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08 June 2015 @ 06:39 pm
Dorchadas plays Baldur's Gate II, Part I: Introduction  
Baldur's Gate II is one of my gaming white whales. I've beaten the first game four or five times, including one time where I played through most of it with my sister after importing my character from the endgame back to the beginning--and discovering that Bhaalspawn gifts stack if you take the same character through multiple playthroughs, which makes me really sad that save file is long since dispersed into the ether--and one time again last year with a fully-modded setup. Somewhat to my surprise, it held up perfectly, and I knew that I'd end up playing the sequel at some point, but I put it off because it's just so daunting.

It's a white whale because I've tried to play it multiple times, including two playthroughs that got most of the way through the game before getting bogged down in sidequest hell sometime in Act III or IV and giving up. I remember one time I gave up most of the way through the Planar Sphere, and I don't remember where I gave up the second time, but eventually I stopped trying and moved on to Morrowind, and later Warcraft III, as the massive sprawling games that devoured all my gaming time.

When I put up my latest poll, between Baldur's Gate II and Final Fantasy VII, Baldur's Gate II won handily, and so I dusted it off, made sure that my mods worked correctly and that I did have my save file, looked quickly at How Long to Beat and twitched a couple times, and then loaded the game up.

I realized pretty quickly that if I waited until the end of the game to write a review of it, it'd be thousands and thousands of words, so the solution is another blog series. And now, the preparations.

Before I talk about the Baldur's Gate II at all, I should mention what I've done to change it. One of the benefits of waiting so long to finally play is that the modding community has built up to an enormous degree, with sites like Gibberlings 3 and Spellhold Studios providing all the customization you could ever want. Modding is one of the main reasons I play mostly PC games, and I certainly wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to turn this into my perfect platonic version of the game. So here's a list of the mods I went with and why I chose them, in no particular order:

Widescreen Mod
This should be pretty self explanatory, I think. I played Planescape Torment in the original resolution and I actually thought it worked better than with a widescreen mod because I didn't have to worry about the tiny line of sight implying that the Nameless One could only see about 20 meters in front of him, but for how much I relied on bows in Baldur's Gate, I wanted a larger view distance here. I think it looks pretty good:

"Experiments," he says.  photo emot-gonk.gif

Increased Font Size
I played about five minutes with the widescreen mod and then decided that text designed for 640x480 does not adapt well to being scaled to 1920 x 1080, as you might notice if you're trying to read that screenshot, so I set out to fix it. It means that the floating text that pops up when I examine things sometimes looks a little odd, but the dialogue and item descriptions are a lot more readable now, so it's a net positive.

BG2 Fixpack
As a player of Bethesda games, I'm very familiar with having to install fan-made patches to avoid everything exploding in my face at some point in the game. There's quite a few minor bugs that this fixes, most of which aren't something I would have encountered because I'm not the kind of person who tries to game the system by making a thief with 8 Dexerity because the penalties table starts at 9, but the quest and area bugs later on are the main reason I included this. I ran into a couple bugs in Baldur's Gate that prevented me from completing quests, and there's very little that's as annoying in a sprawling WRPG as having quests in your quest log that you cannot ever complete.

Sword Coast Stratagems
This is mostly an AI mod that's designed to make the fights a bit more tactical and challenging. I remember that a lot of the fights in the original were just people swinging at each other and the AI was incredibly easy to fool, with a lot of my protagonist using her boots of speed to lead enemies on a merry chase while the rest of the party chopped them to ribbons. That's not supposed to happen anymore. I used this in Baldur's Gate and it made me pay more attention because, for example, archers would actually target the squishy guys in the robes hurling fireballs instead of firing into the line of skirmish just because those were the first enemies they saw. Some enemies have healing potions that they'll use while fighting--or that you can loot if you kill them first. Wizards and priests have more obvious spells, and don't spend time pouring worthless spells into you if they see that you've casted e.g. globe of invulnerability. Also bears actually move faster than a slow shamble, which is an essential change.

This was installed entirely based on recommendations, since I've never gotten to Throne of Bhaal and don't know what deficiencies it's supposed to correct. I've seen a lot of recommendations for it, though, and I know that it's the creation of David Gaider, one of the game's original designers, and I'm almost always in favor of any mods designed to increase a game's difficulty as long as it doesn't do it by letting the AI cheat. So if I post an undate to this blog series in about a hundred hours that just's a thousand words of rage and invectives, you can bet I'm trying to kill Demogorgon and Ascension has finally kicked in.

Unfinished Business
This adds back a bunch of quests and events that were still in the code but weren't implemented or were only half-implemented. I installed the Baldur's Gate version and except for a couple typos I was totally unable to tell what quests were original to the game and what quests were added by mods, so of course I had to include the BGII version. If I'm committing myself to dozens of hours of sidequests I might as well go all the way, and so if you read about a quest that you can't remember ever being in the game and that doesn't show up in any walkthroughs, it might be from this mod.

Banter Pack
Intra-party dialogue is great. It places your party members in the world and makes them more than just additional swords and finger-wigglers that follow you on your quest for unspecified reasons. What's not to like? I mean, it's possible that they could be terrible, but I found this recommended about as often as Ascension or Unfinished Business, and while it's possible that a ton of people have horrible taste, I am willing to trust the wisdom of the crowds in this case. If there are any incredibly stupid interactions, I'm sure I'll be posting about them!

Spell Revisions
This is another mod I installed for my Baldur's Gate playthrough and really liked the changes it made. Most of them are under the hood, but reshuffling the levels of the healing spells and making lower-level healing spells instant cast did a lot to reduce the annoyances that low-level D&D throws in the face of the player. Not to mention all the spells that apparently don't do what they claim to or don't do anything expect have pretty visuals, to the level of Final Fantasy's TMPR or LOCK. This was repeatedly cited in just about all the BGII modding guides I looked at, and since I almost always play casters in any game that has magic, it was a shoo-in.

Xan Romance Mod
By far the best mod I installed for my Baldur's Gate playthrough was the banter pack, which adds BGII-style intra-party dialogues and romances to BG. When I was installing it, I noticed that one of the options was a romance with Xan, BG's terminally pessimistic elf wizard with a flaming sword. Since I had modeled the protagonist after softlykarou anyway, I decided in for a penny, in for a pound, and I downloaded an absurdly cheerful voicepack, featuring lines like "Do that again and you'll pull back a stump...just kidding! *giggle*", and set out for the Xan/PC romance, playing it like a flanderization of softlykarou's and my relationship. I always picked the most pie-in-the-sky dialogue responses and played the protagonist as happy optimist with Xan supplying the "We're all doomed!" (actual quote). There were some moments I found genuinely touching, like when Xan wakes the protagonist up before dawn and casts levitate so they can watch the sunrise over the trees together, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the storyline goes in BGII.

And speaking of modeling the protagonist after softlykarou...

Our Heroine
One of the best parts of Baldur's Gate II is the ability to import your character from Baldur's Gate, so of course that's what I did. And here she is:

Custom portrait provided by Anathematixs.

I had originally used the BG portrait for Jaheira since I wasn't using Jaheira in that playthrough--I rolled with the protagonist, Imoen, Coran, Xan, Ajantis, and Branwen--but when I started BGII the fact that it didn't look anything like softlykarou finally got to me and I set out to find a new one. Fortunately, if you google "Baldur's Gate portraits" you have literally thousands to choose from ranging from abominations in the sight of the Lord to ones that are actually pretty close to the style used in the game, so I picked one of the latter and you can see the result above.

I've read about a lot of fun class combinations on the internet, from blades or trap thieves to wizard slayers, but I picked the trusty fighter/mage for two reasons. The first is that while playing an elf wizard is always my first choice in any game that offers the option, and I usually pick the closest option if that's not available, Vancian magic in D&D means that I need a fallback when I run out of spells and I'm not that interested in having the protagonist stay in the back and plink slingstones at the enemy like Xan ended up doing. The second is that because of the way AD&D 2e's experience tables work, multi-class characters are only ever a level or two behind their single-class counterparts, so they get a ton more flexibility at the cost of only a few hit points.

While wizards usually can't use magic when wearing armor, I loaded Chiyo up with buff and utility spells and just took off the armor when she cast spells. I've heard that BGII has a suit of elven chain, which would let her cast spells without taking her armor off, and now I just have to find it. And since Xan will be my other wizard and he's an Enchanter who can't cast Invocation/Evokation spells, which includes most of the good combat stuff, being able to put those spells on Chiyo would be nice.

I think that's enough for now. Next time I'll get to what happens after you press Start Game!  photo emot-sweatdrop.gif

Next: Part II: Escaping the Dungeon.
Current Mood: determined
Current Music: Baldur's Gate II - Title Theme
marianlhmarianlh on June 10th, 2015 01:27 am (UTC)
I'll be watching this with interest since I never played the Baldur's Gate games.
dorchadasdorchadas on June 10th, 2015 02:23 pm (UTC)

I'm most curious to see how it deals with the capabilities of high-level D&D characters. I think it falls into the level 20 city guards trope, but I don't remember if Wish or Limited Wish (to pick two of the most blatant examples) are in the game. I know Time Stop is...