The release date of Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition couldn’t have come at a better time of the year. The perfection of re-releasing such a classic during November, to me, is obvious, because more than any other game in the world, the Baldur’s Gate series was one you could curl up and devour like a good book.
And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It’s embarrassing that we live in a world where one could associate that comparison with falling asleep at the keyboard, drool pooling in the spaces between WASD, but there we have it. No, I compare playing this game to a cool winter night, wrapped up in a blanket with a mug of cocoa (or a hot toddy, as the case may be) because of its scale. Also, because of its intricate plotlines, engaging settings–everything about it set the Baldur’s Gate series up there with not only other role-playing games, but with great fantasy novels. Settings, moments, and characters within this world seem taken directly from the works of Robert E. Howard, George R. R. Martin, and Robert Jordan. Other games, even the best games, enjoy showing off–pointing out the great things available for you to see and do. The Baldur’s Gate series swept you up and carried you away.
And now, well over a decade later, it’s invited us back for another piggyback ride. But other than a few new details, what exactly is so enhanced about this “Enhanced Edition?”
Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition is a touched-up re-release of the isometric classics, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn and Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Bhaal with new characters (who, aside from the thief Hexaat, are imported from the first Enhanced Edition) and storylines to boot. Aesthetically, it looks good: nothing mind-blowing, but it was never meant for that. What these games may have lacked in top-of-the-line graphics, they made up for in a supernova of winding narratives and heavily fleshed-out characters.
Reliving and remembering the sweeping and strategic battles and wonderfully written story, excited me to the possibility of this re-release being a perfect opportunity to introduce newer gamers to another amazing roleplaying game. There is a learning curve, however. Baldur’s Gate II is just as challenging, nay, difficult, as I remembered it, offering the sweet satisfaction of a job well done when I finally defeated a particularly nasty boss, rather than grumbling a “Finally!” that sometimes comes from other gaming nastiness. But there is no tutorial, nor has there ever been, so a fresh face will have to get used to the notion of learning the hard way–also known as “dying and starting again.” If those starry-eyed lads can just learn to ride that horse, and weather the storm, then he or she is in for a serious treat.
But the more I played and relived the experiences I did growing up, I kept coming back to that subtitle: “Enhanced Edition.” I suppose it’s technically true–the new graphics are a sight for sore eyes, yes, but trying to get them to hold up to games of today would be silly. In fact, “new” isn’t really the right word at all. I suppose, visually, this is a place where the term “enhanced” is absolutely accurate. The graphics aren’t so much reworked as they are tweaked slightly for the modern age. And as much fun as I had revisiting one of my favorite games in high school and college, this re-release isn’t called Baldur’s Gate 2: The Nostalgia Edition. So what enhancements justify that $25 price tag?
Regretfully, not much. The more I worked and reworked this review, the more I realized that the accomplishments I was lauding here were for the original games, and not for this new, sorry, “Ehanced Edition.” So let me make that perfectly clear: every piece of Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate 2 is magnificent: brilliant story, challenging gameplay, thought-provoking character arcs. But it was already there over a decade ago, and none of it has gone anywhere.
The occasional new character aside, it’s largely as you remember it, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but a crisper resolution and a handful of new faces is far from what I’d call “enhanced”. This might be a great way to get younger or newer gamers involved in a true classic, but only the most hardcore Baldur’s Gate fans are going to see any value in shelling out $25 for a prettier picture.