I think most people interested in reading this have probably already played the game, and are just curious to see someone else experiencing it for the first time, so for the most part I'm going to leave my spoilers unhidden. But first a brief hidden list of what I already know, since I had encountered a number of spoilers myself just from reading about this game series, I know that Sarevok somehow reappears in this game (even though he crumbled to dust last time I saw him), there's some kind of betrayal to expect from Yoshimo, there's a vampire named Bodhi, Irenicus is doing something that involves stealing souls, and that a couple of characters from BG1 have died offscreen between the last game and this one.
For BG2, I imported my character from the final save of BG1, but I realised too late that I hadn't been carrying the Golden Pantaloons that I had been advised to bring along, along with a few other items that are supposed to follow you into BG2. I did find the Helm of Balduran after all, though, which Minsc had been wearing. Oh well, I'm not going to worry about the pantaloons. From what I understand, all they did was eventually give you some cheat/god gear which I wouldn't use anyway.
I did have to make some edits to my character after importing her, though. Firstly I redistributed some of my stats using Shadowkeeper (no cheating either -- I removed as many points from some stats as I added to others) so that I'd have a decent amount of wisdom for the Wish spell. But even after reading up on stats for sorcerers, I'm confused about which stats are good for the class, if any. Later D&D editions say that charisma is the main stat for sorcerers, and that intelligence and wisdom do nothing (aside from the aforementioned Wish spell). But elsewhere I've read that charisma doesn't do anything for sorcerers in BG2, so I'm left thinking that sorcerers don't actually have a stat that affects their magic ability. I also went ahead and changed my name to a more classic fantasy name (after briefly experimenting with a comedy name which appears in most of these screenshots), and also picked a different voice set -- one of the few imported from Icewind Dale that worked (the sultry one). It's still Theseus' ship, right?
Next, the portraits. As much as I liked the cartoony style of the portraits I used for BG1, they didn't exist for all characters, and there just wasn't as much variety as there are for more realistic portraits, so I decided to go all-realistic this time. I changed almost all of the portraits. You can see some of the alternate portraits I'm using in that character record screenshot, a couple of which I collaged together myself. Minsc is the only one in my current party that remains unchanged. I don't really see any reason to change it, anyway, though it could benefit from better contrast and more colour saturation to better match the other custom portraits.
Finally, mods. I'm using quite a few mods, some of which are even new companion mods. Perhaps I should have opted to play it without extra companions the first time, but I have a feeling I'll be playing this game several times through anyway, so why not? I'll still keep at least half of my party occupied by default characters, and I'm sure if I don't like some of these new NPCs, I can uninstall them, thanks to WeiDU.
So, my installed mods are: Disable Startup Movies; Widescreen Mod v2.2; BG2 Fixpack; Banter Accelerator; NPC Flirt Pack; Unfinished Business; IEP Banters; Separate Avatars for Female Dwarves; Ascension v1.41; NPC Friendships; BG2 Tweaks.
And new NPCs: Allison, Alora, Auren Aseph, Chloe, Fade, Keto, Saerileth, Sarah, and Tashia. Alora is a recreation of my favourite thief from BG1, though I should really swap her out with someone else once I find another thief, since I'm currently without Imoen.
I also started with the Imoen Romance mod, but I quickly found it to be...unwelcome in my game, and uninstalled it before I reached the end of the dungeon.
"Just like old times! Well, except for the torture and all..."
Imoen showed up to join me, just like in Baldur's Gate 1, except she's a bit more shaken and disturbed by whatever torture Irenicus was putting her through. Probably something similar to what he'd been doing to me in the first cutscene, but the narrative suggests that my character doesn't remember any of it aside from that last interrupted one. Irenicus' monologue is a bit ambiguous about how much I'd gone through, since he says at the beginning "It is time for more experiments" (emphasis mine), and yet he also seems to be discovering my untapped power and potential for the first time. Possibly when he says "more" experiments, he's talking about the experiments that he's been doing on everyone else, and this is the first time he's started working on me.
Minsc and Jaheira were in cages in the same room, and they both hailed me automatically. Some of this seems like concessions to people who may not have played the first game, with all the dialogue explaining (if you claim not to remember) that they're old adventuring friends, and what happens with Minsc. It seems that no matter what you do or say, Minsc will take it to mean you're intending to abandon him, making him angry enough to go berserk and bend the bars open just so he can strangle you. He recovers quickly, though, and comes to the conclusion that you must have intentionally made him angry so as to get him out of the cage. This is a bit of a forced "choice" on Bioware's part, and I'm not sure why they thought it was necessary. There is an option to dismiss him from the group after this, but I didn't try it to see if he would actually leave or if he would refuse.
Jaheira's cage at least required a key. She said "If you're strong enough, maybe you can break it open", but even with Minsc in the party, I couldn't find any way to attack or bash the lock as you can in Planescape: Torment, and it was one of those "unconventional locks" that Imoen can't pick. The key was easy enough to find, and I freed her and invited her into my party. I didn't run with her in the first game, but that was mostly because I didn't like Khalid. Besides, even if Khalid were with her this time, it would be cruel to just leave her in the cage, and it would be stupid to not accept her into the currently shorthanded party once she's free.
While having Imoen scout ahead for traps (just like old times, if by "old" you mean "last year"!), there was an interesting but odd encounter with a genie named Attacker -- er, sorry, Aataqah -- who greeted Imoen by name, and seemed glad to see her. Interesting that the genie spoke directly to her, and expressed disappointment that I (the main character) wasn't around to talk to. Other times I've spoken with NPCs using someone other than the main character, the dialogue simply assumes that it's the main character talking, despite the name showing as the currently controlled character -- and sometimes that character will argue against herself with interjections!
Aataqah presented us with a hypothetical variation on the Prisoner's Dilemma, but he didn't seem to like my answer. His response indicated that he assumed my choice was for some other reasons than my actual ones, which is the same problem that plagues many so-called "personality tests" online, where intent and motivation are never considered. I liked Minsc's answer better, anyway.
I now know for certain how to pronounce the character's name "Khalid", since Jaheira's voiced dialogue includes her pronouncing it "ka-LEED". So far, I do not know how the name of our adversary Irenicus' name should be pronounced, but it reminds me of the name of the theologian Irenaeus of the Classical period. His name has a number of variations in English, but I'm partial to the ones that sound like "ear-uh-NAY-us" and "eye-ruh-NAY-us".
So, based on Irenaeus' name, I will assume, until/unless I hear it pronounced later in the game, that Irenicus' name should be pronounced "eye-ruh-NYE-cus", since it's the better-sounding of the possibilities.
The dungeon in general
Aside from quickly gathering more loot than my party can carry, I don't see why anyone would want to skip this dungeon. It actually seems pretty fast to go through, with a large variety in its décor, and some parts of it are entirely skippable, as I discovered by accident when I found myself outside without having used any of those trap-disarming rods I had picked up earlier. I had to reload to explore the other path (I had thought the side passage would lead me around into a control room or something) so that I wouldn't miss any of the content. I also almost entirely missed the elemental plane of air, as its doorway was not very well-distinguished from the rest of the walls around it. I probably would have missed it if not for it being marked on the map.
The encounter with the dryads was probably the most interesting part, as it seems to shed light on what's going on with Irenicus, and included some nice character development. They say that he brought them there because he wanted them to inspire emotion in him, and that he feels something missing. They also told a little about the (heavily trapped) bedroom of a woman of whom he seems to be mourning the loss. I'm guessing he trapped the room to ensure that no one disturbs the way she left it, and not because she usually preferred sleeping in a trapped room.
I'm assuming this is the same woman who was involved in the forgotten cloning experiment, in the room full of tanks containing partial and whole clones of one specific woman. That room, like many in this dungeon, was a tantalising tease, raising interesting questions and issues that I hope are foreshadowing for what's to come. Clones, vampires, and forgotten gods feature noticeably here, as well as portal travel to other planes.
I might even wonder if there was some significance to the library scene, where Imoen commented on the "dusty old tomes all over, bookcases nearly spilling..." Nearly? Books were piled up in, on, and around the bookcases, but strangely, the single desk in the room had nothing on it at all.
Earlier, I had found the room of tanks that were keeping some people alive, though most seem to have gone insane from the extended isolation. The one in the other room, Rielev, who could actually hear me and respond was the most effective in creating pity, and this is helped greatly by the voicing. He was a former servant of Irenicus, and Irenicus had been trying to find a way to cure whatever was killing him (or had killed him), and restore his youth, planning to give him immortality as a reward for his service, and keeping him alive in a tank in the meantime. But, like everyone else in that area, he had been forgotten, and was slowly going insane over an unknown number of years.
"Master! I no longer wish to come back! Let me slip into the oblivion that has been denied me! Please!"
Jaheira preached unwelcomely about how wrong and "unnatural" it is to try to preserve life, and unfortunately there was no "Shut up, Jaheira!" option. No one would want to keep enduring the situation he was in, but the problem was not that he was being kept alive; it was that he was being kept trapped in a small prison with no contact with other people. What if his tank could have been moved to the dryads' room? There, he at least would have had the company of three sympathetic creatures for as long as they were all trapped there. Regrettably, there seemed no obvious way for him to survive outside of the tank or to be moved, so death seemed to be the only option I was able to give him.
Well, only one this time. A fat old man was imprisoned in a cell with glass windows instead of bars, and I went ahead and freed him, though I did think it was rather strange that his cell was outfitted with so much furniture, and containers that held pretty good weapons and gear. He insisted on tagging along with us to find the exit together, and I kept an eye on him.
I don't know if it was coincidental or intentionally scripted, but it turned out that he decided to drop his disguise and declare our stupidity at having fallen for his ruse at the same moment as the party encountered a group of hostile dwarves, but it worked out pretty well that it happened at that time. Jaheira had recently leveled up, and so I had just been reviewing her druid spells, and noted that she had a "charm person or mammal" spell memorised. I wasn't sure what a doppelganger qualified as (their hissing and their disdain for simians like us seems to suggest something vaguely reptilian), but I tried it out anyway.
It worked, and he was charmed, so I sent him into the group of dwarves to soften them up for a little while, before throwing a skull trap into the group, and cleaning up the weakened stragglers after that.
A nasty surprise on exiting the dungeon
So, my heavily-laden party finally emerged from Irenicus' dungeon, looking forward to selling off all the junk gear we could carry in the nearest town and to stock up on necessities. It actually took a lot less time than I was expecting, considering people have apparently found it too bothersome to keep running through on replays, judging from the existence of a popular mod that skips that part of the game. I was really expecting something more akin to the Circle Tower segment of Dragon Age: Origins, which I loved, but which was very long.
Anyway, in a scripted sequence, where my party is unable to act while events unfold, we see Irenicus fighting off the last of the invaders, and then he greets us before Imoen throws a magic missile at him. He responds with another spell (much less lethal than the ones he had just been using on the invaders), and then the bloody Ministry of Magic shows up and says they're both expelled from Hogwarts for their unauthorised use of magic!
So the result is that they took Imoen away to lock her and Irenicus up in Azkaban. I've lost one of my favourite characters, and I don't know how long it'll take to get her back. I hate that kind of plot twist! They did exactly the same thing in Planescape: Torment with Morte! Taking away a character from the party with me frozen in place unable to do anything but watch it happen.
Looking around, I found that we had actually emerged from the dungeon inside a major city. So...all this torture and hideous, Mengele-style experimentation was happening right under a busy marketplace? I'll have to see if they explain later how this had all been going on under the noses of the Cowled Wizards all these years.
So after selling off all the unnecessary loot in the many shops on Waukeen's Promenade (who all seem to sell nothing but weapons, armour, ammo, and other adventurer-centric items -- even the one in the fruit shop!), I learned that I could obtain a license to cast spells in the city if I go to the government district. As a sorcerer, I don't want to run into the same kind of trouble Imoen got into before I can rescue her. Strangely enough, I had actually cast Identify on a couple of items, and no one got angry. Maybe that one's not flashy enough to notice.
There seemed to be one major thing to do in that location other than buy/sell gear and rest up, and that was to investigate the trouble in the circus tent. And that's for another post.