“Camaraderie, adventure, and steel on steel. The stuff of legend! Right Boo?”

Firstly, as this game has been out for nearly 14 years now – I’m going to assume that a lot of you have played it so there are ‘some’ spoilers contained in this review. I don’t exactly spell out the final scene but please consider yourselves warned: Here be spoilers!

Baldurs Gate is a 2D top-down role playing game developed by BioWare – It has a reasonably standard storyline by todays standards but only because most games and RPG’s these days continue to recycle Baldurs Gates original ideas: A child of destiny, a tragic event, a faithful sister figure, a path towards revenge all with an underlying and inescapable prophecy bearing down on the protagonist. RPG gaming went quiet after the Ultima crazy calmed down and Baldurs Gate – releasing in 1998 – bought these aspects back to the forefront of RPG gaming.

Being one of BioWares first and most ambitious projects. Baldurs Gates plan was to take the player along a carefully constructed story based inside The Forgotten Realms within the Dungeons and Dragons universe. This was and still is a testament to BioWares ambition as they were able to take such a well established world that already had literally stacks of books explaining its history and weave a completely new and original story without contradicting other elements – all the while, including some key players from the franchise such as Elminster and Drizzt – both legendary characters in The Forgotten Realms.

BioWare have always excelled at creating these large fantasy worlds for the player to experience – looking at their following titles such as Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age and more recently the Mass Effect trilogy – all completely different settings, all completely different stories but all of them containing roughly the same cornerstones which draws players into a great and epic fantasy world. The same ‘golden rules’ of BioWare storytelling that was first created and perfected with the Baldurs Gate series.

If you’re like me and you played Baldurs Gate when it first came out then the graphics will spark long forgotten memories and be an absolute joy to behold and experience. However if you have not played Baldurs Gate before then you will find yourself needing to let a few things slide. Allow me to explain. Being built around an adaptation of the 2nd Edition of the Dungeons and Dragons rulebook – if played like a regular ‘current gen’ RPG, you’re going to die, a lot. When played on Normal or higher difficulty, Baldurs Gate is not an easy game, the lack of diverse equipment (Armour enchantment only going up to +2 for example) means that you cannot rely on good equipment to get you through a fight, your combat needs to be focussed purely around your tactics. Unit positioning and current skills available to each of your characters is key. you will find yourselves quickly assigning your support characters to the back of the group and having your ‘first line’ of warriors storming headlong into battle, if your archer or mage does find themselves at the front line of a sword fight, they’re dust!

Also, with character death being semi-permanent reminds you that current RPG’s do let the player off on a lot of aspects and Baldurs Gate was not a forgiving game. During the first portion of Baldurs Gate you will find yourself having to shell out a hefty 100 gold coins for 1 hit point to be restored to a fallen comrade (and that’s without healing them afterwards) so tactics actually means more than ‘Select all – attack closest enemy’ and there’s a wonderful feeling of satisfaction knowing that you have your band of up to 6 party members perfectly positioned to take down that group of Knolls with pin-point accuracy – blocking them in a room with your platemail toting grunts whilst picking them off with Magic Missiles and Archery skills from the background.

The combat may be difficult – actually, until you gather a full party and buy armour for everyone, you can read ‘may’ as ‘is’ but there is something about the simplicity of Baldurs Gates ascetic and presentation that instantly lets you forgive this and it contains such a wonderful and captivating storyline that you cannot help but feel slightly emotionally attached to the protagonist even at such an early point in the game. Why did that armoured man cut Gorian down? Where did you originally come from? What are you going to do now you cannot return to Candlekeep? These questions will lead you to bigger and more important questions as you unravel your characters secrets throughout the game.

Thankfully, to be playable by todays lofty gaming standards, there are a number of custom mods for Baldurs Gate to help enhance the experience. I’m going to be highlighting these mods soon in an upcoming article but from being able to play Baldurs Gate on a 1920 x 1080 resolution display (where the native resolution was no bigger than 800 x 600) to being able to play the game on the enhanced Infinity Engine used for Baldurs Gate 2. If you don’t like the look or feel of ‘vanilla’ Baldurs Gate 1 then never fear, there is help at hand.

Moving through Baldurs Gate you’ll come across different NPC’s and this is one of those aspects that really made BioWare RPG’s famous. The diverse set of additional character that join the protagonist, despite the lack of advanced AI dynamics or voice acting (which was pretty standard back in the day) was impressive, from the unforgettable Minsc – a slightly brain-damaged barbarian and his pet miniature giant-space-hamster – Boo – to the half elf husband and wife team of Khalid and Jaheria and everybody inbetween. Nobody in the Baldurs Gate storyline is truly forgettable, even the bit-part played by the lovable tavern owner Winthorpe at the very start of the game.

Baldur Gate is one of the main reasons that BioWare are still able to produce top quality video games today, it’s the game that launched thousands of people towards the world of Dungeons and Dragons and even inspired many video game developers to create their own RPG’s to continue the legacy of top-quality role playing games. If you have never played Baldurs Gate before – you seriously owe it to yourself to find out where the re-invention of the RPG video game came from. It’s one of the best and most ‘true’ RPG’s that I have ever played and a game that will remain with me for many years to come.

 

Review Score : [starreview tpl=16] Title :  Baldurs Gate
Format : PC
Developer : BioWare
Publisher : Black Isle Games
Release Date : 1998

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

This retrospective review was made possible by GOG.com who provided us with a code for Baldurs Gate and the review was performed on our flagship BeastRig gaming PC – the Z77.