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Sorcerer's Way Through Baldur's Gate II (Part III)
by Taluntain (02/09/2000; updated from preview to review on 29/04/2001)

More of the same? Yes, but definitely not in a bad sort of way.

The game starts with a movie that explains the whole story of the original Baldur's Gate, so that players new to the game will have some clue as to what all the fuss is about.
The hero of the game (namely, you) is a descendant of Bhall, Lord of Murder. After defeating his half-brother Sarevok in the end of the original, he prevented a war among the Sword Coast and the region of Amn and generally proven himself worthy of the title of demigod that seems to bring him more trouble than it's worth. (If you haven't played the first part of the Baldur's Gate saga, then read this first, otherwise keep reading here.)

Saying that Baldur's Gate II is something completely different and new would be silly. We all know that this is a sequel, and Bioware has made great pains to ensure that the veterans of the original Baldur's Gate will feel at home in this game too. The interface is very similar to the original, the only major difference being the sleep button that can now be accessed directly.
Of course, there are still plenty of ways to customize the game feedback (and menus) as well. Each of the two side panels can now be removed with one single click, or you can make the whole interface disappear with one key stroke. The resolution has also been improved, with 800×600 now being the default and 640×480 an option for lower-end computers. Other resolutions can be used as well, but they are not officially supported.

Sounds and music remain excellent, with some really good voice actors providing the speech for your NPCs and your main character. Even Jaheira seems to have been toned down a bit, an improvement that definitely will not go unnoticed by us who endured her through the whole game once before. ;)

As you've probably heard, BGII features three new 3rd edition classes, plus a new race. The trinity consists of the Sorcerer (described in detail here), Monk and Barbarian classes. The new race is the Half-Orc (notice how the words Half-Orc and Barbarian seem to lock together).

Creating characters is partially true to the original, with a few changes. The system is based on the second edition AD&D rules, with some third edition goodies implemented.
First, there is a new optional rule of character kits. Each class now has a subset of kits that may be chosen. When you pick a class, you will be given a list of kits to choose from. If you don't wish to use one, that's fine as well, but you might regret it later on.
Kits have special advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the Wizard Slayer (kit) is a fighter who specializes in fighting magic-users. He gains 2% magic resistance per level, and the ability to interrupt spells. Opponents suffer a cumulative 25% spell failure for each of the Wizard Slayer's successful attacks.
The downside is that he cannot use any magical items (potions, rings, amulets etc.) except magical melee weapons and must be of good alignment.

OK, but what is the game like, you ask?
After the initial cutscene you and some of your friends find yourselves trapped in a dungeon fully equipped with stylish cages where a trigger-happy mage by the name of Irenicus (who is incidentally, MUCH more powerful than your are) is testing how much pain you can endure before collapsing. Repeat the process every time you wake up again, and you get the general idea.

But luckily for you he gets interrupted after a while (gee, we can't have him kill you so soon after all), and you can make your escape without much effort. You can choose to bring some of your old companions along for the ride, too. Imoen is first, of course, then Minsc and Jaheira. Khalid is also in the dungeon but, uhm, let's just say that he won't be making any more journeys with you.

Some very welcome improvements regarding your characters' inventory have been made as well. Gem bags and scroll cases can now be bought in stores, and I dare say no one will want to play without one. The days when your party's inventory seemed like a jewelry shop are finally over.
Speaking of bags, there's another bag in the game that can HOLD a lot of stuff. Hint, hint?

In BGII all characters can choose to undertake a great quest with the ultimate reward - your own stronghold. But don't let the word deceive you, not everyone will get a fortress. A mage for instance gets a Planar Sphere complete with apprentices that will run errands for him, a bard gets a playhouse he must manage and so on. Though this major quest isn't obligatory, it's an important part of the game and you'd be missing out a great deal if you didn't take it.

New monsters are a sight to behold. Orcs, vampires, trolls, umber hulks, beholders and finally, dragons are something we've all been waiting for impatiently.
Elminster could take a casual interest in your well being for the second time, and ouch, you'll meet Drizzt again. For your sake, I hope that you haven't killed him to get that shiny mithril mail in BGI...

While I could go on about what a cool game BGII is, how much more memorable the NPCs are this time, how the humorous dialogue and witty remarks improve the feeling of the game, I'll leave some surprises for you to discover. BGII is simply a game that you cannot afford to miss. The question of the CRPG of the year has been resolved.

To conclude this review, I promised a spectacular magic battle and here it is...
Look at the pictures carefully and draw your own conclusions as to what has happened.

Baldur's Gate II is available in stores worldwide (and ours too).

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Part I - Part II

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