Baldur’s Gate, released in 1996, is the second game created by the RPG (role playing game) juggernaut Bioware. For those that don’t recognize the name Bioware let me give you a brief introduction. They are the same company that has made such critically acclaimed titles such as Mass Effect 1,2,3, the Dragon Age Series and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. All of these games have won universal acclaim from critics and have received numerous awards for gameplay, story graphical ability. But before these modern successes, they were a smaller company that cranked out two of the best CRPGs (computer role playing game) of all time. These being Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2.
But, I am sure that giving you details on the developer hasn’t convinced you to play this game so I suppose I should go on. For starters lets look at the box and its contents. For starters, there are 5 cd’s (or none if you download it) and each of them have some pretty unique artwork. All of this artwork has significance to some of the important areas of the game, its rather neat to look at and I remember being impressed when I saw them as a kid. Another, and probably my favorite, thing in the box is the map of the city of Baldur’s Gate and a map of the Sword Coast (the game world). It is highly detailed and is a lot of fun to look at!! The next thing you will notice is the game manual, it is rather large at 160 pages. I highly recommend reading up on this book as it will be very helpful as the rules are a modified version of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition rules. Now this may have scared some of you a bit but trust me, you aren’t sitting there, rolling dice and writing on a sheet of paper. Everything is done in real time so not a single dice needs to be rolled by you.
(Click the pictures below to open gallery)
The next thing I should address is the story itself. Its spectacular! I won’t spoil anything but I can say that it starts out with a humble beginning and escalates into a battle for the entire Sword Coast! The villain Sarevok is rather compelling as you learn about him through letters and other documents that you find from defeating his minions. This allows you to see his intentions unfold in a rather unique way and it sometimes creates a sense of urgency that few games do without the use of a time limit. But the story is more than a quest to stop a villain, you really only see him a few times. Instead you travel all over the Sword Coast helping the locals and completing side quests. While the main quest arc is good, the side missions are just as much, if not more, fun. These can involve saving damsels in distress, killing monsters for stealing a sword, or even saving a man who accidentally turned himself into a talking chicken. Where as the story quests are more serious and intense, the side quests are just good fun, they aren’t terribly serious and have plenty of humor throughout. That’s another thing that I really appreciate about this game, the majority of it has a light hearted nature to it. Funny and crazy characters are common and even some of the villains you fight are entertaining such as a bandit who expels some gas when he sees you.
While the story is good, its the gameplay that really makes the game so special. To begin with, you custom make a character. You get to choose his class, such as a Fighter, Mage (Wizard) or Thief. There are more classes than this to explore and play around with and the game does a good job of explaining the ins and outs of them. After this, you get to choose your alignment which is if you wanna be a goody two shoes, a complete jerk or anything in between. There is even an alignment for those that are insane! After this you customize your stats and skills. I could easily write a thousand words on that so I will leave it up to you to choose those. Finally, you can customize your aesthetics, such as look and sound. After this is done, its time to get into the game world.
You will first find yourself in Candlekeep, a sheltered town for those who seek knowledge. From here, you can choose to go through the tutorials or just go out into the world. I highly recommend talking to everyone in Candlekeep on your first run through as you will gain invaluable information and some experience points as well. After the tutorials are through you are thrust into the game world with only a few simple instructions on what to do next. Now this is where the game gets very interesting. You have this massive world to explore and do as you please. You can build a band of heroes or a vile gang of villains, its all up to you.
But lets talk about how you do this. You will be doing lots of talking to the people you meet in the world. But the conversations go beyond just simply reading, there are many dialogue options. It is possible to avoid fights or start fights by saying the right words. It is a very neat aspect of the game and makes you feel like you are actually a part of the world. This game also encourages exploration, the world is very big and can take around 50+ hours to explore in its entirety. While on the other hand, the main story is about 10-15 hours in total. But lets be honest, the real fun of this game is the exploration. Thankfully, every area has its own unique feel, there are different enemies and quests everywhere you go. And trust me, there are many different kinds of places such as towns, forests, plains, mountains, farms and even the sewers.
The next thing you will do a lot of is fight. In the beginning they tend to be small with only 3 to 5 warriors going at it. However, as you progress, these get larger and more intense, many times you will find your party being outnumbered. Thankfully, the combat is very simple, you just click on the enemies and your warriors will attack automatically. All the dice rolling is done by the computer and the battles only pause when you want them to. This is accomplished by pressing the spacebar and is a godsend. When the game is paused, you can give members to each of the possible six members of your party at the same time. When you unpause they will execute these orders when they are able. Yes, there is more than just simply hacking your way through hoards of enemies. Many times you will need the help of magic to succeed.
I love the spell effects in this game so much, they are flashy and varied. There are magical auras, fireballs, lighting and even exploding skulls. But not only that, there are tons of ways to combine spells and effects. It is extremely fun to play around with. With the proper combination you can make your mage a killing machine or make a warrior nearly invincible. I tend to go with the killing machine but there are times when I have had to change tactics based on the enemies that I fought.
The enemies themselves are varied as well. While there are typical stock fantasy enemies such as goblins, orcs, dragons and wizards there are others as well. These others tend to have different abilities or even immunities that you have to discover. For example, some enemies are immune to basic weaponry so you will need a magically enhanced weapon to hurt them. Others can poison your characters or turn them to stone. These are so much fun to fight against and guarantee that you will never get bored.
That leads to another fun aspect of Baldur’s Gate, the equipment. Many of the items you will encounter have magical effects that you will learn about after you either have them identified at a shop or use the identify spell. Some of these magical effects allow you to hit your opponent easier or do more damage. However, some of them increase spell resistances or even your base stats themselves. However, my personal favorites are the ones that have special abilities that you can use. Such as the Cloak of the Nymph which allows the wearer to use the spell Charm Person once a day. This is one of the most compelling features about this game as you always want to see what kind of loot you will get from an enemy you defeat.
As far as graphics go, they were pretty good for its time. The characters with all their weapons and armor on look really cool though they lack detail. There are also many times where you will see the characters weapon through their body. On the other hand, the world is beautiful! Buildings have lots of detail and are all of varying layouts and looks. Some are made of wood and others are made from bricks. Many of these buildings have unique symbols or banners that help you identify what they are. While the in game graphics are good, the videos that are included are even better. There are several of them throughout and look very good, my personal favorite is the last one that pretty much assures you that a sequel is on the way.
The musical design is epic, plain and simple. The battle music is intense and gives a sense that you are witnessing a truly brutal battle. On the flip side, the music in the towns is calm and cool. It puts you in a mood to just kick back and explore them. But on the negative side, you will hear the same songs a lot. It makes you wish that there was more. The voice work is good as well, its a cheesy B actor way. But to be honest, I would have it no other way. I find that the bad vocals are part of the games charm.
All in all, this game is awesome. The story is amazing and has plenty of twists and turns that keep you invested in it. The game play is deep and rewards creativity. The graphics and sound are good and do a good job in creating a fantastic world. It has its flaws however. There are some glitches that will cause the game to crash and if you alt+ tab out of the game and return to it, you wont be able to initiate dialogue with certain people. This is remedied by restarting the game. Another criticism is the map, there are no way points on it. You have to remember every single location or just wander around aimlessly to find where you need to go. This becomes a big issue when you get into the city of Baldur’s Gate itself. Several people ask you to meet them at a location but you are forced to wander around until you find it. Its not fun. This is really the only major issue that I have with the game, sadly it is a big one! But, do not let this deter you, this game is seriously awesome! I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys role playing games or even a deep story that keeps you entertained up until its crazy finale.