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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Throne of Bhaal

Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (Game release date: 2001)
Less inspired than its predecessor, Shadows of Amn, but still a good conclusion to the Baldur's Gate epic.

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Highlights: Brings the masterful Baldur's Gate series to a satisfying conclusion. Lowlights: This kind of sequel will only be fun if you played the previous game.

On its own merits, Throne of Bhaal would be a good but not great game. Combat drags a bit and moving the characters around can get tedious, but these inconveniences can be largely eliminated with the help of the convenient built-in customization/cheat module. The quests are well-written and varied, and the NPC's have well-developed personalities and plenty of interaction. Character development is fun, especially the high-level D&D feats the party can acquire. The plot is straightforward and allows you to choose from several different endings.

In point of fact, though, Throne of Bhaal is an add-on to the superb Baldur's Gate 2, and its value as a game is heightened by the fact that it is the conclusion to that epic. The main character has the opportunity to answer once and for all the question of his or her destiny (in one of several different ways), the romances from BG2 reach their natural conclusions (including the Viconia romance, which ended uneasily in the last installment with the characters taking a break from each other), the characters reach the pinnacle of their power, and all of the party NPC's get some character development and a biographical postscript (a particularly nice touch). Due to these features, the game is really a must-play for anyone who enjoyed Shadows of Amn. Throne of Bhaal is only about 1/4 the size of the original game and the plot is much more linear, so it plays through comparatively quickly.

Style: Throne of Bhaal is a D&D-based CRPG with a third-person birdseye interface. You control and develop a six-person party of which one character is your protagonist and the other five are chosen from a group of 18 NPC's each with his or her own voiceset, personality, and agenda. The plot is a role-playing adventure and there are fantasy, horror, psychological, and relationship themes. The game is untimed and requires no manual dexterity. Combat is turn-based.

Series: Throne of Bhaal is part of a series by Bioware and Black Isle Studios which includes Baldur's Gate, Tales of the Sword Coast, Shadows of Amn, and Throne of Bhaal. Technically speaking, Throne of Bhaal could work as a stand-alone game, but it wouldn't be much fun this way--you'd be stuck with a bunch of NPC's you have no backstory with, finishing the final piece of a saga you learn in condensed form from the narrator. It's just not a good enough game to work under such unfavorable conditions. Do yourself a favor and play Shadows of Amn first--they use the same interface anyway, and Shadows of Amn is a better game than Throne of Bhaal is, so you're losing nothing by doing them in order. Tales of the Sword Coast, on the other hand, is irrelevant to the epic (it's just a sidebar adventure and you can play it or not as you wish), and Baldur's Gate, the first of the sequence, was released in 1998 and shows its age. If you fall in love with SoA and ToB, you can always go back and play Baldur's Gate when you're through... and then export that character and play SoA and ToB all over again. Luckily they're all very replayable games, with many different paths to be taken. (-:

Finding Throne of Bhaal: This game is still in print so you should have no problem finding it in your favorite software store. If you haven't played Shadows of Amn yet, you can buy the two games bundled together, an especially good value. If you already have Shadows of Amn, you can buy Throne of Bhaal alone for either PC or Mac.

Getting Throne of Bhaal to Work: Throne of Bhaal is a recent game and ought to be plug-and-play. Bugs occasionally occur in some of the longer-running interactive sequences (such as the romances) when you somehow skip one of the important dialogues. If this happens to you, visit one of the several active Throne of Bhaal forums; it's usually fixable from the console, and one of the regulars there can step you through it.

Hints For Throne of Bhaal: I have a page of Throne of Bhaal hints up online, with a complete low-spoiler walkthrough for the game as well. If you prefer, you can buy a Throne of Bhaal Hint Book.

Pitfalls In Throne of Bhaal: There's nothing you need to be aware of before you start. If you want some spoiler-free party formation and general playing suggestions, click here.

Game Length: 20-30 hours, depending how many sidebars you pursue. This is definitely not a full-length CRPG, but by building on story and character arcs already set up in the last game, it gets more accomplished plotwise than you'd expect from a game its size.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up) due to suspense/horror themes and small amounts of non-graphic sex.

Lora's Throne of Bhaal Review: (Excellent)

It's very difficult to rate Throne of Bhaal against full-scale games--for one thing, it's half as long as many other games on the market, which means it necessarily has fewer quests, puzzles, and time for character development. For another, many of the quests and plot points within it are dependent upon Shadows of Amn, and it can be hard to disambiguate the two. Here's my best shot:

Plot and Quests: The storyline is quite linear, especially compared to Shadows of Amn. There are really two main plots here, slaying your character's evil siblings and choosing your character's final destiny; the first is straightforward and not especially innovative, but the second is good. This shorter game has fewer side quests than Shadows of Amn, but many of them have multiple solutions.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: Like its predecessor, Throne of Bhaal places less emphasis on spatial, visual, or verbal puzzles and more on solving quests, many of which have trails of clues to be followed (not just some object to be retrieved). There are many fewer puzzles in this expansion than there were in Shadows of Amn.
Characters: You only get one PC in Throne of Bhaal, but this PC is completely customizable and you can develop his or her personality to your liking using the many different conversational options you get, including determining your ultimate place in the world. You can also have up to five NPCs in your party at a time, each of whom comes with his or her own personality and interactive style. The NPCs are slightly more uneven in this game than the last--some of them are even more fascinating companions than they were in SoA, while others tend to fade into the background. They all still have dozens of interactions with you, with each other, and with the gameworld, and all four romantic plotlines can continue to satisfying endings. There is also a new NPC available--Sarevok, from the original Baldur's Gate game--and he has an interesting subplot of his own. All the dialogue remains well-written.
Gameworld: Throne of Bhaal takes place in the Forgotten Realms, so the setting doesn't have any surprises in it for the veteran player of either CRPG's or tabletop D&D. Unfortunately, the weary familiarity of the surroundings can grate on your nerves a lot more in this add-on than in the first game--there are few townsfolk to interact with, no remarkable depth of interesting strangers to keep the world as original as SoA managed to. Fortunately, there are lots of new monsters, locations, and one new NPC to keep it from becoming dull.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): Straight AD&D-based, a good solid rendition of that game system. You get a lot of input into the character development of both your PC and your party NPC's. Leveling is even more fun than it was in Shadows of Amn, as the high-level feats and spells are terrific.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): Exactly the same as Shadows of Amn. A decently good interface with a few sour spots, particularly the difficulty in keeping your party together as they cross long distances (they tend to spread out as faster characters outpace the slower ones) and the tedium of having to manually cast 12 or 15 buffing spells in the proper order before each big battle. Oh, how I wish they had put in an automated "cast the same sequence of spells as last time" command. Combat is turn-based and very tactical.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The player has an Ultima-style birds-eye view of the party and the world they're interacting with. It's all well-drawn, and the music is pretty good. Although the voice acting is not as impressive as it was in Shadows of Amn, it is still a strong suit.

Other notes: Throne of Bhaal comes with a built-in and easy-to-activate console that can be used to completely customize your playing experience and/or cheat your head off. I'm not a big fan of cheating ordinarily, but this console adds to the replayability of the game tremendously by allowing you to eliminate the elements you find most tedious on subsequent play-throughs.

Lora's Recommendations: Throne of Bhaal is really only interesting if you've already played Shadows of Amn, but it does make a good finale to that excellent game.

If You Loved Throne of Bhaal: Then I assume you've already played Shadows of Amn; if not, you definitely should go back and play it now, as it has all the same strengths in greater depth. You may also enjoy going back to play the original Baldur's Gate. Its characters and quests are not as breathtaking as its sequel, but they're still very good, and despite some interface flaws, it's still a fun game today. Planescape Torment, created by the same team who made the Baldur's Gate games, is a very different style of game (darker, more story-driven, your character is immortal), but its ambience and NPCs are similarly wonderful. Other high-quality CRPG's you may enjoy include Fallout II, Morrowind, and Wizardry 8. Finally, since you share my love of Baldur's Gate 2, I'll also recommend my favorite game from the graphic adventure genre: The Longest Journey.

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