Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is not just one of the greatest RPGs ever. It’s a trendsetter. While western RPGs have always existed, they were largely a little-known niche before this game set the bar higher. Hugely successful (for a PC game) and appearing on many a “best ever” list, it basically started Bioware’s gradual elevation to the major player in video gaming that it is today. More importantly, it convinced people to give RPGs not made in Japan a chance, paving the way for such hits as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and, of course, World of Warcraft.
Plot: 9 out of 10
The original Baldur’s Gate concluded with the protagonist revealed to be the offspring of a deceased god named Bhaal (like Norse mythology, this universe’s deities can be physically killed, it just takes soccer balls for testicles and marbles for brains to try). The protagonist is kidnapped by a wizard named Jon Irenicus to be used in twisted experiments because of his/her (your character’s gender, race and profession are up to you) divine heritage. With the help of his/her friends our hero escapes but a series of plot twists ultimately lead to a final battle against Irenicus.
A generic enough plot, but the plot twists are unpredictable and exciting. For instance, we discover a mob war between a local gang and a family of vampires. Each offers to help you only if you first help them destroy the other and win the war. Interactions between members of your party are another bonus, particularly the romances the protagonist can have with a party member of the opposite sex.
Graphics: 7 out of 10
OK, so this isn’t BGII’s strongest point. While the graphics are competently put together, they lack a flashiness for a game released in the current millennium. I don’t know if it’s the fact that graphics tend to take a backseat to plot in RPGs or what, but Bioware has made many a game that looked last gen and/or had ridiculously long load times. I was surprised when 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition didn’t have either of these issues.
Sound: 10 out 10
What Bioware lacks in looks it makes up for in sound. The sound effects are very true to what occurrences they represent. And the voice acting is just amazing, particularly David Warner (an extremely underrated TV actor, just look him up) as Irenicus!
Gameplay: 8 out of 10
The original Baldur’s Gate was playable but had two huge problems. When you paused the game in a battle to stop the action as you changed certain party members’ actions, entering the Inventory screen to change or use equipment (including healing items not placed in quick use slots), the game would unpause. Additionally, the Map screen didn’t name the places to go to. These problems have been rectified.
With these issues fixed, there’s not all that much to complain about. The game handles extremely well. The level design of places is creative and fresh, adding to the experience.
The one quibble is that the A.I. of party members is still stupid and can get you in trouble if you leave them be when they walk to a specific place or attack one enemy for an extended period of time.
Challenge: 10 out of 10
This game is extremely challenging. You often have to plan your moves carefully or it will all be over. However, it’s never impossible. The fact that you lost just means you have to change strategies.
Overall: 9 out of 10
Basically, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is a true classic. It has all the good things you can ask for in a RPG and its legacy is well-deserved. Oh, and I like it.