Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Shadows of Amn

BALDUR'S Gate II: Shadows of Amn, and its expansion pack, Throne of Bhaal are finished. Whew. What a game. Now, can I go and do something else with my life? What exactly has happened in the past two months?

In the words of popidol: Best. Game. Ever. If you like CRPG's, that is.

Minor spoilers follow.

Gorgeous graphics, especially the cities. Wonderful characters, and great character interactions between the PC and NPC's, and between the NPC's themselves. Plot of the main game is fairly linear, more so than BG1, and the plot of ToB is extremely linear. Battles are much more intense, and require preparation and thought. Magic really comes into its own. In BG1, especially for the characters' first few levels, magic is trivial, and the mages just a bunch of low hit point featherbedders the tanks have to protect. But in BG2, having a mage in your party is indispensable, because most of your foes use magic, and cannot be taken down without having their defensive spells stripped off. Summoned entities (animals, skeletons, magic swords, and finally devas and planetars) are essential for added offensive muscle, and keeping the mobs off the casters.

The BG2 developers nerfed most of the tricks BG1 players had discovered for taking down mobs with little risk, for example, conjuring hoards of trashy gnolls, hobgoblins and skeletons, and swarming them on the mobs to occupy their attention, while the PC and his team rained arrows on the mobs from a safe distance. Bows seem less effective in BG2, and your team isn't allowed to summon more than five entities at once. Likewise the insanely lethal stealth and backstabbing abilities of thieves were nerfed hard. OTOH, thieves were given a new 'set traps' ability, which itself, at higher levels, allows the thief to take out dragons and demon gods singlehandedly. Hm.

BG2 has a lot more spoken dialogue than BG1, although it ships on four CD's rather than BG1's 5; I suspect BioWare discovered the mp3 between BG1 and BG2. The voice acting is very broad, no better than B movie level, but entertaining. The genie who grants Limited Wish and Wish spells has the best 'Mwahahaha!' I've ever heard, I think.

Of the characters, the ones I love best are:

  • Mazzy Fentan, halfling, fighter, and paladin-wannabe. Only humans can be paladins, and Mazzy fails the height requirement. But she's Lawful Good, and wants to be a paladin so badly! So, her goddess, Arvoreen, the halfling Goddess of Battle (I find it hilarious that halflings even have a 'goddess of battle') has given her some paladin-like spells she can cast, and Mazzy tries to serve the cause of Good and Justice and be paladin-like as best she can. She goes to battle crying, "Arvoreen, guide my blade!" Her stats are excellent, except for her STR of 15, but give her a belt of some Giant Strength or other, and she kicks butt. She's always good humored, and patient, but very serious. Very un-halfling like, or at least it seems that way to this human. But perhaps humans have prejudiced ideas about what is or is not 'halfling-like'. Late in the game, she has a conversation with Imoen about whether she will ever become a true paladin, and I hoped that at the game's conclusion, she would get a dispensation from the Paladin's guild, the Radiant Heart, and we would have a knighting ceremony for her. But it was not to be. The post-game show reveals that she went on to found a group of fighters who quested and Did Good and fought evil-doers all around Faerun, and that Mazzy survived to die in bed at an advanced age, a legend in her time, respected and loved by all... but she never got to be a paladin.
  • Jan Jansen (pronounced 'Yahn Yahnsan'). Gnome, thief, illusionist, turnip salesman, inventor of weird devices, and raconteur. He comes equipped with a bunch of clothing of his own invention, which doesn't do much for his AC, but soups up his thief abilities. And, it's stylish! Every place the party goes reminds Jan of somewhere else he's been and what some member of his family did there, or his adventures on a ship during the Great Underwear Shortage. His stories go on, and on, and Mazzy, ordinarily the soul of patience, finally blows up at him, yelling 'Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!" During the finale, while your character is pondering whether to become a god or not, Jan pipes up with a story of questionable veracity about how he was a god for a year once, and it wasn't so hot, although the dental benefits were extraordinary. He's a good mage, and with his thief abilities, he ultimately learns to lay devastating traps that do insane amounts of damage. Jan arguably becomes the most powerful character in the game. We are told that after the game that he marries his gnomish sweetheart (whose problems in a previous marriage were the object of a side-quest earlier in the game), and is accused, but never convicted, of being the kingpin of a monkey smuggling operation that fails spectacularly. Yep, that's Jan. I want to be like Jan when I grow up.
  • Imoen is one of the dozens of characters from BG1 whom you meet again in BG2, and one of  the four who can join your party. In BG1 she's a Neutral Good thief, who grew up with you, and joins you early on. She's genki without being annoying, it cheers you up just having her around. She launches herself into battle chirping, "My blade'll cut ya down to size!" Imoen in BG2 is a more somber character. Something bad has happened both to you and her between the end of BG1 and the start of BG2, and it's pretty much killed the genki-ness in her. Look at her pictures below, the left one from BG1, the right from BG2. That saucy raised eyebrow and challenging gaze are gone, and she now has a very visible scar, frowns, and doesn't meet your eye. Her face is leaner, almost gaunt. Her hair is pink and punked out with bindings. (Most of the new NPC character icons in BG2 have exotic hair treatments.) Instead of a dress, she's fitted out for battle. Because of her INT of 17 in BG1, many players dual-class her to mage halfway through, and this is the way she shows up in BG2. Darkness pursues Imoen throughout the game, and I had fears that hints were being laid about some bad fate late in the story, but it doesn't happen. Instead, we are told she went on to become a mage of great renown, perhaps surpassing even Elminster's legendary powers. I hope she found peace.

Baldur's Gate: Shadows of Amn and Throne of Bhaal are truly great games. Very complex, very enjoyable, extraordinarily rich in detail. I think my only real complaint is that many dialogue options don't seem to mean anything: you get three or five options, but they're just there for roleplaying purposes, they all have the same effect on the person you're addressing, and you get the same response no matter what you say. Not always, but too often. Maybe creating multiple complex decision trees was just too much for the designers. The universe seems to arrange itself effortlessly as a garden of branching paths, but it's very hard to create an artificial universe that does the same.

But this is a minor quibble. The game as whole is very enjoyable.

What now? Icewind Dale, a similar game by another development house that is based on the BG game engine, beckons. As does the much anticipated Neverwinter Nights, also from Bioware, the Baldur's Gate developers, which just started showing up in stores yesterday, to much hoopla from fanboys. And there's Morrowind.

I think I will do nothing. Too much other stuff I want to do for now, ideas I want to pursue, books I want to read. I think I'm RPG'ed out for now. But maybe in a little bit... Neverwinter Nights looks very attractive. I just can't resist armored pigs and fairies. Or the penguin level.

meaning: side, crossways
横断 == oudan == crossing
横道 == yokomichi == sidestreet
Left radical is 'wood' (木), right is 'yellow'(黄). Henshall suggests as a memnonic:  'Yellow piece of wood laid on its side'.


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