If this blog has taught me anything about myself, so far, it’s that I seemed to be quite the PC gamer back in the day. What with the likes of Freelancer, Age of Empires, this article, and more to come in the future. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just made me realise just how anti-social and reserved I was as a child. Maybe I’m harbouring deep emotional trauma… Maybe I’ve become very good at dampening my sociopathic tendencies… Or, maybe I’ve slowly but surely learnt to control the voices in my head rather than let them control me…
Regardless, I have gone way off topic… Or have I? Yes, yes I have - although some of the characters in Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn would happily let you believe you’re going insane.
Set in a fantastical world full of monsters, isometric projection (heard that one before) and magic, BG II is an absolute phenomenon. It was released way back in the year 2000; the same year The Tate Modern in London opened, Gladiator was released and that dude, Robbie Williams, released some famous song, or something.
Like its predecessor, it is based on the basic Dungeons and Dragons, turn-based role-play, it expanded hugely on the original with the help of the Infinity engine (Bioware’s own creation for the development of 2D based video-games using the D&D set-up). Black Isle brought us a high involving and story-heavy experience. In the modern day, we go on about how huge Skyrim’s map is and how expansive The Witcher 3’s open-world is, but back in the day, games like this held the crown. Packed with many, many different maps to discover, each one could take hours to fully explore. I think it took me somewhere in the region of 60 hours just to make sure I’d finished all the side-quests in the main city of Athkatla. I honestly think there are a couple of hundred hours to get out of this game…
It could be said that BG II (and of course, the original) set Bioware on the path to greatness – specifically RPG greatness. The general layout and basis of more modern hits like the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic duo, the Dragon Age trilogy and the recently murdered Mass Effect series can all give thanks to the Baldur’s Gate genius; even the in-depth decision making conversation stemmed from this primitive, 2D triumph. I would often find myself pausing the game in order to sit back in my modest-value office chair contemplating the potential fallout of my actions and choices. Do I return the golden pantaloons or keep them?
The real clincher for me with these games though is the sheer scope of the character creation menu. It is massive. You can choose from a multitude of races before moving swiftly on to your class and once that’s nailed, well there are several even more specific sub-classes to choose from. It’s like a never-ending multiple choice quiz to formulate the absolute perfect character for you. Want an elven ranger who wields a sling and a mace, dabbles in magic, has a pet cat and is scared of spiders? No issue. How about a 7ft half-orc equipped with light-armour, dual daggers and a penchant for necromancy? Be my guest – it really is that detailed. Then, once you have finished meandering your way through the checklist, picked an appropriate portrait and name for said character, you’re free to explore and discover the hundreds upon hundreds of spells, magical items, equip-able trinkets and more found throughout the world.
On the topic of characters, I need to (just because he’s so awesome) quickly make you aware of a certain someone – Minsc. A bald, well-built man donning purple tattoos with a pet hamster called Boo. Boo, being a totally regular hamster, has no powers or abilities additional to those of your everyday household pet. In fact Boo’s single purpose in the game is to provide moral support and council to Minsc, in the form of meaningless, unintelligible squeaking. Together, this troublesome twosome are two of the best characters in the game.
And speaking of animals, the game is packed with them. Or to be slightly more accurate, it is packed with animals, monsters, creatures, undead, demons, hybrids, constructs, insects, humanoids… you get the jist. As you progress through the game, you encounter civilisations, communities, towns and cities all packed with these people and sentient beings. With so much content and originality, it’s a wonder how I managed to finish it.
It is time to surrender yourself to the RPG that helped form some of the games we know today. It will control hours of your life, your attention, and your focus as there are not many games like it, at all. In fact, I struggle to think of any really. Go find it and play it. Put it on your laptop and enjoy the wonderment of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn.
Have you played it already and got anything to add? Then let us all in on the secret @MugwumpBlog