6 Years On, Baldur's Gate Is Still An Absolute Classic
I have been meaning to write a review about Baldur's Gate for 5 years now. Upon finishing it for the first time nearly 5 years ago, I sat back and vowed to someday put my praise of this gem onto paper. Sadly, I never got around to actually doing it. That is until 3 weeks ago, I scoured my bin of oldies and there it was ominously staring back at me. Moving junk aside I held the gargantuan, worn and weird smelling 5 disc case cheaply taped together by yours truly in my hands. Nostalgia swept over me and I realized that it has been 5 years since I have played this game. 3 weeks later I emerged foul smelling and was beginning to lose my eyesight. Let me tell you my friends, I enjoyed this beautiful masterpiece so much, I decided to keep my vow. And then I promptly bought Shadows of Amn (the sequel), but that is another tale...
The Actual Review...
The game is set in Faerun, of the Dungeons and Dragons fame. Don't worry though you will not need to know basically anything about Faerun at first to enjoy the land and it's people, which is why this game is so wonderful. Once you are in the game and playing you will not feel out of place at all. This is a beautiful fantasy world teeming with life and unique characters and once you finish Baldur's Gate I know you will read up more on this "Faerun." It is that immersive.
Soundwise, this game was a breakthrough in video game entertainment. Bioware outdid itself with its ambient environmental effects. Enter a forest area and you can hear birds and natural wildlife along with trees swaying and wind blowing. When rain comes, it comes with excellent audio. I'm telling you, crank up your fancy speakers and listen! You will become immersed. The towns are constantly alive with sounds of commotion and people shouting. Masterful. The combat sounds such as spell effects and weapons hitting flesh along with the music is commendable as well.
You all play CRPG's for the story right? Even as a couple of Diablo fanboys scamper out I'm going to tell you that the Baldur's Gate saga is one of the great storytelling achievements not just in videogames but literature as well. Call me crazy but I enjoyed the story that much! Oh and don't read the crap novels based on this game the author did it no justice. Baldur's Gate follows the player character as he/she sets out from his warm, cozy lifestyle in the fortress-library of Candlekeep and takes off into the unforgiving land of Faerun. This comes on the heels of your foster father Gorion's urgent warnings. You are sent out into the world fresh for adventure, and there are many twists and turns along the way including one at the start, which will hook you for the rest of the game. Even in Candlekeep things aren't what they seem and without spoiling anything I can tell you that the story blossoms as you advance. You will never feel like saying "What the hell am I actually doing here?"
The gameplay is simple and intuitive. Party navigation is a breeze, and over 15 NPC's can be recruited into your party of 6 as you progress and their unique "banter" amongst themselves really never leaves you bored with your party. Combat is simple and the weapons are fun. Character development is one of the richest ever found in an CRPG. As for all this anger about the rules of D&D and how they "suck" in a CRPG, I can safely say that you should not worry one bit if you are looking for a rich roleplaying experience. I never bothered with 2nd edition 3rd edition and all that crap, the rules are fine and everything is calculated "behind-the-scenes" for you so it never takes away from the experience. Everything is seamlessly done and for a person looking to immerse themselves in a wonderful world the rules should never come up and detract from your game.
With a lot of areas to cover and hundreds of quests and mini quests (I'm not kidding) you are looking at least 30 hours of gameplay, 20 if you "powergame" and rush through. That's real value for the 10$ max you're paying. By the way you may not find this in bargain bins anymore so you might have to look up a local auction site or order it online but even then the money you spend is well spent.
Graphically the old game is showing its age, I must admit. The 640x480 resolution and low-bit sprites are all here, but strangely enough it did not detract from the overall experience one bit. For all you "What are you crazy, 640x480? This ain't the stone age!" people who might pass up on this game because the graphics are dated, do no despair! There is a great mod/upgrade for Baldur's Gate called BGtutu which converts the engine to the newer Baldur's Gate II engine, with dramatic effect.
The Bottom Line
There's no reason to doubt me and countless other gamers out there that consider this the Holy Grail of CRPG's, there is a reason for that. The reason is that Baldur's Gate is one of those special games that you will be proud to own and look back on it in another 20 years as the "genre-reviving","genre-breaking" masterpiece that it truly is.
There's not much left to say, except that if you are a person that is reading this review right now, in front of your computer, and searching for that different RPG, that is not just hack and slash then end your search my friend. You have found your gem and it is called Baldur's Gate. Give it a go, and when you're done and well on your way to installing it's sequel do what I did and recommend it to someone.