There are only 3 computer games I have ever played start to finish – Halo, Freedom Force vs. the 3rd Reich (hilarious) and Baldur’s Gate 2. I think Baldur’s Gate 2 would have to qualify as absolutely the best computer game I have ever played. It was challenging, it had excellent dialogue, excellent plot and a fine atmosphere. Recently brought to reminiscing about its excellence by some of the second-rate games I have played in the last few years, I thought I would share with the uncaring internet my 3 favourite moments (i.e. battles) from the game.
1. The Umber Hulks in Nalia’s Castle
According to the walkthrough which I visited to refresh my memory as to the name of this place, the 4 Umber Hulks in the basement of Nalia’s Castle only qualify for the comment “there are 4 Umber Hulks in here”. This comment hardly encapsulates the 5 hours of pain (on christmas day, 2001) which I went through to slay the bastards. At this time I was about 8th level, and since this was my first ever computer game (honestly) I was still labouring under the illusion that using loopholes in the rules was “bad faith” play. So I didn’t rest at all in Nalia’s castle and by the time I got to the basement I had no spells left. I completed this adventure using only magic items. I had, for example, no spells to protect my players against confusion and no healing left. So there was no way I cold fight 4 Umber Hulks directly. In order to get through this room I had to use a tactic, and developing the tactic convinced me that BG2 is the siznich. The tactic was: send Yoshimo (the assassin) into the room under stealth, with all the other PCs lined up as far as possible from the door, my mage in front carrying a wand of cone of cold, that had only 5 charges… Yoshimo ambushed the closest Umber Hulk and fled, drawing that single Umber Hulk into the room. If he cut to the side of the door quickly, the Umber Hulk’s confusion ray would fall harmlessly into empty space. Yoshimo then stealthed himself, and once the Hulk was through the door he shut it to prevent any others straying through. At the same time my mage would unleash cone of cold on the charging Hulk and all 3 other characters would unleash their most powerful ranged attacks. Yoshimo would lay in a second backstab and then peg it for the back of the room as Minsc charged forward to finish off the Hulk, which was hopefully frozen still by the cone of cold. Save, and repeat 3 times. Disaster would occur if any of the following happened:
- Yoshimo failed his stealth roll in the Umber Hulk room – if so, 4 confusion rays hit him at once, the room turned black and a horrible grunting, screeching rending cacophony ensued as the 4 Hulks tore him apart
- Yoshimo failed to backstab the Hulk successfully – if so, the above would also occur
- Yoshimo didn’t make the right distance between himself and the Hulk once he was outside of the room – if so he would be caught in the cone of cold and/or confused by the Hulk
- Yoshimo failed to close the door – if so more than one Hulk might slip through, and we were all doomed
- the mage (Imoen, I think) failed to deliver cone of cold and back away in an orderly fashion – if so, the Hulk caught her and tore her apart before Minsc could intervene (I had maximum gore settings, and I liked Imoen, so this was a bad sight for me)
This is an example of effective use of all party members, I think. In one of the 4 battles, Yoshimo was confused and wandered about the room while the battle proceeded, but after 5 hours of learning and then applying this tactic it finally worked. Needless to say this was the last time I tried to stick to the spirit, rather than the letter, of the AD&D second edition rules in playing the game – from now on I rested wherever possible.
2. The Portal Warden
For some reason my lead character was a bard, so I had to undertake the mission to free the actors from the Five Flagons Tavern to start my own theatre. This involves going into a pocket dimension and battling a big tough magic user demon chap to rescue them. For some reason I found this battle hideously difficult, perhaps because I didn’t yet understand magic resistance, so I was fighting uphill. The magic user in question summoned huge quantities of Demons and the like, and the battle was entirely uphill. Fortunately for me, I had a rod of resurrection, and the last half of this battle (which took an hour of real time!) was spent with my PCs dying, and me resurrecting them using the rod. After each resurrection the PC would have to scrabble around picking up all the magic items he or she had dropped, while under attack, before returning to the fray, only to die again… this battle ended with my lead character down to nearly no hps, and all the other PCs dead, and the remaining charges of my rod of resurrection (and possibly some scrolls) used to raise them all. Nothing quite captures the thrill of skin-of-your-teeth fighting than resurrecting multiple PCs mid-battle to launch straight back into the fray. I felt like Stalin!
3. The final confrontation with Irenicus
All the walkthroughs tell you that in the final battle, Irenicus will summon 4 demons and if you have protection from evil spells on you, they will attack him instead of you. Needless to say, I didn’t read the walkthroughs. This was another battle that took an hour, and it didn’t seem to go according to the book at all. I don’t remember Irenicus adopting his slayer form – instead, he cast some kind of tricksy spell (Shadow Walk?) in which he becomes invisible and his perfectly functional simulacrum runs around distracting you, while you fight the demons. I killed the demons and realised that the Irenicus I could see was a simulacrum, but sometime during the combination of spells he used (the withering spell, and a web or darkness-type spell) he and his simulacrum cast another one of those tricky shadow walk spells, and when I next looked there were Irenicusses everywhere, and I lost track of the real one, even using True Seeing. There followed a period of intense combat in which a great many spells were wasted, and darkness fell (in meat world), and it ended up with all of my PCs hors de combat except Imoen, who was down to her last magic missile. She cast this on Irenicus, but he still had a spell reflection on – as did Imoen. So I sat stupified with horror in front of my screen, watching as the little sparkling mote of my last offensive spell bounced backwards and forwards between Imoen and Irenicus – who were almost in melee range. Unfortunately for me, Imoen was well below the level of health at which a magic missile cast by Imoen could be ignored, so I sat there biting my nails and waiting for the inevitable… only to find that Irenicus’ spell deflection failed one level before Imoen’s, and the magic missile hit him – and killed him. That’s right, I gnawed my nails down watching a game of highly elaborate pong finish the most complicated and interesting game I have ever played… but the worst of it is, something was wrong with my installation of BG2, so after I had killed Irenicus, the cut scene crashed and I lost the game! So I never got to save the final scene, loot Irenicus’ body or get the reward the elves had promised me. I didn’t even get to export my characters, so I’m not sure now who I even played.
So it was that my favourite game ever ended in torrid confusion, but ever since that day when Irenicus’ shield fell and my elf-girls’ lowest level spell brought his tyrannical reign to an end, I have been questing to find a game with a similar mixture of complexity, difficulty and fun. I fear that in the new era of computer games it will never come…