Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition sees us returning down a well worn path, our steps echoing those we walked a decade past… except oh! they’ve filled in that old pothole and is that a zoom function I spy?
Baldur’s Gate stands as the first of the Infinity Engine games, these seminal RPG games of the late 90′s and early 00′s changed everything for the western RPG. While Fallout was released in 1997, 1998 saw Baldur Gate return the RPG to its traditional roots – Dungeons and Dragons, wizards with pointy hats and phrases like “Well met, stranger”.
At the time of release, for many gamers ‘RPG’ meant spiky haired anime protagonists and rigid turn-based combat, it was a genre out of fashion in western gaming, relegated to a niche concern. It was also just the second game from a small development studio called Bioware. While the surface of the game may seem like tradition incarnate, Bioware had a number of tricks up their sleeve to make their game feel fresh.
Now, from Overhaul Games we have an Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate, with 400 fixes, new optional NPC companions with their own story quests and a weird little stand-alone arena combat add-on called ‘The Black Pits’. Overhaul Games have done a good job of updating Baldur’s Gate, the new widescreen resolutions in particular help to showcase the still lovely hand-drawn maps. The UI too is more helpful, with the inventory screen doing a better job of demonstrating how effective a character is at swinging their sword or axe.
The new NPCs can help to give the game a bit of character; it wasn’t until Baldur’s Gate 2 that Bioware really stared to explore heavy party interaction, something that’s now a staple of their games. It’s actually rather jarring going back to Baldur’s Gate, where although your NPC companions will talk to you at various points of the game, for the majority they’re pretty silent (apart from when you click on their portraits and order them about – “Stop touching meee!” Whines the insane mage Xzar).
For the real BG fanatics among us, Overhaul Games’ accomplishments are actually not all that new. A widescreen mod for Infinity engine games has existed for several years, and clever modders were able to port BG1 into the Baldur’s Gate 2 engine, with all the classes, kits and spells from the second game becoming available in the first. Huge fix-packs, difficulty tweaks and additional content have also been around for a long time.
If you already own Baldur’s Gate and are willing to get a bit technical, the Enhanced Edition can feel slightly underwhelming and at the time of writing, content mods for the original BG are not compatible with the enhanced edition. Still, if you’re coming to Baldur’s Gate for the first time, the Enhanced Edition is the way to go, giving you the most polished experience with the least amount of effort, though it’s worth noting that there are still a few bugs affecting some players.
The first step is always the hardest
After creating your character, choosing their race, class and statistics you start out as an orphan, raised in Candlekeep, a small town with an academic bent and a gigantic library as the centre-piece, as well as some very strange people chanting prophecies that you might want to pay attention to. Your adoptive father Gorion is worried you are in danger for unspecified reasons and the two of you set out to find safe haven elsewhere.
Unsuprisingly, things don’t go according to plan and you find yourself alone in the wilderness with only your childhood friend Imoen for company, who greets you with the ludicrously enthusiastic “Heya!”. At this point your character could be forgiven for falling into some kind of self-pity coma and around this time you may also stumble into a bear, which will probably kill you in one hit. Welcome to life as a level 1 character in an an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2 game.
To say that Baldur’s Gate starts slowly is something of an understatement. You are given a few simple goals to begin with, such as heading to an inn and investigating an overrun mine. Between the locations you’ll find detailed hand-drawn wilderness maps that are very pretty and atmospheric indeed. But the early game has significant pacing problems and a lot of the maps are pretty devoid of points of interest. You can spend 10 minutes exploring the entirety of a map, with only a couple of kobolds and a chest with two potions in it as reward for your time.