Faerun’s west coast, known as the Sword Coast, is no stranger to peril, war, and upheaval. Far from it, these things love to rear their heads like uninvited guests on a regular basis. The latest trouble is an iron shortage. No problem on its own but the situation is made worse by frequent — one might almost think scheduled– bandit raids on ore shipments. You play as the adopted child of the sage Gorion (Because they needed there to be a reason you could play any race.) living in the library/castle of Candlekeep. Gorion has become more and more agitated of late — even given his humorless and private demeanor. One day he tells you that you must leave Candlekeep behind. With some gold for your equipment you prepare to face the world outside wondering why Gorion is in such a hurry.
Baldur’s Gate was developed by Bioware, as a matter of fact it was THE FIRST RPG THEY EVER DEVELOPED — do you like Mass Effect? This is where it all started! And it shows. They also made the Infinity Engine for the game. At this point Bioware was 60 people and they were so green that none of them had released a game by this point. They worked together with Interplay, creators of the Fallout series, because they had experience adapting a role-playing system to a video game and were a veteran company of the time.
Fun fact: Fallout was meant to be based on the GURPS roleplaying system.
Baldur’s Gate was released on December 21st, 1998. It’s competition was Starcraft (PC and N64), Fallout 2 (PC), and Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven.
This is a game that demands to be played correctly. It might seem like an open world but that’s an illusion, a dangerous one at that. You CAN play it your way but it’s bound to leave you destitute in the gutter without two gold pieces to rub together. At this point you’ll be pawning your equipment to rest at the inn or try to get enough cash to bring your allies back to life at the local temple. Get a guide or make a plan because it’s the only way to get the stuff you need to adventure properly so you can start taking risks. It’s an utterly merciless experience. But! The Enhanced Edition comes with the benefit of highlighting important areas of your world map. I guess your character has adventurer sense — which almost makes sense in the fiction.
Baldur’s Gate runs on the same rules as 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons — as such it’s a bit of a confusing mess. What you need to understand is that you want to keep your hit points high and your Armor Class low. Now the dungeon delving is pretty simple; go in to the camp/cave/ruin, kill everything that looks at you funny, and then loot the bodies. The problem is in figuring how to destroy the monsters and, oh yeah, fucking traps. There are goddam traps everywhere — I mean, there are so many traps that I seriously question who built so fucking many and who fronted the money for all these god forsaken lightning bolt spells.
It’s your job to create a party of fighters to fight, clerics to heal, rogues to find traps, and wizards to cast spells in the right combination to handle the traps, wizards, ogres, armored thugs, and hoards of gnolls. Unfortunately your party is more likely to be made of the other adventurers that you’ll find and some of these guys don’t generally get along — I thought the paladin and the sadistic murderer would be fast friends!
The plot is genuinely compelling, especially for the first time experiencing this sort of story, even if you know nothing about Faerun. When I was playing it as a kid I was reading books in game to figure out more about what was going and — this game got 14 year old me to read fake books. It asks a pile of questions and then drip feeds you answers IF you dig a little.
This game oozes with charming characters. Between Khalid’s anxiety, Erwin’s blatant evil, and Minsc’s pet miniature-giant-space hamster I’m more than content to interact with everyone just to see if they’re cool people. All of these important characters are marvelously voiced and if they start to grate on you just mute ’em.
The only Advanced Dungeons and Dragons based game better than Baldur’s Gate I is Baldur’s Gate 2. And it would just be untoward to play the second game before the first. It’s not just untoward, skipping this game will leave you in the dark pretty hard.
Luck should have nothing to do with whether you complete a quest or not and Baldur’s Gate has got dice role quests. A 50/50 chance between 500 and 2000 experience points based on the roll of the dice is just bad design. There’s not even anything you can do to effect the outcome and it’s just lame.
Almost every fight at the higher levels include a spellcaster, usually of the arcane variety, who will typically cast all of his defensive spells before you even walk through the door. You’ve got no chance to interrupt them and they never seem to run out of spells. I don’t know what level they are but I’m level 8 and they’re casting spells I’ve never scene and that I don’t know how to avoid or overcome.
For some, plot based but otherwise unexplained reason, if your main character dies they are dead forever and the game is over. Reload from your last save and do it better. As such it’s really fucking hard to play as a wizard or any other class that doesn’t come with buckets and buckets of hit points. It’s possible but it’s an uphill climb on a sheer cliff.
I really wasn’t a fan of the music. It felt dull, repetitive, and undynamic. I eventually started playing my own music and muting it for character dialogue or to read something.
If taking a trip down Second Edition based memory lane sounds like a keen way to spend your time then I recommend giving Baldur’s Gate I, enhanced or not, a look. The game may begin with the illusion of an open world but after a few chapters of linearity it DOES make good on its open world promise. The enhanced edition even has multiplayer so you can play this game with a friend if you don’t want to rely on the less optimal NPCs. I recommend Baldur’s Gate to anyone with an interest in roleplaying games and a firm knowledge of D&D.
Next Week: The Wolf Among Us.