With Beamdog declaring that Icewind Dale will now get the EE treatment, let’s have a look back at the Baldur’s Gate sequel. As many remember, I enjoyed the Enhanced remake of the first Baldur’s Gate. It looked quite a bit nicer, the new characters were interesting, and it was the fun experience I remembered and then some. In fact, the new content felt less intrusive than the Tales of the Sword Coast pack from the original game! But, we’re here too look at Beamdog’s follow up effort. If I were to review Baldur’s Gate II itself, I’d probably shower it with praise. Even though it’s a very old game that hasn’t aged well outside of mods, it’s one of the best computer based roleplaying games of all time. And as much as I’d love to review Baldur’s Gate II, I’m going to focus on the changes, updates, and ‘enhanced’ aspects of this one. So, how does it fare compared to the previous one? Quest forward to find out!
First off, we’re introduced to a series of neat little icons; Shadows of Amn, Throne of Bhaal, and the sequel to EE’s “The Black Pits.” A step up from BG1EE’s menu, I suppose. All of the game modes should be familiar, as the first two were the classic games from Baldur’s Gate II, while the third continues the Black Pits storyline some time after the end of the first. (Najim even appears in the intro!) As soon as you click on the main game, you’re greeted by the “new” NPCs being pushed in your face. If the PC version didn’t already have them installed, I would have found this just a tad more than obnoxious.
Visually, it’s an update of the old school graphics you know and love. But, combine that with modern resolutions and modified graphics and things look pretty damn snazzy! Considering my Windows 2000 was garbage, a lot of the spells didn’t render right for some reason. The same happened with Planescape Torment, so I always missed out. To see them in action with more up to date graphics was a treat, to say the least! Combine that was interesting environments turned even more vibrant or sinister than ever before, and exploring feels just like new again. While sprites for creatures still look like blurry pixels at times, you can still see the difference. Comparing old and new, just a simple stroll through forest land is a different visual experience. But, you could just as easily say that modding the original games could create a result that looks just as good (if not better than) the product that Beamdog rolled out. And fortunately, a lot of these mods have easy to use guides. And while I’d rather frame and tinker with the graphics to create an image I’m satisfied with, Steam support is nice too.
Moving forward, this version doesn’t seem to introduce that much new music. Or rather, it does, but you don’t really notice it. Kinda odd, since there was a big deal with Sam Hulick doing updated music, as well as some new pieces for the first remake. And the new music was a different vibe from the original stuff, but still great! The music from BGIIEE sounds like some lost files that got updated with better equipment. On top of that, the track don’t really sound nearly as memorable as some of the main game tracks. Though, admittedly, I enjoyed the somber tune from the Wild Mage encampment. It’s interesting what a change of key and some tinkering can do to the previous track that played there. I won’t explain much about the scene, to avoid spoiling too much. Maybe I’m asking for a lot, but I was also kind of hoping for a theme that embodies the game’s roaring triumphant return to new systems like with the first game. Sure, you could say Shadow of Amn’s theme made you want to dive into the action a lot more than Baldur’s Gate 1’s theme encouraged the player to do, but a little more “epic” never hurts. Other than that, the pre-existing music sounds quite a bit better; touched up thanks to up-to-date digital technology. That said, the sound quality bounces a bit. Some of the recordings (especially added new content) sound a bit awkward if not a bit shoddy at times. One of the biggest offenders is the Wild Mage cart trap. Seriously, the gnome’s voice sounds like shit, and I’m not even talking about the voice over work.
In regards to voice overs, it’s a mixed bag. A lot of the original characters were merely touched up instead of getting the original voice actors to return and re-record. Granted, trying to afford Jim Cummings alone might have bankrupt the whole project by itself! Also, the acting for Neera and Rasaad have only improved since the last game. Rasaad sounds wiser from his experiences and Neera sounds more mature and passionate about the world around her, both of which are very fitting developments. Dorn hasn’t really changed too much in my opinion, so I won’t really say much about him. And replacing the fourth mystery character from the first game is Hexxat! From the moment you meet her, you realize something’s up. She has the emotional range of Keanu Reeves and the one-track mind of a D.C. politician. While the voice acting for the first part of her is dreadfully awful, it’s an interesting trick for what comes later. And even then, her acting is okay, still a bit bland. They try really hard to give her a chilling and seductive which becomes a bit too much after a while. But, there’s much weaker voice acting here than that. Going back to minor characters like the Wild Forest Cart Gnome, my god is it awful! Every time I heard, “A FORTNIGHT”, it was purely cringeworthy. Not to mention, several other minor characters were pitifully underperformed or sadly over the top. In the end, it just detracts from the awesomeness of the DLC NPCs. The only reason I was laughing along with pub crawlers at Daxus the Blue Elf is how horribly hammy his voice is. It could have been worse, as Dorn’s quest turned all of the lawful-badass priests into a narmfest. So, while there was some improvements in some departments, there is plenty to make your ears bleed. This is made worse by the formulaic approach to dialogue that persists throughout the new content; loyal acceptance of whatever’s going on, snarky douchebag comment, and horrible asshole comment. And in Throne of Bhaal some of the messiness is just made worse. If you thought the game breaking glitches for the new content were bad in the first part of the game, there’s a heap of bad ones awaiting you. It’s like looking at old Bioware and new Bioware, it just causes pain.
Keeping up with the theme of Baldur’s Gate II, NPC characters have their own quests! In fact, the new DLC companions have hours of quest lines for you to explore. Most of the quests have been pretty engaging in the originals, telling you about a character, their viewpoint, and the struggles that they must deal with. In many ways, the new ones don’t do anything outside of expectation. That said, a lot of the new quests are pretty damn slopping to say the least. Using Neera’s quests as an example, you are told that you need to urgently find a Blue Elf in the Bridge District, meaning you’ll probably ignore all of the horrible fetch-quests for the other wild mages. As a result, you get heavily chastised with a downer ending for failing to scoop up a bunch of cats or find a whiny brat in the woods. Ugh. Also, Dorn’s could have turned out much more interesting! More or less, you plan a raid on the Temple Sector’s grand hall! AWESOME! But, Dorn’s intelligence seems to fade into oblivion, which takes a lot of the enjoyment out of this. Hexxat offers a treasure hunt to seek Dragomamboblahblah’s tomb full of cool junk. Now, if you can suffer through the boring character, you’re rewarded with a slightly less boring character. The twist is pretty obvious after a while, but that didn’t stop her treasure hunt from being tons of fun! That said, Rasaad’s crusade for justice against dark forces is bland and mediocre. The only highlight is being able to work with an intelligent bear at the end named Wilson. Wilson makes up for everything and is a total badass! As for the characters themselves, there’s options for romance as well! Most of the NPCs will choose a heterosexual relationship. However, Enhanced Edition has promised homosexual and bisexual options as well. Well, the options being Neutral Evil Half-Orc Blackguard Dorn Il-Khan and Evil Vampire Rogue Hexxat. And so, the only options for non-straight characters are evil monsters… which provides some rather unfortunate implications!
But, the vanilla game and its new expansions aren’t all that bad. Compare the sequel to The Black Pits. The first version of The Black Pits was an enjoyable and challenging arena romp with a jackass NPC you loved to hate! However, that’s all gone in the Thayan arena. Just like the Red Wiards, this mini game cheats… a lot. A lot of the monster math doesn’t make sense and probably doesn’t even exist within AD&D itself. This is a real shame, as an arena game like the Black Pits would be a fantastic experience to return to if Beamdog did it justice. Hell, it could be its own DLC with multiple arenas! But hey, maybe Icewind Dale EE will do a better job of that.
Now, this sounds like I’m pretty bitter towards Beamdog’s fixes, right? Not at all! I actually really enjoyed quite a few things. In general, a lot of mechanical aspects of the game have been streamlined quite nicely. For example, some of the quick toggles were nice. For example, back in the day, you had to tinker around to quick save. Now it’s as easy as tapping the ‘q’ key. Plus, the help menu isn’t like the annoying Tutorial mode featured in the first EE. This tells you everything you need to know without eating away all of your time. And jumping back to how I enjoyed the updated graphics in general, the stain glass paintings that replaced the cheesy old CGI cut scenes were a nice touch. Personally, the olden painting style really added something for me, fitting the mood of The Lord of Murder’s dark conspiracies. And when you compare it to ’90s FMV Hell, the choice is pretty clear in my opinion.
Needless to say, Baldur’s Gate 2 was one of the greatest RPGs of all time. With that kind of title, you’d really have to work hard to make sure whatever you add to it is just as good. Sadly, Beamdog dropped the ball. While the updated multiplayer works a lot better than BG multiplayer even did, Black Pits II is a step behind the original mini-game. And while the graphics look great and the sound is more crisp in some spots, there’s still some inconsistent recordings and occasional uninspired settings. Plus, a 25 dollar price tag is really damn steep for a game of this type. I was lucky enough to get it for under $10 on the summer steam sale! Enhanced Edition? Hardly!
Baldur’s Gate II Enhanced Edition gets 6 SKULLS of MURDER out of 10.