Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition

I purchased the original Baldur's Gate shortly after it was published in 1998.  I was in college at the time, and I ended up spending a substantial portion of the following semester battling all manner of denizens along the Sword Coast.  It was my first real exposure to Dungeons and Dragons, and I loved tromping across the countryside, exploring, completing quests, and making enemies explode on critical hits.

I never finished the game, though.  I played it hard and fast, and pushed myself to keep playing as I approached the endgame despite feeling some fatigue with the game.  Just a few short encounters before the final fight with Serevok, I entered The Maze below the Thieves' Guild and ran into a tough encounter with a couple of skeleton warriors.  They were pretty jazzed up skeleton warriors in this case, shooting lighting arrows or somesuch, and were protected by three traps that pulverized me if I tried to rush them (and the arrows killed Imoen when I asked her to disable them!).  The fight was so frustrating that I decided to take a break from the game.  I moved on to Fallout 2 (IIRC), and I never came back to it.** 

**As an aside, and perhaps as a fine demonstration of my relative lack of skill with games and thinking, it didn't occur to me until years later to get those skeletons to chase me back up the hallway.  And yeah, that worked rather well this time around!

Fast forward to 2012, and Beamdog released Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition.  Updated to run well on modern computers, including a very welcome ability to zoom out and see more than the default 640x480 view (I heart this!), I dove back into this adventure when it was released with great zeal.  Now, here it is June, and I finally finished.  Games requiring 100+ hours of time don't fit as well into my schedule as they used to!

My playthrough this time around largely reinforced my opinions of the original game.  It's a great game, and it really shines during the first half to two-thirds of the game when you can spend your time exploring each little area of the sword coast.  It's very free-form, and every area has at least a few simple little quests, mini-dungeons, etc.  I often could work through one area per evening, and it was just a delightful way to spend some gaming time.  The plot is quite good, too--a political and economic scheme that takes on ever deeper, and ever more personal meaning.  I don't remember thinking much of it during my first go-around, but I found it really compelling this time.

I think the game works very well until you finally are able to enter the great city of Baldur's Gate.  ... and at that point, both during this playthrough, as well as in my first time, that's where the game's magic sort of faded.  The city is quite large, but as I explored the city it ended up feeling kind of empty.  There were sidequests all over the place, but somehow they weren't enough to make it all seem to fit together.  The fact that pretty much all of the shops just sold junk didn't help.  Neither did the large wall that ran through the city, which was authentic but nevertheless was extremely frustrating when the area loaded with you on the wrong side of the wall.  Maybe there just wasn't enough fighting, and the XP given for quests just wasn't enough to keep my characters progressing.  I don't know--it's hard to put my finger on what went wrong, but something clearly didn't work for me.

Part of the problem was that by that point, I really just wanted to get on with the story.  As a result, I tried to be pretty direct about my actions at this point. Nevertheless, the story jumps around a bit in this stage in the game, and there were some minor consistency issues which broke the immersion for me (e.g. the fact that there was a huge Iron Circle Headquarters building in the middle of town was awfully surprising--prior to arriving in the city, it was depicted as a secretive organization).

Metagaming!  Don't want to trigger Sarevok's
conversation too soon!
The combat throughout was pretty fun, mostly.  The game is generally pretty easy, but is punctuated by pretty extreme difficulty that seemed to jump up at me unexpectedly in places (see the random skeleton battle mentioned above).  Part of this is the nature of low-level 2nd edition D&D--you get missed a lot, but when you finally get hit it HURTS!  I do think that the final battle to end the game also deserves some mention.  There, in order to make it possible to succeed, I found that I had to do a lot of metagaming: exploring the room step by step, trying to lure enemies one by one, toying with the A.I. to the extent that is possible, etc.  Still, in scouring the #1 piece of information that helped me is this: Sarevok may resist most spells, but he is still susceptible to magic missile.  My fighter/wizard and Imoen provided all of the damage, while Minsc and Ajantis ran around distracting him, engaging and disengaging to keep Serevok busy.  It wasn't very artful or heroic, but it worked.  I don't need the game to reward me for just charging in guns blazing.  Nevertheless, no matter what your strategy, I honestly don't think it's possible to win that fight by engaging in all of the enemies simultaneously as the story would intend.

All in all, though, it was a fun experience to play through BG again.  I don't miss second edition D&D in the least, and I really do think that the game becomes something of a slog from the moment you enter Baldur's Gate.  But the free and open, yet still organized exploration possible in the first half of the game, along with the surprisingly fulfilling plot make this game well worth the play.  I give it a 4/5.

No comments:

Post a Comment