A true gem, but it still has its detractors
Baldur's Gate nailed one thing perfectly: the atmosphere of the game world. There's just so much to see and do as you trek across the wilds of Faerun, and there are dozens of quaint little inns to visit across an assortment of villages and towns. Every NPC that will join your team has a neat little backstory, and they will complain if your virtuous behaviour or lack thereof conflicts with their morals.
Every yard of every zone you can travel in seems hand-painted, and some corners of the world are so cozy you almost wish you could crawl inside the game world. Many an inn had that effect on me, as the glow of the roaring fire lit the common room while a bard played a lively melody, and Dwarvish ale flowed liberally from the taps.
One of my favorite features in Baldur's Gate are the hand-drawn character portraits. Some of your female companions are just plain hot, and I find myself gravitating towards an all-girl party just for that reason. But, many of the male characters are stalwart foot soldiers, so there's still plenty of room for them too.
Plotting is done with a light touch, as you're never required to do anything in particular to advance the plot, until you are good and ready to do so. Which is nice, because open-world design has got the be the peak experience of gaming. You can travel the land wherever your heart desires, and you will come across all sorts of strange beasts and commoners in need of protection from said creatures.
Leveling is a slow affair, which makes it all the more rewarding when you finally do hit level two, which could take a few days. The assortment of classes you can choose from is excellent, and every character feels unique in the abilities and proficiencies.
However, the bread and butter of gameplay, combat, can be rather tedious at times. Unless you spend a great deal of effort leveling up your characters well ahead of where you need to be, each battle spells potential ruin for your party.
A critical hit to a character may bring them under -9 hit points, causing them to explode in a shower of giblets. That character can never be restored. This is avoided by putting the game difficulty down a notch where death in this manner cannot occur.
If you try and sleep in the wild, half the time you will be ambushed, and as likely as not one of your mages will be targeted, killed in one hit, forcing your to re-load.
Re-loading wouldn't be such a chore but for a minor issue. Whenever you do so, the music restarts from the beginning, which may become wearying to your ears very quickly.
Essentially, all this forces you to be extremely careful, never letting your weaker characters get jumped, and healing anyone who takes so much as a scratch of damage. This really interrupts the flow of the game, and if you aren't completely won over by the good aspects of Baldur's Gate, you may be turned off entirely.
However, there is another approach that is slightly less harrowing. If you are willing to admit when you are outmatched, you can simply forgo exploring an area until you are really ready. There will always be an abundance of areas that are fairly straightforward for whatever level you happen to be.
The Bottom Line
Baldur's Gate stands as a landmark achievement in video gaming, and remains one of the strongest role-playing titles ever released on the PC. It made its mark just as 2D game environments were on their last legs, and as a result it's hand-drawn style is as much an artistic achievement as a technical triumph, thanks to the quality of visual elements, as well as the lush orchestral score.