Lordy, Red, is the gushing adulation spewed forth on the Infinity Engine games from the entire Internet not enough to convince you that you should at least give them a shot?
Planescape: Torment and Baldur’s Gate II are by far the best games from this batch, but that doesn’t mean you should pass up the others, not by any means. If you’re going to play Baldur’s Gate II, you may as well play Baldur’s Gate first to get the whole story. Planescape stands by itself.
Here are short summations of each one that I’ve played:
Planescape: Lengthy, great story, great writing, LOT of reading. Chris Avellone. Unconventional (for AD&D 2nd Edition) levelling system for protagonist. Imaginative gameworld unlike pretty much anything you have ever dealt with. Floating skull with acerbic wit. Opportunity to beat the game with dialogue. Work of genius.
Baldur’s Gate: Traditional fantasy RPG with some memorable characters and lots to do. Story is decent, but isn’t told as well as some of the future games. Party members, in particular, don’t have much in the way of “sidequests” while they’re with you. This is something which came about with Planescape and BG2. It’s worth playing for the story context, though.
Baldur’s Gate II: Holder of (apparently – to my shame, I’ve never got there) the Best Ending of Any Game, Ever. Sprawling, lengthy adventure set in fantasy world with interesting twists – pseudo-industrial and steampunk elements in some places. In other words, it doesn’t feel like Lord of the Rings. Excellent story and characterisation. Top-notch voice acting. Play it. But if you’re going to play BG first, be warned that the intro to BGII spoils the shit out of BG‘s “big reveal”.
Icewind Dale: Passed over by many as the poor man’s Baldur’s Gate, in practice it’s still a decent game. Much more combat-heavy than Baldur’s Gate and the story doesn’t directly involve the protagonist like BG. Fun, though, particularly in multiplayer.
All of the above involve the “tactical pause” battle system, where battles play out in real-time, but you can pause and “queue” actions at any time, much like the PC version of Dragon Age. It takes time to get used to, but it’s a great system that allows for very strategic combat.
Neverwinter Nights: Excellent if you prefer playing as a single character. Closer in style to the more recent BioWare games like Dragon Age, though technologically inferior. Decent story in the main quest, fantastic story in the expansions, shitloads of downloadable user-made modules available, work of brilliance if you play in multiplayer with a good group.
If you’re the slightest bit interested in excellent, non-linear storytelling and some of the best RPGs ever to grace the PC, you should check them out.