Heroes for HireS

Well it's been a busy, busy week for me since I last posted about Baldur's Gate II but the time has come for another entry in the continuing chronicles of my adventures in the land of Amn. Read on as I gather more companions, aid the distressed, battle ancient evils, and court an old friend, all the while preparing for the long-awaited reunion with my former captor. Spoilers for Shadows of Amn and Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition up to the end of Chapter 2 follow below.

Those who've already played as far as I have will know that Imoen, my old childhood friend, was taken captive by the Cowled Wizards of Amn following my party's escape from Irenicus' lair. In order to rescue her (and confront Irenicus) I must find some way to break into the Wizards' prison, a difficult task which one Gaelan Bayle has agreed to help me with if I pay him and his "associates" (undoubtedly the Shadow Thieves) a sum of 20,000 gold pieces. This is no small cost and as a result I've taken to hiring my party's services out to anyone with gold to pay, so long as the task is none too sundry.

Fortunately, Amn does not lack for people desiring the service of clerics, warriors, mages, or thieves and there's been more than enough quests to keep me busy. Not to mention, of course, my companions' own quests, which I touched on briefly before and which have multiplied since. I've rescued Nalia twice now, have slain a great evil beneath the hills of Umar, assisted Neera in caring for the refugees she's gathered in the Wild Forest, have cured Jaheira of a wicked curse, have discovered and undone a beholder cult in Athkatla's sewers, and have survived the twisted games of an ancient and resentful red dragon. My adventures have already seen more variety than they did along the Sword Coast.

At this point I've acquired the bounty which was asked of me, plus a little extra, and I was about to launch my rescue of Imoen when I was called away by Aerie's uncle Quayle, another former companion, who had heard the distress of an old friend and thought I might be able to help. Although I was wary of delaying my task any further, I did not want to leave Aerie's uncle hanging so soon after recruiting her and so headed for the Five Flagons Inn to find out what was required of me. As it turned out a tiefling bard had been abducted by a mad wizard - who I'd be chance already encountered in the sewers - and Quayle's friend hoped I could recover him and a precious gem within his possession. This task - which proved to have more than a few complications - is the last I have completed and I now stand ready to return to Bayle with my payment.

I have by this point acquired a pretty large company of heroes (and a few villains), similar in size to my entourage in the first game. Specifically, I've joined with (in chronological order) Minsc, Jaheira, Yoshimo, Nalia, Hexxat, Viconia, Neera, Anomen, Valygar, Mazzy, Keldorn, Dorn, and Aerie, a total of 12 companions. As before, there are some issues involved in properly managing such a large party but my experience with BGEE has provided me with some lessons on how and while my party is still somewhat underleveled I think the imbalance is less stark than it was previously and I feel I've been able to balance the needs of my often independently minded companions fairly well. And, as I touched on in my previous post, I'm liking the character interactions more this time around.

Shadows of Amn is the first BioWare game to feature NPC romances, something I'll admit to enjoying a lot, and so I've begun down that path as well. Having already kindled a flame between myself and Neera in the enhanced version of the first game, she and I have grown closer still as we've traveled together, relating to one another in a way that none of the other members of my party have approached. For the most part things have been very slow going - neither she nor I seem comfortable pushing things too quickly and she has confessed to me some issues with intimacy that I can understand. It's still uncertain where things will go from here, but it's pretty clear that she's fond of me and I of her.

Turning away from story elements for a moment, I'd like to say that I am continuing to find BG2EE a genuine improvement over its predecessor in a lot of ways. The environments - both those original to BioWare's classic and those added by Beamdog - are much prettier than those featured in the first game and the gameplay has been refined still further from where BGEE left it. The music is also an improvement as well and while I found the original Baldur's Gate soundtrack overly conventional at times, the music for Shadows of Amn is much better, being both more inventive and more varied.

In any case, that's all for now. I'll post again some time in the near future, with details of how my prison break-in goes and whether I succeed in my quest to rescue Imoen or not, along with any other details that seem relevant.