If you’ve never played these classic RPGs, then now may well be the perfect time. In Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, the mechanics of the beloved tabletop classic Dungeons and Dragons allow for a truly authentic RPG experience that will have your party undertaking a myriad of battles, role-playing scenarios and pure fantasy fun. However considering that these games were initially intended for PC back in the late 90s, it begs to question just how they hold up in 2019.
The Baldur’s Gate games use the traditional 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules. If you have never played Dungeons and Dragons, or any other role-playing tabletop games for that matter, then grasping the game’s concepts may be tricky. Luckily, the games have optional difficulty settings which should be highly considered based off of your prior knowledge. If you are unfamiliar with the rules and therefore choose an easier difficulty selection, the games can be enjoyed at a pace that gradually introduces you to the mechanics and who knows, you may even want to gather some friends around to your place and start playing some face-to-face D&D; or, you can get better and try it again on a harder difficulty. However, that all depends on whether you would want to as these entries on a modern system instantly shows how poorly they have aged.
General actions and simply getting stuff done can be awkward and unintuitive. Years of games refining RPG mechanics has made the genre a less cumbersome endeavour and while many stemmed from the Baldur’s Gate series, the originals show the base experience that was only improved upon as the years went on. You will surely find yourself looking up guides and walkthroughs in order to perform the simplest of actions. This all may be due to the games being designed solely for the PC and whilst the Switch version strangely doesn’t allow for touchscreen controls, controlling the game with a gamepad controller proves to be further cumbersome.
The original entry suffers from a lack of difficulty balancing. Early in the game, I found myself defeating Xnats with a single attack, only to turn a corner and encounter an ogre who did the same thing to me. The game does have an auto-save feature, and you can save manually yourself, but the frustration still remains.
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Item management is also an absolutely nightmare, and the control scheme is only partly to blame! With the Baldur’s Gate games originally being developed for PC, swapping items over from one character to the next is a task in itself. I had six characters in my party and three died in a fight. I didn’t have enough room to fit all of my fallen allies’ equipment into my inventory, so I had to make multiple trips. I then revived them at a temple, only to realise that I was required to reallocate the equipment, as well as dealing with the current loot that I originally had. The games certainly punish you for dying because getting everything back to the way it was is infuriatingly cumbersome to the point where I considered just leaving them dead as I just didn’t want to have to go through that again.
For an isometric view, the game does surprisingly well at keeping everything in frame. However, I did find myself getting stuck behind stairs or the like a few times. The game is all designed with that particular view in mind and sometimes it works great; other times, not so much.
The first game’s general overworld is quite basic but it’s what to be expected due to its age. Dungeons and caves are also quite standard in terms of their layout, lacking thought and ingenuity. The sequel certainly sees a definite improvement, but the game is still developed in the same engine, so don’t expect too much.
The first game begins just like 90% of D&D campaigns do; you’ve had a sheltered upbringing but you are suddenly cast out into the vast world where mystery is afoot. As you can choose (and are encouraged to) add party members before you begin the game, these characters (aside from your primary one) are generic and without substance, feeling out of place and unwelcome. You can start off as just yourself and recruit more members as you go, but the game fails to make this apparent at first and you soon find yourself removing members entirely, making them disposable and unimportant; from an RPG based on dungeons and dragons, you want to connect and grow attached to the characters, not dispose of them like three day old leftovers.
After the second chapter in the first game, the mysteriousness of the plot certainly ramps up to further entice the player. Whilst most characters are interchangeable, resulting in a lack of emotion attachment, the main plot that continues onwards in the sequel is one to check out for any D&D enthusiast. The plot, therefore, is the games’ defining quality, but it all depends on whether you can stomach the mechanics long enough to get there.
Graphics / Art Direction
Age isn’t always kind to video games of yesteryear and the Baldur’s Gate series greatly suffers from this. It’s nostalgic to be able to look back on, and the widescreen aspect ratio and slightly enhanced graphics certainly helps, but on a modern day system, you may find yourself squinting a bit. A lot of the games’ assets look the same with a standard brown look. The graphics may have been impressive back in the day and while the enhanced edition may have smoothed out a few rough edges, there’s only so much that can be down without starting from scratch.
Character designs are also very generic to the point where if their names weren’t above their heads, I would struggle to tell them apart. That goes the same for towns and overworld aesthetics; sure you can tell the difference when considering a location earlier in either game’s story to a later one but in terms of progressing from one to the next, it all just blends together into one uninspired blob.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtracks are very cliche for fantasy role-playing; you’ve got your grand choir songs, jolly tavern music and intense combat tracks. It paints the picture well, but doesn’t go far beyond that. The voice acting is also certainly dated, with the audio quality being less than favourable. The voice acting quality itself can also be questioned, but the enthusiasm is certainly there.
Final Score: 50%
The original Baldur’s Gate games are a nice piece of video game history, but playing them in 2019 is nothing more than a chore. Before you buy the Baldur’s Gate and Baldur Gate II: Enhanced Edition, you’re going to need to realise that these games were ambitious for the late 90s and while they may not have aged well, they’ve been a huge influence on the RPG genre to this day.
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