'Baldur's Gate 2' Didn't Just Change RPGs, It Changed Games Themselves

Digging into the past of video games is a tricky thing. There are pitfalls that you can drop into without warning: nostalgia, memories of frustration, and “does it hold up” lurk around every corner. It is with that dark, dank, dungeon-y danger that I am writing this in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the release of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, a role-playing game based on the Dungeons & Dragons license that came out this week two decades ago. Without overstating things, I think it’s one of the greatest games ever made, and all we have to do is look at the waves it made in the industry to understand that we’re still living in its wake. 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qj4qwd/baldurs-gate-2-didnt-just-change-rpgs-it-changed-games-themselves
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I find articles like these fascinating, since whilst they’re undoubtedly “true” - it’s hard to find people who didn’t like Baldur’s Gate 2 when it came out, and I knew a lot of people who loved it - I really just couldn’t get into the game at all [or, to be honest, any of the other D&D ruleset-based games before or after it]. That lauded “pause-and-play” combat just so off-putting to me at the time that it rather soured me on the entire genre for good [and so it’s ironic that this article mentions Disco Elysium - a game with almost zero combat, which I consider a triumph of the RPG genre - at the end].

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I definitely can’t handle pause-and-play combat either, so many crpg’s have missed for me despite me really wanting them to capture my imagination. I will say the Divinity Original Sin games did do this for me and I think a big reason for that is the combat was turned based, and I could play the games multiplayer. It did a much better job capturing what makes tabletop RPG’s succeed for me at least.

Though I appreciate the article at least recognizes pause-and-play is an imperfect system, and I recognize it doesn’t take away from how much crpg’s did give to games at large (though I do feel a lot of that is tied into how tabletop games have contributed to video games as well).


crazy timing on this story - i just started BG2 on switch yesterday for the first time ever! i’m so pumped.

Aye, I’ve never personally been very fond of the real time with pause combat, although I know some people love it. It’s too chaotic for me, though.

Still, Baldur’s Gate 2 is one of the games from my childhood that I have the best memories of. A lot of that is due to what Cameron brings up in the article, the scope of the world opening up so massively in the second chapter. It was a real oh-shit moment, in a way that’s for me only been replicated by Breath of the Wild giving you the main quest “Destroy Ganon” after finishing the introduction.

Especially Bioware’s own later RPGs have felt small in comparison. It’s the last game from them that I have more than middling feelings about.

I should find the time to replay it sometime.

See, I hear this a lot (and also with things like Planescape:Torment, which I should love), but I’ve really never been able to get past the combat system. My memories of all of these games are of stopping playing them after just getting frustrated with the combat not either being fun or just having the decency to get out of the way so I can experience something that is fun.

But I suppose I also find this to be the case with tabletop RPGs, especially ones on the D&D model of “descended from wargames and thus combat-focused”. Nothing wrong with a bit of combat, but I’d much rather be doing the millions of other things in my collaborative role-playing game than just hitting things, cheers.

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I think the only real-time-with-pause games I actually liked, instead of merely tolerating, are Dragon Age 2, KOTOR, and Mass Effect 2/3. I would almost always prefer to have turn-based combat instead. RTWP only works if you can fully trust your NPC companions to do the right thing without input from you, which is very rarely the case.

Divinity Original Sin 2 definitely strikes the right balance by using real-time controls for exploration and turn-based controls for combat.

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seems that i’m the odd one out here - i love baldurs gate combat. i love pausing and issuing commands, watching them play out successfully or unsuccessfully, pausing again, reassessing the situation, issuing more commands. super tactical! constant micromanagement! there’s a ton of cool stuff in BG1 (just started 2, and the same applies there from my experience so far), but the tougher combat encounters are some of the most rewarding parts of the game, to me. trying the same difficult encounter five or ten times, fiddling with different buffs, potions, spells, character positioning etc. getting the “solution” to these encounters is extremely rewarding for me, especially in BG1 where you feel pretty under leveled and weak for a lot of the earlier game.

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Sorry, reading my comment again it seems like I was making an invasive “but you should totally play it!” comment to you in the second paragraph. I was commenting more broadly on the article and game at that point and should have been more clear.

More to your comment: IIRC the Enhanced Edition’s come with “story mode” difficulty settings for anyone who’s mainly interested in the story, but I’m not sure that’ll solve your problem. It’ll still be a lot of combat encounters since, as you say, it’s a D&D game. Of course I’m still glad that they’ve added it.

Totally fair! I won’t say that I dislike it, it’s just never really clicked with me fully. The hidden phase timers makes it feel weird to me, like ordering a character to gulp a potion and that action being an unknown time away, and you don’t want to cancel it by issuing new commands until then. But, there are plenty of really good encounters in the games for sure.


For my part, I should apologise for interpreting things a bit defensively - there’s a set of “classic games” that I’m used to having people evangelise for, so…

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