On November 15th Overhaul Games releases its most anticipated game of the year, and as the message boards buzz and pre-orders are placed on the Beamdog web site some cannot help but be puzzled when they find that all the fuss is over a game that is well over a decade old. That is because they cannot understand the enduring appeal of Baldur’s Gate 2, one of the most loved RPG games of all time.
Baldur’s Gate 2 was originally released in 2000, successfully building off the momentum of its blockbuster predecessor. Fans of the original however, were surprised at how much better this sequel was than the original. While both games used a variation of Bioware’s Infinity Engine – a popular engine featured in many other D&D licensed products of the era, Baldur’s Gate 2 featured an outstanding story line and an array of NPC interactions that set the standard that RPGs have been trying and failing to achieve ever since. More than a decade later, a dedicated group of Fan-Modders create new characters and adventures for the game with surprising regularity.
The love that Baldur’s Gate 2 inspired in its fan base actually caused problems for its developer down the road. Much more technologically advanced games such as the Neverwinter Nights series suffered in comparison to its predecessor and did not measure up in terms of story or replay value. One of the most noticeable distinctions was the drop-off in the quality of story, voice acting, and the authenticity of the romances that characterized the games. Baldur’s Gate 2 codified how romances have been handled in video games ever since.
The greatest strength of the game, which separated it both from its predecessor and from derivative games such as Icewind Dale, was the appeal of its NPC interactions. Popular NPCs from the first game returned with story-lines attached to their presence in the player’s party. They were surprising in their depth, characters who had infinite quirks and their own moral framework and opinions that would occasionally clash with the actions of the player. The most popular of these characters was Minsc, a good-natured (if brain damaged) Berserker with an affinity for his pet hamster Boo, who at times seemed to be a character in himself. He has been a mainstay of top ten lists of the most popular characters in video game history, which is a great accomplishment given that he is only a supporting cast member.
When the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition was released in November 2012 it was well received, but most of the excitement generated by fans on its message boards was reserved for the upcoming release of BG2 Enhanced Edition. Since the original games no longer work properly on modern operating systems the updated game was able to build a significant following with only minor changes and the addition of a few PCs. The upcoming sequel, however, boasts entirely new playable areas and hundreds of hours of additional game play. The Enhanced Edition will soon be playable as an android app and on tablets, making it accessible to a new generation of fans.
Much of what makes Baldur’s Gate 2 one of the best RPGs of all time is a mystery. It seemed to stumble upon a magical formula and chemistry that made it a love song to fans of RPG gaming for over a decade. That it is still marketable as a new release after all this time is a testament not only to its enduring appeal, but to the strength of the fandom that it inspired.