Review: Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition (PC)

Role-playing games have been in existence since long before video games where even a possibility. Sure, back in those days dice, a guidebook, and writing utensils were the storytelling mechanisms of choice, but the dawning of the electronic age brought about the opportunity to create a powerful hybrid of the old and new. For its era, no single game embodied this amalgamation more than BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate. At that point in history the Canadian developer had yet to taste the sweet nectars of success, but that lack of acclaim was short lived.  The studio’s sophomore release went on to sell several million copies and cement BioWare as a household name among the then rapidly-budding gaming community. It goes without saying that from that point forward, the rest was history.

What helped set Baldur’s Gate out from the crowd was its adoption of a modified form of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. This is a choice that many developers followed suit with in the coming years, and is still in use in some respects to this very day. Up until that point several games had attempted to use the same set of constructs to their advantage, only to be met with a tepid response from gamers and critics alike. At the risk of sounding cliché, Baldur’s Gate was truly the definition of a “game changer” when it came to the role playing genre.

Released fourteen years later, precise to almost the day, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition attempts to revive Bioware’s once prize horse, and take it out for a second ride in the spotlight.  Given the advancements in the genre over the last ten plus years, can the title still hold a candle to the nostalgia that the audience still feels for it, or is this just another HD re-release, minus the actual graphical embellishments?

It is amazing to remember how unfriendly role playing games used to be to the uninitiated.  Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition pulls no punches when it comes to this department. The game is just as difficult and tedious now as it was nearly more than a decade ago. Beamdog, the re-release’s developer, makes no bones about the fact that the original gameplay essentially remains untouched, despite it feeling ancient and antiquated. Other than resolving longstanding bug fixes to the engine, as well as adding in support for higher resolutions and widescreen monitors, in many respects this is virtually the same game that an entire generation fell in love with on their Windows 95, Pentium processor-powered PCs.

Aside from minor manipulations to the mechanics, there are also a bevy of different character classes and races that have been imported from the game’s sequel, which Beamdog is also working on porting as you read this. In order to offer up the most comprehensive experience, the original game’s expansion pack, Tales of the Sword Coast also comes bundled with the purchase at no extra charge. One last addition actually comes in the form of NEW content. Don’t worry, you read that correctly: new content for a game that is fourteen years old! The Black Pits is a new standalone mission that spans fifteen stages over an average runtime of six hours. Let’s just say that players should not be starving for content anytime soon.

Once the game’s action actually gets underway, it is hard to not revert back to the much younger form of yourself that sunk hundreds of hours into Baldur’s Gate the first time around. Pretty much every aspect of the game from its massive storyline to the multitude of party micromanagement features and “real-time with pause” battle system thankfully remain untouched. To some this may prove be a good thing, while others may find its lack of a modern streamlined interface more bothersome. The closest analog to these gameplay mechanics in recent history would be Dragon Age: Origins on PC, which by no coincidence was also developed by BioWare.  It was certainly a spiritual successor to this classic, yet still took into account refinements brought about by the ever flowing sands of time.

Players better get buckled in for the game’s trademark battle system, which is probably more akin to driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic than flying down a wide open straightaway. Stop and go is the name of the game, as it becomes increasingly necessary to babysit squad mates the deeper one ventures into the campaign. Anyone who hasn’t played Baldur’s Gate in the past should definitely take up the chance to follow the tutorial, because the mechanics are far from straightforward. Hell, even those that have previously ventured into Faerûn might be well served to go in for a mechanics brush up. For control freaks out there, this level of control and micromanagement is a dream that has been steadily eroded away by the progression towards console-centric game development. However, many will tend to find this both tedious and unnecessary.

The campaign’s sweeping narrative still manages to strike a chord, much like storied novels of past generations. Thematically, fantasy worlds always seem more involving and vast if for no other reason than the amount that remains unknown to the player. Having a deep mythos to explore renders the world both exciting and vibrant, which is quite the accomplishment given how unkind time has been on the overall visual presentation. A wide variety of settings and characters to cross paths further drive home the need to explore, if for no other reason than to see what else the world has waiting to be uncovered.

Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is a painstakingly constructed labor of love that highlights what made gamers tick nearly fifteen years ago. For those that miss this era of gaming and prefer to look back under the guise of nostalgia goggles, the twenty dollar price point will prove to be well worth the investment. On the other side of the coin, it is increasingly difficult to justify some of the title’s eccentricities to those that have never had the chance to be smitten the first time around.  Tread carefully, because your millage may vary.

A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

A painstakingly constructed labor of love that highlights what made gamers tick nearly fifteen years ago.

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