Baldur’s Gate (1998)

BaldursGate

I’ve planned to complete Baldur’s Gate for some time now. Actually, since it was first published. I’ve started it a few times since then, but never managed to come far and finish it. This time I managed to push through and finish it.

First overall impression: not exactly fulfilling my expectations, but a good game, if not a great game, in its own right. While I generally say that Planescape Torment is my favorite RPG, that only applies for strongly narrative-driven RPG. As far as gameplay in a CRPG is concerned, my hat would go to Fallout. When Fallout was published I was completely overwhelmed by the game. Fallout had brilliant game mechanics, among them a near-perfect skill system, an fun (if a bit too easy breakable) round-based battle system with targeted hits and a true choice & consequence system with excellent dialog options that impacted the finish of each play.

I somehow got the impression that Baldur’s Gate was something similar in a fantasy environment (Arcanum better fits that bill) and even my few tries at playing the game did not completely strip me off that illusion. Sure, the battle system was real-time and the skill system only combat-related, but the dialog could have allowed the same freedom that Fallout did. Well, let’s go into each aspect of the game. I have nothing per se against real-time battles, but Baldur’s Gate made me really wish it had a round-based system. I went through the game rarely using magic, since giving anyone a melee weapon easily killed of most of the enemies (a simple tactic I learned from, of all games, Dungeon Siege). The few spells I actually used were healing and some entangling spells.

When I lost battles, it had often more to do with horrible path finding of the game than actually with my characters not up to the challenge. The path finding in Baldur’s Gate is an especially sore spot that more than once managed to make me quit in frustration. Very badly done and often with devastating effects in battles, the worse when you were constrained by tight corridors.

The dungeons were another sore spot. Combined with the path finding issues traversing them was a pain in the ass. Most of the dungeons in Baldur’s Gate gave me the impression that they were designed not for a party of characters, but for a single character. I can’t remember any other RPG with a similar design (the two Fallouts, Arcanum, not even Planescape) that gave me any of the problems I had in Baldur’s Gate.

There are some other problems with the game, especially how the story unfolds. There’s a long, slow crawl through countless minor regions, until the plot really takes off when you reach the city of Baldur’s Gate. All of that gives the impression that I really disliked the game, which isn’t actually true. It’s just a typical case of wrong expectations. It’s a nice, conventional story with a real-time combat system I’ve never managed to enjoy as much most turn-based ones. Instead of being great, it’s just average.

Tales of the Sword Coast (1999)
TotSC is a neat addition to the main game, adding a few more areas (a small hamlet east of Baldur’s Gate, Durlag’s Tower far to the south-east and an island with werewolves). Especially Durlag’s Tower is a real challenge, full of traps, puzzles and neat enemies. If you don’t have a thief in your party, the tower will be especially formidable. While none of the new areas is truly essential, it’s a good expansion. You even learn something about what happened to the founder of Baldur’s Gate, which is really nifty.