Siege of Dragonspear is fun, but that ending. . . .
I enjoyed Baldur's Gate: EE as a simple way to revisit a classic RPG; I thought the pricetag was a bit steep, but who pays retail on this site? And that brings me to Siege of Dragonspear. Bearing in mind that this is Baldur's Gate 1.5, right off the bat, Beamdog made some interesting decisions--Imoen is not given to you as an optional party member but acts as an info-dump character in the beginning and later is said to be training so she can't accompany you on this adventure. I don't know whether there was some behind-the-scenes reason for that, but as a fan of Imoen, I still couldn't disagree with it. In BG II, she was a very handy companion; in BG I, she was pretty weak and useless and had a tendency to gripe a lot. The expansion picks up almost immediately after the end of BG I, in medias res, as it were, with you and some of your old companions hunting down the last remaining followers of Sarevok. This was also a good choice, as it almost immediately gave me this nostalgic sense of "hey, I'm playing brand-new Baldur's Gate!" Once that's wrapped up, you get caught up in the region's battle against a mysterious woman leading a movement to journey to the Nine Hells and release the souls of the victims of two past conflicts. If that sounds weird, it gets weirder. And harder. This is still Baldur's Gate, which means the combat tends to be challenging if not occasionally very difficult on normal settings.
I need to address THAT controversy--the brou-ha-ha surrounding Mizhena, the transgender character in the game. This struck me as an odd controversy years ago and now that I've actually played the expansion, it's a serious tempest-in-a-teapot situation. Mizhena is a cleric who was born a boy and now identifies as a woman. She mentions this, without a significant amount of prompting, when you meet her in the siege camp, where she provides clerical healing services and sells priest scrolls, et cetera. And, that's it. There's no gender-bending-related character sidequest arc because she isn't available as a party member. Unless I'm missing something huge, that's the whole root of the controversy. I have to assume that the people who were upset about this are the same ones who are freaked out by same-sex romances in BioWare RPGs, in which case all I can say is "grow up, losers."
The bigger controversy, in my mind, is the ending. I'm not going to spoil the game here, but suffice it to say that after the big battle is won, your PC ends up with a price on his head and flees the area. This starts to look like a well-developed epilogue to the main story and then the game just abruptly ends. It's really off-putting and genuinely the first time I can remember that a game's ending bothered me in this way. It almost makes it look like the dev just ran out of money and said, "Okay, let's roll credits here." I get that this is a setup for BG II, but it seems hard to believe that it really needed to happen in quite this way.
Dragonspear is worth playing, but, again, I'd wait for a sale.
Oh, I should also note that Beamdog released a portrait pack last month as a $2 DLC. This seems like something that should have been released for free or included in the main game. It's these kinds of low-content DLC releases that give modern DLCs a bad name.