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SoD Review/Feedback (Yeah it took me a while)

After around 6 years I finally managed to finish Siege of Dragonspear, which is mostly not the games fault. I have mixed feelings about the expansion and I figured it won't hurt to write it down. I'm fully aware that Beamdog is no longer actively working on the Baldur's Gate series, but I wanted to write it down for me and as a feedback to the developers and potential modders.
Having said that this Review will full of spoilers so beware:

SPOILER ALARM (for a now 6 year old game)

Setup

First up what was my setup. I used some mods that are relevant for the SoD playthrough namely:

- EET (which allowed me to travel back to previous visited areas)
- Jastey's SoD Tweakpack v9.2 (Do Not Miss NPC-PC Dialogues For NPCs in party): Didn't want to miss any dialog
- Item Revision: Mostly for the BGEE part

For the most part I did wanted to expierence SoD the way it was intended by the developers.

I've played on Core Difficulty, which I always use. For my companions I played through the game with:

Me (A dwarf Fighter/Cleric)
Safana
Corwin
M'Khiin
Voghiln
Neera

Visual presentation

Visually Siege of Dragonspear is a treat to behold and holds up or even surprises both BG1 and BG2. Baldur's Gate being packed full of people was cool even though it is a slight disconnect towards the other two games, but one that is worth it. A tiny unimportant nitpick though. It would be nice if fewer citizens moved around and interfered with the pathfinding of my companions.
That aside the games overworld maps like the forest maps, rocky maps like Dead Man's Pass and Dragonspear Castle look great. But the visual highlight are definitely the dungeons beginning with Korlasz's Tomb, the Dwarven Dig site with Repository of Death and the Temple of Bhaal look amazing. Well done.
I also loved the visual trickery Beamdog applied to get the elevator scene in Averna working. Am I right that actually only the background is animated like a waterfall and your platform is not moving at all?

Overworld map design

I think SoD has a good variety of maps if you think about the camps as towns. I read some complaints that there isn't enough to explore. I don't see that. Yes compared to BG1 the maps are smaller, but then again BG1 is also a lot more empty. BG2 unfortunately doesn't have so many overworld maps in the wilderness like BG1. I think Beamdog did well here. It's also a good mix of combat and dialog encounters although some areas tend to be a bit combat heavy.
Speaking of encounters I really liked the many special encounters happening while travelling between areas. Very refreshing. BG2 did a few of those, but never to the extend that SoD does. Unfortunately this also means another difference in style between SoD and the two BGs, but a difference well worth it.
The biggest downside for me was the inability to travel back to some areas, which EET fortunately solved for me.
Lastly I have to nit picks with the maps. One it's a bit sad that you cannot explore some maps fully, but that was also the case in BG1. And second some maps like the forest maps were a bit annoying to traverse, because it wasn't always visually clear, why I couldn't walk on some ground. But nothing too bad.

Dungeon design

I think this is one of SoD's biggest strength. The dungeons feel great. Korlasz's Tomb was a bit too linear, which is fine as a beginners dungeon. It made up for it with the addition of some quests. Also being able to travel back to the tomb or just know where on the map it is would have been nice.
The Dwarven Dig Site/Repository of Death was amazing. I loved the story behind the dungeon and the set pieces worked great with each other. The addition of some puzzles and lore dump via books was great. Also is this the first time we kill a lich with their phylactery. Can't remember ever doing that with all the lichs in BG2.
The Temple of Bhaal was great for the development of the PC and some more Forgotten Realm lore dump. It was also a nice twist that the dungeon is now actually controlled by a mindflayer. The one thing that turned me off with this dungeon is the stuff that happens right before it with the dragon cave and the bugbear cave. Those felt a bit disconnected with the actual dungeon. Still great dungeon.
I don't know why but I found the Underground River a bit boring and sometimes annoying. Maybe it was the addition of more BG2 enemy types like the drow that started to feel annoying as it takes away too much from BG2. Maybe it was the fact that I once again infiltrated another crusader camp. Then again Kanaglym was nice.
But overall Beamdog did very well with the dungeons.

Combat

If the dungeon design was one of the highlights the combat for the most part was very disappointing for me personally. The combat is the one part where I noticed the most that this is not like BG1 or BG2. I've read that a lot of people enjoyed the combat because the AI is better. This is absolutely true and I think if you are the person that regularly plays with the SCS mod then this part isn't bad for you. For me the better AI felt a bit too much like SCS. I know that enemies use potions in BG2, but did the thiefs turn invisible and backstab on a regular basis?
But the AI wasn't the worse part for me. That was the fact that my melee attackers tended to be hurt a lot more often and harder even though they had AC of -5. It regularly happened too me that my 100 HP tank went in and was shredded down to 10 HP in seconds. It felt like the enemies THACO is way better then enemies in the beginning of BG2.
Then again another reason why that happened may be the sheer number of enemies. Adding more attackers means more chances to be it. The combat is a lot different and harder then the ones in BG1 and more importantly in earlier BG2. And I know the fact remains that it makes you think more about what to do to overcome the challenge. The fact remains that this is very different from the BGs.
Still there were some highlights for me like the Battle in the camp, where I choose the battalions for the encounters and of course the big battle in dragonspear castle, which was awesome I admit it. There I also didn't have the same problems I described above, because there were enough of my allies.

Companions

Companions are always a hard thing to get right, because it's always very subjective, who you like and who not. I regularly play BG1 with the NPC project, which of course presented some characters differently. I also like that a lot of voice actors returned for their lines. To bad that wasn't the case for all of them. With that in mind here are my thoughts about the characters.

Safana: She was more like the seductive character, that she was implied to be in the original BG, which is great for consistency. She feels a bit different in the NPC project. Keeping the NPC project out of mind Beamdog did a good job with her.
Corwin: She sometimes feels like a second protragonist, which can be dangerous in a game like this. I liked her background with being a mother and serving in the Flaming Fist. I think her character was well developed and I learned a lot about her.
Neera: I loved the whole Adoy plot line and think it was a great addition. Her romance also didn't feel as forced as in BG1. Overall I enjoyed Neera in SoD a lot more then in BG1.
M'Khiin: Having a goblin in the party felt awesome and refreshing. She had a lot of interaction with a lot of quests being a Shaman and connecting with Spirits, which felt good. The one problem with all the options to ask her for advice is that you rarely ask the other companions for advice, which feels odd. I also think Beamdog missed out on some opportunities here. I really would have loved to learn more about her backstory, but the game didn't provide for me.
Voghiln: The biggest disappointment for me. Combat wise Beamdog did good to give him the helm so that he can serve in front lines. But characterwise, who is this guy other, then a drunken womanizer from the north? I read somewhere that he would start a romance with Safana, but what I've seen I wouldn't count as a romance. Or did that happen because I had a male protagonist? I know for the most part BG characters are cliches, but compared to the other companions I played with I learned the least about him.

Now one last thing, when we speak about companions. For good the half of the game I really missed the banters in the style of BG2. It really took me a while to notice that Beamdog moved the banters out of the text box style from BG2 and more into the active speech style. Yes, that style was established in BG1, but I think the BG2 is better, because you don't miss out on some dialog you didn't notice.

Quest design
There good quests and there were bad quests. On the bad side we have a lot more fetch quest, were you are chugging a lot of inventory along and no I'm not speak about the grain sacks in the Underground River. On the plus side we have quests like the Investigation in Dragonspear Castle. I think the best thing that Beamdog did on the quest side are some of the multiple approaches and especially those precious moments that can be done differently because of your race or class. We didn't see a lot of those in the BGs and this is great.

Plot
Another mixed bag for me. The whole Caelar Argent plot line worked sometimes better sometimes worse. How convincing must she be that so many people were willing to follow here into the Nine Hells, then again we have whole sects of people dying in mass suicides in our real world. Maybe I'm too harsh. Speaking of Caelar Argent. I liked her. Her voice artist did great and I find myself agreeing with her more often then not. To bad the game didn't let me follow through with it some times. Like when we parlayed in Dead Man's Pass I wanted to sacrifice myself. Yes, that would have meant missing out on the big two battle sequences, but I think it would have been worth it. And Beamdog actually wasn't afraid that we miss out on some content like for example the extra encounter with Sarevok's Servant in the ducal palace basement. Lastly me going down into the Nine Hells felt a bit too much for my taste and it takes a bit away from the following games.
Also speaking of the Crusaders. They need way better guards if a famous person like the hero of Baldur's Gate can manage to infiltrate their ranks 3 times. :) But that's okay, it's a game after all.
But SoD also does some great stuff. I think it was the right decision to keep Imoen out of the game as a companion and the bits we see with here are awesome. Of course the best encounters during the game are with Irenicus in and outside of dreams, culminating into the final part of the game. SoD really managed to increase the tension here for BG2 which is great. Also the multiple endings based on your good and bad deeds are an awesome addition. The only unfortunately thing with the whole Irenicus plot line is how disconnected it feels from the main story with Caelar Argent. I think Beamdog really missed out on connecting those two plots more strongly. Oh and I also was very surprised/shocked to see Entar Silvershield alive after BG1.
Overall I think SoD's plot is worse then BG1 or 2, but the parts it contributes to BG2 are awesome and very well worth the playthrough.

Conclusion
Considering the hurdles Beamdog faced in making this game I think they did a fine job. There is good stuff in the game and some things could have been polished some more. Having written all of this and having recently played the Icewind Dale games too I have to say that SoD feels a lot more like those games some times, which isn't necessarily bad. I only wished that the Caelar and Irenicus plots were more connected and that the combat felt more like the BGs. Maybe I will give SoD another run if I find a solution that makes the combat more managable for me.

Comments

  • JuliusBorisovJuliusBorisov Member, Administrator, Moderator, Developer Posts: 22,453
    A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.

    Thanks a lot for your review.
  • AerakarAerakar Member Posts: 863
    "like"
  • CharriuCharriu Member Posts: 17
    A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.

    Thanks a lot for your review.

    Thanks. What I'm really curious about is if what I noticed about the Combat in SoD is right. Do the enemies have better THAC0 compared to BG2 or is it just because there are more enemies that my tank with good AC is hit more often?
  • JuliusBorisovJuliusBorisov Member, Administrator, Moderator, Developer Posts: 22,453
    Maybe what you're seeing is the better AI for enemies (compared to BG1), e.g. they can target mages, thieves and other squishes.
  • CharriuCharriu Member Posts: 17
    Yes, I noticed that too, but I also noticed that my tank with -5 AC is hit very often.
  • NoonNoon Member Posts: 199
    edited September 26
    Most of the crusaders are lvl 7-10, with thaco below 10, and some ranged attackers have the archer subclass with thaco near 0. -5 Ac is not that hard to hit with these stats.
    Generic warriors in BG2 are often badly specialized, with no pips associated to their weapon or with 9 in every stat, for example.
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