By ArbitraryWater 16 Comments
These caveats aside, Baldur's Gate is very much an alright game with hints of great here and there. Considering that this is Bioware's first actual RPG, it's not totally unsurprising. In terms of importance and influence, no doubt this is an incredibly important game, laying the groundwork for every Bioware RPG ever made. But as something that one would actually play in the year 2000 and 10? Ehhh... sure. It's playable. Maybe mods make it better. But my purpose is to take a look at the game that the developers actually made, instead of some sort of totally bitchin NPC banter pack or whatever the hell people do to mod this game in their spare time.
Obviously, this is a Bioware game, and if the good doctors have taught me anything about the games their company makes, it's that they often focus on story and choice and stuff like that. This being their freshman effort, the story of BG1 is fairly meh, all considering. Since "Interesting Non-Player Characters" wasn't apparently on the design doc until BG2, everyone who joins your party has roughly 6 lines of dialog (those being when you first meet them and when you kick them out because you found better party members) in addition to the sounds that they make when you click on them. Thus, you are forced to rely on your own character's RPG-ing skillz. However, most choices are: A. Kitten murderingly evil (which in addition to making everyone hate you, is a totally nonviable way to play the game.), B. Obnoxiously saintly or C. Apathetically Greedy/Neutral. This is par for the course for all Bioware games pre-Mass Effect (or hell, even pre-Dragon Age), but none of your choices have any impact on the story, whatsoever. I guess you could murder a story related NPC and make the game unbeatable, but why, why would you do that? Thus, without interesting characters or interesting choices the story of Baldur's Gate consists of your ragtag party of adventurers going around the Sword Coast and chasing one faceless bad guy after another until you realize that the Iron Throne is the bad guys and Sarevok (who only appears at the beginning and the end of the game, by the way.) is the main bad guy of the bad guys after which you subsequently murder him and get captured by Jon Irenicus (who is a way better villain, for comparison's sake). Yeah. Once again, more laying the groundwork for better games here than anything else.
Obviously, the other half of BG (the actual game part) is where it still manages to hold up ok. Oddly enough, it doesn't fit into the traditional Bioware mold of vignetting the hell out of everything through the use of self-contained plotlines to contribute to the main story as a whole. In fact, the main quest is almost wholly linear, but if you were to think of only doing that, you would be fooling yourself, as you wouldn't have nearly enough EXP to be successful. Most of BG is going to be spent aimlessly wandering around mostly empty wilderness areas, occasionally murdering whatever beasties appear in view, and sometimes participating in a side quest, until you unlock access to the titular city more than halfway through the game, which allows for more centralized, but still kind of aimless questing. Since your character starts at level uno, you are pretty much fucked in whatever you do, and thus the start of the game is significantly harder than anything that comes after. Slightly weird structure aside, BG becomes far more enjoyable after the initial difficulty hump. You gain more spells, you don't die in one hit, and you can actually hit things with your weapons. Nonetheless, it's nowhere near as interesting as some of the higher level mage battles in BG 2 (CAST BREACH OR DIE), or even the hack-n-slashy action of Icewind Dale. The combat is still good, which is more than I can say about half-a-dozen games I have done on this blog series (cougharcanumcough).
Finally, another thing that BG suffers from, (but isn't entirely its fault) is the incredibly anachronistic and totally outdated AD&D 2nd Edition ruleset. Such random things as "Humans can only be paladins" and hell, the entire concept of Dual Classing (not to mention the term THAC0) are weirdly complex and simplistic at the same time. Such things certainly contribute to the "Old Skool charm" on some level, but on another they serve to show the game's age in a world where the current D&D ruleset is basically ripped from every MMO ever made (not that that's a good thing). Another thing that Bioware kind of worked around in BG2 (you know, like how there are roughly 3 multiclassed characters, the one Paladin you get has the best paladin kit ever, and you get a ring within the first hour that sets your charisma at 18). I played as a sorcerer (technically illegal, since they weren't added until BG2, but that's the power of TuTu for you.) and, let me tell ya, they aren't as good as regular mages or their 3rd edition counterparts, at least at the level 1-10 scale.
So, in conclusion, I think Baldur's Gate is the kind of game that should be remembered more for what it did then than what it does now. That's not to say its crazy outdated, but there are better RPGs out there, both within the Infinity Engine catalog (i.e. Everything else in the Infinity Engine catalog, including BG2), and outside it. (I might actually go as far as to say that I would rather play Fallout 1. Ok. Maybe not. It's a tie. They both are old and anachronistic in their own special ways.) It's available for $10 on GOG right now. and I find that a perfectly acceptable price. However, Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment are also available, and BG2 is inevitable. Those would probably be better choices. But hey, at least I (most certainly will in the near future) finish it. That's more than a lot of the games I have played.
Next up: Showing how, exactly, to ruin my childhood with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.