Thirteen years after release, Baldur's Gate II is still one of the best role-playing games of all time. No joke. If you consider yourself an RPG fan, this is a game you have to play.
"But wait," you are most likely thinking, ready to type out a comment about how lame I am. "This game is old! Surely it is unplayable today."
Aha. That is where you are wrong, my persnickety friend. With a couple of mods and a functioning graphics card, Baldur's Gate II is just as stellar now as it was back in 2000.
On Friday, inspired by our compilation of the best classic PC games, I fired up Baldur's Gate II for the first time in many years. I planned to spend a few minutes playing just to see if the game has aged well. Now it's Monday. The past two days are a blur of space hamsters and shadow dragons and +3 swords with extra THAC0 against orcs. I've barely slept. I can't look at a screen without twitching. I can barely even work without thinking about how I'm gonna get Minsc a better sword and go try to slay that demi-lich when I get home tonight.
The lesson of this story is, you can't just spend "a few minutes" playing Baldur's Gate II.
1) Buy the game on GOG. For $10 you get both BGII and its must-play expansion, which you can go through together seamlessly.
2) Download and install the BG2 fixpack. This is a large mod that fixes hundreds of bugs you might not even know about. Totally worth it. As you install, the mod will ask if you want to add a number of optional fixes: consult the Readme file for specifics on each one. (If you've never played Baldur's Gate II, you might not understand most of these, so feel free to just say yes to everything.)
3) Download Unfinished Business, which fixes and adds stuff that was broken and/or left out in the final version of BGII. Again, feel free to pick and choose whichever options you'd like in your game, and feel free to say yes to everything.
4) Download the widescreen mod, install it, then select whatever resolution you'd like to play as (X = horizontal; Y = vertical).
5) Get bigger fonts. Not necessary, but nice if you don't want to have to squint.
1) The writing: My #1 takeaway from this weekend's Baldur's Gate II binge is that good writing holds up forever. Even the little bits of random party banter are engaging, particularly if you stick with the ridiculous gnome Jan Jansen.
2) The density: Baldur's Gate II doesn't have as big a world as, say, Skyrim, or Fallout 3, but every map is packed—packed!—full of people and quests and cool things to see. They're all interesting, too.
3) The variety: In Baldur's Gate II, you can solve a murder mystery, try to defend a city from wild animals, convince feuding families to kill one another, join a guild of vampires, and meet a talking sword. In one day.
4) The customization: When you start Baldur's Gate II, you get to fill out a D&D-style character card, complete with class, race, alignment, appearance, and so forth. Rolling character stats in BGII is almost as fun as actually playing the game. I'm playing as a half-elf Sorceress. Highly recommended.
5) The challenge: If you take on a lich or a dragon without proper preparation, you will die. If you don't keep a rogue hunting for traps and scouting through dungeons, you will die. This is a game about planning and progressing, not running and shooting. And for that we are thankful.
6) The little things: As you play Baldur's Gate II, if you take the time to explore and adventure and really take advantage of everything in the world, you'll find little stories and moments that feel like they were placed there just for you. They were. Enjoy them.