One of the first RPG’s I have played and one that left scars on my mind till today (In a good way, mind you) It frustrated me, it almost had me in this particular moment where I was so angry that I almost threw my keyboard out of the window. Just for the record, I’m really hard to anger and even then, I’m mostly a calm-smiling-angry-type-of-person. The type of person who you should run from if they smile friendly although you just deleted all their game-saves.
But back to the game. After I finished it, I shoved it to my other games and hoped to never go through that frustration again…
Now, guess, what happened. A few year later, I played it again. Multiple times. Yeah, I don’t seem to learn in that matter. Let’s get a good look at it.
First of all, I’m talking about the original series here (Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadow of Amn and Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Baal) not Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance I/II. I have played the later and as far as I can remember, they weren’t bad, pretty soild even, I had fun playing it in CoOp, but they weren’t quite memoriable as the original for me.
This Baldur’s Gate
So, let’s start out with the story. It plays in the Forgotten Realms. Elves here, dwarves there, Orcs, humans somewhere in the middle with the gnomes…you get the idea. You (aka the Player) are the adoptive child of a sorcerer named Gorion and live in Chandlekeep a happy and uneventful live with your human sister (adoptive as well) Imoen.
At this point, you already know, that something bad will happen. The Chosen one has (almost) never a peaceful life at the beginning of his journey.
In this, a guy named Sarevok comes into the play and kills your adoptive father. Of course, you won’t stand by and doing nothing about it, so you set out to get revenege and discover Sarevoks plan…and along the way, learn that this guy (Sarevok) with spiked helmet is your half-brother.
Surprise, you are a child of a God…The God of Murder named Baal and you just made daddy proud with your actions, isn’t that nice?(Fun fact: It’s a name used for multiple gods, among them for a god for rain, thunder, fertility, agriculture and… was the lord of heaven. In biblical context, Baal is a Higher Demon which could take the forms of man, cat, toad or combinations of them…Your father could be a toad…no comment on that. And no comment on the fact, that this guy in-game had a Baalspawn Chinchilla…Just…no comment).
The God of Murder is dead. Yeah, that’s ironic and yeah, Gods can die in this universe, but your Dad was very…diligent (*points at fun fact*) to gift you with enough siblings from whom the most are trying to kill you in the game. The children of the God of Murder murder each other. What a twisted sibling love…
In the second game you and your party are kidnapped by another Sorcerer named Irenicus and tortured in his dungeon. You later find out that you are in the City Athkatla and…let’s say they don’t like mages. At all. Your sister Imoen tries to confront Irenicus with magic and that only spawns the Coaled Wizards who arrests both Imoen and Irenicus for illegal use of magic inside the city walls. Now you want to get Imoen back and deal with all sort of shady characters who might help you to reach your goal.
The last addon “Throne of Baal” is exactly what it says on the tin. The last of the Baalspawn (Children of Baal) battle each other to get the seat of their father and become a God. Of course, there is a lot of murder involved and of course you are on your siblings’ black list, even if you don’t to do anything with your father.
Interestingly, although you are a Baalspawn, you can be a good/caring character with heroic syndrom who just happened just happened to be the child of God of murder or you honor your heritage with a sadistic everpresent smile on your face. And everything in between. (Chaotic evil who just do it for the evil lulz, Lawful evil who uses the law to his/her advantange, or just plain neutral evil. The same for the neutral and good segments.)
Your alignment (like your choice of race) influence the classes you can take in the character creation section and the reputation. For raising the difficulty, you can make your character a squishy mage. When your main character goes down, even when your healer is still alive, it’s an instant game over. To drive difficulty through the roof with this game choose to be a mage and the hardcore difficulty, which makes the enemies a lot harder and enables friendly-fire. Yeah, I dare you to use a powerful spell with can change a whole room into a death trap in this mode.
Let’s continue with your companions. You will find them along the way, lose them to death and their personal opinion on your action. That’s right. They will leave you if you do something that is against their alignment. Of course, they will warn you about that, before leaving or they can also turn against you. Funny is, when they turn against each other. Don’t put a lawful stupid paladin with a Drow together (Dark elf which have a cultural background that cultivates a chronic-backstabbing-disorder) That won’t end good in the most cases.
The characters themselves were memoriable. They interact with you, comment on decisions, had personal quests and bantered with each other, depending on the situation. This is nothing new nowaday, but this is one of the games which inspired later RPGs in that aspect, like Dragon Age I & II. Furthermore, Characters not only can fall unconcious, but can die. I mean not a cheap death, I mean dead like can never be resurrected again. That happens when spells or hits are too powerfull and blast the body into junks. (yeah, there was a tiny bit of gore in it)
And there was romance. Yes, you could romance specific characters in your party and it had an impact on the end dialogs of “Throne of Baal”. At that time, characters which bi-sexual orientation were out of question (although you could interpret it), Bioware took that step in this direction in Knights of the Old Republic with a female character, but that’s another story.
Male characters were provided with two possible romance options in the second game (Baldur’s Gate II: Shadow of Amn) and female with only one, a paladin. That does sound familar when you consider Neverwinter Nights II, doesn’t it? I hate to admit it, but the first paladin (BG) was a lot better characterized than the other (Old Owl Well!..Oh for the love of…) I have nothing against the Paladin-class, but after BG, I harbor a personal distaste against Paladin NPCs .
There is a reason why the community calls you Annoyomen, Anomen
Back to the dialogs between characters. The game is very text based, not everything is voiced (almost nothing) and it is funny how your skills in the game can infuence it ( for example, if you have pretty low intelligence, you can’t from a proper senctence, if you have a high one…you can get into an intellectual fight with a mage and try to outwit the other with “the sentence with the most scientific terms”) You alignment can also influence the NPC. Smugglers in the sewers won’t talk you anymore or outright attack you on sight if your fame is too positive. If you are too evil, guards attack you…
And if you are a Spellcaster and cast a spell inside the City Walls in BG II…Then the Coaled Wizards will “politely” tell you to stop it. By politely I mean, trying to kill you. Later, after enough quests, experience with the battle system and anti-magic armor, and enough powerful spells…I spawned them just for fun.
*insert maniac laughter*
The Battle system is based on the Dungeon&Dragon rule-set. I never played the tabletop game, just games simliar to it, so I can’t give you a proper insight to the rules. Or a proper short one. The computer makes the work of rolling the dice and determine if a spells/arrows/swords hit or not and how much damage it does. (considering variables of Dexterity, Armour, Magic resistance, abilities of the character) You can read everything about it in the dialog box, if you like to know what exactly went wrong with your strategy.
And here goes the advice: Save often. Quicksave the hell out of the Quicksave-Button if you are in a dungeon you don’t know (especially on high difficulty). Once I opened a door and a lot of Illithids looked a me (people with a head of an octupus which suck your our intelligence until you are dead….Arch-Enemies of mages.)
Hello? Uh…uhm…sorry to interfere. *closes door*
Atmosphere…Should I really say something to this point? Alright, I mean, it was not bad, but the main focus lies with the narrative, not with the visuals. It was at that time where have to imagine more than you see. (God, that makes me sound old…)
There are a lot of different quests (from stimple to complex) in there, but often they won’t say how difficult a quest really is. I can darkly remember a simple delivery quest which had me suddenly against a dragon and after wrestling it down with sweat and blood another dragon appeared…Great, it was a miracle that I even survived the first one. This is not Skyrim, people, this is not a game where you are a born dragonslayer. In this game dragons really honor their legacy and I took a lot of loading to survive this one. Besides the personal quests of followers, you have also a personal for your class. (Mages become involved with a giant magic ball house that spawns out of nowhere, Bards can get a theaters and so on) This adds to the replay factor.
And have I mentioned, there is still a mod-community out there? Yeah, I know the first game was a remake. Yeah I know, that the second will get a remake as well, but I haven’t had the time to look into it yet. Maybe I will compare it to the ones I know, but I don’t think much has changed besides new characters and dungeons.
Conclusion? It was one of my first hunts in that genre and one of a hell frustrating on that when I was younger. But later, I appreciated the details they put in, so that I still play it today and still find it enjoyable. Compared to the newer games, the graphic is BG greatest flaw, but can nevertheless compete with other RPGs in aspects of story and characters (more split matter for me. I liked and hated it at the same time.)