Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn and Throne of Bhaal
My Rating: 9.5/10 Gamespot Community: 9.3/10 Gog.com users: 5/5
I would like to start this off by saying that I have not actually played the first Baldur's Gate game, I hear it is also great, I just haven't gotten around to it yet.
I'm sure most RPG gamers nowadays have heard of Bioware, and they would more than likely think Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, or Mass Effect. Pesonally I think back to Baldur's Gate 2 and it always puts a smile on my face. Anyone who has played Icewind Dale (1 or 2) or the original Baldur's Gate is fimiliar with the Infinity Engine. Please do not confuse this game with Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance as the gameplay is nowhere near the same at all.
Baldur's Gate 2 follows the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, so anyone familiar with D&D will be able to hop right in. While the rules may seem strange to anyone who has never touched D&D or D&D based computer games before, the game presents it in such a way that anyone can pick it up and play.
The game is a party based RPG, you create your initial character (which since it's D&D based includes alignment, and apparently the game penalizes you if you break your alignment) and start the game, you then find 3 party members (and later a fourth) and once you're out of the initial dungeon there are quite a few party members to choose from. One big thing about this game is you HAVE to be careful about your choices, the game not only makes you stick to your chosen alignment, but if you act out of your party members alignment (say you have all good characters and you're an evil dickhead who attacks children in the street) your party members WILL leave you (after a warning or two). One great thing about this game is not only do you control your characters development but your party members as well (it irritates me when games won't let you do that). One of the main flaws I found is that there is an over abundance of good aligned characters, and it can be difficult to make an evil party, often times you have to resort to listening to the whining of neutral aligned characters.
The game goes from great story, to a point where the story pretty much stalls (you have to raise a large sum of money to continue the main quest) but when it stalls, there are massive amounts of side quests to do, and then back to a great story right until the end. The expansion also had a great story, but it felt like it didn't really continue on from the first whatsoever.
The engine was great, it let you choose if you wanted real-time, turn based or anywhere in between with choosing when the game autopaused, you could have it pause after every single thing that happened and plan out a complex strategy if you really wanted to, or throw it on real time and go "RAAAAR ME SMASH!!!!" Though, since it's D&D mages can be a real pain in the ass if it's on full real-time.
The game also, interestingly enough for the time, let you change difficulty level on the fly. Personally when I first played the game I had never seen this feature before and I was a bit shocked.
The last thing I want to say about this game is that the AC system is a bit messed...its like golf, the lower your AC score is the better. When I first played it as a kid I was wondering how in the hell leather armor was better than full plate, then I realized how it worked. They are re-mastering the game (as well as the first) and updating the engine a little bit, they announced that in March, hopefully we'll see the AC system normalize a bit more...but I hope they keep the AD&D rules and most of the way the game is intact because for me it's a timeless classic.
The game will work on any version of Windows up to 7, however any version XP or later will require the XP patch otherwise you will not be able to interact with NPCs for some reason. Wikipedia says that it is available on Mac but I'm not sure if they mean the re-mastered version or not (which is also going to be available on Iphone and other I stuff). Hopefully they make a Linux port, but we'll have to wait and see.
Edit: I would like to include that the game does everything by dice roll (like in D&D) so damage is displayed as XdY instead of X-Y. The difference being if your damage is 2d4 the game is rolling two four sided dice for a damage threshold of 2-8 damage instead of just telling you 2-8.
Both Baldur's Gate games are available on gog.com, and I would say 9.99 is a great price for the second (which includes the expansion) I gladly paid 20 (mind you that was at least 5, 6 years ago). First one (with expansion) is also on there for 9.99 but personally I think I'll wait until they re-master it...if it's any good I'll get that version, if not I'll pick it up there.