I rarely apply superlatives to my diversions (or foodstuffs) because categories like “best” or “favorite” tend to be transitory and ever mutable. Today’s trash is tomorrow’s treasure and vice versa. I have passionately fond memories about games you couldn’t pay me to boot up again, viagra dosage and have wrested no small measure of after-the-fact joy from titles I’d originally dismissed out of hand.
Constancy of personal tastes is a myth, orthopedist which is why any of my pronouncements of extreme devotion or exceptional quality tend to be prefixed or appended with qualifiers like “one of my” or “currently.” That said, audiologist there is one game which does sit on top of the heap, free of qualifiers or back-handed points of clarification.
That game is Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, a game I in which I’ve racked up hundreds upon hundreds of hours or playtime yet still enthusiastically return to on a regular basis. Developed by Bioware (in conjunction with the legendary Black Isle Studios) and released in the autumn of 2000, the game was the sequel to a well-received isometric take on AD&D-modeled role-playing.
Where the first Baldur’s Gate was a sprawling and rather unfocused mess which emphasized the terrifying lethality of a low-level campaign, the follow-up was an astounding polished product which drew upon the more epic aspects of system and setting. The “real time” combat was goosed by the addition of scores of new spells, deadlier enemies, and wide selection of player subclasses that offered new skillsets while offsetting the vanilla nature of 2nd edition AD&D’s core rules. Battles resolved themselves as a sophisticated dance of measures-countermeasures-countercountermeasures where keen tactical thinking and threat prioritization made the difference between victory and a mandatory re-load. (PROTIP: Always drop enemy spellcasters first. Always.)
NPC characterization and narrative elements also made quantum leaps forward with BG2, under the wise plan of “slightly less, but universally better.” Instead of the host of forgettable (and inexplicably paired) potential party members which haunted the prerendered backdrops of BG1, the sequel concentrated on a smaller pool of better developed recruits — each with a specific sidequest and incidental/contextual dialogue.
And that’s not mentioning the much adored “romance” option — which has since become a Bioware staple — which were, in hindsight, either kind of creepy (for male PCs) or numbingly bland (for female PCs).
Though I really didn’t care much for the tale of a dead god’s heirs and stolen souls and vampires and some other convoluted nonsense, Baldur’s Gate II succeeded in capturing everything I once loved about the pen-and-paper version of AD&D while shunting off the most tedious aspects of the system to the care of the AI. There are plenty of great “hack, slash ‘n’ loot” games out there, but none that offer the much tactical depth, variety, or emotional investment that BG2 provided. (Bioware did attempt to revisit the old magic with Dragon Age: Origins in recent years, but the sense of scale vanished in the murk of next-gen visuals. Denerim couldn’t hold a candle to the City of Amn when it came to sheer scope and potential opportunities for loot-rich mischief-making.)
For all the nights and weekends I splurged on marathon BG2 sessions back in the day, I never grew tired of the game or its addictive quest for that one additional character level or game-changing article of loot. It has been installed on every machine I’ve owned from my original Celeron II eMachine to the Acer SuperMightyMegaCore desktop I currently use at home. Come the first heat wave of the year — when the the downstairs turns into an infernal suffocation chamber — I retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of the bedroom and commence to generating a new character (monk or cavalier, because “direct damage plus” is how I roll, baby) for another extended crusade for loot, love, and justice (but mostly loot).
Though my interest did wane a bit during the height of the Neverwinter Nights days and the game’s stream of quality fan-made content, it was rekindled with a vengeance by the discovery of a BG2 “bridge” mod which imported all the original Baldur’s Gate‘s assets into the sequel’s improved game engine (and display options) to create a (more or less) seamless “mega-game” experience.
Carpal-tunnel-a-go-go, mutherfunkers! This cavalier is going vorpal!