Around a decade ago when I was with my Uncle he showed me a game that would change my life forever. Literally. A game that is still my favourite game of all time, and I highly doubt anything would shake it from that position, and thus it was, Baldur's Gate. Okay it isn't a perfect game, and it has an awful lot of problems that I could quite happily beat out of it with a stick, but it's the sheer addictiveness and storyline dragged me in, tied me up, turned the light off and left the light in front of my eyes while water dripped on my forehead from the ceiling. That isn't quite so literal.
It's based off of the old 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Rules, and if you haven't played that system before then beware, because it is complicated. Sure it was simplified for Baldur's Gate and it calculates everything important like THAC0 itself, but it actually requires thought and tactics to get through, which isn't something I've found in other RPGs. Final Fantasy? Run in with three dudes and kill everything. Knights of the Old Republic? Run in with three dudes and Lightsabers and kill everything. Fable? Run in with sword and kill everything. You have individual saving throws, armour class, THAC0, stats, weight, armament, Spells, abilities, your other five Party Members that are with you at all times and are needed unless you want to be bent over by the nearest tree and spanked by small forest creatures with large spiky teeth.
Because it's set in AD&D, it has an erratic Leveling system that you won't find outside AD&D. Okay, you're a Fighter and you need 2000 Experience Points for Level 2. This doubles for Level 3, and doubles again for Level 4. Wait a second, that's 2000 Experience for Level 2, 2000 Experience again for Level 3 and then 4000 Experience for Level 4?! What's worse is that for Level 5 you then need 8000 more Experience! What is wrong with this picture here? Then let's take another Class, say, Thief. 1250 Experience to grow to Level 2. Pardon? You mean a Thief is Level 2 before my Fighter is just because they're a sneaky stealth character? And then 2500 total Experience for Level 3? Thieves grow Levels faster than water can boil, and then you compare them to a Mage. 2500 Experience to grow their first Level, and they have low Hit Points and few Spells at Level 1. Wait a second, what?! A Rogue will be Level 3 by the time a Mage or a Fighter is Level 2? Now what's wrong with this picture?! Experience doubles, that's fine, but Experience also differs depending on the class that you are?! Someone really screwed up the entire system up when they wrote these things down. It's lucky that 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons had a linear set Experience bar because otherwise a Wizard would have been sitting there, useless, until Level 3, or 10000 Experience Points in AD&D! Next you're going to have to get 10000 Experience for Level 4. Oh wait, you do...
Next up you have your armour class and THAC0 (which is To Hit Armour Class 0). The lower your armour class the better it is, and the same with THAC0. How does that make sense in a world where more means better (usually, doesn't quite work with things like problems and possibly girlfriends). In combat you attack them and your THAC0 is what you need to them on with a D20. If they have armour class 0 then there's no modification, but if they have armour class 1 then you add one to your to hit roll, and if they have armour class -1 then you take one away from your to hit roll. This is vice verca. Also, how the hell are you supposed to go through a combat against small forest creatures with large spiky teeth without getting hit?! They obviously have a THAC0 of something stupidly high like 18 because they're minor enemies and then, even when you have AC0 you're getting hit by the enemy every other blow that they swing! Usually I wouldn't have a problem with this but when these enemies give poor loot and Experience Points then it seems more like a chore to kill them, and the enemies that do give the loot that it's worth to loose a party member over are so obscurely difficult to find I found myself grinding bandits in a forest for about five hours.
I mentioned loosing a party member. Well, that isn't strictly true because you can bring your party members back to life, if you want them do although I wouldn't see why you'd want to with some of your party members because of how rubbish they are and are, literally, cannon fodder for the enemy until you get someone better. It isn't just enough for you to have to buy their Levels in gold, literally, but you also have to carry their sorry asses back to the Temples which are so sparse, no more than fifteen in the entire game, that chances are you'll have to drop nearly all your loot because of a lack of space in your inventory so that you can carry everything. Especially when you're out in the wilderness and then discover that the nearest temple is so far away you can get attacked by over five thousand random encounters while travelling there in which time you'll loose more of your party, as well as gather more loot and that's if you don't get killed, and that you is intended towards you the player character who if you're a Wizard I'm going to berrate you for if you know nothing of how to play the game.
Also, I don't care just how low your saves are, when you run into a Basilisk you'd better pray that it doesn't manage to attack you more than once because those things turn you to stone. Yes. Stone. They're also hard as nails and have a lot of Hit Points, and you'll probably go through two or three spells from your Caster Characters as well as praying that your saving rolls don't decide to bend you over their knees and give you a more thorough spanking than the boss fights. Well, there's also the final boss fight who has two Wizards who are powerful enough to use Cloudkill, a spell which will kill you if you don't pass the save.
It's lucky that the game has a quick save function and more often than not you'll probably find yourself hitting the Q button so rapidly the keyboard will break because of the amount of enemies you find, the number of times you need to sleep because the enemies have spanked you rather thoroughly, and because I'll reload if a character dies so that I don't have to drag half a ton of heavy equipment back to the nearest Temple so I can get him resurrected for the price of around fifty thousand gold which is next to impossible to get without grinding, and the game has very few good grinding spots in it, making it a single player multiple party mermorperger, which I suppose is better than normal mermorpergers because there's suddenly a lack of annoying newbies around asking how they mine for fish.
I've mentioned loot several times now and I've not gone into any specifics but basically if you shortened the list of what you could find in World of Whorecrack... I mean Warcraft... down to around 150 items then you'd roughly have what you can get in Baldur's Gate. Daggers, short swords, long swords, bastard swords, two handed swords, spears, bows, staves, slings, morning stars and so on make up the core weapons of the game with a few underused ones like a warhammer, mace, flail, crossbow, halberd and so on to make up other weapons, while armour goes from leather to full plate mail in six different classes of armour. All of the aforementioned items, bar perhaps one or two items not deemed important enough, can be found in magical versions but rather than actually giving these magical weapons a name they're actually only ever called Sword +1, with the rare occasion of things like the Light Crossbow of Speed. There's a number of helmets, both magical and normal, as well as bracers, belts and boots that give different things to your characters while they wear shiny rings and amulets to give themselves magical effects. Wizards can also get magic robes but there's only three worth getting in the entire game, which is all basically the same robe with a slight variation on who can use it and one version of it can't be nabbed until late game. Finally there's the jewels which come in around a dozen different varieties as well as worthless rings and amulets that you can sell, but despite this I never seemed to be able to afford the spanky Full Plate Mail.
I mentioned all the weaponry and armour so I'll talk about equiping a character as well. A Wizard will be running around for half of the game wearing nothing but a pair of bracers, a belt, a pair of boots, two shiny rings and an amulet to protect himself while he holds a sling with a pouch of ammo at his side. That's it. The fancy robes he can wear, but robes of lightning resistance are rather stupid when I've encountered only a few other creatures that use lightning in their attacks, and the same with ice and poison. Saves against polymorph, or as I like to call it Saves against Basilisk Eye Beam Stare Of Turning You To Stone (Call it SABEBSOTYTS for short), are actually rather useful, as are the fire robes, but again you get these too late in the game unless you're a crazy person who can plan how to kill four wizards without letting them get a single spell off while you're only Level 2, then good luck because you'll need it. But anyway, while our Wizard is streaking around the countryside, we have Fighters and Paladins and Clerics who are dressed in more metal than you and I could lift between us, with a sword and shield, a two-handed sword a longbow and a spear just to be sure while he's wearing the biggest helmet he can find along with his full plate mail armour, as well as a belt, boots, bracers, two shiny rings and an amulet and jjust generally turning anything that gets within two feet of him into a bloody pulp of forest creature that's claws weren't sharp enough to pierce metal but would be more than enough to turn a Wizard into chop suey. Then there's also the dudes who hide in between the two, the Rangers, Thieves, Bards and Druids who all wearing leather armour and while Rangers and Thieves have a bit more freedom a Druid won't have metal and a Bard will start crying if you give him anything more dangerous than a paper weight so while they're useful characters I found all of them, other than the Thief, to be a class that could been more useful in the RPG if you actually needed them. I suppose that Minsc, an awesome NPC, is a Ranger, but how often did I not turn him into a Fighter and have him in a full suit of armour like the Fighter described above? Also it seems that the more a male character wears the higher their armour class becomes, but like with all RPGs of any kind, a female whose armour is either revealing or build to hold onto their body rather than give any kind of formal protection is actually going to be rather well protected. I wouldn't want to be one to complain but a human female Fighter without armour is in a bikini. You heard me, a bikini. Now who in BioWare at the time was looking in a playboy magazine while they were designing characters?! The male Fighter on the other hand has his tunic and nothing else which makes me suspect that there was a bisexual woman who was designing these characters, and I could confirm that with the Elves, of both sexes, wearing short dresses that reach half way down their thighs. It was either a bisexual woman or both a woman and a man put in their ideas and then agreed and what came afterwards was rather touchy feely and the two of them both pushed their fantasies into the game rather than actually give both characters some kind of actual protection or mobility that would work in a modern day battlefield, although that said the male in plate mail or above isn't quite so bad, just bulky and looking even more hench which gives me another reason to suspect that there was a woman designing characters. Then again I could be wrong and it could just be a man being half asleep at four in the morning doing concepts for characters.
I'll continue on the previous topic here as that paragraph was getting too long and if I continued then chances are you wouldn't have been able to read anything but pure blahggling, so on to Thieves. This seems more in line and both female and male Thieves wear... tight... cat suits... erm, pardon me but there seems to be some mistake, aren't Thieves ment to blend into the crowd rather than wearing a costume that pretty much illuminates their groins and chests to the whole world with signs saying "Look at me I'm a thief!" in big neon purple letters. My eyes popped slightly when I saw Wizards. While a male Wizard will be in a full robe, a female Wizard will be showing their entire right leg with some kind of definess of gravity because their robes should be falling around that leg unless they're standing really, really funny, which they aren't.
But despite all it's problems, Baldur's Gate's storyline is so good that I keep coming back to its abusive embrace, so I suppose I'm some kind of gaming masochist who can withstand being whipped on the spot and let bad game play slide for the stunning characters, realistic and open game world and, dare I say it, the amount of fun you can have. The dialogue trees, the characters, hell, the enemies! All of them combined sort of makes up for all the problems and more so and then gets rid of them all together. I suppose the story really is something that around half of the Dungeons and Dragons game masters out there have thrown at their players already but I doubt none of them have done it in a way that it doesn't feel railroading. You can do the main quests as and when you want and apart from a few side quests there's no time limit on what you can do. The game makes for interesting narrative.
So yes, the rules are annoying and learning how to play is frustrating with a capital RGGHHHH, but Baldur's Gate is an RPG here to stay and right now it's staying in the number 1 game I've ever played spot, and I doubt it's likely to be shaken from that spot. Not even Freelancer or Knights of the Old Republic, or Portal, even, have come close to matching how I was moved by the Baldur's Gate storyline and characters which all in all. Baldur's Gate had enough surprises in it for me to play it through again and again, so I guess it's on a similar level to Knights of the Old Republic even though the combat is much more tedious and needs to be thought out rather than just simply jumped into. This all said it is rather a specialised game and if you're new to RPGs then personally I'd jump right into Baldur's Gate, but from a person who plays a lot of first person shooters then I'd say steer clear of Baldur's Gate because although it has story and characters that are on par with many, if not even better than many other games of today, it isn't newbie friendly. Alternatively if you're looking for a new challenge in an RPG then I'd suggest go for it because nothing is going to be more rewarding or thrilling in an RPG than Baldur's Gate which, as I've said is frustrating but a regular RPG player will get around it rather quickly, and by RPG player I'm actually talking about people who player RPGs and not JRPGs, and if Final Fantasy is the only RPG you've ever played then I suggest you stick well clear of Baldur's Gate because there's no hormonial aphrodites in this game.