The maxim that newer is better dominates almost all parts of modern culture, especially when it comes to anything intimately connected with the world of technology. It’s no surprise then that gamers love new things, whether it’s the latest piece of hardware that will push up framerates, or the newest entry into a beloved series.
In this mad rush towards the next big thing it’s sometimes far too easy to dismiss and forget about the great creations of the past, the result of an implicit — and sometimes explicit — belief that a game that received a 10/10 review in 2000 couldn’t possibly be as good as one that received the same score in 2017.
This assumption couldn’t be more wrong; and thanks to, ironically, advances in technology, it’s now easier than ever to see just how wrong it is. Recent years have seen the re-release of old blockbuster PC and console games on iOS and Android devices, as well as for newer consoles and desktop operating systems.
And so while I will spend most of my time here writing about new games, I will also from time to time take a step back to give some of the old classics the attention they deserve. These retrospectives will focus on great games from the past that can be enjoyed on modern hardware with minimum fuss.
The subject of this week’s retrospective is Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, released in 2000. It’s the game that really put developer BioWare on the map, and it’s easy to see why: BG2 isn’t just one of the best roleplaying games (RPG) of all time, it’s without a doubt one of the best games of all time, period.
Played from an isometric perspective, and utilising the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition ruleset, BG2 features an epic main quest and a wide variety of side-quests that can easily take 200 hours to complete.
One of the first things to strike you when playing it again after a long time (or for the first time) is amount of freedom you’re given, whether it’s in terms of character creation and development, weapon and armour use, party composition or ways to resolve quests, to mention just a few examples.
You really get the sense that BioWare tried to be as true as possible to the spirit of tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, encouraging players to engage in actual roleplaying, instead of playing it in the same way as they would an action game that happens to have some roleplaying elements.
The aforementioned freedom is combined with the imposition of certain strictures that are rare in modern RPGs. Quests can have time limits — if someone runs up to you and begs for help rescuing someone in distress, you have to go to their aid within a certain amount of in-game time. Contrast this with the approach taken by most other RPGs these days, which seem to forego any attempt at a real sense of in-game time; in these games you could have a little boy begging you to rescue his mother from a group of bandits, and if you were to then spend 40 years of in-game time improving your armouring skills and collecting wild mushrooms, you’ll still find the poor woman and the group of bandits dutifully waiting for you. Nobody, the child included, would of course have aged a day in all this time.
This is just one aspect that contributed to a sense of realness in BG2 that’s missing from a lot of later games, despite the dated technology behind it. It’s realness that comes not from trying to have the most photorealistic graphics, but from little details like the above one, details that make you feel as if you truly are inhabiting a real world and spending time with real people, however fantastical the setting or characters involved may be.
The brilliant writing, in terms of both plot and characterisation, also plays a big role. This is the game that established BioWare’s reputation for great stories and character interaction, and it’s easy to see why. If you don’t already love Minsc and Boo, you soon will, trust me.
So if it’s been a few years since you’ve played BG2, or if you’ve never experienced its brilliance, do yourself a favour and (re-)experience one of the best games ever made.
Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition is available on PC, Mac, Android and iOS.