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Baldurs Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Information about Baldurs Gate II: Shadows of AmnBaldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, developed by BioWare and released sep. 26, 2000 (17 years ago), is the second computer role-playing game in the Baldur's Gate series, which takes place just a few months after the events of Baldur's Gate. It is based on the 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing system. The story is set in the Forgotten Realms, the most popular D&D story setting. It has sold over 2 million units.
An expansion pack for the game was released in 2001 (16 years ago), entitled Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal.
GameplayBaldur's Gate II, like its predecessor, is played from an isometric perspective. The player controls a party of one to six characters. The player must create the main character from scratch or import their character from the original Baldur's Gate; the rest of the party must be recruited from within the game world. Players can, by exploiting the game's multi-player function, create more than one character for a party. This does not by any means compromise the integrity of the story, although secondary characters will not talk or interact in the manner of normal NPCs except as far as the rudimentary interaction of combat and spell casting allow.
Throughout the game, the player must make crucial choices, some of them vital to the character's development. One of the important choices in the early game, indeed one that eventually becomes essential to progress, is whether to ally with the law-disregarding Shadow Thieves with charismatic Aran Linvail at the reins, or the more secretive and disturbing vampires and their enigmatic leader, Bodhi. Other important choices include who the player enlists within their adventuring team, and when. Potential duels, bickering, romance and quests can all result merely from who is allowed to join and who is turned away.
Shadows of Amn, much like the first installment, focuses much more on interaction with the world rather than slicing one's way through it. A player may still decide to do so; the game permits attacking townsfolk, merchants and guards. For those who seek to become a part of this world, though, the game offers much. It adds to the first with many more sophisticated concepts, a stronger story and characterisation, and new ideas. One of these is that the player can "manage" an actual stronghold which depends solely on the selection of their character class at the beginning of the game. For example, as a fighter class, the player may successfully complete the quest at the de'Arnise Hold and begin to take over the stronghold in their control. It adds an interesting element to a game that already strongly breaks away from perpetual combat. Similarly, a mage may take over a magical Planar Sphere, whereas a thief character may choose to manage the other branch of the thieves' guild in the Docks district. A mod available also allows a character, regardless of class, to adopt all the different strongholds, but within the original game itself, only a multiclassed character can potentially manage different strongholds.
PlotIn the beginning, the player finds out that their party was ambushed by assassins of some sort and taken captive into a mysterious dungeon. The player character awakens in a cage being experimented upon by a mage, Jon Irenicus. As Irenicus prepares to perform more "endurance" experiments on the captured player character, he is interrupted by a jailkeep golem servant. The golem reports a commotion in the upper levels of the dungeon, and Irenicus is forced to depart as a band of Shadow Thieves raid his underground complex. Also imprisoned in the dungeon are old friends Imoen, Minsc and Jaheira from the original Baldur's Gate game, who will make the player character's escape from the prison very easy if they are all conscripted. Missing from the first game are Minsc's witch companion Dynaheir and Jaheira's husband Khalid, both of whom were killed while in Irenicus' captivity, greatly distressing Minsc and Jaheira. As the main characters seek their way out of the dungeon, they encounter Yoshimo, a thief from the far away country of Kara-Tur, who introduces himself as a captive of Irenicus. On the way out, evidence is found for Irenicus' longing for an unknown woman (eventually revealed to be Queen Ellesime), as he has gone so far as to clone her. When the player character finally escapes the underground complex, he finds himself in the city of Athkatla. Irenicus is using his magic to fight the thieves at the entrance to his dungeon, when Imoen, angered by what Irenicus tells her about unlocking her inherent power, casts a 'magic missile' spell on him. As unlicensed use of magic is banned in the city of Athkatla, both Irenicus and Imoen are seized by the powerful mage organization known as the Cowled Wizards and sent to be imprisoned in a distant detention center, Spellhold.
As the party wanders through the slums of Athkatla, a man named Gaelan Bayle offers to introduce them to associates of his who can rescue Imoen for the price of 20,000 gold. Through a series of optional quests and adventures, the player character travels Athkatla and the surrounding lands in order to raise the sum required. These missions take the player through areas such as the sewers of Athkatla, secret compounds in the Docks District, a multi-level tomb in the graveyard, a troll-infested keep, a shadowed, forgotten temple, a rural hill village, druid groves, a large dungeon that is ruled by a particularly vengeful dragon, the town of Trademeet, and the outer planes themselves, battling classic AD&D creatures like beholders and dragons, as well as the Demi-lich Kangaxx. Throughout this time of free adventuring, the character is troubled by disturbing visions of Imoen, his heritage and the Bhaal taint that lies within him.
When the party has 15,000 gold or more, at any given point, a mysterious woman named Valen approaches them, and offers to introduce them to her mistress, the vampiress Bodhi. The player can ally with either Aran Linvail's Shadow Thieves, or with Bodhi's vampires to gain their trust (however, if the player is a Thief, Bodhi will refrain from inviting the player to join her, considering that the player is "too similar to his superiors", and if the player is a Paladin, she claims she was mistaken and sends the player away). They may also elect merely to continue adventuring. Eventually, the player must work for one faction and destroy the other; though the raid on Bodhi's lair only results in her retreat and the survival of several vampires.
Meanwhile, Irenicus breaks out of his cell at Spellhold, and kills his captors. With his new base at Spellhold, he continues his experiments on Imoen.
With the help of Saemon Havarian, a swashbuckling captain who apparently works for both Linvail and Bodhi, the party gains passage to the small island on which Spellhold is located. In order to gain entrance into the magically sealed Spellhold, the party can follow a number of contacts and leads in the nearby port town of Brynnlaw. However the player character manages to infiltrate the asylum, they are greeted by a lone mage who gives the player character a tour of the insane inmates, until Imoen is finally found. The lone mage then reveals himself to be Irenicus, and that he had planned for the players to follow him all along. He captures the party with the help of a drug that either Yoshimo or Saemon (if the player did not bring Yoshimo in the party) slipped into their food.
The main character wakes up and, in the course of Irenicus's experiment, finds himself or herself in a dream, standing outside the childhood home of Candlekeep that represents the mind. The voice of Imoen urges the player character to "seek within," and as the main character approaches the doorway to Candlekeep he is met by a demon which demands a toll, a part of his soul, in order to let the player character pass. In the heart of Candlekeep, Imoen stands, asking the player character to bring the demon Bhaal, in order to vanquish him. When the main character defeats Bhaal, Imoen screams as the dream fades. The main character awakens to find his soul removed, and Imoen has suffered a similar fate; their souls were claimed by Irenicus and Bodhi, respectively.
Bodhi decides to give the player character a slim chance at survival, so that she can hunt them and Imoen through the asylum. Eventually this necessitates a showdown, where the player character involuntarily, as the result of the loss of his soul, becomes an avatar of Bhaal– the Slayer –and scares Bodhi into retreat. The Slayer also attacks, often killing, other party members. Some party members find this disturbing, while others, such as Viconia will be impressed.
The player eventually escapes with Imoen, killing Yoshimo if he was in the party, and fights Irenicus until the wizard is forced to retreat to the Underdark.
When the player next stops to rest, another dream sequence will occur. In it, Imoen, with a darker and more menacing tone, commands the main character to use the power he or she has to kill his or her enemies. In the dream, the player transforms into the Slayer, an avatar of Bhaal, and easily cuts down Sarevok, Bodhi, Irenicus, then Imoen. At this point the main character gains control of their slayer transformation, a powerful ability, though it costs the party's reputation merely to indulge in its dark strength. Even good characters who cherish their standing may sometimes be tempted, or even forced into using the transformation when confronting a strong adversary.
The player can take two routes in following Irenicus to the Underdark. Either by trusting Saemon Havarian, who will need a ship to guide the player character, or by going through a direct portal to the Underdark. If the player trusts Saemon, he or she must commandeer the ship of the Pirate Lord of Brynnlaw, and deal with the pirate lord himself when he comes after the player. As a reward, Saemon gives the player the blade of a Silver Sword. Once on the sea, the ship is boarded by a band of Githyanki who seek the Silver Sword, which was stolen from them (Saemon Havarian quickly blames the Player for stealing it and teleports away). A fight breaks out, and the player's ship is sunk. The party reaches the underwater city of the Sahuagin people, and is given the choice of helping either the insane King Ixilthetocal, or his rebelling son, Prince Villynaty, in order to procure a magical rope which allows the party to climb down to the Underdark. Alternatively, one can just slaughter both sides of Sahuagins and take the rope.
The party reaches the Underdark, and meets up with a silver dragon named Adalon. Drow have stolen her eggs and she will help the party reach the surface if they recover them (it is also revealed that Jon Irenicus traveled this way). She uses illusion to disguise the party as drow, in order to help them infiltrate the House Despana of the nearby city of Ust'Natha, which is planning to use the eggs to summon a powerful demon. After completing a few side quests for the young Phaere Despana, in order to gain her trust, the player learns of her wishes to overthrow the Matron Mother Ardulace. Phaere recruits the player to switch the dragon eggs with artificial eggs, and deliver the real eggs to her. The player has several options, such as going ahead with Phaere's plan, reporting Phaere to the Matron Mother, or, if he or she spared the life of a drow named Solaufein, give Phaere his artificial eggs and keep the real eggs. No matter the route, Matron Mother Ardulace must die for the player to escape the city, and depending on his or her actions, the player may have to fight with her, Phaere and/or the demon. A particularly amusing result occurs if artificial eggs are given to both the Matron Mother and Phaere. If the player returns the eggs to Adalon, she will open the way to the surface, but if the eggs are destroyed, she will attack the player, forcing them (assuming they survive) to seek an exit without her aid.
When the party reaches the surface, they encounter the army of the elven city of Suldanessellar, which is guarding the Underdark entrance in order to keep the drow at bay. While the elves were fighting off the Drow, Jon Irenicus sneaked into Suldanessellar and magically sealed the entrance to the city. In order to gain access to Suldanessellar, the player must retrieve the Rhynn Lanthorn artifact from Bodhi, who still resides in her base in the city of Athkatla. The player can recruit the aid of a few factions before the assault against the vampires. The paladins of the "Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart," the adventurer Drizzt Do'Urden's party, and the Shadow Thieves are all potential allies. Once the party faces Bodhi, if the main character has progressed to the end of a romance subplot with a party member Bodhi abducts that person and infects him or her with vampirism. It is possible for the player to cure his or her loved one. Once the player defeats Bodhi, Imoen's soul will be restored.
The party proceeds through Suldanessellar, and learns more about the early life of Jon Irenicus. He was once an elf of high standing, in love with the elven Queen Ellesime, but he and his sister Bodhi attempted to absorb the Tree of Life's power, almost dooming the elves. They were stripped of their elf-hood, and thus their immortality. Irenicus' solution is to steal the player character and Imoen's partly-divine souls. As Irenicus holds Ellesime prisoner and attempts to perform the ritual at the Tree of Life again, the main character confronts and kills him. The main character is dragged into hell upon Irenicus' death, as Irenicus still holds his or her soul, and the rest of the party follows. After undergoing five trials in hell, each of which may be solved by either good or evil deeds, and which can confer different benefits and powers depending on those choices, the main character finds Irenicus, who transforms into the Slayer and summons powerful demons. When the party defeats Irenicus, they return to life and are honored by the elves of Suldanessellar. Irenicus, still in hell, is surrounded by a horde of devils, who promptly charge and knock him into the fiery pits of Hell. A mysterious council of 7 cowled men discuss the main character's growing power, but one member suggests that "The spawn of Bhaal is doomed. There is no escape." The camera then reveals the emblem of Bhaal on the table.
ReceptionBaldur's Gate II was met with universal acclaim upon its release, with Metacritic listing it as the 6th highest scoring PC game on the site as of May 31, 2009 (8 years ago).
Baldur's Gate II's gameplay was called "addicting" by GamePro. RPGamer said that "the game plays pretty much the same...except for combat. Here we've taken a big step up from the frustrating ordeals in Baldur's Gate. The enemies are no longer quite so cheap, and more strategies are viable." Some reviewers, however, felt that the non-player characters in the game weren't powerful enough in comparison to player-made characters. GameSpy said that the game is much more difficult than Baldur's Gate, and requires more strategy and planning than the original does. GameSpot felt that the opening level of the game "falls flat", but that it gets much better once the player reaches Athkatla.
The game's plot was met positively by reviewers, with GameSpy saying that "The plot can be summarized in one word: Epic. The developers bent over backwards to make you feel like you were making a difference in the game world, as well as provide some very 'awesome' enemies and quests."
GamePro praised the game's graphics, saying that "the backdrops are stunning and the spell effects are impressive with or without 3D acceleration." IGN echoed this statement by stating "The comparison between [the graphics of] Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II is astounding—like looking at a still oil painting, and then turning to see the scene in living motion on a big screen TV." FiringSquad said that the game's artwork surpassed that of Planescape: Torment, and called the background artwork "fantastic".
FiringSquad praised the voice acting of Baldur's Gate II, saying that "Characters sound alive and vivacious (or depressed, crazy - whatever suits them), bringing a whole new level of depth to game's immersion factor." Reviewers also generally found the game's music to be well-done.
Gameplanet criticized the game's poor support for online multiplayer, saying that it was "unstable and quite frustrating". Jakub Wojnarowicz of FiringSquad felt that the lack of communication between players in combat during online games was problematic, but that Local Area Network play would be "a lot more fun and less stressful". PC Zone said that "As in BG, multiplayer is a bit of a disappointment....Come on guys, let's have some multiplayer maps or something."
Criticism was also directed at bugs in the game, such as frequent crashes when trying to access certain locations. According to Tim McConnaughy from GameSpy, Baldur's Gate II is "not 100% stable". GameSpot found that the game's loading times were a "bit long" and that the game crashes on occasion. Reviewers also felt that the small number of character portraits to choose from was a disappointment.
AwardsBaldur's Gate II was inducted into Gamespot's "Greatest Games of All Time" list, and it also won their Readers' Choice Game of the Year award for 2000 (17 years ago). It also received three "Gaming Globe" awards from Eurogamer in 2001 (16 years ago): Best Game, Best Art Direction, and Best Male Supporting Character (for Minsc). GameSpy, GameSpot, and IGN all awarded Baldur's Gate II their "Role-Playing Game of the Year" awards in 2000 (17 years ago).
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