The two most famous series to come out of the legendary Black Isle game studio are Fallout and Baldur's Gate. The former is set in a post apocalyptic world (think Mad Max) and the latter is set in Fearun of the Dungeons and Dragons series. Baldur's Gate 2, as you might have guessed, is the sequel to the former and Throne of Bhaal is the expansion to that sequel which concludes the series. BG 2 is set in a fantasy setting (LOTR if you're still confused) of dragons and swords and liches and space hamsters, and is accompanied by a large amount of quests, riddles, spellcasting and hacking, interesting and dimensional characters, and above all, an epic tale that takes you deep into the pantheon of the Gods. Baldur's Gate 2 is the de facto computer role playing game standard; few games, even by Black Isle itself, is as huge, deep, and as epic as Baldur's Gate 2.
Bhaal, the God of murder, having forseen his death, created scores of mortal offspring to inherit his divine essence. You are one such offspring, and have been raised in Candlekeep under a powerful mage, Gorion. However, you knew little about your divine heritage until Sarevok, one of your divine siblings, slaughters Gorion, leaving you to escape from Candlekeep. After solving a crisis in the city of Baldur's Gate, you confront, and slay your half-brother, sending him to the abyss. However, you are not the only Bhaalspawn in Faerun, and others are hunting you, hoping to use or kill you to exploit your godly heritage. You begin your tale in the wealthy merchant city of Amn.
As mentioned earlier, Baldur's Gate 2 is set in the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons. You start off by creating a character (or importing one if you've beaten BG 1), and awesomely, you have plenty of options of doing so. You can be a human, dwarf, half-elf, elf, half-orc, gnome, or a halfling, all of which have their own unique racial bonuses and class restrictions. You can choose from over a dozen classes, some of which have specialties too. You can be a barbarian, a monk, good/neutral/evil cleric, druid, sword saint, ranger, paladin, etc etc etc. If that's not enough, you can even dual class or multiclass for extra versatility. My character was a Swashbuckler, a combat oriented thief. From there, you can customize what weapons you want to be specialized at, how orderly or good/evil your character is, etc etc. You can choose from dozens of portraits, or import your own like I did. I give major props to Black Isle for allowing for this much character customization.
After creating your character, you can either start a game with an entire party of your own characters, or use the ones that are provided for you in the game. The former is great if you want to plow through the game, but many quests, dialogue interactions, and humor come from the latter. The game really shines in this regard. Characters are dimensional and unique, and some, like Minsc, are quite memorable. It's fun to see how some of the character get along...or piss off each other. Having two characters who hate each other in the same party could lead to disaster, or general hilarity. Their dialogue with the protagonist takes into account your reputation, past dialogue choices, and even who's in your current party. The game is structured such that you need a variety of classes to beat the game. There's no way a pure spellcaster or fighter class will get very far. You need wizards to dispel magic, you need fighters to soak up hits, and you need thieves to disarm the pletora (pletora) of traps scattered throughout the game. It is quite obvious that plenty of work has gone into this game and it shows. Did I mention that you can start a romance with some of your NPC characters?
Gameplay takes place in a top down viewpoint ala diablo/warcraft/starcraft/fallout. At most, you can have up to 6 people in your party, but you can summon plenty of other allies to help. Combat is otherwise very messy, but yet somewhat bland. Fighters really only strike with the same animation over and over, and spells really lack the flair as seen in Planescape Torment. Even when you're hasted, it just looks like your character is walking faster than actually running. You'll get the occasional cool gibs flying about, but it lacks the dynamism seen in Knights of the Old Republic, though I imagine the top down viewpoint limits that.
Combat gameplay is based on 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset, which isn't easy on beginners to the Dungeons and Dragons world. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you are one such beginner. Thus, there's quite a bit of a learning process for beginners, though experienced players to Black Isle games or Dungeons and Dragons shouldn't have too much of a problem. This means, of course, that complete knowledge of your character is daunting. New characters will be confused as to what thac0, armor class, spell memorization and saving throw works, and there's no real tutorial to guide you through the game. Being a fighter class eases it up a bit, as you can more or less hack and slash through the game, but spellcasters will have to wade through scores of spells and figure out how magic resistance and saves work. So if something like:
Range: 20 yards
Casting Time: 7
Area of Effect: 70' long cone
Saving Throw: Special
When this spell is cast, the wizard causes seven shimmering, multi
colored rays of light to flash from his hand. These include all colors
of the visible spectrum; each ray has a different power and purpose.
Any creature with fewer than 8 Hit Dice struck by a ray is blinded for
5 rounds, regardless of any other effect. Any creature that is caught
within the area of effect will be touched by one or two of the rays.
The effects of the rays are listed below.
Red - Inflicts 20 hit points of damage, save vs. spell for half
Orange - Inflicts 40 hit points of damage, save. vs. spell for half
Yellow - Inflicts 80 hit points of damage, save vs. spell for half
Green - save vs. poison or die, if survive suffer 20 points of poison
Blue - save vs. petrification or be turned to stone
Indigo - save vs. wands or be feebleminded
Violet - save vs. spell or be disintegrated
sends your eyeballs rolling, you'll be out of luck. This game requires that at least someone in your party has access to magical spells, or at least cleric spells. One way that the game has somewhat alleviated this complication by allowing you to pause the game and issue orders, so in the middle of battle you can take your time to choose which spells to cast and whatnot. There are also AI scripts you can assign, such as "go around healing the party", "go after spellcasters", "scout the area", or whatever. But of course, if you want something done right, you're better off doing it yourself.
The adventures in Baldur's Gate 2 are also worth praising. There are plenty of side quests and things to do, such as owning your own keep or planar sphere or doing evil deeds for a lich. Best of all, the game feels epic. It's pretty cool to go around killing dragons and crossing through planes. Some of the locales you'll go to are the Elven Tree of Life, the Drow underdark, and even under the sea. Not bad, though despite BG 2's being bigger than Planescape, that it really lacked the feeling of ambition. It gets better in Throne of Bhaal in which you become extremely powerful. It's fun to know that liches and dragons who used to punish you to hell in Shadows of Amn cower at your might in Throne of Bhaal. The story, as mentioned earlier, is also well written and the dialogue is amusing, and has that cheeky Black Isle charm that you'll probably know from earlier Black Isle games. Finally, there's a great musical score to the game to get your blood pumping.
Recommended System Requirements are:
PII 400 mhz
64 mb ram
Videocard with 8 mb ram
3.5 gb (about)
If your computer can use Windows XP, by default your overly surpass the system requirements. If it can use Windows 98, that's also a high probability.
There's actually quite a good mod community, though I haven't seen any mods that could substitute as an expansion to the game.
Oh, and do yourself a favor and patch the game when you can.
I feel that I should tell you that Baldur's Gate 2 is not a Hack and Slash, and it's not a Japanese RPG. It is not like Diablo nor Final Fantasy. You create your character, which can be male or female, and you define your character and his/her actions, not the game designer. You can be an evil son of a b!tch or a goody goody or neither. Finally, you can't hack and slash your way through everything. You try that with dragons and kangaxx and you're dead. As mentioned, mages and thieves are important, and you'll find that some battles will require the good ol' quickload button and some thinking and planning. It's rewarding when you find out how to defeat that sumb!tch Kangaxx, but when you do it's a Muhahaha moment. You'll also have to wade through text and story. If you hate that, stick with Diablo.
I bought the entire collection for $10 at Half Price books. It is $10 at amazon here:
And definitely worth the price. You cannot call yourself a C-RPG fan without beating Baldur's Gate 2. There's too much to miss if you don't
BG 2 and Throne of Bhaal is an overall superb game that pretty much defines the genre (actually, Black Isle games define that genre in general). To be honest, I didn't enjoy the experience as much as I did Fallout 2 or Planescape Torment, though I recognize that this is pretty much the definitive authority on CRPGs. Neither Fallout 2 nor Torment were as ambitious as BG 2, and few RPGs to date are on the same scale. Though it's daunting for new players (especially with 2nd edition rules), if don't mind the intimidating first steps, you won't regret playing. If you're ever feeling for slaying dragons and kobolds, get this game.