Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition review

"ARE YOU READY TO CALCULATE THAC00000000000..."
Dec
11

Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition review

When Beamdog’s Overhaul Games division set out to redo the classic RPG Baldur’s Gate for the current generation’s hardware, they approached it the same way as the artists who restored the Sistine Chapel: “enhance without changing what made it great.”

To that end, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is a success. There are some nice improvements and additions, but otherwise it’s the same Baldur’s Gate, Second Edition AD&D warts and all. They even got the Easter eggs right… including that one. The hole in the field which makes fighters nigh-untouchable in the early levels. You know the one.

Before venturing onward, know ye this: this review is not intended to discuss the merits of Baldur’s Gate. In the 14-or-so years since its initial release, it’s been established as a turning point in computer RPGs and is one of the games that put BioWare on the map. This review instead looks at the upgraded aspects of this version and whether those enhancements improve the Baldur’s Gate experience on PC, if that is even possible.

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“ARE YOU READY TO CALCULATE THAC00000000000…”

Old Dog, New Tricks

The first thing Bemdog didn’t do was touch the game’s core mechanics, built around the AD&D ruleset. That means many players will have to remember how to calculate THAC0 and things like proficiency slots and 3/2 speed attacks. There is a helpful tutorial to guide new players through some of the mechanics, but this is clearly intended to be an old-school experience. “Read the Freaking Manual” definitely applies if you want to live long enough to survive the game’s final chapters.

Everything around the mechanics, however, has been touched up. The game retains the same “look” that it did when it was played at 640×480 resolution, now blown up nearly four times that size on modern-day displays. The cinematics for each chapter and major event have been replaced with motion-comic style animated scenes, as well. There are an additional 6 voices at character creation, along with an extra set of character portraits from Jason Manley, who worked on the Icewind Dale series.

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New NPCs bring their own unique skills, and unique baggage, to the party.

The real “meat” of the new content comes with the three new NPCs and “The Black Pits,” a standalone adventure that sends a customizable party of six characters through 15 battles in an Underdark arena. “The Black Pits” is a nice break if you want some quick leveling action, since for the first half-dozen fights the characters level up in between nearly every fight. It also makes a good proving ground to try out different spell combinations and character builds.

The new NPCs, meanwhile, come with extensive voiceovers and their own individual missions. These are revealed as you go through the game, either at certain levels or points in the story. Beamdog did a good job making the characters unique, both in personality and in build. Neera the Wild Mage is a flighty half-elf looking for a way to better control her chaotic powers, Rasaad yn Bashir is a monk investigating who killed his brother, and Dorn il Khan is a half-orc blackguard seeking bloody vengeance on former comrades who left him to die.

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“Make sure you speak to everyone you come across, because you never know who has quests or helpful information. Thus sayeth the wise Alaundo.”

I found it tough sometimes to balance who I wanted in my party because many of the companions you meet early on the game come in pairs, meaning you can’t have one without the other. After I found the mage seminal favorite Minsc was looking for, I quickly replaced them with Dorn and Neera. Neera simply knew more low-level spells at the start, and Dorn filled the mountainous gap in my front lines left by Minsc.

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Infravision would be more useful if enemies didn’t have big, red circles under their feet.

Jarring, but not Marring

Beamdog worked very hard to put Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition out on time, but had to slip a little from their schedule, especially on the iPad version, which just became available December 7. As with any RPG on the scale of Baldur’s Gate, I personally expected to come across a few bugs, so I wasn’t entirely surprised when I did.

At one point in Baldur’s Gate, Neera ran into an old acquaintance she’d “borrowed” money from. After dealing with them, she got stuck in a conversation loop that would not go away as long as I was in the same area. My main character also stopped gaining benefits from his boots of haste in the game’s latter third, and I soon found he couldn’t gain any benefits from haste spells or potions.

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In “The Black Pits”, don’t forget to spend the gold you earn each round on things like potions. They can make the difference between advancing to the next round, and reloading an old save.

However, Beamdog has been furiously working to deal with those bugs post-release. The day after I discovered the first, an update came out to fix it. I still can’t use haste on my main character, but it’s not quite as game-halting as the other bug. These blemishes, though, are still pretty small considering the scope of Baldur’s Gate, and as mentioned are being dealt with on a nearly weekly basis.

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This shows just how much extra room higher-resolution displays give compared to the original Baldur’s Gate.

The Bottom Line

Looking back at my time playing with Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, part of me is glad my younger self never got around to finishing it the first time I played. It’s been both an interesting blast from the past, a head-shaking reminder of how much I loathed THAC0 while playing D&D, and an interesting look at early BioWare game elements which were refined for future franchises like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Not to mention it’s a good, meaty, straightforward RPG.

I plan to review the iPad version separately from the PC version, specifically to look at the touchscreen elements and how well they work with the Baldur’s Gate formula, but the PC version definitely achieves what Oster and Beamdog set out to accomplish when they announced plans to update the game, and makes me excited for the announced remake of Baldur’s Gate II.

This is one masterpiece that, after removing a decade’s worth of grime and age, still manages to take your breath away.

  • Release date: November 28, 2012
  • Genre: RPG
  • Platform: PC
  • Developer: Overhaul Games
  • Publisher: Atari
  • ESRB Rating: N/A
  • MSRP: $19.99

Our Score: 4.5 / 5

Review statement: A digital copy of the game was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.

About Russell Jones

By day, Russell works in local TV news. By night, he plays and writes about video games for VGW and his personal blog, The Gentleman Gamer. An avid RPG fan, Russell can also be found plotting the demise of adventurers from behind a Dungeon Master's screen. He can be heard weekly on the "Geek In Review" podcast (GiRPodcast.podomatic.com).

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