I don't expect everyone to read this, it's a wall of text. My life has been crazy over the last couple years and for various reasons, I kept putting an entire play-through on hold, but I've finally made it through. Here is my review of SoD.Pros
I wanted to start with some of the good because I feel that there are many things that are done extremely well in this game.
First off, the voice acting is fantastic. This was one of the reasons I absolutely refused to ever boot M'Khiin from my party. The return of Khalid was also welcomed, along with Minsc, Dynaheir, Neera, and Rasaad.
Secondly, the new items and weapons in the game were a welcomed addition. I really enjoyed the addition of class specific items (for bard and shaman especially) and other magical items that were added were unique and exciting without being overpowered.
I feel that Beamdog also did a good job finding a good middle ground for allowing me to level up my main character without letting me get into BG2 as an absolutely broken individual. I like that I could take the same character and within a very small window of experience, I still managed to feel like I was progressing and becoming stronger without becoming OP for the sequel.Cons
With all of the pros, there are still some pretty strong cons, in my opinion.
To begin with, I felt the writing was a little bit weak. I don't mean this in terms of content or the actual verbiage, but in terms of where I could lead a conversation. There were many times where it felt like I had three options as a reply to someone, but all of them were quite similar. For example, when I met the man who fathered Corwin's child, I was basically limited to determining the most fitting way to call him a scumbag. In BG2, I can tell Viconia to shut up and never speak to me again, but I couldn't tell Glint he had no chance when he started coming onto me. There were many instances where after receiving a reward, my choices were along the lines of, "Thanks, I cherish this" or "Thanks" or "This'll do". I'm not saying choices never existed, but it felt that more often than not, I was directed toward one type of response whereas with BG and BG2, it felt a lot more like there was always at least a good way and an evil way to respond to somebody.
Moving through the game was extremely linear. In both BG and BG2, I felt like I had the entire world to explore. In comparison, SoD made me feel like I was shoehorned into a couple areas at a time. I would get a bunch of quests, all of which are to be completed by bouncing around among 2-3 maps, then I would move to the next chapter, which would then disallow me to travel to older areas and only let me travel among the next 2-3 area maps. Sticking all quests on all of these maps like this made bouncing from chapter to chapter feel rough. It wasn't smooth at all, whereas in BG, if I missed completing a quest in Chapter 2, no big deal. I could go back and do it in Chapter 3, or 4, or 5... which actually helped blend all of the chapters together to make it feel like one big massive game instead of a play by play walk-through of a video game equivalent of a movie.
I also wasn't a fan of Caelar Argent's motivation. I got to the end of the game only to find out she slew hundreds of people and led armies of people up and down the coast for the sole reason of freeing one man from Avernus? And then when she joins my party, she's Lawful Good? This just doesn't make any sense to me at all and it really gave me an intensely strong dislike for the entire plot-line driven by her character. It just seems absolutely absurd that her uncle gave his life to free her and then she dedicated her life and the lives of countless others to go down and free him without thinking about the impact on the rest of the sword coast. In a world of arcane and divine magic, her best plan that she could develop was to raise an army, go to war with neighboring citizens, take on a child of Bhaal, hope that she can jump into the depths of hell, destroy the demon who imprisoned her uncle, and get him out? And after all of this planning and poor execution of it, she can be swayed to change her plans for EVERYTHING and join with the Belhifet or fight against Belhifet with one simple dialogue option?! That is absolutely ludicrous.
Lastly, there were too many types of enemies crammed into a space that was, frankly, too damn small. I always felt like liches and dragons were epic battles in BG2; battles that only the most powerful could take on. But over the course of just 6 or so areas, I dealt with ghouls, shadows, wyverns, trolls, drow elves, dragons, liches, illithids, demons, and some creature that felt oddly similar to satan himself. And I battled them all with a party that, in the sequel, will be absolutely destroyed by the first dragon they encounter unless they get a significant amount more experience under their belts. It just doesn't make any sense to me. It just seems like a level 8 character shouldn't be able to dive headfirst into hell to take out the demon who is guarding souls just to move into a sequel and get slapped around by a group of umber hulks. In fact, if you compare relative power levels, half of all of the "bosses" in BG2 could probably take out Belhifet, which makes him a pretty poor choice for the keeper of the first level of the nine hells, doesn't it?More Pros
I loved the appearance of the hooded man! It was great to see him pop up from time to time and role-play that I didn't know what was going to happen. And the last scene where Irenicus reveals that he was the killer and plans to meet Charname again is fantastic, as well. Why couldn't he reveal himself as "Jon Irenicus" in the last scene to Charname, though? That would have been quite exciting too.
The grouping of the canon party was also quite a nice addition in the end. I've always wondered why they were the ones trapped in Irenicus Dungeon with me, but this solves it. And it makes sense. Everyone else you just met, but this group you have ties to running all the way back. So for them to be the ones to meet with you as you escape and flee makes complete and total sense to me. (Well... almost total sense. Not totally clear on Minsc and Dynaheir, but it's all good)Final Thoughts
Overall, I feel like SoD makes a great game, but not necessarily a great BG game. Some part of me feels that I'm being a little bit too picky and tough on it because of what I have grown to expect from the BG series, but the other part of me feels that that's the burden one chooses to accept when creating a prequel/sequel to one of the greatest game series to ever exist.
The pros were fantastic, but unfortunately the cons really take away from a lot of what made me fall in love with the original games. Are they deal breakers? No, absolutely not. But do they detract from the game as a whole? Absolutely.
So overall, I enjoyed the game. It answered many of the questions I had leading into BG2. But is this a game that I need to play every time I want to replay the series? I'm not so sure. While BG and BG2 have positioned themselves in my mind as near perfect, this game is considerably less. It's good, but not great.
I'd give this game a 5 out of 7.