Version tested: PC
Would you take a chance on a roll of a die? That's every other moment in the life of an adventurer in the Forgotten Realms. To say that death is around every corner is not to repeat a cliché, it's to state a fact. It's a very, very wild world out there, with much to be found by those who dare step off the beaten track. Some things are wondrous, many are dangerous and more than a few are difficult to fully comprehend.
It's not a life that will suit everyone. While there is so much to see, much of what there is to see wants to kill, eat, flay, burn, curse, banish, petrify, electrocute or sacrifice you. Not everything gives you fair warning, and some of the ways I have died in the Enhanced Edition of Baldur's Gate 2 include unexpectedly walking into a room full of spellcasters who summoned a demon, unexpectedly walking into the tomb of an undead wizard, unexpectedly walking into the lair of a shadow dragon and unexpectedly walking into an exploding magical forest.
Do bear in mind that these and many other deaths were not signposted. Some could have been avoided if I'd had a particular combination of spells to hand in advance and, after reloading, several problems were indeed solved by adventurers returning after appropriate preparations. Other ends were entirely dependent on the roll of that die. A single failed saving throw can and will be the difference between life and death.
Baldur's Gate 2 was always a challenging game and revisiting it in its Enhanced Edition is both a curious and an exciting experience. Not only is it a game that offers players many dozens of ways to die, it still proudly wears a ruleset based on the eccentric, occasionally infuriating Second Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Don't forget: your saving throws and armour class should be low, while your stats and to-hit rolls should be high. But not your THAC0 or casting speeds. And while a bard can use a longbow, they can't use a composite longbow, got that? No, I have no idea why either.
I wouldn't want to subject anyone uninitiated to this strange and obsolete rulseset; it's akin to learning a dead language and not at all what you want to wrestle with while navigating such a dangerous world. But, inaccessible as it can be, and built around this almost arcane system of strange rules and poorly drawn boundaries, Baldur's Gate 2 remains a grand, gorgeous, remarkable and absolutely enormous adventure.
It's finely honed fantasy filigree replete with detail and, for all the complications of learning spell effects and rules (believe me, magical mastery is essential at higher levels), its accomplished writing and characterisation remain as sharp as ever. And as dark, too. In fact, looking at it now, Baldur's Gate 2 rather feels like a product of the end-of-the-century post-rock scene, so riddled is it with stories of loss, harm, self-doubt and suffering. It's about the pain of growing and change and it is perhaps the most emo thing BioWare has ever made.
It's beautiful in its sadness. In the Enhanced Edition's new high resolution, wide-screen format, Baldur's Gate 2 looks very handsome indeed. Ornate, pre-rendered backgrounds become impressive landscapes and a tidier UI is not unwelcome. Lessons seem to have been learned from the re-release of its predecessor, an occasionally unruly creature, and Baldur's Gate 2 features fewer bugs and fewer crashes.
However, it does occasionally reintroduce you to your desktop, and missing journal entries are conspicuous, particularly when they relate to content specifically made for the Enhanced Edition. One minor but particularly annoying quirk is characters who frequently speak over one another, even over themselves, interrupting their dialogue or sometimes repeating the same phrases over and over. During one fight with a disgruntled dwarven swordsmith, the belligerent blacksmith bellowed "by Moradin's hammer" over and over and over until I finally stove his head in with a flail (+4 to hit, bonus damage from fire, cold, acid and poison).
The new companions, most of them taken from the Enhanced Edition of the first Baldur's Gate, are generally welcome and suitable additions. They're integrated well, but they aren't as remarkable as the game's more established characters and the quality of their quests, dialogue and voice acting can sometimes vary. While they offer new experiences and new opportunities (some of which take place in very pretty locations), they're not going to replace your favourite friends. A new Black Pits horde mode is also included, for those who just want to fight more monsters using more spells that cause more damage. The Baldur's Gate games certainly never lacked a great variety of things to kill.
It's possible to lose a whole weekend and see only a fraction of what it has to offer. It's a game to gorge yourself on
For just about everybody, this new content will be the biggest influence on whether they buy this particular incarnation of Baldur's Gate 2. As was the case with the first Baldur's Gate, this re-release competes with the now ultra-cheap original game which modders have had over a decade to tweak. Fan-made mods, technical upgrades and a wealth of extra quests can all be found online, offered for free by communities that remain vibrant to this day.
Playing Baldur's Gate 2 once again, it's not difficult to see why this love endures. The game is just so big, so full, and this effort to add even more to it feels like another layer of icing on a luxurious cake, even if it's not the tastiest ingredient in the mix. It's possible to lose a whole weekend and see only a fraction of what this game has to offer. It's a game to gorge yourself on.
So, if you don't want to get your hands dirty and mod Baldur's Gate 2, but you've always wanted a version of the game that looks and plays better than the 13-year-old original, this is for you. If you're a die-hard fan, a completist who absolutely must try new companions and quests you won't find anywhere else, this is also for you. Otherwise, all those mods are worth serious consideration and a heavily modded version of Baldur's Gate 2 is probably going to be as stable as the Enhanced Edition is: a slightly rough ride that will mostly carry you through.
Whatever your choice, you're likely to lose whole weeks inching your way through dungeons in the dark, lost in a game with few frills from an era where the dialogue mattered much more than seeing every conversation carefully animated. Just be prepared for it to be difficult, dangerous, deadly - a relic of a less forgiving age.
It's hard, it's obtuse. It's big, it's beautiful. It's cruel, it's arbitrary. It's an adventure.
8 / 10