Baldur's Gate - Retroview

Birth of an Epic?

By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 7
   Plot 8
   Localization NA
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Insane
   Time to Complete

fastest time-slowest time in hours


Baldur's Gate

   I cannot say that I enjoy the common computer RPG that is released every so often. It is a format that I haven't been accustomed to, a battle system that often leaves the player doing nothing, and often a plot about as deep as an average Reader's Digest article. For those reasons, I have often passed promising titles up for the more stable and dependable console RPG format. But as my friends become more persuasive and my horizons broaden, I have come to encounter computer RPGs such as Baldur's Gate, which has made me regret staying away from this format for so long.

   The first and foremost thing that gripped my interest after playing the game for a few hours was the exploring. While the world map is indeed limited to around three or four towns, there are more than 30 very large and very varied terrain in-between the major plot points. The vast majority of them can be ignored as they do not lie in the path of the major destinations . . . but a combination of detailed 2D graphics and an epic musical score makes it is near-impossible to resist the urge to explore.

   Besides the gentle allure of rare items and new characters to recruit, I also felt compelled to systematically eliminate the black shroud that covers each new area. Walking around in the game reminded me of the feeling I had playing Zelda: A Link to the Past back in the day, which was more than enough to convince me that I had to check each new area out. It helps that each area is finely detailed with interesting flora (and fauna), and changing weather patterns help draw you into the world of the Sword Coast.

It's a whole new world...
It's a whole new world...  

   What makes the game even better was, at one time, the reason why I avoided CRPGs: the non-linearity of it. Baulder's Gate circumvents this common hang-up with a progressive and epic plot, while also having plenty of extra quests for intrepid spirits to pursue. These extra quests range from the standard "bag n' grab" to recruiting new characters to exploring haunted catacombs. These excursions net you a whole number of things like more experience, rare magical items, and plenty of additional gaming hours.

   One of the things that kept this game from getting the best score possible however was, ironically, the battle system. Unfortunately for the gamer, battles are frequently decided without any user input whatsoever. Your characters, the majority of the time, will start hacking away at the mere hint of an enemy, and by the time you realize that you stumbled into a nest of Death Knights, you've either won or were annihilated.

   While you can pause the game at any time to plan your strategy, you are unable to open your inventory screen without unpausing (due to multi-class balance issues or somesuch), and thus, you cannot use that life-saving potion on your cleric in time. What is a nuisance during normal battles becomes a migraine during the boss encounters; can you imagine boss battles in any other RPG that conclude before you could even cast a single spell?

   The second major downfall of this game is a combination of bad character movement AI and those incessant traps. Most of your exploring time will be spent in the great outdoors where exact positioning isn't all that important. However, once the battle commences inside a maze for example, then you'll get to see how high your blood pressure can go.

The environments are finely detailed.
The environments are finely detailed.  

   Characters cannot navigate the simplest of corners (or doors) even under intense micro-management, they have horrible collision detection, and all too frequently set off those fun lightening bolt traps which immediately proceeds to kill all six of your party members before you can even pause the game. Honestly, this has happened in excess of twenty times in the same maze. I don't care how "real" such a trap scenario can be; the decision to implement such evil could only serve to deter the gamer from finishing the game.

What pulled me through however, and I expect other RPGamers as well, were the before mentioned interesting plot, epic music, and a general depth to the game that could not be reproduced in console format. Even better is the fact that at the time of this writing, there have been three expansions to the series, which not only have increased the amount of locations and expounded the story, but added many new spells, weapons, and creatures to kill. Regardless of what the future holds for this epic series, Baulder's Gate remains a solid, if somewhat flawed, experience all of its own. Let us all hope it moves onward and upward from here.

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