You know what I like about the Baldur's Gateseries? The diligent support. When you pool together all the sequels and expansions, it's like playing an ongoing pen and paper campaign. Build up your character in the first BG, run him through Tales of the Sword Coast, then the sequel (BG II: SoA) and now there's a brand new story which expands the sequel. You can bet your last magic missle I'll be importing my character into the new Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal.
The story begins not long after the conclusion of Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn. You've discovered that you are, indeed, hellspawn (just as your parents have always told you). More accurately, you are Bhaalspawn [uhh...no comment? - Ed.] You are the offspring of the Lord of Murder and you aren't an only child. A multitude of Bhaalspawn like yourself are squabbling amongst themselves for a full inheritance and apparently Bhaal's talent for magic is not a recessive trait. The story is pretty interesting and compels you to travel on to learn more.
In terms of combat not much has changed. The gameplay is tried and true, as you control your crew of mercenaries, freaks and do-gooders against waves of spell-slamming malcontents and ne'er-do-wells. Of course the game can always be slowed down to actual roll by roll combat, old-school D&D style. If you're familiar with BG then this is all old-hat.
Basically, if you're not slinging some kind of magic, you're not going anywhere. There are plenty of folks in Tethyr who know how to use magic and there's plenty of magic to go around. There are legions of foes that will need conquering. The more difficult of the lot will be hurling spells as powerful as your own and don't forget your fellow Bhaalspawn, your brothers and sisters. You don't want to run into too many of those guys until you've mastered the art of spell management.
This element of play is great for players who like to fudge around with their spellbook, but can be tedious as hell for those who would rather rely on cunning or strength. Sure, you can let the magically inclined amongst your party do their own spell management, but be prepared as they randomly select spells for memorization and use battle magic without much of an idea about priorities. So don't rely on these guys for any type of enchanted rescue.
Your opponents don't have any problems figuring out which spells will knock you on your ass. They have them committed to memory, highlighted in yellow in their spellbooks and flagged with post-it notes.
Not only do they put the whammy on you and your party of merry men and women, they also talk smack. The voice acting for their threats and other pithy remarks, as well as the voices of others you encounter along your travels, are up to the BG standard - as good or better than anything else around. People also have more to say this time than in previous games.
But what's the reason for all this chatter? Your reputation proceeds you. The people of the Sword Coast have heard about you, who you are or what you've been up to. You no longer have the comforting obscurity of newbieness.
You begin the game at level 20 (characters imported from your previous BGIIgame are automatically advanced) with a full compliment of skills and items. In the D&D realm, that's very powerful and it's the reason that the characters you encounter throughout the game react to you the way they do - with extreme prejudice. As a result, these high-level battles can be a hoot to watch.
The experience cap is set to 8 million points. That's 40th level for some characters...or pretty much demi-god status to us here on the Prime Material plane.
The graphics in BGII:ToB don't look much better than those in BGII:SoA, which didn't look much better than Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, which didn't look much better than Baldur's Gate. You'll have to wait until Neverwinter Nights before you can lead your party through a sparsely wooded plain without losing them behind trees and other stationary objects. We're all ready for a graphical upgrade.
This is a huge expansion, increasing the chapters in the BGII saga from seven to ten. It also offers a massive dungeon called Watcher's Keep, which is available at any point in the game and is filled with powerful artifacts guarded by powerful creatures. It's just the right place to test your skills, but make sure you have some before you go there. The creatures you will encounter won't be pleased to see you (and if they are pleased…believe me, that's not good, either).
Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal is another great addition to the series. It's a little more geared towards the magic-lover, but anyone familiar with D&D knows that if you make it to level 20 and above, you're gonna find magic playing a huge part in your survival. So prepare your mental tome for the next installment of the greatest PC RPG from here to the Forgotten Realms.