Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition Review
Also known as Critical Miss Simulator.
When Baldur’s Gate III was announced, I was stoked to hear that Larian Studios would be developing it. No offense to Beamdog, of course, but to be able to experience a classic RPG series in the style of Divinity: Original Sin II was enough to motivate me to go back and play the original Baldur’s Gate games again in anticipation of the upcoming title. If you have read my Icewind Dale review, you will find that I have expressed my favoritism of Baldur’s Gate over its sister game series. It is in this review that you will find out why.
Summarizing the gameplay mechanics would be akin to summarizing the D&D rulebooks, so I will leave you, dear reader, to read the manual on your own initiative. The game itself plays like Icewind Dale due to sharing the same game engine. It is isometric, real-time, and relies on the use of unseen dice to determine whether you land a hit or miss. Usually miss. Such is the folly of dice-based combat: it is by no means an unbalanced or unfair system, but it is simply mystifying how your paladin can completely miss swinging his broadsword at an immobile blob of jelly congealing on the floor or how your ranger fails to land his mark against a wyvern the size of a barn’s broadside. Outside of that, the game’s mechanics works without fail, even if it is frustrating to deal with.
Your character is canonically known as Gorion’s Ward, raised by your aforementioned foster father in the fortress of Candlekeep. You were doted on heavily, yet raised with a stern hand in anticipation of the events of Baldur’s Gate, though you were never told why you would ever need to step foot beyond the walls of the keep. Why has your father never told you of your true heritage? Why is it that even at the eve of your departure, you have never been lectured once on the topic of your destiny? It is through your adventures in the Sword Coast that you shall piece together the untold story behind your past.
But you will not undertake this adventure alone. Five companions of your choosing shall accompany you through bandit-afflicted roads and spider-infested forests. Like Icewind Dale, you may opt to create your entire six-man party at the very start, but in Baldur’s Gate, it is actually advisable to create only a single main character. Unlike Icewind Dale, there are actually recruitable companions scattered across the Sword Coast. They come in many flavors of classes and alignments, ranging from paladins to sorcerers and from lawful good to chaotic evil. The reason it is encouraged to seek them out is because they have their own personalities and unique dialogue, a stark contrast from your robotic player-made companions who are required to pick from a pool of generic voice sets just like your main character. The recruitable companions don’t have this kind of issue.
Let’s take Minsc, for example. Minsc is quite possibly Baldur’s Gate most popular companion. This loveable oaf is not quite right in the head, but where he lacks in brains, he compensates by being a bona fide killing machine, excelling in the two-handed sword weapon style as well as being proficient in the accurate longbow. Recruiting him is like nabbing two candy bars for the price of one as he is joined by his pet, a furry little hamster named Boo. In Minsc’s 8 Intelligence mind, Boo is the brains of the duo as he is a sentient miniature giant space hamster capable of dispensing sage-like wisdom when it is most needed. At least, according to Minsc.
If you decide to hire Minsc, you must also assist him in rescuing Dynaheir, a complimentary companion that serves as his “witch” and protector. Once you have rescued her, the pair becomes inseparable. If you dismiss one of them, the other leaves your party as well. Should one of the two die in battle, the other will react to their death—in Minsc’s case, he will go berserk, potentially maiming your own party in his grief. Such complexities in personality will only exist in your party if you choose not to go with the premade route. Each companion will express their likes and dislikes of other members of your party. Some companions will come in pairs just like Minsc and Dynaheir and will react appropriately should something occur to their partner.
I don’t want to reveal any more details about the story to those who never played the game. I will say, however, that the main questline is an enjoyable experience. The writing is a key part in that it is always fun to explore the choices you have in the dialogue line you get to say to the NPC you are speaking to. Being able to go from speaking like a noble paladin to being a chaotic evil jerk in the same conversation is hilarious until the NPC decides to end the conversation and attempt to cut you down for your insolence. The game may have tried a bit too hard in being immersive with voice acting though. See, every time you engage in dialogue with an NPC, a sound bite will play of a voice recording. This sound bite may just be the first several words of the dialogue. Other times, it may be a sound bite of the generic nobleman character telling you that he does not enjoy talking to peasants such as yourself even though his dialogue is very polite towards you. You will have to hear the same voice clip every time you interact with that NPC, which, I must say, is rather annoying. There are no fully-voiced NPCs in this game either. The most voice acting you will hear is perhaps the first paragraph of an NPC’s dialogue, but outside of that, there is little to be heard. It’s not a big deal though. Some prefer it that way as they would rather picture what the NPC’s voice would be like in their head.
There lies another issue, a byproduct of having six individual party members. The pathfinding of your party is infuriating to deal with. At its best, your party members will go to exactly where you clicked on-screen. At its worst, your party members will decide to turn around and make a loop across the zone when they could have just taken a shorter, narrower path. The usual reason that this occurs is that there may be some fog of war blocking a straight path to where you want them to go, forcing them to take an alternative route when they could have just gone over the strip of black screen. Interiors have a similar issue. Telling six colliding party members to move toward one location is a struggle especially when two of them decide to become stuck together. Because you will be going through many buildings and dungeons with narrow halls, it is a prevalent problem you must keep note of when navigating your way through the zone.
Despite the hiccups with the game engine, the fun I had with this game was enough for me to overlook them and continue on with the game. Even if Icewind Dale had more action, Baldur’s Gate has much more story and plot to it than just “go here, defeat big bad boss, happy ending.” Some of the sidequests were still like Icewind Dale in that you either defeat this pack of monsters or fetch this item from a specified location, but some were more unique, such as “convincing” a trio of fishermen to hand over a ceremonial bowl to a priestess of Umberlee. This particular quest even had an impact down the line, a trait shared by other sidequests in Baldur’s Gate as well. Your quest rewards for these sidequests are sometimes determined by your reaction modifier, a value primarily determined by charisma. If your reaction modifier is high, the NPC will give you a better reward since they like you more and vice versa. I really think that this is a cool mechanic, especially since there are dialogue changes involved with the reaction of NPCs toward you, sometimes with them outright hating you, citing your foul odor or unkempt appearance.
An old school game begets an old school audience, but Baldur’s Gate extends its influence beyond the boundaries of its own content. Many RPGs beyond its release—even now—admit to being inspired by this classic hallmark of a cRPG. The sequel, Baldur’s Gate II, improves a lot of what the first title was lacking in, but in order to compensate for this, there are many mods out there that are great even for a first-time playthrough, such as the BG1 NPC Project, adding in an impressive layer of depth to the interactions of characters between each other and the events around them. It is my hope that Baldur’s Gate III will have that kind of depth from start to finish.