Since so much has been written about BG2:EE's poor technical state (almost 400 confirmed bugs at last count), I'd like to shift the focus away from that and look at Beamdog's contribution to the games purely on the creative level, figure out what works and what doesn't, and maybe generate some discussion about that.
To do that, I'd like to talk about Rasaad yn Bashir, Neera, Dorn il-Khan, Baeloth Barrityll, Hexxat and Wilson as characters, as storylines, and try to highlight problem spots that - much like gameplay bugs - could potentially be smoothed over and patched.
For this particular installment, we'll be talking about:Dorn il-Khan
Of the four main additions to the cast (Baeloth and Wilson are, after all, easter eggs), Dorn is, at a glance, the simplest to understand.
What we need to recall, prior to his introduction, is that BG has a very curious approach to representing alignment in-game. On the one hand, the player is almost always penalized for choosing Evil actions over Good: you'll get less XP, less gold, less rewards. This would
seem to suggest that the game is not-so-subtly steering you away from actually RPing an Evil character... except that the Evil NPCs are (with some exceptions) among the most powerful ones you'll find. No arcane caster, not even the PC, can match Edwin's Red Wizard bonuses; no cleric has Viconia's high dexterity and innate magic resistance; Shar-Teel can be automatically dual-classed into a very dangerous thief; Korgan's physical strength is exceeded only by Sarevok in ToB.
But while you have more than enough characters for a full party in BG1, BG2 reduces you to three characters in SoA and one more in ToB. And then we have Dorn. Mechanically, it's clear that he's meant to serve as a champion in the mold of Ajantis, Keldorn and Minsc; and, in keeping with the BG tradition, he's far more powerful than his Good counterparts: he can poison greatswords, debuff enemies, drain health... all that and the 19 STR of a half-orc to boot, plus the immunities of the new blackguard kit.
Dorn's introduction in BG1 is a clever bit of misdirection, because your first assumption is that he's just like any other NPC: you find him, you talk to him, you recruit him. But Dorn is in the middle of his own quest, and won't give you the time of day. (He's also voiced by Gord Marriott, who, it must be said, does an absolutely flawless job.)
Now, players may certainly be stumped at this point, since the game doesn't actually provide any hint as to what's meant to happen: a random encounter near Nashkel will reintroduce Dorn properly, and allow you to recruit him. This encounter also sets up Dorn's questline, hunting down a quartet of former companions who left him to die in Luskan.
Here's where we find our first major problem: this encounter allows Dorn to cross two names off his list, cutting his storyline in half before it even begins. Unlike Rasaad and Neera, Dorn's quest doesn't come with any new locations at all: you'll find Kryll in the Gibberling Mountains, and ringleader Simmeon just outside Baldur's Gate. By taking out both Senjak and Dorothea in that first initial encounter, you can't help feeling like the plotline's being fast-tracked.
This sense of "moving too quickly" recurs with the romance subplot - all EE characters can initiate a "prelude" romance that's meant to build into the second game (despite the fact that, at the time of writing, BG2:EE doesn't seem to recognize romance variables set in BG:EE). We should, at this point, recall that a major point of contention with Dorn at the time the character debuted was that he could romance both male and female characters - and while this has spawned long and often-torturous discussions both on this forum and elsewhere, suffice to say that I give Beamdog much credit for taking quite possibly the least
-expected - and therefore least-explored - route.
The discrepancy between Dorn, Neera and Rasaad comes up again here, as Dorn's romance concludes on such an abrupt and vague note that many players were left uncertain as to whether they'd actually seen it through to the end. One can, of course, make the argument that Dorn's characterization and the details of his storyline do (and should) set him apart from the conventional approach to romance... but that's probably something that could have been clarified in-game.
Still, for the character that Dorn is designed to be - the one who revels in Evil-with-a-capital-E - it's fair enough to say that he doesn't need pathos or moral ambivalence. Neither does Korgan, after all.
In BG2:EE, after being ordered by his demon patron Ur-Gothoz to pursue more and more dangerous missions, Dorn is approached by a mystery woman named Azothet, who claims she can help him escape his master's chains. One of the nice things about the set-up to this scenario is the player's ability to influence how Dorn carries out Ur-Gothoz's missions: there are several options, meant to conform to the player's own idea of what constitutes Evil. Do you slaughter an entire wedding party, or just take out your target? Do you trick a priest into helping you, or cut him apart? Dorn skirts the edge of being difficult to control, and unlike any other NPC, you can sometimes feel that you have to be careful what you say to him, because the wrong word could cause him to mutiny. Which is, again, perfectly in line with who he is.
Those small choices also play out during the new location assigned to Dorn's quest: Resurrection Gorge. Do you sacrifice a party member to complete a ritual? Do you raise a druid only to cut him down yet again? And then, of course, we get the reveal, and a classic roleplaying choice: do you encourage Dorn to drop his tanar'ri master Ur-Gothoz for the baatezu Azothet, who promises to be a more considerate patron? Do you stick with the demon you know? Or do you take out both would-be patrons, and cause Dorn to lose his blackguard powers altogether?
Unfortunately, the build-up to this choice is a bit flawed. While the player is able to openly distrust Azothet at every opportunity, the reality is that you have very little reason to turn on her until she reveals her true form. Even if she is
lying about some or all of what she's told Dorn, Ur-Gothoz is comparatively worse in every way.
Fun bit of trivia: the cambions who emerge to aid Simmeon in BG:EE are named "Thralls of Azothet". In other words, Ur-Gothoz's rival was responsible for empowering Dorn's mortal enemy. This feels like information the player (and Dorn) should have been given before
reaching the final area of Resurrection Gorge: when you face that choice of binding either Ur-Gothoz or Azothet, you should know that you're choosing between a demon that openly dislikes you and a mystery woman who has, in the very recent past, directly worked against you. Does that affect your choice? It should.
(As an aside: it's very strange that Dorn receives an item reward only
if he sides with Ur-Gothoz against Azothet, and yet his default state in ToB is being Azothet's blackguard - surely she would have given him a different item to compensate?)
Dorn's BG2:EE romance may be abbreviated in comparison to, say, Viconia, but it manages to do a few interesting things that are unique even when taken in the context of BioWare's present-day efforts. There's a whole separate discussion to be had regarding the awful way BG2 originally handled the female love interests - you have to refuse intimacy with Aerie when the subject first comes up in order to continue the romance, and she'll get pregnant the first time you do it; Viconia is on the other end of the spectrum, with some very awkward faux-dominatrix nonsense (and you can, of course, reach such heights of sexual gratification that her alignment changes).
Dorn follows a much less complicated route: he likes sex, and given the life he leads, he'll take his kicks where he can get them. This leads to an amusingly twisted take on Aerie's romance, with an impromptu wedding ceremony that involves bloodletting and promises of divine power. Again, it's not deep
, but it's as crazy and over the top as an Evil romance should be.
The wheels come off in ToB, though, for two reasons. While Dorn's quest in Lunia is indeed epic, and again gives the player some interesting choices when it comes to the Scroll of Retribution, a problem emerges with the blackguard-exclusive sidequest to corrupt the Holy Tree. Namely, it contradicts the conclusion of the Resurrection Gorge quest. No matter which patron you choose, that patron will claim that Dorn is too valuable an agent to throw away on pointless suicide missions. And yet both Ur-Gothoz and Azothet will order Dorn to defile a tree in Lunia itself, surrounded by planetars and silver dragons and whatnot, for absolutely no reason. There's no explanation, there's no profit or gain, it's back to where the character began with "Do this thing because I told you to".
The second - and arguably most problematic - issue for Dorn in ToB is his epilogues. Both the default and romanced endings are perfectly logical extrapolations of his characterization: on his own, he pays the price for his many, many crimes; a romance may start out with the PC and Dorn as partners-in-crime, but it's an inherently unstable pairing that inevitably ends badly. So far, so good, despite the fact that Mercy Whitedove should have been introduced at some
point in Dorn's storyline, if only to foreshadow where they're heading. The name will mean absolutely nothing to anyone who doesn't play the Black Pits.
The trouble is this: ToB is designed in such a way that if a character chooses to become a god at the very end, the epilogue for their love interest defaults to the non-romanced epilogue. So if you have a child with Aerie, and then choose ascension, her ending won't mention the baby at all. And if you romance Dorn, and explicitly promise to share power with him... he still ends up with the default ending. I don't know if this is a technical limitation, but it's a false choice in which the player is led to believe they're selecting a specific course of action, when in fact all roads lead to one outcome. And this won't be the first time that particular mistake comes up with the EEs.
The same becomes retrospectively true of Dorn's SoA quest: he gets the same ending whether he's a blackguard or free of his patrons. Why, then, would players choose to free him at all, given that it amounts to a net loss (Dorn loses his blackguard powers, the Tree sidequest and
any blackguard-specific equipment that may be lying around)? What's the point of offering us a choice if nothing we choose makes a difference? It's baffling that this is the case, given how many smaller choices are woven into Dorn's storyline from the word go, all the different things you can do to complete his objectives.
Still, while the unsatisfying conclusion detracts from Dorn's appeal on the whole, the character still has a lot going for him: a dynamic storyline, top-notch voice acting, an impressive array of abilities, and some very entertaining exchanges with original and EE characters (Dorn, Sarevok and Korgan vowing to lay waste to the next tavern they visit is the sort of thing that makes Baldur's Gate great).
Next time, I'll tackle undoubtedly the most controversial character in the Enhanced Editions: the vampire thief Hexxat.