Thoughts on Completing Baldur’s Gate 2

Apologies for the recent radio silence – we moved this past weekend, so for the past couple of weeks that’s taken up most of my brain space. -Rob

This past week, I finally finished Baldur’s Gate 2, which once again gave me pause to reflect on the somewhat complicated and lightly contrarian opinion I developed of the game in the six or so months it took me to get through it. Perhaps in part because I loved the original Baldur’s Gate so much, and perhaps in part because I had heard nothing but the highest of praise for Baldur’s Gate 2, I was inordinately excited to crack into it.

And yet, once I did finish up the first game and move on to the second, I was immediately overwhelmed by the game. As opposed to the first game, which provides you with quests gradually (and to a certain extent, as a reward for taking the time to explore and talk to NPCs), Baldur’s Gate 2 shoves a vast amount of quests directly into your face as soon as you complete the introductory dungeon, and not all of them are the sorts of quests one should be undertaking to start out the game, a lesson I learned the hard way.

On top of that, even if you import your character from BG1, you are stripped of your equipment at the start of the game. All of those cool magic weapons, armor, and items you painstakingly acquired? They’re all gone. Also, one of the first quests to do involves fighting enemies that can only be hit with magic weapons. Granted, you can get +1 weapons for most everybody in relatively short order, but it was still a pain.

But what really left me somewhat cold about Baldur’s Gate 2 was one of the game’s main drawing points. The first Baldur’s Gate sees you build your character up from Level 1, and the types of enemies and threats you face reflect that. You don’t fight any dragons or mind flayers or beholders or liches or any of the other famously deadly monsters D&D has to offer. You fight lots of bandits and hobgoblins and wolves and such. But Baldur’s Gate 2 almost throws too many of these monsters at you. The first time I fought a beholder, it was awesome. By the time I fought my 30th beholder, the shine was all the way off.

And, for all of the different monster types the game has to offer, the fights themselves started to feel very similar, and blur together as a result. All of these monsters have many of the same defenses, which means you will be casting the same spells to remove those defenses, and otherwise using the same preparations and battle tactics over and over again, regardless of the specific threat each fight presents.

A large part of the reason it took me quite a few more months in real time to complete Baldur’s Gate 2 when I logged about the same amount of hours as the original Baldur’s Gate was that this treadmill made me feel weary. I would play for a while, roll through a bunch of battles, then come to a section that I found either too difficult to crack immediately or too annoying to be worth figuring out immediately, then take a break from the game. What I found is that it consistently took several days for me to want to sit back down and tackle that section. The first Baldur’s Gate had plenty of challenges, but few of them made me step away from the game for days at a stretch.

Baldur’s Gate 2 has more to offer than the first game – it has more quests with higher stakes that take you to more varied and cool-looking locations packed with more puzzles and more magic items. The voice acting is better (It’s David Warner, everybody!), and there’s more of it. But there can be no question that I had more fun with the original Baldur’s Gate. I took greater pleasure in poking around in the various forests and towns and bumping into whatever may have been waiting for me, even when it was a bunch of basilisks. (Fucking basilisks, I swear.) Baldur’s Gate was chill and drew me in; Baldur’s Gate 2 was massive and more than a little stressful. I still enjoyed it a great deal, but I came in expecting to play my new favorite game, and it fell well short of that.

I can’t help but be reminded of my experience another BioWare series, as I had oddly parallel experiences with the first two Mass Effect games. Mass Effect 2 is regarded the consensus favorite of the series, and yet I have never liked it as much as the first game (and really, Mass Effect 3 is the best one, but I digress). Mass Effect 2 has the Triple-A polish that the first one lacks, but it is also far less chill, far less inviting, and far less interesting on its fringes, away from the main quests. This isn’t a problem, of course, but I find the parallels interesting.

Anyway, it’s probably time to step away from Baldur’s Gate for a while. For the first time in a long time, I have a real backlog of video games to work through, and I hope to be back here more frequently now that things have settled down. That said, I am waiting with baited breath for Baldur’s Gate III…

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