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First Impressions




by Interplay

I must to admit to a shameful sense of excitement when I received my pre-order copy of BGII in the mail.  I’m 27 years old and flipping my lid for a computer game.  Additionally, this could be the biggest let down of all time.  The hype is incredible with both Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment (two of the last three titles from Black Isle) winning RPG of the year.  But after the opening cinematics (which look good and scary) I felt comfortable that the boys from Bioware and Black Isle were not going to fail me.   After 70+ hours of play (in which I’ve barely scratched the surface of what BGII has to offer), I can safely say they haven’t yet.

As BGII is based on the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing system, character creation is no laughing matter.  You are allowed to port a character from the first Baldur’s Gate, but in BGII, the character system has been expanded to include three new classes (Monk, Barbarian, and Sorcerer), one new race (half-orc), and kits (sub-classes for the fighter, wizard, priest, and rogue).  Creating a character took me a least a half hour and I eventually decided to run three different games as the same time in order to get a feel for the different classes.  (I’m playing with a monk, single-class wizard, and a paladin.)  As both your sex and class affect gameplay (they didn’t in Baldur’s Gate), different classes produce a markedly different experience and I foresee the replay value of BGII being very high.

Character creation is also important because you’ll be spending a lot of time with that character.  A LOT OF TIME.  200 to 300 hours of real time including all quests.  (And there are tons of quests.  Your reputation has preceded you and everybody wants your help.)  In Baldur’s Gate, most of the quests were of the step-n-fetch-it variety: person X wants item Y; you kill monster Z and return item.  BGII has a much more dynamic quest structure.  You spy, gather evidence, assassinate, become a slaver, free slaves, protect villages, and for every class there are class-specific stronghold quest.  I’ve played through the mage and paladin strongholds and they are fantastic, yielding great items, difficult combat, and huge amounts of fun (and, I’ll ruin it, you get to fight dragons).  For each quest there are also multiple outcomes depending on your playing style. 

Another improvement over the original, and related to how much time you’ll spend in the game, is NPC interaction.  Now NPC’s recognize your sex, interact amongst each other, betray you, and have quests specific to them (some get kidnapped and have to be rescued, some are required for the completion of different assignments, and some are trying to get specific items).  You will want to play multiple times in order to use them all.  The only complaint I have about NPC’s is that there isn’t much depth in terms of party organization.   While 19 can possibly join with you, the majority of them are fighters.  Specifically, there are a shortage of thieves in BGII and, while this may have been done for narrative purposes, it makes party composition an unsatisfying balancing act.  I find myself swapping NPC’s in and out depending on the specifics of whatever I’m doing.  The only way to get the ultimate party is to start a multiplayer game and create it yourself.

Finally, a bit of ink has already been spilled over BGII’s use of the infinity engine (the one which powered Baldur’s Gate, Torment, and Icewind Dale).  Some have claimed that this gives BGII a dated feel and sub par graphics.  I disagree.  The infinity engine, with its isometric view, seems perfectly suited to the RPG genera.  You get a good view of the terrain (especially now as you can hide various parts of the interface and the engine supports 800x600 resolution) and keeping the game in two dimensions makes it faster.  The infinity engine has an excellent design.  It isn’t broken.  I suggest you don’t fix it. 

Perhaps the best part of the first impression, the impression I want to leave you with, is that with a good chunk of time in BGII, I feel that I’ve only begun.  The things I’ve missed, items not found, encounters screwed up, quests not done, all compel me to keep going, keep playing, and play differently.  When you throw down 60 bucks for a title, you like to think your money well spent.  BGII pays off (so far) with deep and complex gameplay and an engaging story.  So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some gaming to do. 

--Matt Blackburn