The game can be difficult if you don’t have a good grasp on the combat mechanics or flub your class selection. The fact that most classes – barring the Arcane casters, Druids and Rangers – are only allowed a single henchman doesn’t make things easier. The final boss battle can also become quite technical if you don’t know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, Morag isn’t the most compelling villain ever produced by BioWare. She gets originality points for her backstory, but she’s not exactly charismatic or very interesting and doesn’t get much development. Mind you, her underling Maugrim also basically has ‘forgettable’ stamped across his forehead, and basically looks like a discount Sarevok.
The game’s structure is a combination of the linear and the non-linear. It’s subdivided into four Chapters, and each Chapter circumscribes your travelling range to a single area; for example, you will only be able to properly explore Neverwinter in Chapter 1 and won’t be able to return to Port Llast after Chapter 2. Within the Chapter’s chosen area, you are usually required to explore several sub-areas, but you are free to do them in any order you like, as well as to complete whatever sidequests you wish along the way. The game helps you keep track of all this via a journal accessible through the main menu. All in all, I feel this is a good compromise, but some people may still feel restricted in their ability to roam at will.
Speaking of exploration, the fog of war makes a return from Baldur’s Gate, although, just as many other things, it’s less annoying this time around. Basically, when you enter a new area, your minimap will be obscured, and will reveal itself as you explore. However, where in BG, this also meant that the entire screen around your party was initially black, it’s not the case here. While this doesn’t change the fact that you’ll initially not know where you’re going, you will be sometimes able to see enemies before your party runs into them without needing to scout ahead, which does make life a bit easier. You can also get rid of the fog of war if you purchase a map of the area you’re in before having explored it completely.
The game also introduces the concept of active and passive detect modes. The idea is that your character is constantly attentive to their surroundings, regardless of their class or race, running three types of detection skills: Listen, Spot and Search. Different races have different bonuses in this area: elves are the most perceptive, followed by half-elves, halflings and gnomes. Dwarves get a bonus to Search when underground, but humans and half-orcs get no bonuses at all. Listen and Spot are based on Wisdom, Search on Intelligence. In active detect mode, the character pays extra attention and thus can only walk slowly. Active detect mode can be triggered via the menu, or simply by standing still, except if your character is an elf, in which case, they’re always in active detect mode (minus the slow walking part). Passive detect mode applies whenever your character (if s/he’s not an elf) is moving, in which case, their detection scores are halved.
Most traps can be detected by any class, but the most complicated ones are only detectable by a Rogue. What’s more, only Rogues have Disable Traps as a Class Skill: other classes may acquire it, but only as a Cross-Class Skill, which takes away points from their own Class Skills and may therefore not be advisable.
Most travelling is done on foot, although your character may use the Stone of Recall to be instantly transported back to a temple in the starting area for your current Chapter. In all other cases, however, s/he needs to walk. Some player-created modules introduce mounts, but, out of the OC classes, only Fighters, Rogues, Barbarians and Paladins can use them. Thankfully, the concept of fatigue has been done away with, but the resting mechanic is still present. This mostly concerns casters, who will need to rest once they have cast their daily quota of spells or if they want to change their spell selection, but characters of any class can rest to recover their HP and that of their henchman. The problem is that resting is impossible when enemies are nearby, so you will need to find a relatively secluded spot for your team to take a break in. This can be dangerous if your characters are badly banged up, although, should your henchman die, they’ll simply respawn in the starting area temple. That still means traipsing all the way back to pick them up again, though.
Another annoyance related to henchmen is the inability to access their inventory. Your own inventory space is limited, not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of weight. How much your character can carry is determined by their Strength, which can be pretty handicapping for any class that doesn’t have it as one of its primary stats. BG offset that by giving every one of your teammates their own inventory, but not so here. You can’t even control your henchman’s equipment. Rather, when they gain a level, a conversation option will appear to have them improve their abilities, which will sometimes change their outfits as well. What’s more, you only have minimal control over their actions in combat: your character can talk to them about their tactics and tell them what you would like them to do, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll actually do it, because their A.I. tends to be buggy. Wahey.
I really don’t like the inventory in this game, either: it looks like a grid, and items take up varying amounts of space on it, according to their size. First of all, this is entirely arbitrary: for example, how does a robe – which can presumably be folded – take up more space than a crossbow? Or how does a ring take up as much space as a spell scroll? Secondly, it can get very messy very quickly unless you keep manually sorting everything. Another annoyance is that some items require identification. If your character is a Wizard, Sorcerer, Bard or Cleric with the Knowledge domain, no problem (although, if not a Bard, you still need to have the Identify spell handy). If not, you’ll have to lug the items back to the nearest shop to have them identified. This brings me back to the annoyance of not being able to control your henchman. I mean, Sharwyn is a Bard: why can’t you ask her to identify stuff for you?