In Baldur’s Gate 1, I chose to play a Paladin because their stats are particularly good for a starting character. I would have liked to play a mage, but it would have been frustrating. Mages are frail and don’t get significant defense spells for a while. Or, at least, to take those spells early on would mean that the only thing at which the mage is good is defending himself, which defeats the purpose of playing a mage. The more I think on it, it would have been great to start with a mage in Baldur’s Gate 2, where the party starts at least at level 7. At that point, mages have plenty of spell slots and some powerful spells. They’re a better class, overall. While a paladin needs to kill you with his sword, a mage can end the fight with a single Slay Living, Finger of Death, or Power Word: Stun. He can tear through an entire group of enemies with Chain Lightning or cripple a giant with Ray of Enfeeblement. However, a mage is still an advanced character, and getting accustomed to magic is a constant learning experience.
I asked for party recommendations in both BG1 and BG2. In BG1, it was recommended that I take the “official” party: the characters with whom the party member is with at the start of BG2, namely Imoen, Minsc, Jaheira, Dynaheir, and Khalid. They made for a decent group: I effectively had two casters, a thief, and four warriors (Jaheira pulled double duty on casting and combat, but Imoen, while able to take levels as a mage, remained pure thief). The alignment scale never tipped into evil. The party members were good, although Dynaheir isn’t as good a caster as Edwin, a lawful evil mage, and I imagine there were other characters whom may have been more effective than some of them. Also, a couple of them really annoyed me: Khalid, despite being pure fighter, is also something of a coward and he stutters. It’s cute at first, but gets annoying fast. Jaheira is useful, but frequently talks in an overbearing and slightly snide tone.
The second game, it was recommended to me that I use Jan, Jaheira, and Korgan. Since there wasn’t a “plot” party, there were also some useful guide recommendations on other party members: Edwin returns, and the best cleric in the game is Viconia. Minsc is pretty good, although I am under the impression that the expansion adds a better fighter than him. The issue here is that, while these characters constitute what may be the best party, they are maybe not the most interesting. Imoen must be used at the beginning of the game, but she quickly disappears. She reappears much later in the game, and can rejoin the party. Everything in the story suggests that she should, but… she’s way behind the experience curve, Jan has better (and unique) equipment AND stats, and she does not specialize in any form of magic. So, I didn’t take her… and that grates on me.
I might replay the game with different party members. Many of the characters have little stories that weave throughout the main narrative. Plus, to get the most natural feel of the game, it would be interesting to be able to pick up these party members whenever they want to join the group, and at least go on their quests with them. A couple of the members of the GameFAQs board suggested an interesting idea: playing through with a core of four party members, with a floating “fifth” party member. It adds some challenge to the game, playing below the maximum number of characters (six), and more importantly, I have plenty of variability in my group composition.
The challenge of switching around party members is that characters do not gain experience unless they are in the party. Therefore, if you intend to revisit a character, expect them to be weaker than the rest of the group. The problem is compounded by the fact that some characters specialize in certain equipment and the player is unlikely to pick up that equipment, in order to save space.
So, there is a lot to consider before playing this game in such a relaxed fashion. However, after finishing a playthrough, I imagine that said task will not feel overwhelming.