What could I possibly say about Baldur’s Gate 2 that has not already been said? The CRPG genre is arguably the most storied and respectable in the medium, and among all CRPGs, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn has long reigned at the very top. A reign that was, until very, very recently, entirely unchallenged. Developers looked at Shadows of Amn and cowered: they wouldn’t even try to make a game as ambitious: it would be too difficult, too time consuming, too expensive. BG2 set the bar for the entire Western-style roleplaying game genre, and that bar has not shifted one micron since.
So why is Shadows of Amn so great? You likely don’t need me to tell you. It’s a brilliantly constructed RPG that offers the player a ton of choice with regard to play style as well as their path through the narrative; the writing and quest design is second to none, and the quests are some of the most memorable the medium has ever produced. The game is also well and truly massive, with a first time playthrough easily eclipsing 200 hours. With unique content that can only ever be experienced by specific characters, including but not limited to multiple companion romances, player stongholds and quests.
Further, Shadows of Amn is almost single-handedly responsible for creating what we now think of as the modern WsRPG. Romances weren’t really a thing until BG2, or strongholds, or party banter. When you walk through the ruined cities of Ferelden in Dragon Age, listening to your party members chat about the area you’re exploring, you have Baldur’s Gate 2 to thank. When you delve into complex character-focused sidequests in Mass Effect 2, to learn more about your companions and strengthen your bonds to one another, this, too, is the legacy of Shadows of Amn. It’s importance to the genre cannot possibly be overstated—so, please, mistake nothing I say here for hyperbole.
To quickly delve into the nitty-gritty, a big part of Baldur’s Gate II’s appeal lies in its adaptation of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2.5 edition ruleset. There are many different classes, subclasses, and dual-class combinations to experiment with, never mind hundreds of different spells and abilities: multiply this incredible build diversity with six different active party members, and you have an incredibly complex combat system with countless permutations and near-infinite potential strategies and tactics. That Baldur’s Gate 2 has endured for so long at the pinnacle of the genre is not simply due to its unforgettable storytelling, open-ended quest design, and memorable characters: the combat is also among the most complex, engaging and rewarding the genre has ever seen.