Talking about Baldur’s Gate II in 2015 should be an easy task. After all, surely in the time since its release there would be some simple statement or series of evaluations that could perfectly describe both its particular merits and its place in history.
But no. Almost 15 years later and Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition still leaves me speechless.
When Baldur’s Gate II released in 2000, there was no real way to be prepared for it. That may sound like an exaggeration considering the series had a previous installment and a 250+ page manual designed specifically to prepare you for what was to come, but there was no anticipating just what kind of journey lay ahead once you installed this digital behemoth.
Appropriately, the game starts you off in a position of uncertainty. You awake in a prison as the subject of cruel experiments. Weakened and alone, you must somehow escape from this bizarre prison fortress with few resources available and almost no bearings as to what exactly is happening.
And yet, this opening sequence built largely around the idea of disorientation is the closest the game comes to letting players find their bearings in this world. Because once you do manage to escape your captivity, which is compelling enough in its own right to put other full RPG experiences to shame, the real Baldur’s Gate II begins. And the real Baldur’s Gate II is a game about endless and bountiful discovery.
Be it a small discovery such as a personality trait or piece of history involving your favorite character that was previously unknown, or a larger one like a new region or incredible piece of equipment, there is no moment in this game when you are not on a journey to shed light on some dark corner of this world.
While RPGs are all ideally based around such a concept, what separates Baldur’s Gate II is its execution. Bioware could once make the claim of being the greatest world crafters in the industry, and Baldur’s Gate II is exhibit A in their testimonial as such. Those willing to dive into the literature and conversations in this game specifically designed to illuminate you on this land known as The Merchant’s Kingdom will find a history every bit as deep and connected as our own. Every element of this game exists for a reason. Even if you don’t wish to discover what it may be, the symmetry of the aesthetical design makes every fascinating piece of landscape feel as if it truly belongs and has meaning.
Surprisingly, the game’s graphics hold up as well as the design philosophy. Baldur’s Gate II certainly won’t turn heads like some mobile games designed with visual superiority in mind, but the isometric viewpoint of the game provides a certain visual appeal very unique to gaming. It allows for a different level of visual excellence, and Bioware’s design team flaunts its capabilities better than anyone else. If there were a museum devoted entirely to the visuals of gaming, then some of the landscapes within Baldur’s Gate II would be among its prime attractions.
The gameplay also remains similarly timeless. It’s that mixture of real time and turn-based combat you may know from other Bioware games such as Knights of the Old Republic, and while it does lean a little more to the turn-based side here, you still get that intoxicating mixture of strategy and action that gives the system such longevity. It of course doesn’t hurt that its complimented by a character design and leveling system that is initially somewhat daunting in its possibilities, but eventually reveals itself to adapt and grow as you do, making its learning curve very natural for those who do not choose to attempt to comprehend it all at once.
Speaking of taking it all in at once, it must be pointed out that with the inclusion of the game’s major expansions (and optional premium content) you get an absurd amount of game for your $9.99 investment. Even those not aiming to see everything the game has to offer are still looking at potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay. Only if you are looking to blow through the game, you’ll be lucky to sneak in under 60 hours or so.
While this is exciting, it’s also something of a problem. All things considered, Baldur’s Gate II is a faithful and well-crafted mobile experience that doesn’t really hinder the true greatness of the main game. This is especially true on tablets.
However, it is a lot to ask out of a gamer to beat such a title all on their tablet or phone. It’s certainly possible, but considering that this game runs quite easily in its native format on just about every modern computer, it’s hard to pitch this as the preferable format. This isn’t a game like X-Com which can be enjoyed in short playthroughs during the times of day you actually get to play mobile games. It’s a game that requires a unique level of devotion, and it’s a lot to ask to see it through entirely on mobile.
But, that is the nature of the beast and I applaud developer Beamdog for presenting us an entirely faithful experience, despite this natural handicap. If there were a canon of games in the same way that there is for literature, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition would most certainly be a part of it. It is a triumph of Western RPG design and remains capable of leaving even the most experienced of gamers in speechless awe.
But is it Hardcor?
Almost too much game, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition is an overwhelming pleasure for nearly any gamer.