As a bit of a background: I first experienced Baldur’s Gate while I was at a friend’s house for a LAN party. I had taken apart my beige desktop computer, massive monitor, and all the peripherals (that took up most of the backseat of my car), and driven across town to assemble everything all over again so I could sit in a room with others and play Age of Empires.
After the LAN party broke up, my friend showed me the introductory sequence of this new game he’d just finished playing, a little title called Baldur’s Gate, from a little company called BioWare. It blew my mind: the combat, artwork, voice acting, orchestral music – and all the character options! The rest of the demo is fuzzy, but I remember driving home clutching six CD-ROMS in my hot little hand (BG1 plus the expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast), and couldn’t reassemble my computer fast enough when I got home.
The first thing I realised when I started playing the game was how huge it all felt. This was back in 1998, four years before Morrowind, and nearly ten years before anything like Mass Effect or Dragon Age. The ability to wander out into the wilderness and be killed in all sorts of horrible ways was right there for you at level one.
There were no tutorials, no guides on how best to create a character, no hints at what evil might befall your shiny new avatar once you left the walls of Candlekeep with Gorion, your guardian. Baldur’s Gate was punishing, unforgiving – and completely addictive. (I put well in excess of a hundred hours into the game before I even reached the massive city of the game’s title.)
What strikes me as I play it again, is how much of this is all still true. The years have not diminished Baldur’s Gate’s scope, difficulty, or wonderful storytelling and character creation.The voice-overs of your party members, as they bicker among themselves, or speak directly to you, the player, are still as charming (especially), and hilariously depressing (in the case of) as they were the first time. And, unlike many new games that hook you in with quick-fire levelling early on, it’s easy to play for several hours in Baldur’s Gate and still be puttering around as a first-level character.
If, like me, you’ve played and played (and played) the game to death already, you might wonder what exactly there is to offer in this new edition. Well, for starters, there’s a considerable amount of new content, with three new characters (and their associated areas and quests) available to join your party in the main game, as well as a new adventure, The Black Pits.
The first of the new character builds is Neera, the Wild Mage, who literally has magic surging out of her fingertips.Sometimes what she casts is what she gets, but occasionally these surges make Neera cast spells that are massively over- or under-powered, or perhaps a completely different spell is produced as a result. She’s a sweet, slightly batty character – perhaps a bit like Merrill in Dragon Age 2.
The other two characters are interesting as well (if a little less unpredictable), with Rasaad the Calishite Monk and Dorn, a rather scary looking half orc Blackguard who sent ripples of unease through my party when I invited him to join us. Both Neera and Rasaad are romanceable, and it’s possible that Dorn is too but I’ve just blocked it out.
The Black Pits has just enough story to squeak by as an “adventure”, though really it is just a gladiatorial-style scenario to play through with a custom party, which you guide through fifteen different battles of increasing difficulty. XP and gold are awarded to the party, who then load up with more gear in order to take on the next group of adversaries. It’s entertaining, but I can’t imagine many will want to play through this more than once.
As well as these two key new additions, there have also been over 400 “improvements” made to the game, many of which included bug fixes to existing mods (I confess I can’t say I noticed a single bug in the actual original game), as well as modifications to things like item stacking and the clunky journal mechanic of the original. The expanded character kits that were made available in Baldur’s Gate 2 have been brought over, and the graphics have been brought, kicking and screaming, into HD / widescreen / what have you. On top of all this, is the option to now play the game on not only Windows, but also the iPad, Android, and OS X operating systems.
That said, all of these enhancements haven’t been implemented without their share of teething problems, including a lack of support for Intel integrated graphics cards, as well as reports of framerate stuttering, games not downloading, or even launching, post-install. (It’s worth noting that the game is not yet available for the other platforms.)
I had none of these issues, but did have (and continue to experience, even after installing a patch that purported to fix the issue) problems with several objects that would cause my mouse cursor to disappear when I selected them. The developers were extremely responsive and helpful when I raised this, and while the issue continues to occur, they were quick to give me a work-around (play in windowed mode, rather than fullscreen), and do appear to be actively addressing any issues that arise.
This won’t be a game for everyone, as much as it pains me to say it. Due to these issues, other reviewers have hesitated to recommend this version of the game to players at the moment, especially considering that the original game is still available to buy, with a massive number of mods available for download on the net.
I still think, however, assuming you’re not playing with a non-supported graphics set-up, that BG:EE is still worth a punt. Baldur’s Gate remains to this day my favourite game of all time, and for gameplay alone I’d give it a 10/10. It’s complex, funny, and a damn great RPG. Half of the fun is in setting up strange party combinations just to see what happens, and with three new characters to choose from, things will only get better in that regard.
The revamped HUD works a treat, and the convenience factor of not having to install a huge number of mods is also a major plus. I recommend it, if you can play it, because Baldur’s Gate is a great game, because it’s more and more becoming “historically significant” in the RPG timeline, and because it’s not everyday you get to hear a peasant tell you, “wife’s been getting prickly on me arse” as you stroll through town.