Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
After a long and exciting struggle you finally defeated the evil Sarevok. Now you awake to find yourself imprisoned and being subjected to tortures in the dungeons of an equally sinister and more powerful mage, John Irenicus. You have little recollection of how you have ended up in this spot, but when you are released from your cell by Imoen, whom you grew up with in Candlekeep, you must fight your way to freedom driven by a desire for revenge and a need for answers.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Once again your characters' disturbing origins have placed them in harm's way, forcing them into another great adventure. You can play this game by creating a completely new character, which is tempting given the new character classes, or the more loyal players can continue on with their original Baldur’s Gate characters by importing them into the new game. Once again you will face challenges that are most easily conquered with a full party of six characters. As with the original, in Shadows of Amn you can choose to play in multiplayer mode with up to five other people. You can also build and control your own party by creating a multiplayer game and set up your own group of customized characters. However, my recommendation would be to leave plenty of room for the NPCs you can pick up throughout the game. It is essential to have a mix of magic and might, and one good thief or part thief is absolutely necessary in a successful party.
The character class options have increased so much that it is almost impossible to play the game only once because it is hard to be satisfied with trying only one of these new classes. All of the old classes remain and most of them now have three specialty kits you can choose from. They have also added the classes of Barbarian, Sorcerer, and Monk, all of which are excellent options. They have added half-orc to the race list, an excellent choice -- especially if you need a powerful fighter. The NPC interactions have improved leaps and bounds over the original game. The pre-generated characters you can pick up in the game have a much higher level of interaction and a more diverse group of personalities. Each of these characters have specific quests related to them, making it very tempting to stick with a single player game so you can enjoy the quests and the depth of the characters. In addition, the past activities of the characters you pick up effect the way others react to you and add even more spice to the savory flavor of the game.
Movement has improved in that characters in a party will move out of the way of other characters, requiring less play time spent trying to straighten out your party and fewer instances of one character wandering down an unexplored hallway in an effort to get around the rest of the party. The real time combat is excellent and the spell casting is faster, which gives you the opportunity to try out many of the excellent new spells in the game. Many of the old spells have been refined as well. Since your characters start this game at a higher level, the enemies you face tend to be considerably stronger than those in the previous game, though there are still many lower level creatures for you to practice hacking, slashing, and spell casting on.
There are fewer trivial, fetch and carry type quests in Shadows of Amn. Most of the quests are substantial and require a great deal of focused adventuring to complete. One of the best improvements made in this sequel was the inclusion of a reasonably straightforward and easy to read quest log making it possible to keep track of what you have done and what you need to do without scrolling through tons of poorly organized journal entries.
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn boasts a beautiful array of graphics. It runs smoothly and easily even in high intensity combat scenes. They use the same overhead viewpoint as was used in the first game, but the scrolling between screens is more fluid so you spend less time waiting for the characters to catch up.
They also made vast improvements in the diversity of different areas. In Shadows of Amn, areas are added to your map only when you receive a quest sending you there. Each unique new area is a delight to discover and are somewhat more restrictive, which results in less senseless wandering and more goal accomplishing. You may miss the fancy, overdone movie sequences as they have been done consistent with the graphics of the game itself. However, I have found that it makes the rest of the game better in that I didn’t find myself longing for better game graphics each time there was a movie break. Some of the movie sequences can get frustrating, especially if you play through more than once as you cannot skip them (mostly the opening movie), but it is a small price to pay.
The music in Shadows of Amn is consistently pleasant and complimentary to the gameplay. However, I found that I usually wound up turning it down to be dim background music in favor of the wonderful environmental sound effects and surprisingly entertaining commentary from some of the NPCs in the party. You can control most of the audio, which allows you to minimize the character responses when you select them or command them to move -- the one audio effect that could otherwise be annoying.
Minimum System Requirements: PII 233 or equivalent, Windows 95/98, 32 MB RAM, 800 MB Hard Drive Space, 4x CD-ROM drive, DirectX certified sound card, 4MB DirectX certified video card, and a mouse.
The manual for Shadows of Amn, though almost as big as some novels, is helpful enough to make up for its burden. The skill charts, race descriptions, and class lists are all very helpful in designing character(s). The majority of the manual consists of spell descriptions, which can seem excessive, but are invaluable when you need to figure out what spell is best to counter one you find especially vexing. It also contains several debatably useful items such as a list of NPCs you can pick up in the game. Overall, it is an irreplaceable tool for creating characters, but may or may not prove useful for you in the course of the game itself.
Not only does this game live up to its extraordinary predecessor, it surpasses it in many ways. The storyline drives on, keeping with the plot of the original, but with enough new twists to keep it engaging. Though they are still using essentially the same engine, the improvements they have made are enough to keep this game tromping remorselessly over its competition. No roleplaying gamer should miss out on this one and many other gamers might be surprised at how addicting this masterfully created world can be.
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