Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal
The prophecy of Alaundo is close at hand. The children of Bhaal, Lord of Murder, are battling through the Sword Coast in order to achieve supremacy and as Bhaalspawn yourself, you are caught up in the middle of it all. So gather together some trusted friends and try to find out what your part in the prophecy is. Will you be the heir to the Blood Throne or another sacrifice to your murderous father? Find out in.
Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal is the last installment of the "trilogy" and the culmination of all the Baldur's Gate incarnations to date. Interplay and Black Isle Studios, the developers, have raised the bar on this already excellent game by adding a well-planned and well-executed expansion pack. While I don't necessarily agree with this game being billed as the third part of a trilogy (let's face it: it's one CD-ROM worth of material compared to four CDs for Shadows of Amn and several CDs for the original Baldur's Gate), it is in effect an excellent closing chapter to the series.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The interface, controls and gameplay are all nearly identical to, which leaves little to no learning curve for players already familiar with the controls. The main additions to the game are a new class (Wild Mage -- interesting but not inspired), the add-on dungeon (Watcher's Keep -- excellent) and the completion of the Baldur's Gate saga. In addition, the experience point cap has been bumped from 2,950,000 XP to 8,000,000 XP, which raises the bar for leveling much higher. Characters can now achieve levels as high as 40, a worthy goal indeed.
My experience with multiplayer was not satisfactory, but my computer and 56k Internet connection are mostly at fault. Multiplayer games are available through LAN play, and also through the GameSpy Arcade program that comes bundled with the Throne of Bhaal software. It was easy to find Shadows of Amn games, but finding specific Throne of Bhaal games was a little more difficult. I was also unable to connect to any games because of latency problems, but I blame this more on a bad modem and even worse phone lines. However, Throne of Bhaal seems to be very popular on the GameSpy Arcade network, with over 100 users on both times I attempted to play. Those of you with high-speed access can expect a rich and exciting multiplayer experience.
There's lots and lots of eye candy -- from the meaningfully rendered locales right down to the armor detailing and character color schemes, the developers seemed to spare no expense. The game supports 3D effects, but likeand other isometric-view games it isn't truly necessary. Still, it does look nice and is just as exceptional as the original.
Ah, the sounds! Baldur's Gate II was exceptional in its use of background music, and Throne of Bhaal raises the bar another notch. The music, while stirring and evocative, is not overwhelming and adds a new level of color to the gaming experience. I can honestly say I did not get tired of listening to it, mainly because it was easy to let it wash over me as the game played out. Voice characterizations are excellent, and while some characters wear a bit on the nerves, the experience is more than satisfactory. Spellcasting and battle noise is also very good, but not the best part of the audio, although I do admit I love watching those healing spells kick in' On another note, Throne of Bhaal supports several modes of surround sound; while my system does not have the full capability of surround-sound playback, I thought it was worth mentioning. Directional sound support would make the experience even better.
Required: Baldur's Gate II, Windows 95/98 with DirectX 7.0 or higher, PII-233, 32 MB RAM, 800 MB hard drive space for installation (1.2 GB for Throne of Bhaal), 4X CD-ROM drive, 4 MB DirectX certified video card, 100% Microsoft compatible keyboard, mouse
Recommended: PII-266 or faster, 64 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM drive
Documentation, while not as extensive as the 250+ page behemoth Shadows of Amn ships with, still weighs in at a respectable 40 or so pages. Some of this is unnecessary filler, with several pages devoted to spell tables, level requirements and other tidbits which are readily available in-game. However, there are some nuggets of usefulness including information on the new class and spell and skill types available. More importantly, like its predecessor, Throne of Bhaal includes a handy Quick Reference card. It is not as complete as the card included with Shadows of Amn, so keep both cards available for reference.
Throne of Bhaal claims to be the last episode of the Baldur's Gate series, but the investment in your character's development will not necessarily go unrewarded. Characters can continue to develop in the "add-on" Watcher's Keep dungeon as well, and with characters now able to achieve up to 40th level the game offers much in replay value, especially in multiplayer games.
Throne of Bhaal has a couple of patches that have been released, most of which deal with Windows 2000/ME issues. The latest patches are available for download on Black Isle Studios' web site.
Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal is a fitting completion to the Baldur's Gate "trilogy," but was slightly disappointing to this reviewer due to the shorter amount of playing time available for the main game itself (around 25-30 hours). Perhaps this should just be billed as the completion of the Baldur's Gate series rather than as an expansion pack. Still, none of this truly detracts from Throne of Bhaal, which is well designed, excellently scripted and plays out almost exactly like a pen-and-paper version of AD&D. If nothing else, the new add-on dungeon will keep you coming back for more. High marks go to the Black Isle team and Interplay, who have shipped yet another quality product. I give Throne of Bhaal a score of 92 for the end of an excellent series.