Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
|Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn|
|Publisher(s)||Black Isle Studios
|Distributor(s)||Wizards of the Coast|
|Designer(s)||James Ohlen (Director of Writing and Design; Lead Designer)
Kevin Martens (Lead Designer)
|Genre(s)||Computer role-playing game|
|Mode(s)||Single player, Multiplayer|
|Distribution||4 CD-ROMs, 1 DVD-ROM, download|
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn is a computer role-playing game developed by BioWare and published by Black Isle Studios. It is the sequel to Baldur's Gate, and was released for Microsoft Windows in September 2000. Like Baldur's Gate, the game is set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting and is based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition rule set. The game uses BioWare's Infinity Engine, which was used in Baldur's Gate and other Black Isle games, including Planescape: Torment and the Icewind Dale series.
Baldur's Gate II opens shortly after the events of Baldur's Gate and continues the story of the protagonist, Gorion's Ward, whose unique heritage has now gained him or her the attention of Jon Irenicus. The game's plot revolves around the protagonist's encounters with Irenicus, and is set south of the events in Baldur's Gate in the country of Amn, mainly in and around the city of Athkatla.
The game received critical acclaim upon its release; GameSpy, GameSpot, and IGN awarded Baldur's Gate II their "Role-Playing Game of the Year" awards for 2000, and the game has sold more than two million units. An expansion pack, entitled Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, was released on June 21, 2001. Besides adding a large dungeon and enhancements to the game, it concluded the Child of Bhaal saga. Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition, an enhanced version of Baldur's Gate II, was announced on March 15, 2012 and released on November 15, 2013.
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition computer role-playing game. The central quest of the game consists of about sixty hours of play, while the full game, including all side quests, totals around 300 hours. The player controls a party of up to six characters, one of whom is the protagonist; if the latter dies, a saved-game must be loaded, or a new game begun. The game begins with character creation, where, through a series of configuration screens, the player creates a player character protagonist, choosing such things as class, ability scores, appearance and alignment. Alternatively, an existing character from Baldur's Gate or Tales of the Sword Coast can be imported. Once in the game world, the player may recruit certain non-player characters (NPCs) to travel with him or her, though only five may do so at a time; depending on who is present in the group, bickering, romance, and side quests can result. NPCs in the party often converse with the player or with one another, and at times interject into the player's conversations with others.
The game is played from an isometric perspective, and the screen, which does not need to remain centered on the protagonist, can be scrolled with the mouse or the keyboard. Areas are revealed as they are explored by the player's characters. A fog of war effect hides explored areas when the player's characters move away from them. The player can also change the formation in which the party moves. Clicking an area exit, such as a doorway or staircase, causes another area to be loaded. Clicking on the edge of an outside area causes the party to travel there; the game then presents the player with the World Map, from which the player may select a destination.
The player interacts with characters and objects by clicking on them. Clicking on the ground causes the player's selected characters to move. The gameplay, though in real-time, can be paused, whereupon commands may be issued to controllable characters, who will attempt to execute them when the game is unpaused. The game can also be set to pause automatically at certain times. Dialogue is started by NPCs at certain scripted times, or by the player's clicking on NPCs who are not immediately hostile. When speaking to an NPC, the player must often choose what to say from a list of responses. Dialogue may lead to quests or important information. When the player clicks on a hostile being, the currently selected characters will advance to attack it. Information about characters, creatures, items, and buildings in the game environment is shown on a tool tip, which appears when the mouse pointer is held over game elements.
When a character in the group gains the necessary experience points, he or she gains a level. Experience points are awarded for certain player actions, such as killing enemies or completing quests. The party also has a reputation, which is affected by the player's moral actions, and which, along with the party leader's charisma attribute, influences how NPCs in the game world react to the player. The characters in the party will also complain if the party's reputation conflicts with their alignment. Resting heals the characters in the party and refreshes those who are fatigued; also, resting allows a character to memorize spells. The game contains over 300 spells available for memorization. With the exception of sorcerers, magic-users must memorize spells before they can be cast. Spell-casting takes time and may be disrupted by attacks or other spells.
The player can access sub-screens through the interface: area and world maps; the journal, which tracks important information, such as quests and the game's plot; the inventory page, which is used to manage and equip items; the record screen, which is used to view information about, as well as level up, characters in the party; the mage book and priest scroll screens, where spells can be inspected and memorized; and the options screen, where settings may be altered, saved-games loaded, or the game saved or quit.
Classes and kits
During character creation, the player chooses a class: fighter, ranger, paladin, thief, bard, mage, cleric, druid, barbarian, monk, or sorcerer; the last three are new for the sequel. Different classes have different special abilities and restrictions; a thief character, for instance, can find and remove traps, but thieves have limitations on which weapons and armor they may use, and cannot be of lawful good alignment. Most classes also have a subset of kits, or specializations within a class, from which to choose. Kits have special advantages and usually, disadvantages; one of the kits of the paladin class, the cavalier, for example, specializes in fighting monsters such as dragons and demons, but cannot use missile weapons. At some point in the game, the player may join or take over a stronghold. The type of stronghold is determined by the protagonist's class.
The game also has a multiplayer mode, in which up to six human players can adventure through the game, controlling player-made characters as well as recruited NPCs. The content of the game is otherwise the same, and one of the players controls the protagonist.
The Forgotten Realms, the high fantasy campaign setting in which Baldur's Gate II is set, is a fictional world similar to a medieval Earth, but with its own peoples, geography, and history. In the Realms, as its inhabitants call it, fantastic creatures and magic are common.
Baldur's Gate II takes place mainly in Amn, a country on the subcontinent of Faerûn. This country, known commonly as the Merchant Kingdom, lies south of Baldur's Gate; wealth and trade are the chief concerns of the region. The capital city of Athkatla, around which a fair portion of the game revolves, is the most important in Amn, and is ruled by the anonymous Council of Six. The local thieves' guild, the Shadow Thieves, also has considerable power. The group, which operates all along the Sword Coast, is based in Athkatla. Another powerful organization in Amn are the Cowled Wizards, who regulate the use of magic in the region. The Shadow Thieves, the Cowled Wizards, and the Harpers, a semi-secret conglomeration of good organizations, all factor prominently into the story and provide side quests.
Besides Athkatla, other places the player will pass through include: an island, on which stands both the port town of Brynnlaw and the asylum Spellhold; the Underdark; the city of Suldanessellar; and the Astral Plane. There are also other places, which may be explored: the Umar Hills, where people have been disappearing; a temple ruins, fallen under the shadow of the Shade Lord; the de'Arnise Keep, home of the de'Arnises but recently overrun by trolls; the town of Trademeet, under attack by animals; a druid grove connected to Trademeet's woes; the Windspear Hills, where the player becomes entangled in the intrigues of Firkraag, a dragon; the underwater Sahuagin city; and the Planar Prison.
Baldur's Gate II is set in the year 1369 DR (Dale Reckoning), and thus takes place not long after the Time of Troubles (1358 DR), when the Tablets of Fate, powerful magic items which maintain a balance between good and evil, were stolen. Lord Ao, the Overdeity, forced the gods to become mortal until the Tablets were found; some gods died while in this mortal state.
Bhaal, the God of Murder, was one such god, slain by an adventurer named Cyric, who himself became a god. But Bhaal foresaw his destruction, and walked the land before the other gods. He left behind him "a score of mortal progeny," whose later deaths, when they were slain by heroes, would fuel his rebirth. The game's protagonist is one of these offspring; but, through the choices of the player, may be either good or evil. The character grew up in the library fortress of Candlekeep, watched over by the mage Gorion. Imoen, who grew up there as well, became a close friend. The story of the first Baldur's Gate follows their adventure along the Sword Coast, where the hero learns of their heritage, and defeats their half-brother Sarevok, a fellow child of Bhaal.
Some notable characters in Shadows of Amn include: Gaelan Bayle, who offers the party the help of the Shadow Thieves; Aran Linvail, the leader of the Shadow Thieves; Saemon Havarian, who sails the party to an island; Adalon, a silver dragon whose eggs have been stolen and given to drow; Elhan; and Queen Ellesime, the ruler of Suldanessellar. Jon Irenicus and his sister Bodhi are the chief antagonists, with Irenicus the game's main villain. Drizzt Do'Urden also makes an appearance; and if the player solicits his aid, he and his companions will later help the player.
In Baldur's Gate II, several characters from the first game reappear, of which the following can join the player's party: Imoen, who grew up with the protagonist in Candlekeep; Jaheira, who, with her husband Khalid, was a friend of Gorion's; Minsc, a warrior who carries with him a hamster named Boo; Edwin, a Red Wizard of Thay; and Viconia, a dark elf cleric. There are also many new NPCs who may join the party: Aerie, a winged elf who has lost her wings and was sold to the circus by slavers at a young age; Keldorn, an older paladin and a powerful and respected member of the Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart; Mazzy, an honorable halfling fighter and "the nearest thing to a paladin that a halfling can aspire to"; Nalia, who is of the upper class, but, though conscious of class distinction, tries to help those less fortunate than herself; Valygar, who is of a family noted for its talented magic-users, but hates the art; Anomen, a member of the Most Noble Order of the Radiant Heart, and whose wish is to become a full knight; Cernd, a druid; Haer'Dalis, a tiefling bard and one of the actors of an acting troupe; Jan, a gnome, of the Jansen family; Yoshimo, a thief from the land of Kara-Tur; and Korgan, an evil dwarven fighter.
Shortly after the events of Baldur's Gate, the hero and companions are overcome and taken captive. When the game opens, the hero awakens in a cage, and is shortly thereafter experimented upon by a wizard named Jon Irenicus. Irenicus is distracted as his complex is attacked by thieves, and disappears to fight them. The hero uses this opportunity to escape from the complex with a few other companions, including Imoen, and emerges into the city of Athkatla. As soon as the hero and his party have entered the city proper, they see Irenicus fighting off some of his attackers. After he has destroyed his attackers, he notices the hero and his companions. An argument ensues, during which Imoen angrily attacks Irenicus using magic. Immediately Cowled Wizards appear, after a fight arrest both Irenicus and Imoen for the unsanctioned use of magic, and teleport both of them away.
In the slums of Athkatla, a man named Gaelan Bayle offers the party the help of a powerful organization, who can find Imoen or Irenicus for the large sum of 20,000 gold pieces. The party is approached by and offered the help of another rival guild headed by Bodhi; it is the player's choice whom to side with.
Imoen and Irenicus are removed to an asylum called Spellhold situated on an island. Irenicus soon breaks his bonds and prepares to experiment on Imoen. In Athkatla, the party raises the money necessary and receives assistance from whichever organization it has decided to work with, and gains passage to the island on a ship sailed by Saemon Havarian. The heroes enter Spellhold, but are captured by Irenicus, who has taken control of the prison and had planned all along to bring the protagonist there. Irenicus subjects the protagonist to a ritual which takes the protagonist's soul. Imoen, who is revealed to also be a Child of Bhaal, has already been subjected to Irenicus's ritual, and her soul has gone to Irenicus's sister Bodhi. Bodhi then abandons the party to the maze beneath Spellhold so she may hunt them. When they face her, the now soulless protagonist loses self-control and transforms into a creature called the Slayer, one of the avatar forms of Bhaal, which scares off Bodhi. The hero returns to their normal self, and the party battles Irenicus, forcing him to retreat. The party follows, and reaches the surface via the Underdark.
Upon reaching the surface, the party encounters the army of the elven city of Suldanessellar. The elves cannot return to the city, for Irenicus has magically hidden it. To gain access to it, the party secures the Rhynn Lanthorn from Bodhi, who has stolen the artifact; upon Bodhi's death, Imoen's soul is restored. The Rhynn Lanthorn lights the way to Suldanessellar, which has been invaded by Irenicus and his minions. The party proceeds through the city and, at the Tree of Life, learns Irenicus is draining the power of the Tree, which will doom Suldanessellar. The heroes defeat him, but because Irenicus still has the protagonist's soul, they and the rest of the party, are dragged into Hell with the wizard. When they defeat Irenicus, they return to life, and are honored by the elves of Suldanessellar.
Baldur's Gate II was developed by BioWare and published by Black Isle Studios and released for Windows in September 2000. The game uses the same Infinity Engine as Baldur's Gate. BioWare dedicated the game to Daniel Walker, the company's second employee, who died in 1999.
Baldur's Gate was the first role-playing game designed by BioWare, and they applied what they learned in the process to Baldur's Gate II. They also felt they did not have enough time to reach their design goals with the first game, due to developing both the content of the game and the Infinity Engine at the same time. In Baldur's Gate II, it was determined that the designers should be allowed "adequate time to allow the game to reach its full potential." Throughout its development, they focused "on ensuring that Baldur's Gate II is significantly better than Baldur's Gate in every way possible, and to make it appeal not only to fans of the original game but also to make it accessible to new fans who never played the original game."
Development of Baldur's Gate II began in January 1999. From the suggestions of fans on message boards and newsgroups, reviews of Baldur's Gate, and internal suggestions, a list of constructive criticism was compiled; from this list, a slightly shorter one of features to be added to the game was made. Some of the items on this list were: support for higher resolutions, such as 800 by 600 pixels and above; 3D support; non-pausing dialogue in multiplayer; drop off panels in the interface; character kits; dual-wielding of weapons; a streamlined journal and annotatable map; deathmatch; and inclusion of famous AD&D monsters such as the dragon. Not many features had to be cut, and they kept as many as they could. Because of the engine's mature state of development, most features were fairly easy to add. Ben Smedstad, the producer of the game, said, "The engine was up and running since day one, which is a huge morale booster. When a monster is complete, we put it into the 'override' directory and it appears in the game! This is a huge change from working on the original." Late in the project, deathmatch was removed, while non-pausing dialogue, which proved "the most problematic feature", was removed early on before being reintroduced in early 2000.
To avoid some of the design mistakes made in Baldur's Gate, guidelines were drawn up for each department; the level designers had the longest set of guidelines. These lists continually changed and evolved as the development progressed. The main design guidelines for the entire project were that the players should feel like their actions have an effect on the game world, and good versus evil options should be available depending on which path the player takes. Guidelines for the story were to keep the focus on the player's character, keep the player updated on the activities on the game's villain, add a significant plot twist, and make the ending of the game open enough so that there would be room for more sequels. Environment guidelines were to break the game into chapters, make some locations key to the central plot, keep areas interesting and easy to quickly navigate, and showcase areas before they were available to explore to capture player interest. For the game systems, guidelines focused on character customization and a well-crafted reward system. The writing guidelines were concerned mainly with dialogue: limiting the number of sentences NPCs spoke at a time, keeping the number of player response choices at three as often as possible, avoiding profanity and accents, and having a small set of random dialogue for unimportant NPCs. Many early design decisions did not follow the guidelines, and programming constraints were not always followed by other departments, such as design and art, leading to slowdowns in some parts of the game that were difficult or impossible to fix.
The process for creating levels was long and complicated. It began with the creation of a general layout of the area to be built by designers. They would pass this concept map to the artists, who added models to it, beginning with the largest objects and ending with small items such as individual pieces of furniture. After everything was put in place by the art team, designers took over again, inserting graphical enhancements, effects, and collision detection code. With a functional level, creatures, items, traps, and triggers were added last, then scripts were written for everything to control behavior. The team found it quite difficult to keep track of changes made to levels, and there were sometimes communication problems between different parts of the team, such as the artists and designers, resulting in inconsistencies between their work. Ray Muzyka, the co-executive producer, wrote, "We learned to make sure all elements of the team are talking to each other and working as a group, rather than as a bunch of individuals!" They did feel they had done a good job automating the level creation process, as levels were rapidly designed. "A designer," wrote Muzyka, "might submit a level description and receive it, art complete, a month later ready for scripting, but missing some key features (almost always a door). We would then have to determine whether the omission was important enough to have the art piece redone, or whether we could simply tweak the design of the level to fit the finished art."
During the game's development, a quality assurance department was added to BioWare, and the game's publishers lent their assistance in testing. Muzyka said, "because of its immense size, Baldur's Gate II was a tester's nightmare," and "this was compounded by the fact that we didn't do enough testing as areas were being developed." The game contained about 290 quests, each of which had to be tested in both single player and multiplayer modes. BioWare used a method, introduced to them by Feargus Urquhart, Douglas Avery, and Chris Parker of Black Isle Studios, in which the game's quests were listed on white-boards, with a cross placed beside each quest. Pairs consisting of a developer and a tester were allotted each a quest, and upon their believing the quest to be stable, its cross was deleted.
In the final days of working on BG2 there was a strangely serene feeling in the office. We didn't experience the headlong panic that is sometimes prevalent while finishing a game, but we certainly did experience considerable stress as we built 21 final candidates in 3 days. After a few long nights with the whole team playing the game over and over again, we reached a point where we built a good final candidate. Then it was sent to the duplicators!
Baldur's Gate II went gold on September 14, 2000; and was released in North America on September 24, 2000, and in Europe on September 29, 2000. A Collector's Edition was also released. It included the game, an additional CD, which contained unique armor and weapons and music from the soundtrack, a cloth map, eight character trading cards, and a Black Isle Studios writing tablet. According to BioWare, the game had sold over two million units by February 2008.
An expansion pack for Shadows of Amn, entitled Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, also developed by BioWare and published by Black Isle, was released on June 21, 2001. Throne of Bhaal added a variety of features to the base game: a new dungeon called Watcher's Keep; new features and enhancements, such as the Wild Mage character class; a higher experience point cap and high-level class abilities; and new spells, such as Wish, Bigby's Crushing Hand, and Dragon's Breath. Throne of Bhaal also takes the protagonist's history further, and, being the final chapter, concludes the Baldur's Gate saga. Throne of Bhaal was well received; it won the "PC Role-Playing" award at the 2002 Interactive Achievement Awards and has a Metacritic score of 88.
Shadows of Amn was re-released, along with its expansion, Throne of Bhaal, as Baldur's Gate II: The Collection in 2003. In 2004, they were bundled with the original Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale as Black Isle Compilation Part Two. In 2006, they were re-released with Baldur's Gate and Tales of the Sword Coast as Baldur's Gate: 4 in 1 Boxset. They were also included in The Forgotten Realms Deluxe Edition, and Ultimate Dungeons & Dragons. In November 2010, Baldur's Gate II Complete was released in digital format on GOG.com. This version includes both Shadows of Amn and the Throne of Bhaal expansion pack. Bundled with it are the game manuals in PDF format, high definition wallpapers, artwork, avatars, and the soundtracks of Shadows of Amn and Throne of Bhaal.
On March 15, 2012, Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition was announced. Developed by Overhaul Games, it is an enhanced version of Baldur's Gate II, and will use an updated version of the Infinity Engine. The game was released on November 15, 2013.
Baldur's Gate II met with worldwide critical acclaim upon its release, and Metacritic lists it as the sixth highest-scoring PC game on the site as of April 15, 2012. GameSpot said that, while it is a very long game, its fine points are what make it so great, and said the game was in a class by itself. IGN also called the game incomparable and peerless. GameSpot later called the game "a towering achievement in the history of role-playing games." Computer Gaming World's reviewer felt though the game was worthy being called the best game of the year, and as good as games such as Fallout, Planescape: Torment, and Betrayal at Krondor, "I won't trap myself with the 'best RPG ever' phrase." He also felt the game's story was somewhere between Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale in terms of depth. In a 2007 Gamasutra article on the "Platinum and Modern Ages" of computer role-playing games (CRPGs), Matt Barton noted contemporary reviewers' universal praise for the game, and said, "I consider it the finest CRPG ever designed." According to GameSpy, "this is easily one of the finest CRPGs ever made and an experience that no RPG fan should miss".
Baldur's Gate II's gameplay was called "addicting" by GamePro. RPGamer said that while the game was generally the same as the original Baldur's Gate, the combat was much improved, with less frustration and more strategic options. Computer Gaming World agreed, saying players would put more consideration into designing and implementing combat plans. Some reviewers, however, felt the non-player characters in the game were not as powerful as player-made characters. GameSpy said the game is much more difficult than Baldur's Gate, and requires more strategy and planning than the original does. GameSpot felt the opening level of the game "falls flat," but that it gets much better once the player reaches Athkatla. IGN also noted that the introductory section of the game, while good, was nowhere near as fun as the adventures in Athkatla.
The game's plot was met positively by most reviewers, with GameSpy calling it "epic". IGN praised the clarity of the quests and ease of moving from one goal to the next. RPGamer's reviewer, on the other hand, felt the plot was lackluster, but approved of the side quests, which he said could turn into "minor epics" of their own.
The game's graphics were well received. GamePro praised them, saying, "the backdrops are stunning and the spell effects are impressive". IGN echoed this statement, calling the difference between Baldur's Gate and Shadows of Amn "like looking at a still oil painting, and then turning to see the scene in living motion on a big screen TV." GameSpot thought both the pre-rendered backgrounds and the animations for characters and monsters were well done. FiringSquad said the game's artwork surpassed that of Planescape: Torment, and called the background artwork "fantastic." FiringSquad also praised the voice acting of Baldur's Gate II, saying, "Characters sound alive and vivacious (or depressed, crazy—whatever suits them)" and adding that the quality of the voices drew the player more deeply into the game. IGN called the voice acting "outstanding" and said the variety of personalities would cause players to become "attached" to the characters, only noting with disapproval the dearth of new voices for the player's protagonist. Reviewers generally found the game's music to be well-done; though RPGamer felt it was "inoffensive but unimpressive."
Gameplanet criticized the game's poor support for online multiplayer, saying it was "unstable and quite frustrating." Jakub Wojnarowicz of FiringSquad felt the lack of communication between players in combat during online games was problematic, but that Local Area Network play would be more satisfying. PC Zone said multiplayer was as unimpressive as it had been in the first game in the series, and said the game needed multiplayer maps. IGN, however, felt multiplayer play was solidly implemented and fun. Criticism was also directed at bugs in the game, such as frequent crashes when trying to access certain locations. According to Tim McConnaughy from GameSpy, Baldur's Gate II is "not 100% stable." GameSpot noted that the game's loading times were somewhat long and that the game crashed on occasion, but said these problems are not significant. IGN, though noting that the game slowed down during combat when a lot of animations were happening simultaneously due to spells or "dazzling backgrounds", said there were almost no other technical problems. GameSpot also felt the small number of character portraits to choose from was a disappointment, and was displeased that the game reused special effects, audio, and graphics from the first game.
Baldur's Gate II was inducted into GameSpot's "Greatest Games of All Time" list and won their Readers' Choice Game of the Year award for 2000. It received three "Gaming Globe" awards from Eurogamer in 2001: Best Game, Best Art Direction, and Best Male Supporting Character (for Minsc). GameSpy, GameSpot, and IGN all awarded Baldur's Gate II their "Role-Playing Game of the Year" awards in 2000. The game won the "Character or Story Development" award at the 2001 Interactive Achievement Awards, and was also nominated for "Game of the Year," "Game Play Engineering," "PC Game of the Year," and "PC Role-Playing." IGN placed it at No. 25 on their 2005 "Top 100 Games of All Time" list. In 2006, though not ranking in the top five games, it earned an "honorable mention" in Gamasutra's Quantum Leap Awards. In 2009, Game Informer put Baldur's Gate II at No. 88 on their list of "The Top 200 Games of All Time," calling it "the best Dungeons & Dragons game ever made." This is up one place from their top 100 list in 2001. At the end of 2009, Baldur's Gate II, though not quite making the Top 12 list, received an honorable mention in Gamasutra's Game of the Decade, where readers voted for their best game of the 2000s. In 2010, on IGN's Top 25 Modern PC Games, Baldur's Gate II was ranked No. 2.
There is a novelization of the game by Philip Athans. Published in 2000 by Wizards of the Coast, it focuses solely on Abdel, the last of the Bhaalspawn. The novel is the second in the series; the first, also by Athans, is a novelization of Baldur's Gate, and the third, by Drew Karpyshyn, of the Throne of Bhaal expansion.
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