Okay, yes, this is a pretty late review of Baldur's Gate 2: Enhanced Edition [$9.99]. The game initially released on iPad about a year ago, and we didn't do a write-up of it for various reasons. There are plenty of reviews of the original Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows Of Amn out there, and given the existence of the first game's Enhanced Edition, we sort of assumed there wasn't much demand for one of our own. With the game's recent update that moves it to being a universal app, we've had a lot of requests from readers for a review of the game. Well, I guess we had that one wrong, but nobody's perfect, right? With that explanation out of the way, let's break down this port of one of the all-time greats of the genre.

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The original Baldur's Gate [$9.99] was part of a small handful of RPGs released in the late 1990s in what is retrospectively considered a renaissance period for CRPGs. The game simultaneously bolstered both the PC format and Western RPGs against extremely heavy competition from consoles and the JRPGs that seemed overwhelmingly popular at the time. Incredibly, the developers behind the game were relative rookies, though perhaps that was just what a genre that had been largely populated, and nearly devastated, by complacent kings of the early computer gaming era. Bioware had followed it up with a solid, if not terribly exciting, expansion several months later, but there was no way of knowing if they had simply caught lightning in a bottle or were going to on to greater things. Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows Of Amn drove home a point that most gamers of today know very well: Bioware was going to be a major player in the RPG genre for the foreseeable future.

Grab any pack of RPG fans and you'll likely be able to get a good argument going about Bioware's merits, successes, failures, if and where they peaked, and so on. There are many who feel the developer hit their high point with the Mass Effect series, some who cherish Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic [$9.99], and others who think the developer turned their back on the fans that brought them to the dance almost immediately after Throne Of Bhaal, the expansion to Baldur's Gate 2, was released in 2001. The disagreements are plentiful when it comes to Bioware, but the one thing most will agree on is that Baldur's Gate 2 was an outstanding sequel and one of the best games the developer has ever created. Their stated goal was to make a game better than the original Baldur's Gate in every way. By most accounts, they succeeded.

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The game basically picks up where the first one left off, but in a fairly clever way for those who missed the original story. You play the hero from the first game, who you can once again design to your specifications or select from a few default builds. The original story was essentially wrapped up, with the hero discovering they were one of the descendents of the slain god Bhaal, the Lord of Murder, and thwarting the plot of the wicked Bhaalspawn Sarevok, who sought to claim the dead god's title for his own. Having rid the Western Heartlands of this menace, the hero and his companions set off on a new journey, only to have the lot of them get smacked over the head with socks full of quarters. Or something. The point is, you and your friends have been captured, tossed in a dungeon, and are being experimented on by an evil wizard. Some of them have not survived the torture, while other have made it through with scars left inside and out. For your part, you seem to have a bit of a spotty memory from the whole mess, and naturally, you've been relieved of all of your awesome gear. This plot device gives the game an excuse for you to not know who your companions are, should you be new to the series.

Initially, it's all about escaping your current situation, and this is the worst part of the game by far. It's sort of meant as a tutorial, but it's a bit too long, not very exciting, and actually makes very little effort to teach you anything. Luckily, once you suffer through it, there's a great big world rich with possibilities waiting for you. Your goal is to find out what that evil wizard was up to, and the pursuit of that will take you on a lot of adventures. The original Baldur's Gate 2 is easily a 100+ hour game. The Enhanced Edition not only includes the 30+ hour expansion, but also adds new characters that you can buy a la carte, each with their own new locations and quests. Unlike the original game's Enhanced Edition, the new content here is actually pretty good, though the passing decade of time and change of writers means the text doesn't always seamlessly flow from the original writing. There's also an improved version of the arena battle mode from the first Enhanced Edition, if for some reason you ever wanted to just fight a bunch of Infinity Engine battles without much story, but really hate the idea of playing Icewind Dale [$9.99].

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To their credit, Overhaul Games did a much better job this time around than they did with the original game. The new content feels more properly fleshed out, and there are fewer bugs on the whole. Which is not to say Baldur's Gate 2: Enhanced Edition is bug-free. Even after its first patch, which took over a year to release, the game still has a lot of little issues. Post-patch, there is at least nothing game-breaking that I could find. The truth is that this is such a huge game with so many dangly bits that it was probably a real nightmare to recode and add content to without the whole thing collapsing on itself. That's not an excuse, more a means of understanding. On the positive side of things, the graphics look fantastic in their new higher resolution, and the user interface is smartly-designed for touch controls. It plays very well on the iPad, though some of the original problems still exist. Your characters will sometimes interpret your instructions in the most intriguing ways, pathfinding the longest possible way to that monster on the other side of the room. It doesn't help that this game makes extensive use of tight quarters in its dungeons, making setting up your battle formation a comedy of errors at the best of times.

The problems only get worse if you're playing on anything but the largest iPhone. Sadly, this game has the same hilarious bug the original game does, where you can minimize important parts of the UI right off the screen, with the tab to bring them back virtually unreachable without pulling off some arcane wizardry in your device settings. It also suffers from the possibly unsolvable problem of cramming an awful lot of buttons and information onto a very small screen. You can zoom in and out, which helps a lot, and you can also increase the size of the text, though that sometimes breaks things. These things mitigate the problems to an extent, but you're still having to poke around in very detailed locations where a wrong step can have disastrous results. You can zoom in, but that sacrifices your wider view, and that can be fatal. So, while you can play this game on your iPhone, unless you're sporting a beefy 6 or 6 Plus, you probably shouldn't. The iPad is the clear way to go here.

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If you're coming to this game for the first time and you're wondering what all the fuss is, let me fill you in. Baldur's Gate 2 is more or less the ultimate CRPG. It sits perfectly on the razor's edge between the older, complex, gameplay-driven RPGs of the 1980s and early 1990s and the modern, streamlined, story-driven RPGs of today. It has an awesome story with plenty of choices for how you interact with other characters. Sure, most of the time it's the usual choice between petting a puppy or burning it, but with all of the different characters in play, there's a lot of things to see by role-playing your character in various ways. The Bioware-standard plot twist in the sequel is perhaps not as strong as the one found in the original game, but it's also less predictable, so that's something. There are tons of locations to visit, and they all bustle with life in a way the original game wished it could have. Side quests abound, many of which tell mini-stories that are incredibly interesting in their own right. You don't have to do any of them, but you'll want to. You can also develop relationships with your party members, something we take for granted these days, but was quite novel at the time.

Now, say you're rolling your eyes at all this story business. You're in it for the gameplay, to heck with all of these dialogue trees. Well, I'm happy to tell you that you're going to have a great time in Baldur's Gate 2 as well. This game uses Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition as its ruleset, and it doesn't do it halfway. If you like to get under the hood in RPGs, you're going to find tons of complexity here. There are not only several job classes to play as, each class sub-divides into kits, allowing you even finer control over what type of character you play as. There's a frankly ridiculous amount of equipment to find, tons of magic spells to copy into your spellbook and memorize overnight, and a huge selection of party members to form your group from. You'll have to keep your alignment in mind when you're recruiting, however. Yes, you like that, don't you? Best of all, none of this extra planning is for naught. Baldur's Gate 2 is a much more challenging game than the first, so while you might be able to hack your way through the main plot without digging too deeply, you're going to have get your hands a bit dirty if you want to see and do all there is in this game.

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There are lots of different ways to approach situations, allowing for greater tactical diversity and a better feeling of ownership over whichever path you choose to success. This also gives the game a lot of replay value. How you handle the game as a thief is pretty different to how you do things as a paladin, for example. Oh, and the loot. The loot is glorious, friends. There are so many things you can pick up and carry with you if you're not overburdened. Plenty of pieces of enchanted gear to discover and wrest from the hands of the unfortunate prior owner. Lots of little bits of lore hidden in books and such that are well-written and sometimes provide meaningful, if not always useful, insight into the Forgotten Realms world. You can ignore all of it, if you want, but if you're into that kind of thing, you're well-served here, make no bones about it. Then there's the sheer quantity of it all. This game is unbelievably huge. There are tons of quests, dozens of locations, and more than sixty different types of monsters to battle. All of it is hand-designed, with not one meter of randomly-generated terrain to fill space. It's probably the best realization of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule set that we will ever see in video games. It simply doesn't make business sense to make games on this scale anymore.

The production values are excellent, too. The hand-designed nature of the environments means the game is free to include a lot of complex and beautiful visual touches. The animations are excellent, particularly for the monsters. The Beholder, as much a mascot of Forgotten Realms as anything, is a gorgeous little sprite. Make sure you get a good look at it while it's mauling you to death. The voice-acting is extensive and quite good, though it's a bit weird how Jim Cummings voices pretty much half of the cast in Throne Of Bhaal. The music is also excellent, knowing when to come and go for maximum impact. This game had a pretty big budget for its time, and it shows. There aren't many rivals to this game in that regard as far as iOS RPGs go.

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Baldur's Gate 2: Enhanced Edition is a very good port of an incredibly good game. It has its share of issues, and its developer is known for letting a long time go between updates, but there's nothing here that should stop you from playing it if you have a device with a decent-sized screen. If you're rocking a 4-inch screen or smaller, you may want to hit the brakes on picking this up. I mean, with patience and in the presence of no other options, you might still be able to have a good time here, but it's obvious that it was never meant to be played through such a small window and it suffers considerably as a result. Otherwise, if you like RPGs at all, this is probably one of the essential entries in the genre on any platform, full-stop.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • IAP-king

    Buying this now...

  • taiga97

    I wish I could play dark alliance on my phone.

  • tpianca

    Great review, as always. But upon reading the title of it, and at this day and age, I couldn't help to think "ok, one of the best CRPGs of all time is avaliable on iOS, but for how long?". I mean, one of the side effects of all this TWEWY polemic is that we can't consider that classics will still be playable when iOS 17 comes. Or iOS 9, for that matter. So all the fuss and work on porting something to be more or less playable on iOS becomes nothing, really.
    Sorry for going off-topic, is just that this is so sad.

    • MidianGTX

      Ideally, by the time iOS 17 came out, it'd be able to emulate older iOS versions. That's assuming Apple would choose to do something that makes sense, however...

    • famousringo

      Since Beamdog is actively developing new Infinity Engine games for iOS, I wouldn't worry about support for BG falling in the medium term future.

    • ehi11

      Lmao. I think by the time iOS 17 comes I'll be willing to pay 10 bucks again to any whichever company is doing the newest remaster.

  • http://facebook.com/leo_koester Leo Koester

    Go for the eyes, Boo! Go for the EYES!

    • Morgan01

      Made me laugh...

    • ex2bot

      Boo's getting squirrelly.

      • Morgan01

        Though he was hamstering it up?

      • ex2bot

        Boo points. I punch. Butt-kicking for justice!

  • Lickzy

    Great review. excellent game. Awesome news for iPhone users! Enjoyed this immensely on my iPad.

    My only concern will be screen size for those not using the iPhone 6 something ( largest screen). Feedback on this would be great, trying to manipulate the small screen.

    • burningzenithx

      I agree. I too would like to know how the Baldur Gate games fare on an iPhone screen.

    • HelperMonkey

      From the review:
      "...while you can play this game on your iPhone, unless you're sporting a beefy 6 or 6 Plus, you probably shouldn't. The iPad is the clear way to go here."

      • burningzenithx

        Thanks HelperMonkey. You are indeed helpful.

  • Jim Shorts

    Hats off! What a thoroughly epic review!! I've never played Baldur's Gate, but after reading this... why am I not?

  • Teras

    Man it would have been an instant buy for me if I didn't play it 1000 times ( true number) on pc. With that been said if you haven't played it yet BUY IT PLAY IT LOVE IT that would be all!

    • Jim Shorts

      100 hours x 1000 times... do you ever wonder what happened to the last 11+ years of your life?

      • Teras

        No not really who cares! it's BALDURS GATE yeah I am a nerd deal with it πŸ˜€

      • Jim Shorts

        Teras... Help a nerd out. Play this first? Or Icewind Dale on my iPad?

      • Shaun Musgrave

        Do you like pure fighting/dungeon crawling, or do you like a balance of that and story? Icewind Dale is the former, BG the latter. I think most people would prefer BG2 over ID, but not all. Now all we need is Torment to fill the "like story but not fighting/dungeon crawling" position.

      • Jim Shorts

        Thank you, Shaun πŸ™‚

      • Martin Meier

        *sigh*
        Now you said it. I miss Morte and Grace.
        *sobs*

      • 61050

        nothing beats updating your litany of curses.

      • Teras

        Hm tbh I first played Icewind dale back in the days and then I went for baldurs gate. Icewind dale is better for pure dungeon crawling but baldurs gate got the story. I enjoyed both equally both have great points. My suggestion is to go for icewind dale first to get fired up and then go for baldurs gate!

      • Jim Shorts

        Thank you, Teras

      • http://www.dethjunkie.com/ Entropy

        So what did you think?

  • Ubisububi

    The best part about this game is the fact that the developers weren't shy about putting nearly game-breaking gear in it. Sure most of its ridiculously hard to get, but that's what makes it so damn fun getting it. Save all your pantaloons!! You'll thank me later.

  • spsummer

    Shaun nice article. Which would you recommend playing first Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale?

    • garbul

      That's a really good question... these are time consuming games!!

    • Toronith

      Personally I'd say Baldur's Gate, because I think it has more to it. From what I've heard, Icewind Dale focuses more on combat and has less story, and BG focuses more on the story aspects. They're both great games, though!

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Baldur's Gate. Icewind Dale is good but it's a considerably less balanced plate and best enjoyed after BG has familiarized you with the engine.

      • Teras

        You know I actually believe it's better to go for ID first to truly learn how to fight. Because in ID you build your team from zero so you get to learn how to fight with different classes while in bg you get to make your main char only and you pick the rest of the party from the story as you progress (ofc you can change party members).

      • Shaun Musgrave

        I can definitely see that angle. I think putting that many decisions in the player's hands right off the hop can make for an intimidating experience for a starting player, though. BG only letting you make one character ensures a certain range of balance no matter what choices you make. I guess the real answer is that they're both great, and whichever you play first will help you appreciate certain things in the other.

      • Teras

        Mm yeah I see what you mean. Either way you need to study for both games cause there are so many things in them. On a smaller note the first dungeon of ID ( I mean the area with the tombs) is my all time favorite from either game. Sure BG 2 has some pretty awesome ones too but that area was the best for me (probably cause that was the first one I played I guess).

      • spsummer

        Thanks for the help Shaun. I'm starting BG tonight, been waiting to get into these games for awhile.

  • Poo

    Is it any easier to control then the first?? I couldn't even figure out what I was doing to get past the tutorial in the first one and eventually gave up.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      It controls similarly and gives you even less of a tutorial this time. Personally, I think the controls are pretty good once you learn them, but neither game gives you any help at all with that, which is frustrating.

      • Poo

        I'll have to look for an online Manuel then cause on the first in I can't tell what the buttons are haha I need like a button map until I learn them.

      • Psac42

        I gave up on the first because of the controls. I couldn't handle it.

  • speetz

    Bethesda is the only company making RPG anywhere close to as good as this. Wish they would do a FWs game. Not first person, necessarily, but they are great at making real environments. Then have those ol" bioware boys do the story, maybe with a little work from RA Salvatore. XD

  • Jake7905

    It's official: Shaun is the Encyclopedia Brittanica of RPG's. Every time I read one of his RPG reviews, not only do I feel like I'm being schooled, I walk away with a far greater appreciation of the game and it's history.

    • ZarieoZ

      Wow... Exactly.

  • http://www.googlepants.com/ Wizard of Odyssey

    Shaun, I love your reviews and you made me want to play this. I have an iPhone 6 plus which is always with me, and an iPad which stays at home a lot since I got the big phone. It sounds like the game is playable on the smaller screen, but is there iCloud support so I could stretch out on the tablet once in a while (to say nothing of not worrying about losing 80+ hours of progress)?

    • Shaun Musgrave

      I'm afraid there's no iCloud support at this point. I wish it had it, and I wish I didn't find myself saying that about so many games.

      • http://www.googlepants.com/ Wizard of Odyssey

        That's what I thought. It's probably possible to move save games around with iTunes, but that's a pain. Will I hate myself if I start this on the iPhone 6 plus?

      • garbul

        That's how I plan on doing it. You have to game with what's available to you, you know? Or then you'll hate yourself for not playing when you had the chance.

  • Teras

    I agree with the tutorial part that thing is hellish. First run is nice I guess you get to see all the crazy stuff this wizard did and you start getting curious of what he is after but really after that one run you really only just want to get out and move with the game. Thankfully in the pc version there is a mod that will instantly finish the tutorial and place you outside it and with all the important loot as well.

  • Jim Shorts

    I'm picking this up tonight. Thanks for freaking awesome review and great feedback from everyone. Hopefully, I won't got stymied by the controls, but I'm sure it's worth figuring out... besides, it's a classic and it's not free,.. which to some is bad, but to me is good.

  • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

    If only it had had turn-based combat, then maybe I would consider it the ultimate CRPG... πŸ™‚

    I actually prefer the original Baldur's Gate, I think, warts and all, to BG2, but they're both great. (Except for that horrible, inspired by Warcraft 2, combat.)

    • Ubisububi

      It's turn-based, but I agree that it doesn't really feel like it. Liberal use of the pause button will get you 90% of the way there. Though.

      • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

        That's what people always say. πŸ™‚ I've been playing these games for darn near 20 years now. It's about as turn-based as command and conquer, which I believe also had a pause button. It was the fad at the time.

      • James Rogerson

        Well, technically it is turn-based, just continuous turns, which in practice plays out different to either turns or real time. I actually love the combat in Baldur's Gate though, it can get messy but it also feels more flexible than in most turn based games. Part of that might be down to all the spells available but I'm sure ToEE probably had a similar number and didn't feel as flexible to me.

      • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

        Warcraft II is also technically turn-based πŸ˜›

  • boydstr

    A game

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Well, they probably should have included the three $2.99 character IAPs and charged $19.99 like they did on PC/Mac, but they must have gotten the impression somehow that mobile gamers are extremely price-sensitive.

  • ex2bot

    Fantastic review, but one point about how it doesn't make financial sense to make a game this vast anymore: Have you dug into Dragon Age: Inquisition? It's huuuuuuuge! On my first playthrough I wanted to see everything, but despite my best intentions I still missed content.

    * I know there was a lot of criticism for DAI. I disagree with most of it (though lots of bugs, true). It's a beast of a game, easily one of the best and largest cRPGs ever.

    • James Rogerson

      In a sense it's huge, and I love it too, in fact the original game was designed as a spiritual successor to BG, as you probably know.
      But while Inquisition is 'huge' in a sense it's still a lot smaller than BG2- try making BG2 in the style of Inquisition and it would take a lot longer and a lot more money I reckon. I'd wager the worlds are a similar size, but BG surely has more dialogue, a larger number of complex questlines, huge cities etc...

  • Sandalfo

    bought baldur gate ii. tried to play on iphone 6plus. sorry it's unplayable for me. image is too dark, text is ok but buttons are too small and too many. i know it's a gem but i'll have to play on ipad or nothing.

  • PlaystationPaul

    I know it's an old game but would still have appreciated a spoiler warning in this review as I've literally just started the first BG, now I know something about the endIng which seems like it could be pretty major. Luckily I stopped myself from reading before I'd seen too much but some minor damage has been done I fear.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Sorry about that. I'm usually careful about spoilers, even on older games. It probably didn't occur to me this time because BG2 spoils that part of BG1 almost immediately. There are lots of story points (companions, etc) I didn't mention, so I hope you can still enjoy the game.

  • Jim Shorts

    As a total noob so far, there is some weird stuff about it, like I don't know if half of the crap I'm picking up is important. So I drop crap that I assume is not important and move on, pfft. But it's really fun, interesting game. Took about 45 minutes to an hour before I felt comfortable with it. Totally worth it though. It would be nice if the interface was a little streamlined (think that makes sense), but given its age... pretty cool!

  • Zenfar

    One of the classics!!!

  • Montanx HS

    About as clunky, boring, convoluted, frustrating, outdated, fiddly and overrated a game can get. Unplayable to me.

  • Gurney Halleck

    Thanks for the in depth review Shaun!! Your review has convinced me to finally play through this massive game and to give it another shot since I first skipped it over back in the '90's when I was busy playing Daggerfall and System Shock πŸ™‚

Baldur's Gate II:EE Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 5