Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (BGII) is as fine a sequel as any game company could ask for. This follow up to the award-winning Baldur’s Gate has the same great graphics, the same wonderful sound effects and the same great game system. That being said much has also been expanded on and improved.
First of all BGII has been designed to run native on OSX for Mac, having originally been a PC title. This is terrific because OSX is the most stable GUI I’ve ever dealt with and you can push the game in both single and multi-player modes without ever crashing. Actually, the only problem I had with BGII on the Mac is that Bioware didn’t bother updating the manual to reflect game play on a Mac. Many of the buttons had to be guessed at before you could really get going on the game. This seems like a small thing, but when you drop $50 on a game you expect them to take the time to do a handful of small changes to the manual.
As for game play itself, BGII plays in third person isometric perspective just like the original and the combat system works the same way, which is based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons combat system. Although this time around, you can gain over two million experience points so the fights and the magic in BGII are bigger and more powerful. Still, anyone who ever spent long afternoons playing the paper and book version of AD&D would feel right at home in the world of Baldur’s Gate.
BGII continues the storyline from BG. The main difference is that in BG game play was done from the perspective of good characters. In BG you had to defeat your half brother Sarevok and prevent your evil father Bhaal from returning to the Forgotten Realms. In BGII you have more choices. You have to defeat the evil elf that’s trying to replace his soul with yours, but you can either do it as a way to champion the forces of good, or you can do it in an attempt wreak havoc with your own evil reign. Whether you play for good or evil, the game is equally difficult, so it’s merely a matter of personal preference. One nice thing is that you can import your character from the original BG, or you can role up a new one or choose from many preset characters that come with the game.
Along with whatever character you choose to play come a host of NPCs. Some are more helpful than others and some are just downright amusing. My favorite is Minsc a fierce warrior who travels with his hamster, Boo. Minsc thinks Boo is a Miniature Giant Space Hamster and seeks his wisdom as a more intelligent mentor. Okay, Minsc is crazy, but he’s faithful to the player character and he’s good in a fight. Just don’t cross the hamster.
Interacting with any NPC can lead you on a side quest. On these side quests you can fall in love, or become a druid leader or any number of other wild activities. The side quests are fun, although sometimes I would find myself on one and wishing that I hadn’t strayed from the main storyline.
Like most role-playing games, BGII comes with a daunting 271 page manual and fold out map. The game requires a serious time commitment to successfully complete. Still, if you’re a role playing fan, this game is a must have. I give it 4 + GiN gems. It would have gotten five if the manual had been rewritten for Mac.