Brief personal confession: I’ve been a huge Baldur’s Gate fan ever since I was a kid. I used to ceremoniously dump CD-ROM after CD-ROM into my not-so-impressive desktop PC in an effort to digitally recreate some of the crazy fun I used to have in ol’ Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition — you know, that real-life geek game that nobody ever admitted to playing (I swear, I didn’t.)
Time to start creating a character. Goodbye, afternoon.
Baldur’s Gate was, quite simply, a fairly sprawling title for its time. It allowed those who didn’t always care for figuring out what THAC0 was to still have an enjoyable, D&D-themed experience without having to lug around five different tomes of rules, maps, and critical hit charts (my personal favorite).
BioWare’s isometric Infinity Engine presented some pretty visuals, the storyline was compelling and constructed in such a fashion as to draw players in without overwhelming them with options for equipment and powers, and you got to fight alongside a “miniature giant space hamster” and his larger, rage-filled companion.
What’s not to like?
Now that the Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition has finally seen the light of day, we have a better answer to that question. And it’s as we feared: The game is exactly what you expected it to be. It’s Baldur’s Gate II, done up fairly well to play on even the most advanced of modern-day systems (no small feat, we’re sure, given how difficult it was to play legacy titles on one’s souped-up PC prior to the rise of sites like GoG.com).
Therein lies the problem, though. Even in a perfect world, which the Enhanced Edition comes close to presenting (minus some bugs here and there), there’s not all that much that’s actually “enhanced” about this title. Sure, you get some additional characters to play as — which you could conceivably roll up yourself, were you so inclined. Yes, you get the combination of both Baldur’s Gate II games (Shadows of Amn, the primary title, and the Throne of Bhaal expansion). That’s helpful. And, hey, some bonus combat questing in the form of an integrated side campaign called The Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay. Neat-o.
One of our favorite Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition bugs: The "Where the Hell is the text that says what this spell does" bug...
We don’t mean to sound overly dismissive. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll absolutely love the Enhanced Edition — which is a bit like saying if you like 1950s music, you’ll love a new classic station on the radio. Maybe. The problem with said game is that it commands a pretty high asking price as of this article’s writing ($25) for what amounts to the exact same game you played right around the turn of the century.
For that kind of cash, roughly half the price or so of a modern, graphics-blasting title (or more than double that of similarly awesome role-playing games like Avernum: Escape from the Pit), we expected a bit more. For starters, we were hoping for a game that’s completely free of any and all bugs (especially given that the Baldur’s Gate modding community is almost fanatical about these fixes themselves). Beyond that, we looked for a better multiplayer experience than what the Enhanced Edition delivers — a simple online games listing with every single game password-locked in some capacity (so much for joining up random games, strange as the concept might be for a title like Baldur’s Gate II).
The Infinity Enhanced Engine — now tweaked to support resolutions of all kinds out of the box — still presents a classic Baldur’s Gate look and feel. Interface? Resized, but still Baldur’s Gate. Gameplay? Baldur’s Gate. Menus? You get the idea. Firing up the Enhanced Edition worked seamlessly on our fairly formidable system, but that’s about all this title really has to offer. You’re basically paying $25 to ensure that you don’t have to mod the game, nor fiddle with annoying settings, just to get it to work.
We did have fun running our way through some of the game’s more iconic opening scenes (oh, Irenicus, you Cowled Wizard-killer you). We also found ourselves a bit frustrated by the overall Baldur’s Gate experience which, as overemphasized, remains the same. Your characters feel as if they’re moving at a bit of a snail’s pace throughout Shadows of Amn. Arranging your party on screen over, and over, and over can be a bit annoying, even with the tried-and-true “formations” that one can pick from.
Baldur's Gate Survival Tip #14: Don't piss off the giant angel that can one-shot you and your friends.
Inventory management continues to be a tedious process for power gamers (there’s still no “pick up all” button!). Even figuring out the weapons your characters are best at wielding requires you to frequently jump and scroll between multiple screens’ worth of information. Heaven forbid you don’t memorize icons for your wizards, priests, and the lot, lest you have to hover, and wait, and read the appearing names of each of your spells or abilities whenever you might need to use them.
Since Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition is a wee bit different than the other iterations of Baldur’s Gate II that exist (including the more typical version one can find on GoG.com), the onus falls upon mod-makers to update their tweaks for the new title. That’s a wee frustrating, especially if a particular mod you care for isn’t one that’s being actively worked on any more (or hasn’t been for quite some time).
Do we love Baldur’s Gate II? Yes, yes we do; more as a result of the sheer nostalgia we have for a game that, at one point, sucked up a considerable amount of our free time (and increased the creativity of our curses whenever we were one-shotted by a lich, dragon, or mind flayer). And we’d greatly enjoy the no-fuss gameplay that the Enhanced Edition brings to the table; we just can’t justify the price.
At $10, recommending this classic game would be a no-brainer (we’d trade in a space hamster to be able to purchase it once and play it on all of our devices). Even $15 isn’t that bad of a deal, given that you’re plunking down $5 more than Gog.com’s version for an experience that’s much, much more seamless. At $25, however, we start to think that modding the version of the game from Gog.com doesn’t sound like that bad of an idea — there are plenty of installation guides for the comprehensive number of mods that work for the game, and all you’re really missing out on is the skippable Black Pits business.
Our recommendation? If you really need to relive your classic AD&D days, then you’ve already stopped reading this review and you’re halfway toward rolling up your character stats. If you’re on the fence, or have no idea what Baldur’s Gate even is, go pick up GoG.com’s title. Unless Beamdog’s remake makes it to a Steam sale — which it surely will — you’ll be more frustrated by how much you spent for an experience that's survived the test of time, but doesn't have all that much to show for it.
Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition
Title works on systems of all shapes and sizes; plenty of content packed in
Updates and tweaks too few; public multiplayer doesn't work; expensive