I’ll admit it, I never really got much into the first Baldur’s Gate — it had a nice start, but felt meandering after that and lost me. But where the first failed to keep my attention, the sequel smacked me to the ground and shouted, “YOU’RE MINE NOW!”
I loved me some Baldur’s Gate 2 in the worst way. I really didn’t start playing it until 2001, doing two complete playthroughs in the space of a couple years.
The early 2000’s were a great time for single-player RPGs on the PC — you had Fallout 1&2, Planescape: Torment, Arcanum, Icewind Dale, Diablo 2 and more to choose from. I wasn’t necessarily a BioWare fan back then more than any other company, but BG2 hit the scene like a nuclear bomb of goodness and made them hard to ignore.
This was the first RPG I played that truly felt “massive” in scope. I wasn’t overly crazy about the D&D or combat mechanics (I certainly wasn’t going to keep pausing combat every two seconds to issue new commands, so combat was like “highlight all allies, move them into Zone of Death, pray for victory”), but all of the BioWare elements that we’d come to know and love started strong in this title. There was the gripping introduction, the chunky mid-section of the game where you could go off and do a huge variety of whatever you wanted, a shocking twist, romances between you and NPCs, and customization out the wazoo. I played this in conjunction with my friend Bob, who lived in PA at the time, and we’d call each other to share what we were doing in the game and any secrets we’d found.
I’ve always appreciated the more mature edge that BioWare gives their games — they’re not graphically violent or sexual or profane just because, but sometimes the story calls for it and they don’t back down from telling it. BG2 had a couple moments that certainly rocked me back on my heels — I mean, hey, this is a game that begins as your character is being tortured. They even had a rudimentary form of the morality system that would later be more defined in games like KOTOR, but even as far back as BG2 I would weigh my choices at times and decide whether I was going to try to be virtuous or ruthless in my approach.
Above all, here was a game that made me really care about its characters. Your party wasn’t just a bunch of no-face NPCs tagging along for the loot, they were fairly complex individuals who bickered and laughed between each other, had their own strengths and weaknesses and weird quirks (like a barbarian who had a space hamster named Boo in his pocket).
In a weird way, this was my MMORPG before I ever really played one. The world felt persistent to me, and as you progress, you’re even able to carve out a niche for yourself and secure a stronghold that becomes your own base. I really never wanted it to end, and when it did, I couldn’t bring myself to play the (what looked like a lame) expansion. I didn’t want to resurrect false hopes.
Anyway, even though BioWare separated from the D&D license, this remains the single best D&D title ever made, a shining example of how these imaginary worlds aren’t just silly medieval stereotypes, but vast and complex and often bewildering.