Developer: Overhaul Games / Publisher: Overhaul Games / Played on: PC / Price: $19.99 / ESRB: Teen [Animated Blood, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco]
When Baldur’s Gate first released on the PC back in 1998, BioWare had created one of the most beloved and recognizable games to bear the Dungeons & Dragons license, as well as one of the most finely crafted RPG experiences to date.
Fast forward nearly 14 years to the day and we are given Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, a reworked version of the game that hammers out a multitude of bugs found in the original release, as well as introduces brand new characters, storylines, and modes to play through. But for all the accolades it received in the late 90s, how well does the once mighty Baldur’s Gate stand up to RPG juggernauts like Dragon Age: Origins in today’s gaming world?
You’re awakened from your slumber in the quiet town of Candlekeep to discover that your foster father Gorion has urgently requested to speak with you. You find Gorion’s actions odd but decide it best not to keep him waiting, so you gather your belongings and meet him in the center of town. Gorion explains to you that it is no longer safe for you to stay in Candlekeep, and whisks you away from the town you called home your entire life.
No more than a few hours outside the town walls do you run into a man masked in black. You’ve not met this man before, but your foster father and he seem to have a history. Gorion beseeches you to escape while you can. As you scamper away you witness the two men battle, and before your eyes you see Gorion struck down at the hands of the man in black. Questions fill your head and vengeance flows through your body as you vow to fight for Gorion and discover the reasons why this strange man finds you so interesting.
The main story is relatively tame for Dungeons & Dragons standards but the way the game lets you experience the story is excellent. As you move from town to town and discover interesting characters to join your party you’ll uncover countless side quests to take on aside from the main quest. These tasks range from the minute, like helping a knight fend off a wave of Gibberings, to the more extreme, like stopping a necromancer from terrorizing a town. No matter how you choose to play the game, the denizens of Faerun will react to your choice. Should you say to a travelling mage that you’ll help him find his friend that was abducted by Gnolls and then not help him for an extended amount of time he’ll leave your party for good.
Baldur’s Gate follows the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rule set in every respect: if you perform an action outside of your character’s alignment, such as a lawful ranger killing an innocent civilian, you lose reputation amongst citizens and certain party members may abandon you entirely. In short, everything you do in the game will have a consequence, much like how your actions in the tabletop version of D&D affect everything around you. With a fairly lengthy main questline to play through as well as dozens more hours of side quests to take a shot at, Baldur’s Gate is a huge game that tells a fantastic story no matter how you experience it.
In true D&D fashion (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, to be exact), you begin the game by creating your character. This is the first instance where players of the original game will notice a change, as Enhanced Edition includes some races and player creation tools first implemented in the sequel, Shadows of Amn. Baldur’s Gate is not a game made during this generation of RPGs, and that’s noticeable from the very beginning: there are no waypoints to guide you to your next objective, no grand spectacles in terms of battles, and nothing that can’t be done within the constrictions of the D&D rules. That being said, Baldur’s Gate is not a game for everyone.
The game can be split into two distinct halves: combat and exploration. Combat takes place in real time, so when you encounter an enemy they’ll start attacking you immediately. Anyone who has played D&D before can tell you that combat can get rather complicated, even more so with AD&D’s rules. The first handful of battles will have you saying, “What the hell am I doing?” as you are pretty much thrown into the game with little knowledge of what every attack, power, or spell does – unless you’re a D&D faithful. Thankfully you can pause the action at any time and issue out commands to your team and read up on what each ability does.
This direct combat involvement isn’t always necessary in the early goings of the game, but becomes essential to later brawls. All of the pausing makes the game feel like a strategy game more than an RPG, which isn’t necessarily bad but might not be what players want if they were expecting gameplay along the lines of the newer Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series. The complexity of combat will surely scare off gamers that aren’t willing to commit to the full experience: you’ll have to do a lot of reading and planning to succeed in the game. But for those that put forth the effort, forming a party of six members that not only plays to your liking but also fit together in terms of alignment and motive is equal parts challenging and rewarding.
Exploration of the land and interacting with all it has to offer makes up the rest of the gameplay. Between battles you’ll travel to towns, chat up the barkeep for local rumors, recruit mercenaries to your group, and wander around the land in search of secrets and answers to the many questions you’ll be asked. In short, it’s Dungeons & Dragons. There is a near unlimited amount of replay value within the game. You can have a completely different experience running through the game with a different main character or different party members.
I really enjoyed how the game reacted to every choice I made: hide a body from the local authorities and everyone in town will hear about it. This makes the world much more immersive and leaves you feeling like you actually make a difference in the land as opposed to being a bystander. Baldur’s Gate is a massive game set in a huge world that allows you to explore in any way you see fit, which makes the game one of the more memorable RPG experiences you can have.
In terms of bonus content in the Enhanced Edition, you get three brand new characters to recruit to your party: the wild mage Neera, the monk Rasaad, and the half-orc Blackguard Dorn. These characters meld well with the rest of the cast and offer up races and classes otherwise only seen in the sequel to the original game. These characters also offer new side quests to play through if you choose.
A brand new mode called The Black Pits is an entirely separate adventure from the main story. In this mode you are placed in an arena in the Underdark where you must survive a wave after wave of enemies. It’s a nice addition that focuses much more on strategy and combat, and also offers several more hours of unique gameplay. Multiplayer options are implemented as well, but only through direct IP connection. At the time of this review the inclusion of matchmaking services has not been implemented but is hinted at being included in a future update. This is a big omission for the game that quite frankly should have been included from the beginning.
Also, the game proudly touted squashing hundreds of bugs in transition to the Enhanced Edition, but I still ran into handful of game freezing bugs myself. I know Overhaul couldn’t possibly get every bug with the game, but there’s still some work to do, so save often.
Sound & Visuals
The soundtrack for the game is perfect, hitting every note at the right time. A Celtic song serenades you as you explore the vast countryside of the Sword Coast. The music shifts to a more dramatic tone upon entering battle, and the sounds of lutes fill the air while in towns or taverns. The sound effects aren’t as highly praised, however. Combat sounds like swords clashing and magic missiles firing are all fine, but it’s the voice acting that’s a letdown. Voice actors do a fantastic job delivering their lines, giving emotion and humor to each character, but lines of dialogue are repeated way too much. You’ll hear the same lines over and over again as you start a battle, click on a character, or just move from one place to the next.
Also, the three new characters have all their lines accompanied by voice actors, but the same is not true for the original cast. It would have been a great addition to have the game fully voiced, but as it stands there is a ton of text to read in order to comprehend the story.
Visually the game hasn’t aged well. The colors of the backgrounds in most stages are very dark and muddy. I know the game takes you to dark places, but when I physically can’t see an enemy or pathway because its coloring is hard to recognize then I have a complaint. To put it plainly, the game is showing its age. Still, the inclusion of new narrative sequence artwork and some new character portraits make the game feel a bit fresher by today’s standards.
Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is a fantastic way for RPG fans to experience one of the true classics of the genre. Fans of modern RPGs like Skyrim or Dragon Age will notice Baldur’s Gate has a lot in common with them. The additional content like new characters, entirely new game mode, and the inclusion of the expansion’s content ensure you’ll be spending countless hours playing. However, even with the new bells and whistles the game is starting to show its age, and the complexity of gameplay will steer many gamers away. If you don’t mind sifting through a lot of text, I highly recommend this game to anyone who calls themselves RPG lovers.
+ A large world to explore where your every action has a consequence
+ Satisfying and deep combat system that adheres to the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset
- The game is starting to show its age
8.5 / 10