Monday, April 03, 2006

Classic Gaming: Baldur's Gate 2

Welcome to the first of an unofficial series of posts where I talk about my favorite games from years gone by. While I'm trying to pass these off as an attempt to talk about what games shaped my love of the hobby, in truth I don't have anything new to write about and I'm desperate for content. The reason I don't have anything new to write about is because all I've been doing is playing Oblivion, and there are only so many tales of being a bad-ass lizard dude that you, my faithful readers, can stomach. In case you're wondering about my progress, I'm even more bad-ass than before, but not nearly as bad-ass as I feel I can be. Enough about Oblivion. Let's give Baldur's Gate 2 the love it deserves.

Fallout 2 was the game that first got me into RPG's, but Baldur's Gate 2 is the game that made the RPG genre my favorite. I had played the original Baldur's Gate, and while I had fun with it, at some point I got bored with it, and cheated my way to the end so that I could see what happened. I'm not sure what happened between the first one and the second one to rekindle my interest, but I think it had something to do with the sheer number of class variants you could choose when starting up the sequel. In Baldur's Gate, you had the normal D&D classes, thief, fighter, cleric, etc. Baldur's Gate 2 allowed you to do class variants to further customize your characters, and that, as they say, made all the difference.

I played a thief in Baldur's Gate, specifically a drunken thief named Tipsy McSwagger. When creating your character, you were given the option of choosing a voice set so that when you ordered your character around, they would say different things. As I clicked my way through the choices, I came across one that sounded like a drunk Scottsman. In a flash, I remembered the name Tipsy McSwagger's from the Simpsons, and my character was born. Tipsy was a thief who hid his stealing behind a near constant state of drunkeness. As most people wouldn't think that someone who drank as much as he did was capable of stealing, he was able to ply his trade rather well. The thing he couldn't do well though, was hide his love of the ladies, and many the time was he discovered in the bed of some Lord's wife, only to have to beat a hasty retreat out the window.

As you can see, the Baldur's Gate series taught me the benefit of spending the time to develop a back story, and a personality for your character. In my mind, Tipsy was this thief who could stumble around a tavern, picking pockets while appearing drunk, and who could jump on the tables and fight off several men at once, when they showed up to take him to task for bedding half the women in the town. The thief class didn't necessarily allow for this vision that I had, but when Baldur's Gate 2 came out, with its class variants, I found the one that was perfect for Tipsy: the Swashbuckler. The Swashbuckler let him wield a weapon in each hand, and gave him some extra combat abilities but with this, he lost the ability to backstab (a strike when concealed that did extra damage). In my vision of Tipsy, this worked, as he wasn't one to skulk in the shadows. In fact, he liked being caught too much to hide in the shadows, for the showman in him enjoyed the spectacle of being discovered.

Character creation aside, the game did everything right. The pacing was perfect, with just the right amount of side quests for those that wanted so stray from the path, but gentle nudging onto the main path when needed. Your party members were actual characters with personalities and conflicts with each other. You could fall in love and bed several of them (although not at the same time) if you so desired. Minsc, the ranger who, after getting knocked on the head, starts talking to Boo his space hamster, is one of the most memorable characters I've come across in any medium.

One of the great things about the game was how your character slowly progressed as they leveled up. When Baldur's Gate starts, your first level character is one that has to hide from dogs lest they be torn asunder. By the end of Shadows of Amn, you and your party have an amazing set of skills and talents that make you feel like a god, which, in a way you are, as you're a child of Bhaal, the God of Murder. If you then completed the expansion pack, Throne of Bhaal, you gain even more experience, climb even more levels and become some of the most powerful beings you'll see in gaming. I remember vividly using a combination of my stealth, trap setting abilities and my ability to use magical items to single-handedly kill a fellow child of Bhaal. Killing one guy by myself may not seem like a big deal, but this dude was half-dragon and once you got about halfway through the fight, he revealed his parentage in a rather spectacular fashion. So, technically I single-handedly killed a dragon, but I don't want to brag, Oh wait, yes I do.

There's so much about the game I remember, from rushing to the store the day I came back from a trip to Florida to get it so that I could roll up Tipsy before the next morning, to posting in-character on a BG2 message board with Andy. So much of what I love about gaming was represented in that game, that it makes me wistful to think about it again. The fact that I had a hell of a lot more time to devote to gaming back then probably helps too. Part of the reason that I'm enjoying Oblivion so much, is that it reminds me a lot of BG2. The openendedness is very similar, although it is done to a much greater degree in Oblivion, as well as the connection I have to my character. I'm also enjoying being able to talk to my fellow gamers about it, before we all fracture again and go back to Ghost Recon, Battlefield 2 or whatever the current game of the week is.

When I was in the store picking up Oblivion the other day, I saw BG2 and the expansion pack together for 20 bucks. I considered, and am still considering, picking it up and installing it on my laptop so that I can play it while watching TV. Two things are keeping me from doing this. One is that I have enough games to play as it is, between the DS and the 360 and I really don't need another one to blather on about in front of Linda. The second is that I don't want to play it and have my memories in any way diminished by the cold light of reality. Maybe it isn't as good as I remember it to be, and I'm not sure I want to give up the game I have in my head, and in my heart. 20 bucks is a small price for such a fantastic piece of gaming, but losing how I remember the game to be is a considerable expense and one I'm not sure I'm willing to risk paying.

That being said, for those that haven't played it yet, get the hell out there right now and do it. You won't be dissappointed.


Kojubat said...

I'm with you. BG2 was one of the best games ever made. I'm glad everyone else thought so, too, since it let Bioware go on to make some other really great games.

Like you, I want to go back and play it again. But I remember it being really really long, and I have a bunch of games I've never actually installed in the first place. The feeling usually subsides with a fond flow of nostalgia.

Did you ever get a chance to play Planescape: Torment, using the same engine (heavily modified)? Not as sprawling as BG2, but just as amazing an RPG.

I liked the Icewind Dale series, even though it was more combat based and there was no real personal involvement in the story.

I sort of miss the days of isometric sprite RPGs, I guess is what I'm getting at...

Scary said...

Great game!

Loved it to death! I'd play it for hours! Well, the hours would just slip by unnoticed for me!

Nice reminicing about that one! Good read mang!

k o w said...

I've been sitting on this game for 2 years now and haven't played it once. It's loaded on the hard drive yet I've never played it. So far it's a waste of $20.

suburbanjoe said...

I absolutely loved Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale as well. I have plans to write a post about each of them in the future.

Keg, you have to play this game when you get a chance.

Bones said...

I wasn't introduced to the Baldur's Gate series until Dark Alliance on PS2. I loved it though, as well as the sequel. Good ole hack and slash dungeon crawling.