Friday, October 15, 2010

Game Review #3: Baldur's Gate

In 1998 gamers were introduced to what is known today as a "masterpiece of the CRPG genre", Baldur's Gate. It also led the way to producing some fantastic games such as Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale. Baldur's Gate was also numerously referenced in the production of games such as The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and various other open-world adventure RPG games. So without any further ado, here is Baldur's Gate for the PC.

"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster... when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss also gazes into you..." - Friedrich Nietzsche

The game starts out on an advanced character create screen, where you can decide your characters initial race, gender, weapon proficiencies and base stats. After completing that you will begin your grand adventure, starting in Candlekeep. Candlekeep is home to you, your father Gorion, and friend Imoen. Not much is really accomplished here except getting your character familiar to the game and exploring the keep. 

Once you are comfortable with the game, you can follow your father out to the wilderness to make your way to the Friendly Arm Inn. But not everything is as smooth as hoped, as you run into the arch nemesis of the game...

As you can see above, the game follows the advanced AD&D rulebook.
Yes, Saravok. If you watched the opening cinematic, you will see him throw a drunkard off a bar roof and be super obviously evil! Sadly after the struggle against Saravok, your father Gorion dies and you are left a foster child, forced to get to the Friendly Arm Inn on your own. This also introduces us to the really cool (and voice-overed) Chapter cut screens.

Not all is lost however, as your perky companion Imoen shows up to join your party. Now, in this game, it is completely customizable and you will not lose out on quests or anything like that by declining characters from the main storyline. Though, it does feel strange to not take Imoen along (for me at least). And if you want to, play the game in the multi-player menu, that will enable you to create 6 custom characters instead if you'd like. Now begins your long journey to avenge the death of your father and cleanse the land of evil. 

As you and Imoen arrive at the Friendly Arm, you will encounter a stranger who wants to see you dead immediately. This fight is tedious and almost feels like a cheap shot just for appearing so early in the game. But get used to that, because it happens quite a few times when you are under prepared. 

Me watching Imoen get killed in one shot and me going into Panic.
Now that he is dealt with, you proceed to enter the inn and meet up with old friends of Gorion's, Khalid and Jaheira. Khalid is a quick talking super nervous Fighter, where as Jaheira is his tomboy-esque and short tempered wife, who is a fighter/cleric multi-class. They will both prove to be very usefull throughout the game, as Khalid makes a great tank and Jaheira will prove to be a good off-tank and healer. 

It is about now that the party proceeds to go through Beregost to reach Nashkel, where it is rumored to be suffering an iron shortage because of problems in the nearby mine. When you arrive in Nashkel, instinct is going to tell you to go into the inn first, right? WRONG. For the love of god avoid the inn until you go to the smithy to get yourself geared up a bit more. If you enter the inn at this point, you will be forced to fight an assassin who is hellbent on killing you, even infront of the entire bar. She can easily kill your lower hp members so make sure Khalid is taking the hits at first. It is also advisable to use Jaheira's Fear immunity ability, or else your party is going to most likely be killed on the second or third turn. Another great tip is to getting used to using the space bar to execute your chains of attacks, because it will pause the game, giving you time to think about your next move or else you may be killed. Upon her death, she will drop a scroll that gives you insight as to what has been going with these assassination attempts against you.Another good thing to add here is, I'm not sure whether it's a random chance or something that occurs after you clear Nashkel Mines, but a man who claims to be Death will attack you outside the inn, and he is HARD. He is really really hard to hit with missile weapons because he has +5 protection to missiles, and even the Nashkel guard's will tickle him.

 Now that that incident is dealt with, you should proceed to the Nashkel Fair before you do anything. If you have 500 gold to spare, you can get yourself a Cleric named Branwen... but how you ask?

When you're at the Nashkel Fair (It's probably called Carnival, sorry if I'm wrong), go to the eastern side of the map, until you pretty much run into the last tent. You should see a little dwarf/halfling looking guy. He's going to be saying there is some maiden trapped in stone, and for 500 gold he will give you a scroll to remove petrification. At this point in the game it is REALLY worth it. She is a pure bred Cleric and will be a kickass healer/buffer for the party. I would also like to make note here that party management is very similar to that of Final Fantasy 7 or even 10 because if you don't want a party member now but would like to use them later you can. The only issue is, if you make them leave in somewhere remote, they will stay there and you'll most likely forget about them. Now it is time to deal with the Nashkel mines. If you'd like to get through the mines without too much trial and error, I suggest getting a map off of sites like Gamefaqs or Sorcerer's Den. Here's a little preview of the mines.
Save often, or you will be angry. A lot.
 Tread carefully in the mines, for there are traps laid everywhere. For the last part of the walkthrough portion of the review, I'll help you with defeating the boss without much problems. In the first real boss encounter of the game, you will face off against Mulahey. He is a servant of Saravok and a Cyric worshipper. He plays quite a major role at this point in the story, but I won't say why ;). Here's a screenshot I took of how to place your party when fighting him.

Mulahey is in the room to my lower right.
Your best bet is to use either Khalid or Jaheira to move into his room and engage in speech with him. If you choose to surrender he will go easier on you, even though it doesn't matter, you have to fight him. A very good tip is to go to the room to the right of me in the screenshot, which has a powerful mage named Xan. He has many good spells to start out with. I personally took Charm Person because it works even on most bosses, which you can use to kill themselves under the effect. The bosses first move is going to be to cast Summon Minion I, which creates a small army of Skeletons and other little creatures. As he is casting that, run back into the room everyone else is in. This will make it so you are dealing with the small monsters before the boss even engages you. After they are dead, simply go kill the boss now, but make sure Khalid or Jaheira are soaking the blows at this point. He hurts. Oh yeah, here's another reason to pickup Xan for the party.

He's not just good for casting, after all.
Now, onto the game rating!

Plot: 10/10
Yes, I just gave this game a 10. Why? Because this game is so extremely story driven and free of loop holes you'll question why it hasn't gotten an HD remake. (Wow way to drop that bomb of a hint). Even the game manual for this game is like reading a full length novel. The creators of this game follow the Dungeons and Dragons lore and mythos so well. It is just a superbly written game and will not cease to amaze those of you who like to read well written novels or role play.

Graphics (for their time): 8/10
By 1998's standards this was average, maybe a little above average, probably because it was in production so long or I'd give it a higher mark. The artwork is where it excels. The pre-rendered backgrounds are very pretty but the characters themselves seem a little outdated.  The artwork however pulls the rating up quite a bit, because the hand drawn portraits, item art, and cutscene detail are superb. 

*Edit: A commenter pointed out some good comparisons so I went back and re-reviewed the graphics score

Controls: 6/10
I gave this a 6 (above average) because the game uses a point and click movement system, and also doesn't have an easy hotkey system. You can customize the hotkeys, but it is in a very inefficient way that would take your entire keyboard and then some. This game could have really just used an arrow key movement system (and if there is one I apologize but it's probably a mod). It could be argued that would make party movement sloppy, but I'm referring to single people, especially tanks.

Replay Value: 9/10
 No matter how many times you play the game, starting the journey anew with different class make-ups will make the game feel fresh and fun. It also seems every time I play through the game, I find more and more hidden treasures and dungeons. Completing the game also allows you the chance to import your character into the sequel, Baldur's Gate 2: Shadow's of Amn (and Throne of Bhaal). Not much more to say besides the fact you'll enjoy replaying the game even in 2010!

 Price /Where to get it: Assuming you are after the 5 CD box set with the bonus disc (damn straight I have it!) you might pay upwards of 50-60 dollars. Yeah, even 12 years later it's still hefty! But that's just the collector's box. Amazon offers the basic 5 CD set for $28.99 (and now on sale for $8.82). There  is also a newer one DVD release version, which can range you from 8 dollars to 30 dollars depending on the source. If you use, just go to the "collectible" section for Baldur's Gate, and you can snag the entire 5 disc with the foldout cd case and 159 page guide for only 15 bucks!

Final Mark: 9/10
A truly superb game for the CRPG genre. If you like Dungeons and Dragons-esque game-play or just lengthy (and I mean lengthy) RPGs in general, this is a great title to pickup. There is one final thing I should address. This game works online, and you can play with up to 6 people at a time. It also has spectator support if you have Gamespy installed.  You should look up guides on how to do this though, as it is a bit harder to setup if you're on any system later than Windows XP. Which reminds me, this game was actually made for Mac OS X too! So all in all, this game really set a standard for future RPG's which I have yet to see met in most modern games. They should take example from a game made 12 years ago, that games were once story driven and provided a real fantasy experience and a level of difficulty you just cannot find today. And so I leave you today with some screenshots (Sorry if the site seems a little laggy, my last few posts have a lot of screenshots). Enjoy, and I hope you enjoyed this lengthy review of Baldur's Gate :).


  1. Great, now i want to replay this! :D

  2. WOw this is an awesome review! I love the details and screenshots, you did a great job!

  3. I like this post for many reasons. First of all, it made me nostalgia so hard. Second, it was incredibly well-thought out, and you spent legit time on this review, not just slapping things together. You got screenshots! Lastly, I enjoy your writing style. Keep this stuff up, because this blog is awesome.

  4. Very very very well done! Keep this up :D

  5. It had the best RPG Graphics of it's time, even more than Diablo II some might say..

  6. @Flav, I went back and re-did my graphics summary. I did feel the characters felt slightly, only slightly outdated, but the rest of the game got a very nice score. And by characters I just mean main ones, not npcs or monsters, those were very good. Thanks for giving me a good comparison.