The Grognard: At long last, here we are. Chateau Irenicus. The dungeon so nice that one of the series’ most popular mods is the one that skips it.
Achilles: So this is the one? I’ve heard of Dungeon-B-Gone, but I didn’t realize this was the place people wanted gone. I’ve crawled through way worse dungeons, to be honest.
The Grognard: It’s the repetition moreso than the quality. The first couple times it’s fine. After you’ve started your eighth new character, it’s like pulling teeth.
Achilles: I’m thinking that if this is the thing there are mods to skip, this game shows promise. Almost everything I’ve seen so far is an upgrade. The art is even better – more vibrant, more unique assets. At one point there’s a druid’s grove, then there are lavishly appointed apartments, then more dungeon, and then we scootch over the elemental plane of air for a bit.
The Grognard: There certainly is variety.
Achilles: More than the last game, at least. In Baldur’s Gate I, half the dungeons were mazes made up of mostly-identical corridors. But they’ve gotten better – first with Durlag’s Tower in the expansion, and now this.
The Grognard: Last week you said you wanted more variety and more emotional stakes. We’ve gotten one of the two, at least.
Achilles: I’d say we’ve gotten both. Evil Bald Guy is a piece of work. He does magical experiments on people, and Imoen is terrified of him. To top it off, Khalid and Dynaheir are both just…. dead. Like, we’ve found their corpses and the game has been pretty clear that they’re not coming back.
The Grognard: I remember the harshness of that struck me the first time I played this game. I believe the reasoning at the time was that they weren’t popular characters, and players didn’t like that to recruit them you had to recruit Jaheira and Minsc too.
Achilles: So they just bump them off between games? I mean, Jacob wasn’t popular with everyone, but they didn’t whack him in between Mass Effects 2 and 3, either.
The Grognard: It was a more ruthless time back them. Permadeath was standard under the core rules. If a party member can die to kobolds, they can die between games too.
Achilles: It still seems harsh. And I’m not saying that just because I managed to get Khalid down to -8 AC before. All those times I killed him, and now I can’t even reload a save.
The Grognard: Could these be the emotional stakes you were looking for?
Achilles: Right now it feels more like the devs killed Khalid and Dynaheir, not Evil Bald Guy. The whole thing is also a bit sudden. Last game I was being hailed as the hero of Baldur’s Gate by the end, and the first thing that happens here is learning I was kidnapped offscreen and locked up in a magical torture dungeon. It’s a similar feeling to getting captured in a cutscene, only here the cutscene happened between games.
The Grognard: I see Evil Bald Guy hasn’t made enough of an impression on you for you to bother learning his actual name.
Achilles: Fine, Jon Irenicus. See? I can learn people’s names. And as a matter of fact, he has made an impression on me. He’s already a better villain than Sarevok, who was cartoonishly evil. Irenicus is more… unfeeling. Unsettling. He has some sort of obsession with a dead wife or something, and is most certainly up to no good.
The Grognard: This is something I think is important about this first dungeon. It’s your introduction, though environmental storytelling, to Irenicus. People install mods to skip it, which is understandable if you’ve played the game many times. But there’s story content here. Who Irenicus is, the experiments he’s doing, his obsession with the dead woman, the Shadow Thieves attacking the place – all are important later.
Achilles: And then he takes Imoen! That bastard. The adorable little tyke that spent the entire last game following me around is now in the clutches of a bunch of shady-ass mages wearing hoodies.
The Grognard: That’s why I think this game opens well. It is a little jarring, but by the end the typical player has bought into the story and wants to see more of it.
Achilles: That’s the crucial thing, you think? Buying in?
The Grognard: That’s the essence of it, isn’t it? To get player to treat the story as real. It can be a messy process, but the dividends are worth it. Irenicus is one of the main things about this game people remember.
Achilles: He’s memorable, I’ll give him that much. But now it’s time to track these cowled guys down and get Imoen back. And to show this “Athkatla, City of Coin” joint who the real boss is.
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.
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