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23 April 2014

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition - Once again we travel the Sword Coast.

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The classic Baldurs Gate returns with an enhanced edition in all of its old-school glory with, you guessed it, enhancements! I haven't played this since I was eight years old...

Hello old friend.

So what has been enhanced?

While Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition certainly feels like a game from its era, and that's more of a positive than a negative, many of its aspects have been enhanced.

The first and most noticeable enhancement is that the game runs flawlessly on modern operating systems, which saves players all sorts of time. The UI and graphics have been improved to support high resolutions and wide screen displays. The core game itself has been improved, over 400 issues from the original game have been fixed, which makes life so much easier in this awesome game. Every single improvement from Baldur's Gate 2: The Shadows of Amn has been brought to bear in the Enhanced edition. Things like class kits, new sub-races and classes are now available to players. Even the original cinematics have been replaced with beautiful hand painted graphics. Multiplayer will also be receiving improvements at a later date, which include matchmaking functionality so players don't have to know the others' IP addresses to play with each other. I don't quite remember multiplayer being in Baldurs Gate to begin with, but it was quite some time ago since I originally played it.

But that's not all. There is also a new adventure, 'The Black Pits', and three new characters. Neera, a wild mage who may just kill your entire party along with everyone in the vicinity; Dorn Il-Khan, a Blackguard who might not come off as one of the nicest of fellows to join your band of adventurers; and finally there is the monk, Rasaad yn Bashir whose adventure takes players through the never before seen Cloud Peaks.

 

Dorn is a big, angry fellow. Best stay on his good side.

If that weren't enough, Overhaul Games is planning ongoing support for Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition so it will continue to receive improvements after its release. Most importantly, they will continue to support the modding community that has helped keeping the game as popular as it has been for so many years.

So... Much... Story.

So much that it would not be doing Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition any justice to try and summarize it. 

Players start out their adventure as the adopted son of a powerful wizard who has just found out that bad things are coming. With little to no time to prepare, players make preparations, not to save the world, but to flee to safety away from whatever threatens them. Fate is not so kind, however, to our hero and very quickly removes his adopted father. From there the protagonist goes off on a mission to figure out just who or what they were running from and what, if anything, can be done to stop it. 

 

We begin our journey!

 

Along the way, players encounter all sorts of interesting characters. From the perfectly sane, rational - and, at times, boring - characters, to the perfectly insane sort who will leave you laughing, or simply boggle the mind as you attempt to figure out what motivations they have. The party members you will pick up along the way are all fairly interesting and even have their own quests related to them. Sometimes they even chime in to let the player know what they think of the situation, even if some of these characters I kept around mainly for fodder purposes, rather than actually enjoying their company. If I had to pick one character to save out of my entire party, it would have to be Minsc and his hamster Boo.

There's also quite a lot of replayability, considering that the protagonists alignment - and I believe some of the distribution of some stat points - affects how other characters react to the player and what they can say to NPCs rather than simply being given a good, bad or neutral choice. A player character's reputation also affects how things play out. If there are lawful good characters in a group with a player character who goes about plundering all that he sees, they are going to speak out about it. And who knows? They may have even decided to do something about my normal RPG looting shenanigans had I not gotten tired of their incessant whining. I replaced them with characters who were much more tolerant, and even encouraging, of my survival behaviours. We were on a quest to save the world, after all, and I was certain that a few gold coins and useful equipment going missing was a small price to pay for the safety of the realm.

 

 Oddly enough apathy saved this guy from himself.

 

But there's even more story than just what's seen through questing or speaking with characters, if one takes the time to read unique item descriptions. All of the unique items have their own back story to them which was a nice touch and really drove home their uniqueness. If you're ever feeling the need for a break from your adventures, you can also pick up one of the games many books and sit down to read them. Some of these are fairly lengthy, too.

If I had to nitpick for a downside to the story of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition it would be just how much reading there is. It doesn't bother me personally, I actually enjoy reading, but when it comes to grabbing new players, all of the reading might turn them off to Baldurs Gate, and trust me, there is a lot of reading to be done with sparse voice overs and cutscenes. That being said, it still has a much deeper story along with many more side stories than most games these days.

Where'd my dice bag go?

Dice bag? Why would you ever need a dice bag to play a PC game? Well  you don't actually, but Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition runs on second edition Dungeons and Dragons rules. An understanding of how second edition DnD works goes a long way to shrinking the learning curve of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. I didn't have the luxury of being experienced with second edition, so you can imagine how badly my first few forays into the Sword Coast went. Luckily second edition and Baldurs Gate have been around for so long that there is a plethora of information available out there to help both the new and the old rusty players get their bearings in this unforgiving game. 

At first, gameplay is fairly simple. Players start out controlling only the protagonist, their player character. Life is relatively painless while players get their bearings in either the tutorial or the start of their journey at Candle Keep. My personal preference is to skip the tutorial as the green robed men in Candle Keep do a better job at helping players figure out how to play the game. Not to mention there is no hand-holding and fewer NPCs nagging at you every few seconds when they ask you to do something.

But Candle Keep is hardly indicative of how the game actually plays. Once players are out on the road, going off on their adventures and gaining more party members, Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition gets increasingly difficult. In the first few maps, players can get by brute forcing their way through most situations but very quickly find themselves having to pause to position and order their party around. Players can set up scripts for their AI companions to follow when engaged in combat, but I found this to generally be a terrible idea. Manually controlling each of the parties six members is the best way to go, even if it means having to learn every detail of the classes currently tagging along to use them to full effect. I found magic users in particular to be especially annoying, but at the same time invaluable to have in a party. The biggest annoyance that comes with magic in second edition DnD is that, while there is no mana to manage, each spell has a limited number of uses based on how many times they decided to memorize a spell for the day. In early levels, mages have a tiny number of spells, making them more of a burden on a party than an asset. As their level increases they get more slots for spells and resting refreshes their uses, but resting may cause enemies to re-spawn in the area, if not ambush your party. Then again, the occasional spell going awry from my wild mage and nuking the entire party didn't help her case at all.

 

A nice stroll through some ruins ends the lives of three adventurers.

 

I do kind of have mixed feelings because of the way combat works, primarily because it is decided by dice rolls so it leads to some hilarious and pretty bad moments in a fight where characters are constantly missing with their attacks until suddenly someone involved in the fighting suddenly explodes into chunky bits. It can be terribly frustrating at times when a fight is going wonderfully and suddenly your luck changes and the AI decides it will one shot an important party member - like the protagonist, which instantly gives a game over - or one you hold dear as I do Minsc and Boo. But such is life with a dice roll system. The one other issue I had is fighting a mage in a labyrinth. Logic dictated that peeking around the corner, forcing him to charge up a spell, and running back behind cover would make him waste the painfully powerful chain lightning ability that he was flinging my way. The game dictated that his chain lightning could go right through the wall and wipe my party. But even that wasn't as amusing and frustrating as fighting a mage with giant lizards who turned everything they attacked to stone.

 

Stoned to death. Ugh.

 

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition doesn't bother to hold your hand at all, which is great because it lets the player make lots of mistakes and learn on their own. Players will never really know just how dangerous an encounter is until said encounter wipes the floor with them or players wipe the floor with it. There's also that incredibly satisfying feeling that comes from finding out the trick to an encounter or coming back later after becoming stronger and introducing those enemies that crushed you in the past to your sharp, new, two-handed sword.

Even when trying to find quests, the only directions given to players are what they heard from the NPC giving the quest, or others they talk to. These things are kept in the player's journal, but never in the map is there an arrow or marker saying "Come hither for thy quest!" like in most games today. Players also have the option of keeping their own journal so they can either roleplay or keep better notes on quests than what the game gives by default.

Multiplayer? I don't remember this being in the original.

Maybe it's because I was eight years old when I first played Baldur's Gate, but this is a new feature to me. 

Like I mentioned before, the multiplayer in Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition currently has no form of matchmaking, even if it is planned to come in a future update. That being said, you can still play with others if you know the IP of the host player. This way players are kinda forced to play with only friends or people they meet in forums sharing their IP address. To a degree this is a good thing since the game is quite enjoyable with a group of friends and it can make learning the game much easier when talking with someone else as things move along. It also removes the stress of having to manage an entire team of different characters, since players can fill any of the six slots that NPCs could otherwise fill. Players can either create a character for the current game or import characters from a previous save game. The only downside to multiplayer is that if you play with six characters, Minsc and Boo can't come along on your adventures, not can any of the NPCs that can join your party, and then you can't do the quests tied to them.

 

Dragging friends into the pit for glory and fast levels!... Or fast death.

 

As far as I could tell, gold and experience is shared among all the players most of the time. Every now and then, if there are connection issues between some of the players some wonky things can happen, and XP and gold isn't split properly among the party. The inventory of each player is theirs and theirs alone, however, so if your buddy has that +2 warhammer of face-ripping you wanted, you better hope that they are willing to share. If that doesn't work you can always kill them and resurrect them later! I doubt they'd be too happy about that move, though.

A classic worth picking up again or for the first time if you're brave.

If you've ever played Baldurs Gate, been curious about it or what old school games were like for that matter, Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is certainly worth picking up. Just be prepared for a long and hard adventure and lots of reading and learning through trial and error as well as learning that the roll of the dice can be a cruel mistress. The story and memorable characters are certainly worth the challenge and time invested in the game however, and playing with friends can make it all the more enjoyable. Just don't miss out on Minsc and Boo. They are seriously my favorite characters in the entire game.

On the other hand, if you don't like a lot of reading or the Dungeons and Dragons rules, or the graphics just aren't enhanced enough for your tastes or you just don't enjoy a serious challenge, you should avoid Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. It wasn't a game for everyone when it originally came out, and that is still the case to this day, but that gives it wonderful qualities that are all it's own that you just don't see often these days.

Played Baldurs Gate or the enhanced edition? Let us know your thoughts below!

Last modified on Friday, 15 March 2013 15:06

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