Do you remember many years ago when a game meant something more than a 4 hour campaign and tacked on multi-player? Do you remember when seeing the game over screen was not just a chance to reload your last checkpoint? More importantly, do you remember the last time a game showed you its teeth and didn’t just hand you victory after victory wrapped in pretty packages? Baldur’s Gate does and it wants you to roll up your sleeves and dive in head first… are you up to the task?
Baldur’s Gate was originally released for PC CD-ROM back in 1998 and since then it has gained not only a handful of very well thought of sequels but also a massive following of avid fans. This ‘Enhanced Edition’ provides polished visuals and a tweaked audio track to allow a seamless journey into this fantasy world.
To be honest what we really have here is basically the same game as we got in ’98; and that is certainly no bad thing.
Besides the higher resolution visuals, this is very much, still, a quadruple distilled, complex, deep, hard as nails, pound for pound, oldest of the old school style role playing game. The game starts off with a simple, animated cut scene which leads to some beautifully scripted narration to set the atmosphere; After that, the leash is cut and you are free to go as you please.
Sure you could take the tutorial (which I would strongly recommend unless you love getting wrecked by every enemy that walks by) but you don’t have to. This is very much an experience that is shaped to your choices and your personality… Oh yes, years before Mass Effect ‘revolutionised’ the RPG with its moral compass, Baldur’s Gate had already cast judgement on thousands of hapless would-be wizards all around the world… and then killed them… with haste.
Which brings me neatly to the gameplay here: this is deep, tactical, RPG fare. This is not the kind of game which you can just jump into; you could even call getting good at it, ‘mastering an artform’. You get up to 6 members to have in your party and you issue commands to them during battle to tell them how you would like to approach the coming skirmish (heal, attack, defend etc)… familiar stuff. Where it differs though is in the smallest details. The whole game runs on the ever turning cogs of the 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons rulebook… which for those who don’t know, means everything is governed by a dice roll… just because you want to attack doesn’t mean you will. Sometimes fate can conspire against you and other times it can grant you your life; if there was ever a more accurate metaphor for existence in a video game, I don’t what it is.
To succeed here you really do have to know your party as if you were really on a lifelong adventure with them. Each class of character brings their own strengths and weaknesses and if you do not realise this quickly you will soon get very used to seeing the game over screen. Error is punished swiftly with brutally fast deaths; this is trial by fire and the impatient need not apply.
The same level of inaccessibility can also be said of the in-game interface; when you first boot the game up you could be forgiven for being completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of different menus and sub screens. Just like it was in 1998, the menu screens are cluttered, badly labelled and often quite vague as to what they actually do.
BUT if you do indeed have that old school style patience there is a lot of game to enjoy here. It will take you a good 3 hours or more before the game really even gets going and the story only moves as fast as you can handle; if you don’t get the hang of battle quickly it may take you some time to reach that first big town.
When you do get into the story though it is really a good, old-fashioned fantasy yarn that has just enough to keep you hooked; this is Dungeons and Dragons at its most deadly serious and it is fantastically told. Not everyone will stick it out for the whole 40+ hours but those that do will find a lot to fall in love with; even if some of the voice actors can sound a bit “ultimate cheese” from time to time.
The first thing that made me grin were the wonderful, circa ’98 graphics which have that charming ‘hand painted’ feel. The high-resolution of this new edition really brings the fantasy world to life and while it might not look like much compared to today’s big visual hitters, sometimes it only takes a small spark to set light to your imagination.
The music here is also superb; haunting melodies sweep through every locale and playful ditties bounce along inside the many inns and shops. If a picture paints a thousand words then these scores are the ink that underlines them.
Unfortunately I must mention that besides the fact that the game has been given a sharper look and boosted, clearer sound there is not much that has been ‘enhanced’ here. Part of me thinks that this could be a disappointment to some die hards, but the other part knows that there isn’t much more you can do with a diamond than give it a good polish.
This is a game for everyone out there that feels like a challenge is something that has gone amiss from today’s big releases. This is a game that can both frustrate and thrill in equal measure. But more importantly, this is a game that can still put its head above the trenches and not be afraid to let everyone know; Baldur’s Gate is back, taking no prisoners and cutting no corners; For those about to die, we salute you.
+ Traditional, deep, tactical combat
+ Satisfying battles
– Over complicated and inaccessible to newcomers
– No real ‘modern’ enhancements despite the title
+ Old School, charming style
+ Detailed environments
– Cluttered meus hamper navigation
+ Beautiful orchestral score
+ Atmospheric ambiance and subtle sound design
– Voice acting can be hit and miss