This is the last of the great Ultima games as the last two were buggy disasters with poor stories. Unfortunately, for myself I wasn’t able to play this one on release due to hardware requirements. Also, I must admit to not finishing it for a variety of reasons. Some feel that this might be the be the best in the entire series, but I tend to disagree.
Although I did play Might and Magic I before II, I wanted to review II as I felt it was certainly the better game with more depth and content. Also, it was horribly addicting and something I could easily spin up today and play for hours.
After Bard’s Tale 2, I had become a CRPG addict. I would go out and try to find other fantasy games that complimented Bard’s Tale. There was a feature in Bard’s Tale that allowed you to import characters from a few other games, including Ultima 3. Since I was struggling a bit with Bard’s Tale 2 in the beginning, I wanted to use this tool to gain a bit of power. But before that, I also found myself struggling in this early hardcore style adventure.
Although Wizardry was a long running franchise, I only played 5-7. And of the three that I played, I only finished 6. But for me 6 certainly was the best of them because it had a great character development system that pretty much was one of the closest to the ideal that I wanted in a game.
For the third time, I decided to give up World of Warcraft. Originally, I wasn’t too keen on the expansion given partly that I never received a beta key (despite the supposed thousands that were handed out) and just a few of the changes that I saw (namely the Silver Proving Grounds, more gated content, lack of flying, etc.). The raw truth though is that I need to get a job before I can go on playing this type of game. I already have done poorly on a few interviews, which has pushed me to take up more coding so I can exercise my mental muscles. However, that requires a great of time and the way Warlords of Draenor is structured, I feel that the amount I’m spending isn’t worth the effort at this time.
Having beaten Shadows of Amn again, I decided to just mess around with the party creation process and see what I could come up with considering all the new classes. The first thing I decided to try was taking a good aligned party again and toying with some statistics, gear and dual class possibilities. Here’s some ideas I looked at and my findings.
Since my gaming rig died and the time to fix it is an unknown quantity at this time, I decided to continue my distraction with Baldur’s Gate 2 by getting the Enhanced Edition for my Macbook Pro. I’m actually quite happy that they had a Mac version since I’m at the point in my life where I feel that the PC has lost almost all its value. That said, I wanted to go into my experience thus far with the Enhanced Edition.
Of course, one of the biggest inside stories over at Blizzard and for World of Warcraft is the imminent departure of lead developer Ghostcrawler. It’s hard to say the exact reasons why he’s leaving but for some it might be a major victory as his departure might symbolize for certain people in the community the downward slope for World of Warcraft. Yet in all honesty, you have to question whether or not him leaving will set the course of the game in the direction that the fans want.
When I concocted my latest idea of a party in including Keldorn, my assumption was that he could use the Amulet of Power, thus making him immune to level drain. It seems that my version of the game might not have the correct patch, despite picking it up from GOG.com (which I heard had a patched version of the game). Unfortunately, it appears that the Inquisitor, with my version of the game, still cannot employ the Amulet of Power. That made me reconsider quite a bit of things in terms of party combinations.
I just busted out my Baldur’s Gate 2 disc (although my reader isn’t working for some reason) as I have been thinking quite a bit about this subject lately. Nothing excites me more than character creation in an RPG. Baldur’s Gate 2 satisfies this craving by allowing one to create up to 6 different characters or use some of the in-game NPCs. Whenever you’re faced with a choice like this and with the variety of classes that a game like Baldur’s Gate does, you have some heavy decisions to make as they will last the entire course of the game.
One of the first considerations in party composition for Baldur’s Gate 2 is whether to go solo, single character creation, all self-created characters or a mix of self-created characters and NPC usage. While Shadows of Amn itself has numerous NPC quests that require at least a single slot open, the truth is that most of the NPCs in the game suck. Their stats are low and they don’t really offer much outside of dialog and typical RPG complaining. And for the most part the NPC quests are pretty much filler. Perhaps, the only NPC quest that might be semi-interesting is the romance quest but Jaheria is the only NPC with a romance story worth picking up….at least from a power gamers viewpoint (which I am to a degree).
So my suggestion is to create a minimum of 4 characters, probably 5 with the 6th slot open for an NPC. By the time you reach Throne of Bhaal, the NPCs serve little more than meat for monsters to whack upon. With that in mind, let’s provide an overview of the general layout for a good party. For the most part, Baldur’s Gate is a combat heavy game. Unless you’re soloing, you will be engaged in tons of fights, most which are unavoidable. As a result, most of the slots in your party should be filled with heavily armed and armored fighters. Magic is the next most important aspect of the game with regards to combat so you should bring at minimal one mage class. Clerics and druids offer healing and buffs, but most of the time you want to employ them for their buffs before intense fights. So naturally, you’ll want one or two of these. Lastly, thieves have the least prominent role with the emphasis being on them utilizing their trap finding/disarming, lock picking and trap setting capabilities. You probably won’t want to take more than one of these classes.
Now, the neat thing about Baldur’s Gate is that you’re allowed to dual or multi-class. This is critical as pure versions of these roles are practically useless. Hence, why most of the NPCs in the game are a joke since they either lack a secondary class or cannot dual class later in the game. You really should take advantage of this feature, especially dual classing as it’ll increase your survivability in the long run as well as provide the depth of a party that you will require. Of course, not all classes can dual or multi-class and are almost essential to a good party such as a paladin or certain kits.
With this background in mind, let’s start to go over an ideal party:
- Human Kensai/Mage – This is one of the best combinations in the game hands down. Kensais cannot use most armor nor can mages. However, this class provides the hit points and weapons for a good melee class while combining some of the natural armor from the kensai side with a few perks on the mage side (like being able to use the Amulet of Power). This class will suffer in the beginning as you struggle initially to catch up to your kensai’s levels, but your hit points will be quite high to provide survivability.
From a melee point of view, the kensai/mage quite possibly will become your highest damage dealer. However, you will need to find various ways to improve his armor class as he will be quite limited (I don’t think he can even use bracers of defense). I found that they can use the Robe of the Archmagi, Ring of Gaxx, Dusty Rose Ioun Stone and Ring of Protection +2. But you’ll probably need to boost the rest from dexterity. Don’t forget magic resistance and other immunities like the Cloak of Mirrors as this character will end up being your main magic user.
- Human Undead Hunter – I know there’s quite a few people out there that prefer the Inquisitor because of the Dispel Magic ability, but the Undead Hunter has immunity to level drain. Before one of the patches, the Inquisitor could not use an Amulet of Power, making them vulnerable to level drain (which is possibly the most annoying monster ability in any game). Even with very good armor, the Inquisitor can be vulnerable to getting hit from vampires and such because the game cheats like hell (which is why you should to a degree) so relying on high armor for avoidance in those conditions is not recommended (you could cast Negative Plane Protection but that can get severely annoying after a while).
At any rate, the main reason to use a paladin in this slot is the Holy Avenger, which is one of the best weapons in the game. The weapon even receives an upgrade in Throne of Bhaal making this one of the highest damaging weapons around. Now, a thief with the Use Any Item ability can also use a Holy Avenger, but I prefer saving that option for other weapons.
One thing to note is that you should not consider the minor spell casting abilities of a paladin. While certain healing and curative spells are useful, for the most part the paladin’s spells are quite weak and having 1-2 clerics/druids end up quickly filling this void. You probably won’t be casting buffs before every fight. So if you’re split between choosing the Inquisitor or Undead Hunter, just remember that the spell casting ability really is not a factor.
On a side note, if you end up going with an Inquisitor, you can use Keldorn, allowing you to have a 2-3 NPC based party. I tend to really hate Keldorn because he’s self-righteous, annoying, has a lame NPC quest with little XP gain and conflicts with Viconia (if you decide to use her). Also, Keldorn comes a little later in the game so you’ll have to fill his void with another NPC fighter type such as Minsk. The option does exist but you’ll have to figure out how to compensate. I think it’s just far easier to stick with a consistent group.
- Human Wizard Slayer/Thief – This was a sleeper class until someone pointed out how it could be used to solo the entire game. The premise is that a thief upon hitting a very high level can use the “use any item” ability. That ability bypasses the faults of the Wizard Slayer where they cannot use most magical items. If you provide this character certain items, you will very close to becoming completely magic resistant towards very high levels.
Of course, the weakness for this class is that you end up losing some armor. However, the Black Dragon Scale offers very competitive defense that still lets you utilize your thieving abilities. In turn, you don’t have to constantly switch between armors once you’re able to use both class abilities. For myself, I tend to make this class my all-around fighter when it comes to weapons. I end up giving this character the Vorpal Sword as well as the Battle Axe that functions like a Vorpal Sword and another high damaging long sword and dual wield those. You can even make this character a ranged character, focusing on the short bow. These combinations provide quite a bit of varied offense depending on the situation.
The next three slots are pretty debatable. But all are workable and just depend on how you feel. The premise revolves around defense and utility as the class combinations. The decision also involves whether to use 1-2 NPCs. Either way, by this point you will need to pick at least one healer/buff/utility class as part of this group and you have three options (which I will go over here).
- Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric – This is a wildly popular combination and almost a must have for any party. The main disadvantage is that the ranger side loses out on using many high end sharp weapons like bows or swords. However, some of the most important weapons in the game end up being blunt melee weapons like the Mace of Disruption or Flail of Ages so you don’t want to miss out on those. Giving these weapons to your ranger/cleric to dual wield makes them a nightmare for undead and trolls.
Some people might end up going dual class as opposed to multi-class. While it is possible, there really is no point since you will be able to progress further with both classes using a multi-class. The only argument would be using a kit like an archer to accomplish this aspect. However, this combination was eliminated so the only kit that is allowed to dual class is the beastmaster. But the beastmaster sucks without the ability to use metal weapons so you end up losing out for little gain.
Lastly, multi-classing gives your party another guaranteed semi-tank/fighter while your dual classed characters slowly catch up. You could go with the fighter/cleric multi-class route but you lose out on some nifty ranger abilities (like dual wielding and racial enemies)
- Human Berserker/Cleric – This combination is highly recommended. You’ll be forced to focus on blunt weapons, forcing you to employ two classes that might overlap. But there is one primary benefit: berserker rage. If anything, the berserker rage is highly useful for fights against demi-liches (and there are two notorious ones in the game). That said, there are ways around dealing with demi-liches such as using Scrolls of Protection from Magic so you do not necessarily need to put all your eggs into one basket. Also, you will have a debuff after using the berserker rage.
However, the berserker rage is really nice with the boosted hit points, ac and immunities. Compared to the ranger/cleric, you also will receive more points in weapon specialization. So the net effect is a very high single weapon damaging class. You will though end up using this class as a tank. Since they don’t have the same dual wielding capability as a ranger, you probably will want to provide a shield for this character. In an optimal situation, this class can reach up to -14 armor, which is really insane.
- Half-Elf Fighter/Druid (Jaheira) – If you go this route, I suggest just taking Jaheira. The druid is a must have for only one instance in the game where you must fight another druid in a corrupted grove. Although you can use an alternate NPC for that fight, I find that you’re probably better off just using Jaheira (heck, give her staff/club specialization just for that fight for a slightly unfair advantage). Now, outside of that one quest, you have to ask yourself why a druid?
Druids are more offensive natured clerics. In reality, druids are supposed to be nature priest but the game focuses on more offensive spells. The nice thing is that their spells will compliment your clerics with a few extra buffs. Your primary penalties are limited weapons and very limited high levels, especially as a dual class. But surprisingly unlike a mage, you CAN use metal armor. Also, you eventually get access to one of the best weapons, a +5 scimitar (Spectral Brand)
I would go the Jaheira route to open up that extra NPC slot. While it’s not really advisable to dismiss Jaheira (because of the romance quest), the option is there for when you need to pick up NPCs in case you go the 1 NPC party method. Overall, choosing Jaheira and the fighter/druid combination just adds more flavor to your party without sacrificing much on the offensive/defensive side.
Now, here’s the big question: which of the two to use? If you go with Jaheira + Berserker/Cleric, you get two high armored tanks. Both will be shield wielders and will be used to soak up a lot of the front line damage. You may lose a little melee damage, especially as your Berserker/Cleric races to recover their berserker class. Using Jaheira + Ranger/Cleric implies that you’ll have two slow levelers with some decent combat but less damage absorption. There really is no point in using a ranger/cleric unless you elect to go dual wield with the mace/flail combination. Lastly, with that combination you’ll lose out on higher powered cleric spells for a while since the cleric side will level very slowly. Finally, we have ranger/cleric + berserker/cleric. Very powerful combination that allows your ranger to focus more on melee while your berserker/cleric catches up. You will miss out on that NPC slot though as well as some druidic spells.
So what will the author do? Last time, I went the ranger/cleric + berserker/cleric + Jaehira route and dropped Jaehira once I hit Throne of Bhaal. That gave me quite a bit of tanking and overall utility. Unfortunately, one thing I discovered along the way was lacking more on the mage spellcasting side. And there were several situations where I really wished I had a spare spellcaster (especially when my kensai/mage was CC’d). Also, I was forced to drop her numerous times, which pretty much pissed her off and might’ve caused the romance story to end. So I felt that this trio might need another open NPC slot or another mage slot.
This time, I’ll probably go for the ranger/cleric + Jaehira combination. The berkserer/cleric to be honest really did little for me and I want to change things up. I really like the dual wielding ranger/cleric and dislike having to sacrifice a good part of the game while waiting for the cleric side to catch up to the berserker side. My leveling might be slower but I just feel that the overall utility, offense and perks here and there outweigh the faults of this combination.
So I’ve covered the two defensive/utility slots, now we have 2 more slots to play with. The decision now becomes whether we go with 1 or 2 NPCs. I fill that Jaehira is far too useful of an NPC to ignore. So I suggest keeping her around. That leaves one possible NPC slot. The next aspect is asking yourself whether you’re willing to drop Jaehira or if you’re even going to do the NPC quests. For the power gamer in all of us, it is advisable to do the NPC quest. That said, most aren’t significant and the XP gain total might boost you by a single level. I guess for Shadows of Amn a single level can be quite signficant, especially if you’re on the borderline of gaining back your dual class abilities or the really high level abilities.
Quite honestly, I can’t think of any instance where an NPC really is necessary beyond NPC quests. It’s more of a personal preference type of thing. Some people prefer taking a mage like Imoen, who gets replaced by Nalia for a short period. But beyond additional dialog, I found both to be quite boring and annoying at times. Neither of them are really powerful and vulnerable to a degree. They do have thieving skills, but your wizard slayer/thief more than makes up for their weak thief skills.
For myself, I just prefer having a consistent party throughout the game, I can sacrifice some experience in NPC quests but they aren’t deal breakers. You can go through the entire game without a single NPC in your party. That’s what makes this game so great since you’re empowered to try different combinations.
That said, when I hit Throne of Bhaal, I ended up ditching Jaheira for an elven fighter/mage. It felt wasteful since I spent all that time developing her and trashing even the romance plot. I didn’t care at that time because I wanted the power party. I still do but I want to keep Jaheira this time around.
For the last slot, I heavily recommend a magic class. Now, you have tons of options here. You can go bard, multi-class, maybe another kensai/mage or an NPC like Aerie. The reason why I like having a mage in this last slot is that I find that certain fights will make your kensai/mage quite vulnerable and that you’ll be forced to use certain spells that will lower the spell defense of your enemies. Now, one of the keys in this idea is that you do not necessarily have to memorize the spell, but just keep a scroll or two in your inventory. That means, that any class capable of accessing that scroll (even a thief with use any item!) can cast that spell. This is why a bard has potential here.
For myself, I think that most of the NPC mages just plain suck. All of them. Role-playing wise, Imoen is required but she’s out of the game most of the time that there really is no point in reserving a spot just for her to gripe at you constantly. Nalia is her mirror with worse thieving skills. Aerie only is useful for a completely NPC based party (btw I never would try having the romantic plot with her) and Edwin is weak. The only “interesting” NPC potentially is Sarevok because you CAN dual class him to a mage! But why wait an entire game just to reserve a spot for him? In short, I think skipping NPCs for this slot pretty much is the way to go.
As I mentioned before, mages by themselves are just weak. Too little hit points, poor defense and way too much downtime because of their dependence upon memorizing spells. So you need some alternative capabilities to make up for those fights where you want to save on spells or simply have used them up. That leaves you with 4-5 possibilities: fighter/mage (multi-class), kensai/mage, berserker/mage, thief/mage (NPC or multi-class), fighter/mage/thief, bard/blade/skald. I’m going to go in reverse order (my preference):
- Bard/Skald/Blade – Plain bards are just plain boring. If bards could do something about traps and locks, this class would be one of the best solo classes. However, their low points, limited spell casting ability and mediocre combat ability make this class more of a novelty class than something pragmatic. The only way to boost their combat ability is to choose a kit like a Skald or Blade. Why not include a jester, who is the only kit that receives no penalties but a single benefit? Who wants to be called a jester?
So that leaves the Blade or Skald. If you go with a Blade, you can opt for using the NPC, but again that comes much later in the game. Also, he isn’t a great NPC and his abilities are pretty mediocre (just like most bards). The Skald does have the song but it just seems too weird having someone sit around just waiting to sing (this is different from Bard’s Tale). The Blade would be your best bet but I just feel that the limited magic use does not give me much incentive to put effort into developing.
- Fighter/Mage/Thief – If you were to solo this game, theoretically this would be by far the best class. However, what hurts this class is the extremely slow level progression. In a full party, this character will take a while before seeing the light of day. You’ll certainly hit the experience cap so you won’t find the utility you might need at the end of the day.
- Thief/Mage – I tried this combination at one point. The idea was to free up your wizard slayer/thief slot in favor of the berserker/cleric slot. However, the wizard slayer/thief combination is just really cool since you can place a huge number of specialization points into say two-handed weapons. Then once you get your vorpal sword and use any item ability, you nuke things from behind. But if you were adamant in sticking with the berserker/cleric tank idea, then you still would need to fill the gap of the thief.
I found this class combination to be boring overall. Truthfully, giving up the wizard slayer/thief sucks because you really are combat focused in this game and most creatures end up being magic resistant. So having the extra hit points, defense and melee weapon specialization ends up being more useful than sheer utility. If you ended up going this route, you might as well just take Imoen or Nalia and get it over with.
- Berserker/Mage – This is a combination that can rival the kensai/mage combination. Of course, the main reason for using this combination is the berserker rage just like the berserker/cleric combination. In comparison to the berserker/cleric combination, this class is far less tanky and more offensive in general. You will lose a lot of defense in favor of offense. More than that though, you will be competing for equipment potentially with your kensai/mage, especially with regards to armor. Lastly, like your kensai/mage, you will be waiting forever for your mage class to catch up to your fighter side. Until then, you will be very weak in terms of defense and melee.
- Kensai/Mage – This caught my attention when I first heard the idea of carrying two of these around. You are freed up on the weapons side because you’re allowed to choose different weapons to compliment each others’ offensive prowess. However, just as I mentioned with the berserker/mage possibility, you will be competing in terms of defensive equipment. In a game like this, you’re better off planning your equipment division in advance, especially if you’re looking to try new party combinations. Also, for someone like myself, I tend to like class variety so having a redundant class combination really does not suit my taste, even for something as cool as a kensai/mage.
- Elf Fighter/Mage (Multi-class) – Typing this out made me cringe a bit. A plain old fighter and a plain old mage just seems so drab compared to other exotic combinations you’d end up sacrificing. But the decision here might be more pragmatic than aesthetic. The truth is that your elven fighter/mage can be as interesting as your berserker/cleric and perhaps slightly more useful for a while. If the game had provided an NPC that was a fighter/mage, I would’ve instantly snatched them up. But the game did not and I is a sad panda.
That said, the fighter/mage multi-class is a great solution for those rare occasions when your kensai/mage gets CC’d and you require more debuffs to bring down enemy caster defenses. If your thief were high enough level, you wouldn’t have to worry about this issue. But Shadows of Amn has quite a few fights that require you to lower the magical defenses and you won’t see your thief emerge with that ability for a while.
The fighter/mage makes up for those short comings, providing some reasonable armor (they can use shields and elven chainmail), all weapons (which your berserker/cleric could not), gain bonuses with long/short swords and bows and of course access high powered scrolls (since their split experience will debilitate their own magic casting ability for a while). Your fighter/mage should probably be a partial tank at the least, using the Bladesinger Chain down the road and employ a shield while using a long sword for a good +1 racial bonus. Also, give her bows, preferably a long bow. While a pure archer would’ve been nicer, they don’t receive nearly the amount of utility as a multi-classed fighter/mage.
Overall, as you can see, choosing your party composition can be a very difficult process as you have to be familiar enough with the game design, mechanics and possibilities to choose a satisfying group. I cannot tell you how many times I would create a party, play for half the game then find myself re-doing the entire group because one character proved to not fulfill my expectations. It’s a shame that the game did not provide an additional 1-2 slots because that would allow for more character variety.
In the end, the game boils down to preferences. I suggest trying different combinations to determine what suits your playing style. But that’s what makes a game like this fun and interesting.