Go for the eyes, Boo!!!
Approaching a game like Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition from a critical standpoint can be difficult. On the one hand, it's a faithful recreation of a RPG classic, complete with a diverse cast of characters and a fully-realized virtual world. But the "Enhanced Edition" moniker still remains, and developer Beamdog fails to effectively capitalize on the titular promise. The re-release does include four new characters with their own respective quest lines, but the quality of the content fails to shine and in turn marks BGII: Enhanced Edition as a merely serviceable release.
Despite all the potential changes and tweaks that come with a polished re-release, it's important to look at the original experience in an effort to see if it holds up years down the line. We all know the history of Baldur's Gate II by now and how it cemented BioWare as one of the leading names in the RPG genre, but even more impressive is how the company crafted a game that still feels fresh and exciting 13 years later. The core mechanics that define the Baldur's Gate series do not feel dated—rather, they exist in a unique state of intense strategy and numbers-based calculations that provide players with a satisfying challenge. It can make for a daunting experience, especially for newcomers who must consider statistical elements like AC and THAC0. But Baldur's Gate II is the kind of game in which truly invested players are rewarded with a deep and constantly rewarding experience… regardless of death counts (let's just say I died a lot).
Baldur's Gate II's world and cast of characters also go a long way in establishing the game as a classic. The Forgotten Realms is a wonderfully detailed fantasy setting, and the world is populated by numerous creatures and magic-wielding foes. The companions the player travels with are the most compelling characters, though, and the narrative in Baldur's Gate II succeeds most when meaningful relationships are forged throughout the epic journey. My personal favorite—Minsc—returns from the original game, and he's absolutely hilarious. Who doesn't love a slightly psychotic warrior who talks to his pet hamster named Boo?
Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition tries to improve the cast by adding four new characters and additional content for each of those personalities, but the result is only slightly successful. Players now come across Neera, Rasaad yn Bashir, Dorn Il Khan, and Hexxat, and each meeting leads to quest lines and incredibly challenging battles. The additional content is welcome, but only one of the characters, Hexxat, struck me as truly memorable. The narrative surrounding the evil female thief was one of my favorite experiences with the Enhanced Edition, and the final twist at the end of her quest line was especially shocking. But for a game that already contains hours upon hours of content, the new characters and quests felt relatively thin.
Outside of those new characters, Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition does not really include a whole lot of… enhancements. The re-release does support modern resolutions, and I had no problems whatsoever when I booted the game up for the first time. Rest assured that the pre-rendered backgrounds still look impressive for a 13-year-old game, and there's even an option to zoom in and get a better look at the surroundings. Add in a few handy interface options and that's the sum of Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition.
It's a shame more content wasn't added to this version of Baldur's Gate II, especially when one gets a look at the $25 price point. That potentially leads to tangential debates about price vs. experience, but let's not forget that the original game can be purchased for just $10 from a place like GOG. The only meaningful thing separating the two versions is the inclusion of new characters and quests, and those additions aren't quite strong enough to make Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition an easy recommendation.