Monday, 28 August 2017

Baldur's Gate 2 Changes and Additions BG vs BG2 Which is better and why?

Baldur's Gate 2 Changes and Additions BG vs BG2 Which is better and why?

Note to self: Add in Prologue comparison: lengthy, unskippable and tiresomely over-wrought BG2 prologue of Chateau Irenicus versus the almost entirely skippable BG prologue of Candlekeep.

Update: Second half of the post is about playing BG in the BG2 engine, which is what degenerates prefer.

You might find it odd to find a post highlighting the changes and additions made in BioWare's sequel to Baldur's Gate; that is Shadows of Amn and the Throne of Bhaal expansion. Afterall, not only is the Bhaalspawn Saga on the verge of being two decades old, but it's also undergone some serious modding in that time (see here for BG and here for BG2).

So, the question is, does anyone care anymore about the differences between the original BG and its original sequel?

Well, I'd like to think such a subject can still garner interest among veterans and newbies alike, and it's not as if write-ups preexist detailing such changes and additions. Furthermore, this post seeks to evaluate whether they were good or bad for the Bhaalspawn Saga, in addition to simply enumerating them.

So let's get to it, shall we?

Wait. Let's begin with a conclusion that will no doubt annoy the BG2 fanboys and munchkins: BG > BG2. Low level AD&D campaigns are by that very fact superior to mid-point/epic ones. BG is about open-world exploration and survival whereas BG2 is about bulldozing the opposition, from the Chateau to the Throne. BG did almost everything better. Moreover, the campaign was developed in parallel with the engine, making it by far the greater technical and organisational achievement by then-fledgling developer, BioWare.

BG2 recycled so much from BG (as sequels often do) [1], but it didn't add very much of substance. And for those coming off BG, it was a disappointment. It whisked you away to prison, took almost all of your gear from you as a result, arbitrarily enforced a "canon party" and killed off some companions and wrote immersion-breaking dialogue for others, such as "I remember you; aren't you dead?" Spent the three Wisdom Tomes on Jaheira? Well, they're wiped.
[1] Some rando forum scrub once cited the wall trap in Spellhold as being a great feature of BG2. Unbeknownst to this rando forum scrub, the wall trap was first added in Durlag's Tower of BG:TotSC.

Basically, BioWare didn't respect the choices made by the player in the original. Instead, their preference was to wipe the slate clean and funnel the player down a linear path of cutscene after cutscene and intrusive banter after intrusive banter in order to appeal to a new audience over the one that got them to where they were in the first place.

The only people that think BG2 > BG are the newbies who began with BG2, which is sort of like watching Empire Strikes Back before the first Star Wars, or reading Two Towers before the Fellowship (the Bhaalspawn Saga is officially a trilogy, with ToB being its third installment). Don't listen to the idiots on buzzfeeds who recommend newbies skip BG and go straight to BG2. Again, only idiots that played BG2 first would make such a puerile, senseless and wholly misguided recommendation.

And yes, I would have rewritten the main plot of the campaign. BG2 would have started in the Cloud Peaks (south of Nashkel) and had the party journeying to Athkatla in Amn. Let's not pretend that it would have been difficult to make a grand campaign wherein the player was never kidnapped by Irenicus. The SoA plot is little more than a marathon-length diversion from the real story: that of the Bhaalspawn, Bhaal-lore and the Prophecy of Alaundo. And ToB is just an epic banality, a rush-job.

People go on about Mage duels in BG2; well, BG invented them. The duel with Davaeorn is still my fave Mage duel in the Saga, not only due to the limitations imposed by low level parties, but also because he employs pre-buffing (to avoid being backstabbed) and Dimension Door (in order to teleport about). Most BG2 mages are just standing around unbuffed, waiting for a chunking, and BG2 cut out Dimension Door due to its sequence-breaking potential. So now - if they survive the backstab opener (which they won't unless they're stoneskinned, which is rare) - Mages just stand there like idiots casting spells; they have almost no mobility of their own; they go invisible with Shadow Door and reappear in the exact same spot because they want you to give them that chunking. Sad. Even Dark Side did more for spellcaster mobility. Oh, and The Grey Clan proved that you can employ contingencies in BG, too.

I'll end with a little thing, but it's important to me. The sounds effects are far superior in BG as well. The sound of steel-on-steel or dagger into flesh. The chunking sounds. All are much more impacting to the ear. It sounds like a battle. A flail is a ball and chain, right? So when you swing it, you can hear the chain. Not in BG2, though. In BG, you can hear the drawing back of a bow. Not in BG2, though. In BG, you can hear the chain links of your armor rustling as you move around. Not in BG2, though. BG2 couldn't even get the little things right.

Ok, let's go through the changes and additions made by BG2:

Fundamental Campaign Design. BioWare's representation of the city of Athkatla, the country of Amn, and the exotic locales that stretch out beyond the bounds of civilization (and beneath it), is perhaps without peer. The sprawling Shadows of Amn world map speaks for itself.

An undeniable highlight - indeed, the prime virtue - of the campaign is how its second and third chapters offer non-linear exploration of a quest-dense urban hub, Athkatla, but the Prologue aka "Chateau Irenicus", Chapter One, and Chapters Four to Seven are comparatively linear affairs, as is the Throne of Bhaal expansion campaign.

There's that word: linear. Both BG and BG2 have linear stories but the former's world is much more open for exploration purposes. The world map is realistic in its layout, in that you move from one area to another, in the required direction, in order to get to your destination, all the while under the threat of waylay and fatigue. It feels more like a journey, an adventure. It feels like the Fellowship. In BG2, you just click the map marker and get dropped off to your destination as if by teleportation; rare scripted waylay aside, you don't work to get there. In fact, it's exactly like Oblivion's fast travel and that's not an exaggeration in the slightest.

Thus, BG is superior in campaign design but it's hard to deny Athkatla as a crowning achievement of quest-dense exploration, isn't it? But then, Baldur's Gate city was just as impressive for its time (as anyone who played it when it came out knows), and once you finally reached the city, after all the exploration in the wilderness, it was just as overwhelming how the campaign shifted into an entirely new phase, yet still let you explore the wilderness whenever you wanted to.

You had to find the sidequests in BG (sometimes through rumors at the inn, sometimes there was no lead at all) but in BG2 sidequests found you. Not that BG didn't have its fair share of force-talking and hand-holding, but in BG2 Charnames couldn't walk around Athkatla for 10 seconds without being spoon-fed by quest-givers and irrelevant retards. It was intrusive and tiresome. Sidequests were even forced upon you by way of scripted waylays.

Also, Athkatla's areas don't even line up visually. Try and picture Athkatla - as a whole - in your mind. You can't, because it's just a haphazard mish-mash with no thought gone into it. The map reflects that. Look above. See how the districts don't line up? Athkatla's areas are chambered, and completely separate, with no link to or suggestion of the others. Just like the whole campaign. Nothing is gradual. It's just, you're here now. Now, you're here. From forest to desert, just like that. Again, no sense of landscape or of journeying.

Oh look, it's an actual city with full continuity and logic:

ARs extracted and spliced together by Yours Truly

Logically, a sewer system runs beneath Baldur's Gate. But only the Temple district of Athkatla needs a sewer system, seemingly. In fact, there is only one non-obvious link in Athkalta: the one that takes you from Mekrath's lair to the Docks.

Wilderness Area Design. BG2 is bereft of barren wilderness areas: 8 of the 11 Amnish outskirts areas are forests; 11 of the 11 are situated in woodland areas. On the other hand, BG hosts one dozen barren areas, not just forests. Also, many of BG's areas feature height-mapped terrain which not only adds visual variety but can also be employed for tactical purposes. There are almost no examples of height-mapped terrain in the BG2 wilderness; mostly, it's dead-flat.

Examples of barren areas in BG. Note the height-mapping on the left and right.

More examples of height-mapped terrain:

Reactivity. The sequel added more in the way of gender-, alignment-, stat-, class- and race-based reactivity, though it's still disappointing how little of it exists in the Bhaalspawn Saga. For example, evil Charnames will get the choice of poisoning the Druid Grove or not, which won't be an option for Good or Neutral Charnames. And another example: Charname Thieves won't be able to join Bodhi against the Shadow Thieves in respect to the Guild War. And that's about it. There are almost no stat-checks in dialogue and most of the Charisma-based ones were devalued by gifting the player a ring that sets their Charisma to 18 in Chapter One, which is just stupid.

Original BG reactivity has been covered in multiple posts, beginning here.

• Races, Classes & Kits. (My recent class write-up is here). Here is what BG2 added:

• One new Race: Half-orc.
• Three new base Classes: Sorcerer, Barbarian & Monk.
• One new Specialist Mage: Wild Mage.
• 21 Kits aka Prestige Classes: For Fighter we have Berserker, Wizard Slayer, Kensai; for Ranger Archer, Stalker, Beastmaster; for Paladin Cavalier, Inquisitor, Undead Hunter; for Cleric Priest of Talos, of Helm, of Lathander; for Druid Totemic Druid, Shapeshifter, Avenger; for Thief Assassin, Bounty Hunter, Swashbuckler; and for Bard Blade, Jester, Skald.

The question is: Does this or does this not constitute a good addition to the Bhaalspawn Saga? Overall, I'd answer in the affirmative but you could certainly omit quite a few of the above and nothing of value would be lost. What does the Sorcerer add that Mage doesn't already cover, for example - other than an easier solo wank? [1] Barbarian is way cooler than Berserker. What on earth are Wizard Slayer and Inquisitor doing in BG? They are useless and OP garbage, respectively - and boring as hell to play. The Druid and Cleric PRCs are almost wholly dross, too.
[1] It's not so much the extra spells you get to cast per day (that's actually meaningless to the rest-spamming solo player of a Sorc) but rather over-leveling yourself and having natural access to high level key spells the scrolls for which aren't available to Mages until much later in the campaign; the campaign not balanced relative to the spell range at your disposal. Any fool can solo a Sorc; it just takes foreknowledge of what the key spells are. And then, cast them over and over again at key points.

My other problem with prestige/new classes is how they are implemented: the fact that they are selectable at first level makes little sense and renders the base classes redundant. Short of obvious dual-classing requirements, why be a stock Fighter when you can be a Barbarian? Why be a Paladin when you can be a Cavalier or Undead Hunter? In fact, why be anything BASIC when you can be PRESTIGIOUS? There really is little reason, and it would have been better if PRCs were classes that you worked towards, as in NWN, but I guess the Infinity Engine wasn't quite up to the task and BioWare did the best they could at the time.

Of course, in most cases, adding PRCs, extra base classes and the extra race to the original Baldur's Gate, completely imbalances a campaign whose combat encounters were not designed with the additions in mind, but that's a problem for EE, Tutu and BGT retards to wallow in, and original game balance will forever elude them until they play the original as it was intended by BioWare. Not to put too finer point on it, but what kind of RETARD eschews an original experience as intended by the original devs in favor of mods and remakes shat out 10 years later by people who don't know Jack about game balance, disrespected BG with their fan fiction-level drivel, and removed original artwork just because it didn't fit their current gen "sensibilities"? I write off anyone who prefers the "enhanced" version over the original; they are screened out from expressing their bad taste on my blog.

• The experience point cap (XP cap) has been increased from the humble 89,000 (BG) and 161,000 (TotSC) to the epic 2,950,000 for Shadows of Amn, taking the party to 17th-23rd level depending on their class. However, the Throne of Bhaal expansion further increases the XP cap to a whopping 8,000,000, meaning that Fighters, Barbarians, Clerics, Monks, Thieves and Bards can expect to reach 40th level, Paladins and Rangers 34th, and Mages, Sorcerers and Druids 31st. Essentially, Godhood.

A lot of people are against epic-level campaigns because they get pretty crazy (I prefer low level ones, too), but let's face it: the plot takes Charname to Godhood so the XP cap must as well. The prime issue with the XP cap is that SoA characters may end up over-leveled due to ToB increasing the XP cap for SoA in addition. As is the case with almost every expansion ever made for an RPG, the devs forget about game balance for the original campaign itself.

• The companion pool has been reduced from 25 to 17; however, the companions are more fleshed out and offer more in the way of banters, interjections and personal quests. In a few cases romance is an option, too. In fact, constantly being interrupted by the petty concerns of companions can grow a little tiresome for people who just want to play the game. About to face off against a red dragon in its lair? Put that on hold: Aerie wants to cry on your shoulder about the loss of her wings; this currently takes priority over dodging dragonsbreath. The banters are ridiculously intrusive and way over the top.

Note that the deeper companion pool of BG facilitates themed parties. There are far more party composition options in BG. Veterans can also accept the "chunking" of a couple of companions, knowing that there will be other companions to fill in for them later on. +8 companions makes a big difference in this mode of play. For more info on companions refer to the Party Composition & Companions section in Part III of my in-depth retrospective.

I prefer more companions with less waffle but I acknowledge I'm in the minority in this respect, even among veterans. I wouldn't care if romances were never a thing: in the first place, it was the fans writing their own that "inspired" BioWare to include them officially for the sequel - and RPGs were never the same again, as can clearly be seen by anyone who has eyes that can see, with the proliferation of what are essentially relationship sims that have little in common with the likes of classic Baldur's Gate and Fallout.

• The spell ranges have been increased from 46 divine and 72 arcane spells to 126 divine and 200 arcane spells. To top it off, you now have access to ContingenciesTriggers and Sequencers. Arcane spells already scribed to your spellbook are also eraseable; that is, if you have reached your "spells scribable per circle limit" (modified by INT) you may erase one of your (less useful) spells and memorize another, more useful one, in its place. Moreover, scribing spell scrolls to your spellbook now results in experience point rewards based on the level of the scroll. Along with the erase feature and the fact that there are some merchants who sell scrolls in infinite quantities, this is opens up potential for abuse (though it is mindlessly repetitive so I doubt many players are going to engage in it).
For more info on the basics of Arcane & Divine spellcasting, please refer to their respective sections in Part II and IV of my in-depth retrospective.
Mirror Image no longer protects against all damage until every illusion has been dispersed. Now, there is a chance you will be hit.

Despite the amount of deadweight in the circles and the OP nature of spells in general, I'm all for more spells that facilitate experimentation and mix up encounter outcomes. I mean, a strong argument could be made that BG2 offers the most interesting spellcasting duels in the genre, and a lot of that has to do with its expanded arcane and divine repertoire.

Some BG2 enemies can instantly fire spell triggers/contingencies of their own such as the Mage-only "Tattoo of Power". These are unavailable to the player, and are triggered by scripts. Demons, Beholders and certain epic enemies also instantly fire abilities from scripts, and can do so infinitely (Death gaze, Beholder rays, and even conventional spells). None of these are limited to casting times.

• Summoning Cap. Remember how in BG you could summon armies of skeletons, animals & monsters? Well, with the notable exception of Wild Surges and obvious exploits, summons are now capped at just five units. To make up for that a couple of summon spells scale with caster level such as Animate Dead & Spider Spawn. Plus, you can gate in demonic and celestial juggernauts such as pitfiends and planetars, and summon powerful minions such as mord swords, invisible stalkers and elemental princes.

While a lot less fun it's obviously a good idea to limit the number of summons, especially when you have the likes of a Planetar at your disposal flaunting a Silver Sword that inflicts on-hit vorpal at 6 ApR. Of course, Wild Mages and exploits will allow you to break through the BG2 cap, anyway.

• Find Familiar. This first circle arcane spell allows Charname-only Mages, Sorcerers and Bards to summon an alignment-flavored familiar with a few tricks up its sleeve such as scouting and utility skills. In addition its master receives a one-off and permanent HP bonus equal to 50% of the familiar's HPs. A Pseudo Dragon, for example, will grant you +12 HPs if summoned in SoA and +24 HPs if summoned in ToB. I advise keeping the familiar tucked away in your backpack because your spellcaster incurs a permanent one-point penalty to Constitution if it dies.
—Sorcerers should cast Find Familiar from a scroll rather than wasting a choice on it.

A pretty token addition to the Saga, aren't they? Most people just summon their Familiar for the one-off HP boost, keep it tucked away in their backpack so that it doesn't die, and then forget about it.

• Rest Until Healed (optional). Rest to have your HP pool fully replenished AND be cured of poison and disease (which is absurd).

A degenerate, newbie feature that reduces the need for clerics and consumable use. As such, I'm totally against it, optional or not.

• Max HPs on level up & 100% spell-scribing success (optional). Simply reduce the difficulty to below Core.

Two more degenerate options that should not be options. You're basically writing off the main function of Potions of Genius in respect to the latter. Learn to buff and learn to deal with failure; it's part of the game and its balance.

Many people pretend they are too hardcore to take advantage of the above two options, but secretly do anyway.

• Dual-classing to and from Specialists is banned. Remember how you could dual-class Imoen to Conjurer or Xzar to Cleric assuming you gave him a Tome of Understanding? Well, you can't do that anymore. Flavorless Generalists, only.

A side-effect of adding PRCs is that now players are deprived of a Core AD&D rule that they got used to in BG. Retarded.

• Inventory management has been reduced with the addition of containers; namely, Scroll Cases, Gem Bags, quivers, and even a Bag of Holding. Calling up Inventory mode pauses the game by default though this may be toggled in baldur.ini.

I don't like Bags of Holding because they trivialize the encumbrance mechanic and inventory management. If you can't carry it with the additional inventory slots of six party members then you don't deserve to have it. Either sell some stuff off or do without. Plus, items placed in a Bag of Holding are largely forgotten and who can find anything in them, anyway?

• Archery is not all-powerful. Elemental arrows have been nerfed; most notably, the Acid Arrows are down to 1d3 from 2d6. Detonation Arrows and Arrows of Dispelling are rare, too. Quivers for arrows and bolts are double-capacity.
Refer to the Archery section in Part II of my in-depth retrospective for the many reasons why archery was OP in Baldur's Gate.
—Budding archers are going to want to choose the Archer kit and get their hands on the Tuigan bow or Sling of Seeking as quickly as possible.

I don't see a need for nerfing arrows, but I'm not overly fussed by it because archery is still fun and effective.

• Class-based Strongholds. Each base class has access to a stronghold upon completion of a certain quest, each of which offer a series of quests that are unrelated to the main quest. These are ok for shits n gigs and a bit of extra cash flow, but not much else.

Yep, these are basically mini-games that are not integrated meaningfully into the plot, and so I wouldn't care if they never existed, just like everything else in BG2 that is tacked-on (familiars, kits, romances, strongholds, HLAs). That said, the Mage stronghold at least nets you an ADHW scroll and a second Ring of Wizardry (the other one is found as part of Jaheira's personal quest).

• Expanded Crafting. Most players are on the lookout for components that may be forged into extremely powerful items by Cromwell in SoA and Cespenar in ToB. BG offered crafting in the form of Taerom Thunderhammer being able to forge you Ankheg Armor from an Ankheg Shell. That was it, and that was enough.

Does Crom/Cesp crafting really add anything of substance? Might as well just appropriately itemize the item in question instead of making the player hang on to bits and bobs and jump through annoying dialogue hoops during the forging process. Crafted items are better rewarded through quests that add lore and context to the components, as opposed to just randomly littering the campaign with them. For example, no reason is given as to why an enemy is holding one half of a mythical item, other than he, she or it is epic. Retarded.

• Utility Experience Points. As if quest and kill experience point rewards were not enough, experience points are now also dished out for opening locks, disarming traps and scribing spells to your spell book. The last one can REALLY add up and tilt the balance in your favor in the early going. Spell-scribing is also open to abuse: find stacks of spell scrolls and MemorizeEraseRinse repeat. (Some merchants sell infinite quantities of high-level spell scrolls.)

UEP is ok, though I would have significantly increased the XP for disarming traps and picking locks in order to add more value to having a Thief in the party; BG2 devalued Thieves in a variety of ways. How? By not making traps deadly enough, by allowing the arcane repertoire to replace thief skills to a large degree, and by making almost every lock physically breakable (every plot-critical lock is definitely bash-able with solid Str scores which all warriors will have).

• Weapon Proficiencies & Styles. General proficiencies have been removed and replaced with specific entries; f.e, there is no longer a Large Sword proficiency. Instead, Large Sword is broken up into LongswordBastard SwordKatanaScimitar & Two-handed Sword.

To me, this makes little sense and adds nothing to the Saga's balance: the weapons are not so different as to require separate training; not in a fantasy RPG such as this, which also does not itemize all weapons fairly, as NWN does. It's a completely unnecessary change.

• Weapon Styles have also been added, the most powerful of which is the Two Weapon Style aka dual-wielding, which when combined with +ApR weapons and Improved Haste bestows an epic attack rate almost straight out of the blocks. Also, the proficiency table has been nerfed.

I didn't like how the proficiency table was nerfed: Fighters are cheated out of Grandmastery in BG and when they finally get it in BG2, it's nerfed? This caused me to become butthurt. I would much rather a campaign balanced for True Grandmastery rather than fail with all this +ApR nonsense.

Let's think about it: there is no reason for 10 ApR. The BG max of 5 ApR is enough. The animations look correct at 5 ApR and and their accompanying weapon sounds are not lost (the sound of drawing a bowstring, the sound of the chain and ball on a flail). It would have been better to simply itemize more powerful weapons, and keep the ApR at 5. 10 ApR is just munckinism.

BioWare's BG2 weapon balance is completely out of whack and I wonder what they were smoking when they coded them. Thankfully, mods are capable of bringing it all back to the way it was in BG.

• High Level Abilities: At epic levels (usually around 3,000,000 total XP) each base class gains their own HLA pool to make selections from during the level-up process.

There are 43 HLAs in total. Some of them are obscenely OP, others are of questionable utility, and others yet are utterly uninspiring and indeed useless. HLAs feel tacked on because they are.

• Extra Thief SkillsStealth has been separated into Hide in Shadows & Move Silently skills. In addition two very powerful skills have been added: Detect Illusion & Set Traps.
For a rundown on the basics please refer to the Stealth & Theft section in Part II of my in-depth retrospective.

Not against the added skills, though it seems pointless to break Stealth in two (even if that's as per AD&D rules - BioWare broke a lot of rules, anyway).

• Epic foes. Tired of gibberlings, xvarts, tasloi and kobolds? Well, you will be excited to learn that the sequel introduces goblins and orcs from Icewind Dale! Hah! But you will also be pitted against dragons, demons, devils, giants, golems, illithid, beholders, drow, vamps, high level mages and liches! Prepare to be tormented by an epic repertoire of enemy abilities such as dragon-fear and wing-buffet, demi-lich Imprisonment, mindflayer psionics, Mage Time Stop and Level Drain. Luckily, your spells, items and HLAs will see you through. 

• Extremely powerful items. (My recent weapon write-up is here). Keep an eye out for items that confer blanket immunities; that is, when equipped they bestow (f.e) mind shield or freedom status. Also be on the lookout for weapons with on-hit elemental damage (to bypass Stoneskin) and on-hit negative status effects. The Flail of Ages & Celestial Fury are prime examples: their respective Slow & Stun effects are devastating and bypass MR. The flail does not even allow a saving throw, meaning there is no way for the enemy to resist its crippling Slowing effect.

Demi-gods need to wield godly weapons and have access to godly items, but BG2 still went way overboard. The Robe of Vecna being available in Chapter One is a prime example, in that it gives you an unfair advantage over every rival spellcaster in the campaign, one that you didn't even have to work for beyond getting some cash-flow going. Baldur's Gate had far superior itemization balance, overall; for example, it felt rewarding to find that Large Shield +2 deep down in Durlag's Tower.

• Overworld waylays. YOU HAVE BEEN WAYLAID BY ENEMIES AND MUST DEFEND YOURSELF. Unlike BG which drew randomly from preset pools of potentially lethal arrangements, area-transition ambushes are entirely scripted, and largely benign, in BG2. Waylays in both Athkatla and its outskirts are not so much about offering up a challenge as they are about giving the player gold, several arcane scrolls and a magical weapon such as Arbane. And even a highly rewarding quest.

BG waylays included Ogre Mages, Basilisks and Wyverns. Repeat after me: Basilisks. In fact, between the The Lion's Way and Friendly Arm Inn, it is possible for first-level Charnames to be waylaid by several archer-bandits sporting 2 ApR each. BG2 waylays are a joke compared to this.

Improved Pathing Routine. While still not perfect it's a damn sight better than what it was in Baldur's Gate. All units benefit from a movement speed increase, too.

A great and welcome enchancement to the Infinity Engine, though it does weaken ranged attacks a bit.

Mega-Dungeons. The differences between Durlag's Tower and Watcher's Keep have already been highlighted by me in The Tower vs. the Keep. In short, the Tower shits on the Keep.

Lore Descriptions. Compare a humble +3 weapon lore description (BG) with an epic +5 weapon lore description (BG2).

World's Edge (SW2H07, two-handed sword, BG: TotSC): THAC0 +3, 1d10 +3 slashing.
This is a legendary weapon of heroic proportions, especially among the far-northern tribes of barbarians. Champion after champion has wielded this blade against countless enemies, and the blood it has spilled could fill a small sea. History will not admit that such a blade could be forged and each consecutive owner seems to tie its origin to whatever creation myth they believe. The most grandiose of these tales is that of a great chieftain who sailed to the cliffs that supposedly bordered the world. There he reached into the void, and his will shaped the blade from nothing. Whatever the truth, in the right hands this sword is a fearsome thing.

Gram the Sword of Grief (SW2H17 [basic], SW2H18, [upgraded], two-handed sword [craft], BG2: ToB).

◦ THAC0 +5, 1d10 +5 slashing, on-hit 10% chance of 2d12 poison.
This is one of the many weapons of the great hero Siegfried. The blade is particularly sharp and well balanced, and in a certain light one can see the faint image of a serpent within the hilt.
◦ THAC0 +5, 1d10 +5 slashing, on-hit 10% chance of 2d12 poison, on-hit Level Drain save vs. death at -5, 5% MR.
Siegfried's fearsome blade is even more powerful with the Heart of the Damned set into its pommel.

It's not that you can easily make Gram sound better than WE; BioWare just should have put more effort in. Literally any twaddler could churn out that Gram "lore" (if you want to call it that). Foebane, Blackrazor, Angurvadal and Usuno's Blade have two-sentence lore descriptions. Two-sentence lore decriptions for epic ToB wields. Now, compare Varscona (a +2 longsword from BG):

Blades of this type were long used by Sharran priests during the sacrificial rites of "Feast of the Moon" ceremonies. Legends say that, when she passed on, the remains of this sword's wielder were mummified and the blade was placed within her chest as a symbol of power. In the first stage of a long forgotten ritual, she was to have been exhumed in a season, born again in some new form. Unfortunately, cult wars killed the few that knew of her existence; her tomb became a prison where she was forgotten, and there she developed a rage that bordered on insanity. Her grave was eventually found, but it was deserted and gave no indication of her whereabouts. Some venture to say that her anger was so concentrated, she became one with the very blade of her weapon. Regardless, after hundreds of years surrounded by constant hate, the sword harvested a power of its own. It is now exceedingly deadly in combat.

BG2 even gives Celestial Furythe best longblade in the IE games — a generic katana description.

What this comes down to: laziness. Not that lifting lore from AD&D sourcebooks is hard work, but at least it's authentic.

• User Interface. The numerous changes and additions to the UI have been already been covered in Part I of my User Interface Evolution series of posts. Basically, BG2 added to UI functionality but its UI is aesthetically inferior to the original. Here's an excerpt:

Paperdoll comparison: If you think the one on the right looks better than the one on the left then you have appalling aesthetic taste. For the sequel BioWare actually reduced the paperdoll's size and made it blurry. The Helm of Balduran looks pathetic and the large shield looks just awful. You know, there is a reason why the One Pixel Productions mod exists: it's because the sequel's paperdolls and character sprites are shit.

Advantages/Disadvantages to playing Baldur's Gate in the BG2 engine (Tutu, BGT, EE):

πŸ™Œ advantage / πŸ™ disadvantage / πŸ‘ŒLilura-approved / πŸ’© Lilura-disapproved

Note that I don't consider all of the advantages to be positives; in fact, almost all of them are negatives and original game balance forever eludes those who play BG in the BG2 engine; so much so, that I would go as far as to say that you have not played the real BG as the devs intended it to be if you have only played Tutu, BGT or EE.

πŸ™Œ Optional Rest Until Healed, Max HPs on level up & 100% spell-scribing success. Newbie features that many people pretend they're too hardcore to use but secretly do anyway. The first clearly devalues clerical and potion healing post-battle, and the second and third are accessed by simply reducing game difficulty while leveling up/scribing spells. Max HPs means an obviously easier time of it and 100% SSS devalues high intelligence (e.g, Gnome 19) and potion of genius. The difference between successfully scribing your first Web, Sleep and Blindness scroll and not, is big. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Experience cap. It's removed in Tutu. Whee! (Not sure about BGT.) That said, short of farming, you are unlikely to level to a point far beyond the 161,000 XP cap of TotSC with a party of six. Soloists will, though. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Increased spell ranges + Find Familiar. The low level BG2 spells are indeed itemized and available to Sorcs (e.g., Minor Sequencer). In addition, Charname Bards, Mages and Sorcs have access to Familiars that flaunt powerful spell-like abilities, resistances, immunities and skills; for example: Polymorph Self, Invisibility 10' Radius, 50% MR, 100% ER, 1 HP per round regeneration, 2 ApR and up to 24 HPs (a Familiar has almost double the HPs of your first lvl Fighter). Yeah, I don't need to say anything else. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Increased movement speed. Enables your melee guys to close in on spellcasters and archers much more quickly. I don't need to explain why that is advantageous, do I? πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ +1 race, +3 classes, +1 specialist kit, +21 kits (more for EE). Half-orc Barbs can Rage for 25 strength almost straight out of the blocks (Rage stacks with DUHM). That's a huge THAC0 and dmg bonus compared to the max you can start with in vanilla, which is 18/00 (which you have a 1% chance to roll). Both Barbs and Zerks get powerful blanket immunities that protect against lethal negative status effects. Sorcs don't have to find spell scrolls and get to cast their spells more times per day. So yeah, many of the kits are incredibly powerful. How about mage-killer Inquisitor? Or how about a fucking werewolf that inflicts 1d12 per hit and is immune to normal weapons... in BG? πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Extra companions and quests (EE only). Access to more companions only makes things easier. Dorn is an upgraded Minsc (stronger and with better abilities) and Baeloth is more powerful than even Edwin (more spell slots per day, Drow MR). πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Player-Leveled PCs (EE only). The ability to recruit a companion mid-game (max lvl-scale is 32,000) and assign their proficiencies and skills at each level is clearly advantageous to putting up with sub-optimal scaling tiers for companions in the vanilla game. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Extra thief skills. While Stealth is broken up into Move Silently and Hide in Shadows, the advantages granted by Detect Illusion and Set Snares far outstrip that disadvantage. Illusions are now of trivial concern. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Poison and disease cured by resting. EE probably addressed this, but I doubt Tutu or BGT did because you can definitely cure both negative status effects by resting in vanilla BG2. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Expanded proficiency table. Breaking up weapon groupings makes things harder, but don't forget the Weapon Style proficiencies that were added: dual-wielding and two-handed grant +ApR and +crits. Clearly, an advantage. Also, don't believe anyone who says dual-wielding is not powerful in BG: I soloed SCS Tutu with Drizzt dual-blades. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Utility XP from thieving/scribing. From memory, UEP has been cut down, or can be modded down, but it's still an advantage to get extra experience points for picking locks, disarming traps and scribing spells. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ High Mastery in Chargen (****). Even with the nerfed grandmastery table this is still an advantage. Not sure if EE unnerfs GM. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Ammo stacks doubled. Pretty minor but it cuts down on inventory management and makes ranged combat more attractive (as does the ability to bulk-buy ammo). πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Maxed mob spawns. Vanilla spawns are scaled to party size and level but Tutu spawns are maxed, which means you don't get one gibberling on that first map with Elminster, but rather five or six. At first, this may seem difficult. But really, just tank, fire your bow and cast Sleep. And that means increased wealth and XP progression that ends up making the campaign too easy, too early. BGT might be the same but definitely not EE. I noticed that timed spawns have been excluded in Tutu. I wonder if they are in EE.. πŸ’©
πŸ™Œ Magic Resistance does not ward against friendly arcane and divine spellsAnother clear advantage that goes against original dev intention of game balance (MR was supposed to be both a blessing and a curse). It means you can buff or heal an MR-resistant party member and they won't resist the spell. πŸ’© 
πŸ™ Summons capped to five units. This is probably the single biggest disadvantage, at least, for those who abuse summons. Original-game summons are uncapped, meaning you could summon tons of undead, monsters and animals. Actually, Tutu features uncapped summons. Not sure about BGT and EE. πŸ‘Œ
πŸ™ Nerfed elemental ammo. Acid and fire arrows have been nerfed; the acid from 2d6 to 1d3. Clearly, a disadvantage. πŸ’©
πŸ™ Less powerful Mirror Image. Buffed with this spell, there is still a chance you will be hit. In BG you can't be hit until every single image is dispersed. Then again, it effects enemy mages, too. πŸ‘Œ
πŸ™† Improved pathing routine. Is IPR advantageous or disadvantageous? When you take into account the ease with which one can exploit bad pathing, I'd say the latter. However, for those who don't abuse limited nodes IPR is clearly advantageous. Why? Simply because your combat units are more likely to actually go where you tell them to go, rather than getting stuck on each other or bumping into each other and taking off in the opposite direction.  πŸ‘Œ

While some of the above can be modded into Tutu and BGT, it still isn't BG: the BG2 engine just made too many changes to mod them all back to the way they should be.

If you want to play SCS in BG then you will need Tutu, BGT or EE. Disgusting, I know. You see, the author of SCS didn't want to work out how to mod the original BG, which is very different and not well understood. Thus, thanks to the ignorance of the community (most modders are BG2 newbies), there is no tactical equivalent outside of the BG2 engine.

Maybe one day a genuine fan of the original BG will come along to give it the tactics overhaul it deserves. I would definitely play it and I bet its performance would be better than SCS, which suffers from immersion-breaking script-based lag. For an example of what can be done in the original BG, search this post for "Lich Res 1" (no quotes). That link proves BG is capable of better AI.



  1. In BG2 you found locations because you were brought there by quests, in BG1 you explored locations and found quests. The latter more open world design definitely has something to said for it, though it depends on exploration being able to actually uncover interesting stuff. BG1 regularly delivered on that score, but not all games can be counted on to do so.

    BG Kits were not really intended to be the same sort of thing as Prestige Classes, and I think your criticism is partly off-base on account of treating these as equivalent. In theory, kits were a more specialized version of a particular class, that was better than the base class in some ways, but also possessed some important disadvantages (e.g., Assassin is stronger in combat than the basic Thief, but has weaker non-combat skills). Choosing one of the kits or the basic class would thus (again, in theory) be rather similar to the trade-offs in choosing a race: you could, e.g., be an Elf with +DEX and -CON, a dwarf with the opposite, or a human with neither bonuses or penalties, and that made for an interesting choice since there were advantages and disadvantages to any of the possible courses. Similarly you were supposed to be able pick Kit A with advantage in X and disadvantage in Y, Kit B with the opposite, the base class with neither bonus nor penalty, etc. In practice, of course, this did not really work out because the Kits were poorly balanced and many of them either had no important disadvantage or one that could be readily circumvented by some sort of exploit. So the actual implementation did indeed create the problematic situation you describe, with some kits being OP and others rather useless.

    In general, I think BG2 successfully added some new options that led to richer character building and more interesting choices, but was also starting to suffer from the feature bloat that often afflicts sequels and expansions, whereby so much new content becomes added that it becomes a practical impossibility to balance it all and integrate it properly with other game elements.

  2. Thank you for this post. I get a bit sad when people assume that playing BG1 in the sequel's engine is the norm, just because of some ease of use options and added kits. The original is just fine as it is in my opinion and both games should be treated as separate parts. I never liked BG2 engine with its silly dual wielding and I better not start to ramble about its ugliness.

    1. I prefer the writing in BG, too. The syntax, vocab and tone are much more to my taste/generation. Also, closer to AD&D tradition.

  3. Yesterday, I had a discussion with my friends about playing BG (and perhaps BG2 later on) on multiplayer, I'm curious what is your opinion on the issue described below, maybe you have some experience that you can share on the matter:

    We have a group of 4, currently we're playing through IWD2 (man that game can be buggy on mp) and we finished IWD with its expansions (and some mods restoring original stuff, but nothing major. This game rocks on mp in my opinion). Yesterday we were pondering about playing BG on mp, but one guy in our team is againt that. He's saying that there's too much dialogue (we are playing on Saturday nights) and more open world means arguments within the team on the direction, everyone has their own style of playing and so on. My response was that in BG the dialogues are mostly a flavour where you can roleplay your character a bit, there should be no game changing issues other than pissing someone off and losing rep. The direction in which we should go is a matter of finding the compromise no matter how long it'll take (he's quite stubborn) in my opinion. In the sequel the dialogue can be a bit tiring, but fortunately there will be no time wasting on cringe-worthy romances.

    What is you take on playing both BGs on mp? Do you have some kind of advice perhaps? I played some of both games on mp with other people, but was never able to get any further than the first chapter (people lost interest, or started fighting with other team members).

    1. I don't have much experience with MP, I'm afraid. That said, I can sort of see how BG and BG2 would not be as MP-friendly as IWD, IWD2 and NWN OC.

      Still, it could end up being a fun way to pass the time.


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