and the possibility of 800X600 resolution, it makes more sense that you will be able to have a chance to use long-range weaponry more effectively, and hence it is more realistic that breastplate to breastplate bow-usage will prove very inaccurate.

In the area of skills, they have decided to follow the AD&D Second Edition skill-set much more closely this time around. "The last time we had weapons under very broad types of categories," said Smedsted. "For example, all one-handed swords fell into the Long Sword or Short Sword proficiencies, whereas this time we’re following the rules exactly where things like a bastard sword would hold its own statistics."

Shot Seven Old character portraits will be available as well as a host of new ones

The new lushly painted map will have pushpin flags where you can add your own notes with a word-count limit that is probably more than anyone will ever need.

Finally, the game will be a lot more conducive to choosing an evil character. Many quests will be solvable in good and in evil ways, and an evil reputation will provide many more concrete options than ever before.

Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

Something we grumbled about that they did not change is the "rolling your character" scheme. Almost no one in his right mind accepted an inadequately rolled character and in fact many folks would perform the roll-save-reroll dance for hours on end to come up with stats that made them happy. But since rolling your character is hard and fast in the AD&D world, here it is, and here it stays [Though there are many alternate methods a DM can use according to official rules, so phhht on you, BioWare!—ed.]

Shot Eight Combat will still be pausable, evoking that turn-based feeling

At a glance, Shadows of Amn looks a whole lot like, well…Baldur’s Gate. And of course, that’s neither a surprise nor a Bad Thing according to the if-it-ain’t-broke rule of game design. But we can rest assured that BioWare learned a great deal from building their original blockbuster, and that any holes and impasses from the first game will have been maximally tweaked and filled with rich gameplay that will make RPGers pat their collective tummy and say, "Mmmmm! It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s Baldur’s Gatier."

by Cindy Yans

©2000 Strategy Plus, Inc.

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