Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn

It’s a world where good and evil sometimes merge to grey. It’s the world of Baldur’s Gate II, successor to its eponymous prequel. Built to integrate the rules of the hugely successful Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) role-playing game universe, the action extends over four CDs – each packed with challenges set in beautifully rendered landscapes. Baldur’s Gate I was a five-CD sword-&-sorcery marathon that took more hours to play than it takes to read Lord of the Rings. Gamers explored every rich nook and cranny of the super-evolved gaming universe, digesting every aspect of the compelling storyline that cast them, with a chosen group of NPCs (Non-Player Characters), as the heroes out to save the good folk of the Sword Coast. You choose your hero’s race – human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, gnome, etc. You also get to choose your character’s profession – magician, fighter or cleric, thief or ranger, paladin, druid or, for non-human races, a combination of them all. You choose whether you’re a good, evil, chaotic, neutral or law-abiding soul? Then the game begins. It’s the smooth game-play, compelling story line and real sense of identification with the characters that made the original Baldur’s Gate one of the most successful games around. The central proposition of Baldur’s Gate II is that evil lurks within – players decide whether to indulge themselves in it, or, by abnegation of the dark side, transform themselves into the heroes of this far-flung outpost of fantastic imagination. It’s a world of intrigue. Gate II lets you import characters created in the first title, so players can use familiar characters to explore the action. Players awake caged in a dark, filthy, unfamiliar place. With a little help, they escape their cage, meet old friends and begin the long, bloody and dangerous struggle to free themselves from their gaol. It’s a tough struggle, but the game designers deliver you the action within a beautifully rendered playing environment. This version supports an 800-x-600-pixel resolution, offers a full-screen mode, and supports 3D acceleration. An outstanding new feature is its support for multiplayer gaming over the Web – up to six players can explore Amn together in a myth-&-mayhem virtual-friend orgy of digital fantasy. Using the Gameranger service (www.gameranger.com), Web-savvy Mac gamers can team-up to face challenges, including warring dragons and mages of infernal power. The game-play is very similar to the precursor. The player interface has been given an overhaul, but the controls are for the most part identical. There’s a new race (Half-Orc), and weapon proficiencies are more challenging, with more expertise categories and fighting styles added. The interactions between non-player characters are relatively amusing – though I tended to find their stock reactions somewhat uninspiring. Baldur’s Gate II implements an artificial intelligence in the NPCs, so you can see romance bloom and strife break out within your party – an entirely new dimension to game play. When a character’s script reacts to an event, you’ll encounter some amusing happenings – sadly not always at the right time. It’s not all fighting and NPC interaction. It’s also got a little touch of magic – well, a lot of magic actually; everyone you meet seems able to cast a spell. This game is unrivalled for the length and breadth of spells available for use for all classes. It’s also unrivalled for its choice of enemies – from tiny, relatively soft Kobolds to vicious battle-hardened wizards, and hostile hobgoblins to frightening, extremely powerful dragons. You will (eventually) defeat them all, but (to my cost) I learned the vital importance of saving the game. The game’s world is huge – a vast continent that you must explore inch by inch. You’ll find friends, enemies and pick up clues and quests that will eventually help you make sense of it all. The game’s built into chapters, which offers some structure and helps boost a feeling of progress as you play it. You’ll need that – an average game of Baldur’s Gate took approximately 100 hours, and its successor promises the same. On the negative side – changing the CDs can be a pain. Now and then it would be nice to take a shortcut to where you need to go, rather than walking across all the terrain.

OUR VERDICT

Baldur’s gate II is an excellent slice of fantasy action that lovingly recreates the rules of AD&D. It’s beautiful to look at with a challenging, complex story line. The title is equally as addictive as its precursor, and not recommended for gamers with social lives or children.

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