Baldur's Gate - Review

AD&D Madness.... or are they on to something?

By: Mistress Nightshadow

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 10
   Plot 8
   Localization 9
   Replay Value N/A
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Hard - Very Hard
   Time to Complete

40-100 Hours


Baldur's Gate

   Have you ever wondered what all those groups do in the middle of the night with a whole load of paper, some weird looking dice and if they're lucky, some figurines? Where they'd spend hours on hours on end playing some game which doesn't apparently make sense?

   For all those who've always been wondering about it, well, here's your chance to finally experience, at least in some part, what those secretive groups play... and for those who happen to play late night AD&D [Advanced Dungeons and Dragons] to experience it all day, every day.

   For all those who haven't experienced an AD&D game in action before, be prepared to throw out nearly everything you knew about RPGs and learn from scratch. Why? Because it isn't like any other type of RPG you have ever seen on a console before.

Cause Controlling A Party Can Be Difficult...
Good Thing You Can Paws The Game...  

   For starters, this would be one of a very few games where you can actually create your own character. From gender, to class, to what weapons you use, to what skills you have. You can determine what race you are, how you are personally inclined, to what your strengths and weaknesses are. For those who have wanted to customise who you are, this is what you're looking for. >From lawful paladins, to the chaotic thief, they are all there, and you can even have a mix, being a thief with some spells up his sleeve, or a wizard who used to be a warrior. Of course each class has its own set of restrictions, so don't think you can have a mage who can run around with a two handed sword or something. Having certain abilities also has certain catches.

   Once you start with your character, and as you play on in the game, you will notice one very important point. That in AD&D, you're almost as likely to get killed as the opponents you are fighting if not more so. No matter who you're fighting, be it a lowly Kobold, or a Chimera the size of a house, death can always come around the corner, be it through a lucky hit, or through magic, or through your own mistakes. For those used to the console based RPG, count on seeing the death screen many times. It takes quite a bit of playing to get used to the fact that a wolf could easily walk up to you and rip you apart, at least until you're well armed and prepared. Even then, don't count on it. Nasty traps and tricky situations will keep you n your toes.

   Which brings us to battle. Battle in Baldur's Gate is fairly simple... you select the character you want to give an action to, and you select where or who to affect. Not too hard is it? Most of the battle engine is hidden, because they're actual dice rolls, unless you want to see them using an option in the options screen. They will determine if you land a hit on an opponent, if that arrow flies true, if that lightning bolt will annihilate that opponent. Don't count on the dice rolling your way though... it's about as likely that it won't. And in some cases, you might just not have the equipment to take on some characters, such as finding a magical sword to attack that magical creature with, or you forgot to pack your black sunglasses with your lunch when hunting basilisks.

   Unfortunately, the battle system isn't quite as smooth as you might think. There are several problems with it, the main one being the AI of the engine. Enemies have been known to blindly chase one of your party no matter what, leaving the others to just sit back and pick them off with projectiles while the character chased can run around in circles, leading the enemies in a merry-go-round. Others include the often stupid path finding engine, often characters take weird or suicidal routes to a certain area, certain unrealistic situations such as drawing and reloading a bow at point blank while being attacked without a penalty, the game immediately ending the moment your character is disabled with some spells which are reversible such as stoning [which can be cured almost immediately given the right items] although others in your party don't have this limitation and certain spells being almost too powerful, making you aim all the way to the other side of a clearing and praying that the fireball spell you just cast won't hit you. Although these don't make the game totally unplayable, they can certainly be frustrating and can add a lot of difficulty... and it'll probably make you reload your game a lot.

In NO Way Do I Denounce the Greatness That is Dung
Interesting Substitute...  

   Baldur's Gate isn't all about running around hunting down your wolf pack, or that bunch of bandits... Civilisation is also a part of this game, as well as interaction. Which brings in your Charisma, as well as your reputation. If you're known to kill innocent people, steal and generally be a villain, people won't talk to you, react in a negative manner, or in case of some people, they'll call the guards and they'll go kill you instead. Of course the opposite applies, and people might be nicer to you if you're known to be a good guy. You can talk, trade, exchange stories, sleep out in an inn, gain information, get given quests by people in need or in want of something, or just walk around town and relax. Of course, as you take your time, time ticks away, from morning, noon, evening and night, and the people you can meet in town change. A nice touch, particularly since bars seem to have more people at night... care to drink to you drop?

The interesting thing on this is that sometimes you get given a choice to what you can do, you can do things which are all well and good, but sometimes you can do some pretty despicable stuff, like breaking into houses, pickpocketing innocent locals or the shopkeeper, or being a little gangster and knocking out a few of them. If you really want to, you can lie, cheat and steal just like a real scoundrel would, but as always, you have the law enforcement to worry about if you get caught, and often the locals. Except this time, unlike in real life, they tend to kill you first and ask questions to your corpse afterwards. I guess it's more convenient for them if they don't have to fill out any paperwork.

The interface is pretty much handy, with hotkeys to many of the game's menus, features and the like, and if you don't like them, you can always reconfigure them. If all else fails though, and you need to figure out how to do something with a demon breathing down your neck, you can always hit pause, which is defaulted at the space bar. Which you will use quite a lot actually, because while paused, you can issue commands to your party, be it to prepare spells, charge, shoot a bow and run, or just scatter. There are a few exceptions to this, such as jumping to your backpack when paused, which will unpause the game, just to show that grabbing things out of your backpack takes time, like another club when yours breaks while cracking it on someone's head, or when you need to go rummaging to look for that trusty stick that just happens to shoot frost bolts to put out that fire elemental on fire.

However, there are a few drawbacks to the interface... The most noticeable being the Journal, which records quests, special events and rewards... it's nice, but it can prove to be a problem to use, as often it doesn't include much of the information needed, in case you forget what needs to be done, and it is often disorganised. It can prove annoying if you can't remember where you're supposed to deliver something, or where that monster you need to kill is, and you turn to your journal... and find that it doesn't list it either. Again, not making the game totally unplayable, but it isn't perfect.

As for the storyline? Well, It throws you into the thick of it after what you would call a training castle, Candlekeep. Being chased down for some unknown reason by a big bad armoured guy does give you motivation to run. Particularly after you see what he can take from someone else. And there you're left out on your own, left to find your way... well, there is a old man who always runs into you along your travels. And all sorts of monsters, assassins, mercenaries, and people who just don't seem to like you. Oh yes, and if you're lucky, you could pick up a few companions to help you... just hope the people you meet who want to join your party like each other. If they're actually sane is a different story...

Your journey will lead you through the deepest caverns and mines, to the woods, to a camp or two, all the way to the highest towers in the massive city of Baldur's Gate. And that's just if you want to continue with the storyline and not walk around, seeking out quests to make your fame and fortune. The supplementary quests will send you to many places you wouldn't need to wander to otherwise.

Cheating Is Bad...Cheating Is Wrong...
Yeah, So You Can Cheat...It's Fun Too!  
Graphically, Baldur's Gate isn't going to give any PC that much of a work out, since the graphics are mostly sprites with some 3D depth and pre-rendered floors on a 3/4 view. That's not to say that the visuals are sloppy though. They're fairly well detailed and look quite nice. To get the best out of Baldur's Gate, you won't need the fastest computer out there.

As far as the audio goes it's quite interesting. Although the music is not much to speak of, not awful but nothing that good either, the sound is quite detailed. From selecting your party, to executing commands, to death, each of your playable characters are quite unique and are given real personality due to this. From the serious voices, to the dark, even to the downright amusing. ("Buttkicking for Goodness!") They will react to other people's deaths be it a sad or happy reaction, ("...I sure won't be missing him!"), their feelings when entering certain places, when they're scared, comments to one another, warcries, complaints, even down to voices if you're just bored and you pester them. ("One day Torax will click!") Of course, some of the other people you'll meet, and several monsters have voices to them. But if nothing else, the voices make it worthwhile, at least the first time.

Since this game was made in America, there aren't any spelling or grammatical mistakes, unlike some of the translations we see of Japanese games... well, at least none which are intentional. You might think otherwise, with all the arachic speech of the nobles and the babbling of some of the drunkards and low lifes, but it all adds to the character of the game... it does make you feel like sometimes you're speaking to people deprived of technology.

What this game offers, unlike many other RPGs, is the ability to take your character from Baldur's Gate and take him or her along further adventures in expansion packs, be it the Tales of the Sword Coast, Icewind Dale, or even it's sequel, Baldur's Gate 2: The Shadows of Amn. Just because you're finished with Baldur's Gate doesn't mean your character's finished adventuring.

Well, Baldur's gate was a first to the RPG industry, being the first big AD&D game brought to the mainstream market. With its highly original idea, quite a bit of humour, and big ugly monsters and beautiful villains to chase after in a plot which allows for a lot of wandering, it's very good, even with the mistakes made. Given a little patience and tolerance for the mistakes it did make, it could be quite fun, particularly since it's different to all the console RPGs you're so used to. And for those AD&D fans... it was the first chance to play AD&D on your own and be proud of it.

I guess something interesting WAS happening behind those closed doors after all...

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