When you play Baldur’s Gate 2 a few times, you eventually learn what works for you in terms of the game progression. Shadows of Amn is pretty flexible in giving you a fairly non-linear setup so you’re essentially open to do the various quests in almost any order you want (outside of certain key story areas). The real question becomes, “Which is the best questing path to take?”
Once you finish the starting dungeon, the world opens up and you have any number of paths to take. Unless you do something like importing all your guys from Throne of Bhaal, most likely you’ll be around level 6-8. Some areas will be vastly more difficult than others so part of your path needs to take into account your ability to handle situations both from your party level and your gear. While there are other walkthroughs available, most focus just on the area rather than defining a good path. I want to define what I feel is a reasonable path to take.
For myself, I immediately do the circus tent quest in Waukeen’s Promenade. Usually, after the starting dungeon, I’ll sell off any excess equipment to try to make some extra gold then head directly into the tent (I do stop off to talk with the child outside). The tent is pretty small and has a few items as well as giving you Aerie. If you are going single player mode and lack a mage, pretty much picking up Aerie will be a high priority.
After completing the tent, you can go to the inn at the north part of the promenade to face a small encounter on the 2nd floor. You’ll get a few items but this fight isn’t too tough yet. But at least, you should get a few decent pieces of armor, a cursed sword you can sell for some gold and a magic item or two you can use.
From here, the only area opened up is the Slums. After talking to the Shadow Thieves guild representative, it’s best to do the Copper Coronet slavers quest and finish up cleaning up the slavers in the area. Just be careful of traps when you get into the slavers’ hide out and make sure someone can deal fire damage to the trolls.
Here, you’ll have a ton of avenues as you collect gold to side either with Bodhi or the Shadow Thieves guild. Obviously, if you’re good or even neutral, you’ll probably want to side with the Shadow Thieves. You can go to the Docks to initiate conversation with them but I tend to hold off for just a little while. While in the Copper Coronet, you might encounter a few NPCs who offer to join you or start a few quests. It’s up to you and your party size to choose whether or not to accept them into your party. But the Firkaag quest is something that I leave along for a small period.
In my case this time around, I ended up trying to pick up Nalia but was forced to drop her because I wanted to get something off of Minsc. Unfortunately, that caused me not to have an option to leave Nalia at the Copper Coronet and I had to pick her up at her keep. In turn, I got ambushed a few times while traveling between the City Gates and her keep. That gave me a little more equipment as well as the quest that leads you to the Docks District.
So for me, I ended up doing the Docks District once I picked up Nalia from her stronghold area. But I did not immediately start that quest line (mostly because I wanted to earn more gold and buy a few magic items from Bernard and the Adventurer’s Mart). When you do the Docks District, the quest line you should focus on is the Harpers Hold one. It’s pretty easy with one major fight that should not be too difficult at your level. You will gain a few decent items on the way, including a helmet to protect against charms and good bracers for a mage.
With that quest line out of the way, I tend to do the Bridge District next. If you’re into efficiency, you probably can (and should) do the Graveyard District first. The reason is that you can pick up a quest that leads to a small fight in the Bridge District that is pretty easy. Also, you might want to hit the Temple District to start the paladin quest in the Bridge District. This will allow you to focus on clearing as much as you can at your level while in the Bridge District.
First, I do the Tanner quest since the fight is easy and you can get a decent reward or two. Then proceed with the quest with the red cloth that you find from the guy who was buried alive in the graveyard. And finish it off by visiting the north eastern corner where you encounter the paladins. The paladin quest requires some level of going back and forth between the Bridge and Temple districts. But the fight with the rogue paladins is pretty easy and gives you a small reward at the end.
At this point, you can go to the Government District to pick up the Valygar quest while encountering both Viconia and Jan. Those two NPCs will give you a small amount of experience. But the main thing to keep in mind at this point is that you’re mostly focused on simple tasks that are building you up for the harder ones.
Here, we encounter an interesting cross road because you probably don’t have enough money to get really high end gear, but you’re still not powerful to do the real difficult quests. I tend to stay away from the main quest line until I complete all of the non-main storyline quests, including parts of the Watcher’s Keep. Nevertheless, at this point you have several areas to choose from at your level: Nalia’s Stronghold, Trademeet, Renal Bloodscalp and Mae’Var’s guild, the Sewers and the search for Haer Dalis’ or the Planar Sphere quest.
It’s really a tough choice at this point because they all are viable to a degree but a few might be easier if done in a certain order. My suggestion is to do Renal Bloodscalp’s quest. The idea is that they’re more errand based and fairly easy while providing good experience and gold. The only difficult part of this quest line from my memory is the final fight but you don’t really need any special equipment to handle the thieves. That makes this quest a good choice. Once you finish, you should have enough gold to buy a few more items, including a weapon imbued with fire.
Now, you can do either Nalia’s Stronghold or Trademeet. I tend to favor Nalia’s Stronghold more because you get a kick ass weapon in the Flail of Ages, which is probably one of the best long term weapons in the game. Also, Trademeet requires that you have a good druid. Although you can use Cernd, I prefer Jaheira. At this point, she might still be a little weak so Nalia’s Stronghold might be able to get her a level or two.
Certainly, after Nalia’s Stronghold, Trademeet becomes a pretty good zone to hit. There’s a few good items that you can get from this area, including bracers of archery, a flametongue, a decent scimitar +2, some good shields, an awesome druidic staff as well as being able to purchase Robe of the Archmagi and the Belt of Inertia (once you end the Rakhasha problem).
With the equipment and experience from that zone, you should have issues tackling the sewers and rescuing Haer Dalis’. The hidden wizard area where Haer Dalis’ is held captive is pretty simple; the sewer itself can prove to be a bigger challenge with the fight in the top middle section. After clearing it though, you’ll have better items and will be ready to deal with the pocket plane follow up encounter. That area can be a little trickier since a few of the fights provide one shot mechanics that are a little frustrating. But the gear (namely the Boots of Speed and Gauntlets of Weapon Expertise) make that area totally worth diving into.
At this point, you should have plenty of gold and a few decent items, which, again opens up even more possibilities. I say that doing the Planar Sphere quest makes the most sense. The experience is very good and you will get the Gauntlets of Ogre Power among other items. Definitely, you should do a few of the small Umar Hills quests en route to Valygar (heck, do them before some of these other spots). But beyond the halfling fight, you shouldn’t have too many issues in the Planar Sphere zone.
At this point, you might be hovering between levels 10-13. If you are then you can start thinking about the really high level pre-main storyline areas you want to hit. Those include Fiirkag’s Challenge, the Cult of the Unseeing Eye, the Shade Lord Dungeon, the Slave Lord’s compound, the mind flayers’ mini dungeon in the sewers (which depends upon you completing Fiirkag’s challenge), the Demilich, the Twisted Rune and the Watcher’s Keep. Each of these can be pretty tough, but completing one of them will certainly give you a huge advantage to the rest.
I think the Slave Lord’s compound is pretty good as a first step. There’s decent equipment (especially for those who use katanas) and it’s pretty fast (either you succeed or you die). After that, I tend to do Fiirkag’s Challenge. I would suggest talking to the Shadow Thieves’ guild head to get the Amulet of Power as there are a few level draining specimens in the dungeon to Fiirkag. But most of the instance is pretty easy overall with the exception of the beholder, the NPC fight and, of course, the red dragon. The red dragon though CAN BE simplified in doing the cheap ass cloud kill tactic. But once he’s dead, you get the holy avenger and red dragon plate, which is possibly THE best armor in the game. Not to mention all the other goodies too.
At this point, I suggest hitting the first level of the Watcher’s Keep. One great thing is that there’s a lot of +4 weapons in the Watcher’s Keep so doing most of it prior the main quest line will make you somewhat OP. But that’s part of the reason to handle that dungeon early on. The only level that really isn’t worth anything to be honest is the last one. But the others have pretty good equipment and will probably give you a few solid levels. You could spread out how you handle the Watcher’s Keep. For instance, just doing one floor at a time in between Shadows of Amn quests. But the first floor certainly is a must-do spot.
For myself, I tend to go down to level 4 and just finish up to the Githyanki. That way, I can get most of the useful weapons/gear without having to deal with a few of the more annoying encounters. Level 2 isn’t hard neither but outside of XP, I feel that it might serve more as a distraction. However, level 3 is definitely worth it just to acquire the Deck of Many Things among other items (I also go for the scimitar as it becomes a BiS weapon for Jaheira).
By now, you should be anywhere between levels 11-13, which means you can handle the vast majority of encounters in Shadows of Amn. Mostly, it’s a matter of obtaining gear and gaining more experience for the higher level spells. I think that the next best spot is the Cult of the Unseeing Eye. Here, you can start doing the quest line for the Demilich encounter (which has the best ring in the game). It will be tough once you hit the Beholder cavern but there are a few rewards worth getting once you finish this quest line.
After that, you might consider finishing up the main quest line just before you board the ship. The reason is that the vampire area, while posing some risk with a few undead encounters, for the most part is fairly easy. Also, all the quests leading up to the dungeon are pretty trivial. But one of the key benefits of doing the vampire dungeon is acquiring the Mace of Disruption. Once you get this weapon, you probably will want to finish up the quest from the Temple of Helm to upgrade it into a +2 weapon. I forget if the upgraded version protects you from energy drain, but either way it’s definitely worth the effort.
At this point, you should be a fairly potent adventurer with a reasonably high level party and armed for most encounters. So my suggestion is to whack the demilich and get all the liches in between for the best ring in the game. Also, do the hidden lich in the City Gates district so you can acquire the Daystar long sword. If you have a spare Rogue Stone, hit the bridge district to do the encounter which requires you to use the Rogue Stone to enter a different domain. If you can manage that encounter (which is tough), you can acquire the Staff of Magi. If you’re feeling up to the task, do the mind flayer area in the sewers to get the Hammer of Thunderbolts. Beware that this can be an area of supreme frustration, especially if you lack the potions which prevent the mind flayers from psionically assaulting your characters. Summoned skeletons and monsters along with cloud kill spells will make the area far easier though.
By now, you have two remaining non-main quest line areas to choose from: the Shade Lord’s Dungeon or the rest of the Watcher’s Keep. The rest of Watcher’s Keep is fairly challenging, including a few very tough high level encounters (namely Demogorgon). I would suggest aiming for the Shade Lord’s Dungeon as you should be used to handling lich fights and dragon fights. Not to mention you get another sweet piece of dragon hide that you can convert into some awesome armor for your thief.
In the case of the Watcher’s Keep, it really is up to you whether you want to finish the rest now, after the main quest line (where you escape the drow underground) or complete it in the expansion. For myself, I don’t see any must-have items in the remaining encounters so I tend to just leave it until I complete Shadows of Amn. The main benefit of completing the Watcher’s Keep early on is all the bonus experience to give you a leg up on the rest of the game. So it really is up to you how you want to play at this point.
By now, the only two other aspects are the main quest line and NPC quests. I think completing the NPC quests is a good idea. Not so much for the experience (because the amounts, outside of Valygar’s quest, are not tremendous) but mostly just to get them out of the way and never having to bother with any of the NPCs again. The bonus experience does help but once you hit levels 14+, you really don’t feel as much of an edge compared to early on while you were struggling. At levels 20+, the majority of what you’ll gain are the class specific abilities, which are okay but not spectacular in my opinion. Mostly, what you’ll be looking for at this stage is gear upgrades.
Even spells at higher levels are not as potent mostly because everything has either magic resistance or massive spell protections that prohibit you from using your strongest spells. Spell casters should focus more on defensive spells, buffs and abilities to strip away spell defenses as well as summoning. Offensive spells just don’t pack the type of punch you really would expect unless you chain them with something like contingency. But in order to get to that point, you pretty much need to strip away the spell defenses from a monster, which is why I don’t really find high level spells that useful compared to raw combat and magic items.
At any rate, I hope this guide is useful for those wanting to go through Shadows of Amn. Throne of Bhaal really does not require a guide in terms of questing routes because it’s more of a linear play style. Unless you decide to hold off on the Watcher’s Keep until Throne of Bhaal, you pretty much won’t have to do as much thinking in terms of where to go.