Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition Impressions

Attention, veteran RPG gamers: prepare to feel old.

Baldur’s Gate 2 released 13 years ago. You likely ran it on Windows 98. You probably read a walkthrough on some garish GeoCities website with flashing .gifs. Your friend possibly bragged about how his PlayStation 2 games looked so much better.

While technically a product of the turn of the millennium, BG2 was very much a ’90s game. It harkens back to a time in which gamers weren’t coddled with mind-numbingly simple mechanics and actually completing a game was a praiseworthy feat. Developer Overhaul Games recaptures that magic with Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition, a revamped version of the classic that many still consider to this day one of the greatest RPGs ever made.

BG2 is set in the Forgotten Realms continent of Faerûn, and the Enhanced Edition adds up to thirty new locations to explore. In addition to the memorable cast of characters you can add to your party (who can ever forget Minsc and his pet miniature giant space hamster?), the EE adds four new characters, each with their own side quests and story arcs. For the most part, the new content blends seamlessly with the old and is up to BioWare’s standard — which should come as no surprise, given the game’s creative director is Trent Oster, former BioWare employee.

The expansion, Throne of Bhaal, is included, as well as a completely new standalone challenge mode — The Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay. More than just a mindless slug fest against increasingly difficult enemies, the Black Pits includes a deeper story and more characterization than can be found in some of today’s AAA titles, and far more strategy and tactics.

BG2 is based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset, so gamers who don’t know what THAC0 is are going to hit a learning curve that has roughly the same steepness as a brick wall. As someone who is familiar both with AD&D and BG2, I have to abashedly admit that my first encounter with a group of drow ended in a total party kill. Between creating a well-balanced party composition, selecting appropriate spells and equipment, and executing the most tactically sound maneuvers on the battlefield, there’s plenty of opportunity for players to fail miserably — even on the easiest difficulty. But such were the ’90s, and BG2:EE makes no apologies for adhering to the old paradigm that, if a game can’t make you cry uncle, then it’s not worth playing.

With its Infinity Enhanced Engine, BG2:EE offers widescreen support, remastered character sprites, a revamped UI, and other graphical improvements. While the upgrades to visual clarity are appreciated, it seems futile to try to make a game that old look any better, as it will never come anywhere close to today’s standards.

The devs also fixed numerous bugs in the original game, but some new ones have snuck in. I’ve seen complaints on the forums about looping sounds, dialogue that fails to start, and items that vanish, but my main gripe was that the party AI would sometimes fail to activate, no matter how many times I turned it off and back on. In a perfect world, pausing the game every few moments to issue commands to all six of your party members is an optimal strategy, but the party AI is a quality of life feature that I sorely missed when it wouldn’t work.

Released on Nov. 15, BG2:EE is available for $25, and that’s where some veterans of the original game cry foul. For someone who never stopped playing BG2 and is fully stocked up on mods, then it is true that the Enhanced Edition may not add enough value. But for those who would have to dust off the old CDs or buy a fresh version from GoG, $25 is more than worth the hundreds of hours of nostalgia-fueled gameplay to be had — and the new content alone will last you longer than most current AAA games.

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