Four games and several years ago, the Baldur’s Gate saga was born in this fine nation. The original game caused a revolution in the way people, especially PC gamers, thought about role-playing games. It was probably the first RPG to sell over a million copies, and it did it in less than three months.
The follow-on pack, Tales of the Sword Coast, was not met with the same critical acclaim, but none-the-less added something to genre, namely the now popular "super-huge-you-can-play-for-weeks-inside-dungeon." Then came the actual sequel, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn.
All these titles were fun to play and in fact were mesmerizing. But the mysteries surrounding your central character, which could be taken from game to game, remained unsolved. The more you learned about your roots and the blood of the evil God Bhaal in your veins, the more questions you uncovered. In this manner, the ending was always bittersweet, because even though you had conquered a great evil – and lots of lesser great evils along the way – you never really knew about yourself and your forced destiny.
The add-on pack to Shadows of Amn answers those questions once and for all, as well as ends the storyline. Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal takes place a few weeks following the plot of Shadows of Amn. Your party, if you import them and I would recommend highly that you do if you can, is resting in a pleasant southern kingdom along the Sword Coast when they once again get caught up in major global events. Of course we all know that your main character is to blame for all this, for try as you might trouble is always coming looking for you.
The basic plot is that the children of Bhaal like yourself are starting to engage in an all-out war of attrition, raising great armies in a quest to slay all the other evil God’s children. The thought is that when there is only one left, they will become the new incarnation of the God Bhaal. If you are playing an evil character then your motivation is simple, because if you can kill the others then that new superstar is going to be you. Sounds like the plot of a Highlander movie set in Hell. If you are a good character, then you will have to kill the other children because if you don’t, they sure are going to kill you. You are after all, the most famous child of Bhaal at this point in the game world.
It all comes down to a handful of children, the most powerful of the lot. These powerful children and their armies wipe out most of the lower riffraff, so you only have to deal with a few bad guys – and their armies of course. Many have hedged their bets too, like the initial fire giant you must face that has removed his heart and placed it in a special container, thus ensuring his invulnerability to weapons. You of course being the resourceful character that you are need go on a quest to find his heart and destroy it before taking him on. Boy is he surprised when you start to beat him up.
Since this is an add-on pack, you need the original to play the game. You don’t have to have actually solved the original, but I would recommend that you do before starting because once you begin playing Bhaal, you can’t go back to locations in the previous game with your party. And because this is an add-on, the interface is identical to what you have seen before. The interface is great, so its smart that they did not monkey with it.
What you will notice is that the experience cap has for the most part been lifted. The theoretical maximum is eight million now, which means some characters can get as high as 40th level by the end of the game. You also have access to "special abilities" that can be really cool. Thieves for instance can at high levels use any weapon or armor in the game. My thief now has a -14AC. Magic users gain access to special ninth level spells like Wish and Bigby’s Hand, that can be used to really crush opponents, literally in the case of Bigby’s Hand. Fighters get special abilities like a whirlwind ability that lets them attack 10 times in a round. Druids are able to summon elemental princes to their aid and clerics get some spells that really put them on solid butt-kicking ground. All the spells come with new special effects.
The inner-party relations are still a centerpiece of the game too. Your characters will often chat with one another, and hopefully get along. Also, if you were pursuing one of the romantic storylines from the previous game, then your relationship will grow and prosper in this final chapter.
Early in the game you are given a stronghold inside another plane. Your main character will have the ability to magically transport the entire party there to store items or to get a guaranteed uninterrupted rest. You even have a Smithy there of sorts, that will put magical items together for you, making them more powerful. You can’t warp to your stronghold during combat, but anytime else is fair game.
Inside the stronghold is where you will learn the most about your past, because you will gain access to new areas and secrets as the game progresses. There is also an angel of sorts who appears from time to time to guide you in the path toward your destiny.
Unlike Tales of the Sword Coast, Throne of Bhaal is very balanced as far as gameplay goes. You will easily tromp most mundane characters and monsters, but will find it extremely challenging to defeat certain opponents. Often, a diplomatic solution is best or failing that, there is often a smart way to go about combat that is not as deadly as charging in head first. Then again I play a thief, so perhaps that is just my play style.
You also get one of those aforementioned mega dungeons called the Watchers Keep with this game. You can visit it from either the Shadows of Amn game if you have not started the Bhaal final chapter, or from the Bhaal chapter. The dungeon is even larger than the last mega-dungeon from Sword Coast, and is much better designed. The entire game could have taken place in Watchers Keep and I would have been pretty happy, but you get it as a bonus. Explore it at your pleasure.
The game has no major flaws. The soundtrack is great, the graphics are awesome and the plot is top notch. The only thing I will say that is disappointing is that once you finish, the adventure is over. Years of play have finally come to an end.
Actually, Interplay promises that you can import your main character from Baldur’s Gate II into the upcoming massively multiplayer game Neverwinter Nights. So I may not be rid of my alter ego, Stark Silvercoin, just yet.
If you have played any of the Baldur’s Gate series, you owe it to yourself to see how it all turns out. The final chapter of this classic game ends the series with a bang, and you won’t be disappointed. It earns a perfect 5 GiN Gem score for its treasure chest, and a fond place in my hall of fame as well.
Developers: Bioware, Black Isle Studios