Baldur’s Gate 2 full review
You’d struggle, in other words, to call this ‘new’ in the strictest sense. But Baldur’s Gate 2 retains a capacity to captivate undimmed by the years. Baldur’s Gate was absolutely state-of-the-art in its heyday, and while gaming has moved on since then, deep gameplay and strong storytelling will never go out of fashion. Not to mention that just transferring the title in its entirety - along with two subsequent expansions - to mobile is a logistical triumph.
Granted, this is a step back graphically from current standards and conventions, but again this isn’t necessarily a black mark. Much fantasy fare in 2014 adopts an almost Candy Crush-esque saccharine cartoon look, but BG2 is a lot darker, aiming for a quasi-realistic feel. Sometimes this means it’s hard to make out exactly what’s going on, but you can get around this in combat by pausing while issuing your orders - this makes for an absorbing blend of real-time and turn-based action - and at other times via use of the magnifying glass icon, which highlights interactive elements on the screen.
Baldur’s Gate 2 review: Gameplay
Based on the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying system, BG2 invites you to assemble a party of up to six characters of various sorts, made up of ‘you’ (the character you name, build and customise at the outset of the game, at any rate, around whom the story arc principally revolves) and a rotating cast of hangers-on and do-gooders (or in a few cases do-badders) that you pick up along the way.
These run the usual fantasy gamut - elves and dwarves, clerics and thieves and mages - but most of them have enough personality that you find yourself keeping or dropping party members based on how much you like them. Lovable dummy Minsc is likely to divide opinion, while a potentially invaluable cleric/fighter got the bum’s rush from our party for acting like a jerk.
Your party wanders around killing things and completing quests - most of which involve killing things - thereby acquiring experience points, levelling up your characters and learning new skills. An overarching story spans the whole game, but in between working to defeat the villain/save the world/uncover your mysterious past you can take on side quests, which are generally more fun. Indeed, these side quests are often how you pick up new characters, and one of the challenges of the game is keeping all of your party members happy, since they each have their own goals and values. Ignore someone’s pet quest for too long and they’ll complain, and eventually leave the party. And whatever you do, they’re likely to bicker with one another, which can be entertaining or irritating, depending on your temperament.
The story itself is rather good, but at times there’s an odd blend of humour and cruelty; we were shocked, for example, to see a couple of old favourites from the first game killed off at the start with less ceremony than Newt and Hicks in Alien 3. It’s a bleaker world than you may be used to in roleplaying games, but there’s still time for broad character-based comedy in most of the towns you visit. A strange combination, perhaps, but enjoyable nonetheless.
A small regret is that this game - understandably - uses the 2nd Edition D&D rules that were current at the time of its initial release. But as every true D&D dork knows, that version of the pen and paper roleplaying game was full of imbalances, unfairnesses and loopholes that were tweaked in later editions.
As for the non-dorks: it isn’t compulsory for you to understand 2nd Edition D&D rules, but it helps, since it’s impossible for the game’s tutorials to explain all the intricacies of such a complex system. Fortunately, a lot of the time non-veterans will be able to use intuition and trial-and-error to optimise their party composition and equipment. Which isn’t to say this is an easy game. Indeed, anyone used to the user-friendly conventions of modern RPGs should be warned about the brutally long gaps between autosaves. You’ll need to get used to hitting quicksave at every opportunity, or cry salt tears of frustration when hours of gameplay are lost.
Baldur’s Gate 2 review: Controls
BG2 is a rich and immersive experience, but alongside these retro pleasures it evokes a few of the less savoury aspects of 90s gaming. For one thing, it’s often made painfully apparent that the game’s (now touchscreen) control system was originally designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind.
Some of the character behaviour scripts, to take a minor example, offer to let you override standard actions with key presses - a fossilised part of the original interface that was never removed. Far more seriously, dialogue choices (which can make the difference between befriending an ogre chieftain and insulting members of his family) are a nightmare using fingertip controls; you have to tap slender lines of text, frequently sandwiched between other slender lines that lead to wholly different, and often disastrous, results. And whenever you want to read a description of an item, whereas a PC player would have used a straightforward right-click, iPad players have to do an oddly long-winded tap and hold.
And aside from the touchscreen issues, the game’s 90s-esque character AI can make it infuriatingly difficult to keep your people under control. You’re likely to tear out precious hairs when your fragile mage plumps for a scenic route to the destination you’ve selected and blunders alone into a goblin camp.
How to import a character from Baldur’s Gate 1 to Baldur’s Gate 2
We’ve discussed difficulty, and one of the things that isn’t as clear as it might be is the importing of characters - a brilliant feature, but one we found baffling until we spoke to the development team. So we thought we’d outline the process here. So, how do you import a character from Baldur’s Gate 1 to Baldur’s Gate 2, on the same iPad?
The key thing is that you have to specifically export the character first - it can’t just pull in the character from a save file. Open the version of Baldur’s Gate you want to export from, and go to the character palette (not the options screen). That’s the one that shows a character’s portrait, characteristics, experience points and so on. Then tap Export to add that character to the Characters folder. You’ll need to type in a name for the new character file, then tap Done, and 'Open in Baldur’s Gate II’.
Now create a new game in Baldur’s Gate 2, select the Import option and pick the character you named before.
Baldur’s Gate 2 review: The price
The last thing I want to talk about is Baldur’s Gate 2’s price, which is a prickly topic to say the least: it costs £10.49, which in iOS gaming terms is a fortune. Now, it’s absolutely true that you’ll be able to find superb games for a fifth of that price, and more power to you if that’s your choice. Then again, I wonder about the sustainability of the prices on the App Store, and the real price of low-cost games - obnoxious in-app purchases, mostly. I talk about that a bit more in ‘Freemium is the worst thing in the history of gaming: a rant’, but the idea applies to cheap games almost as much as free ones. Software developers need to be paid, and you need to shift a lot of games to make your costs back at £1.99 a time.
Aside from its quality, this is a massive game - containing both the original Shadows Over Amn and the Throne of Bhaal and Black Pits expansions - that will last you for hundreds of hours. And I think that’s worth £10.49. But you may feel differently.
Mind you, having charged a tenner for the download, it would be nice if the developers didn’t shove a list of additional characters (at £1.99 a pop) in your face when you start the game: the in-app purchase equivalent of forcing museum visitors to enter through the gift shop. A bit of tact, guys!
Above: Pretty much the first thing you see after paying £10.49 for the game: in-app purchases!
If you like Baldur's Gate 2, you may also like:
Baldur's Gate 1 - Obviously. Indeed, we would strongly recommend that you play this one first.
Avernum 6 HD - Similar in look and scope to the Baldur's Gate series, but half the price.
Sword & Sworcery EP - Something a little different. Sword & Sworcery is a dazzling and sometimes bizarre RPG to savour.
For more ideas, take a look at our roundup of the best iPad roleplaying games.