Retro Ramblings On… Baldur’s Gate

Baldur’s Gate has a lure to it. It was one of the first RPG’s I ever played and is amongst the greatest products ever to be set in the Dungeon’s & Dragons universe, (though, admittedly, a lot of crap has emerged from the franchise over the years, remember that god awful film with Jeremy Irons?), in fact, it is almost certainly placed alongside Neverwinter Nights in my nostalgic affection.

If you have ever played a D&D title, (or, in fact, most RPG’s these days), you will be familiar with how the character creation works. You choose your gender, race, basic class, starting abilities and appearance, before being thrown into the world. A world which, though it is easily a rival to both Warhammer and Middle Earth as THE stereotypical fantasy setting, is rich and diverse, with more races of monsters than you can shake a +3 Scimitar of Ice and Bone at.

Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Humans and Half-Elves form the playable classes, but arrayed against your small group of up to six characters, we have Kobolds, Goblins, Ogres, Vampires, Were-wolves, Beholders, Demons and creatures of every shape and size. The world is certainly not ungenerous when it comes to throwing them against you.

One aspect I had forgotten about, in my starry-eyed nostalgia, was exactly how unforgiving this game is. When I went back to play this game, in order to refresh my memory for this very retro-review, I had lost half my group before I even reached a dungeon, simply from hired Assassins, Bandits, Wolves and Gnolls. Worse than the simple act of losing characters, is the fact that their image remains locked to the side of your screen, even in death, so you simply see one of your characters greyed out. It is galling to have no way of resurrecting them, whereas if the game were a more recent title, I have no doubt I would be able to find a simple enough way of bringing them back from the great beyond.

Dem graphics! Let’s see Elder Scrolls beat that!

The gameplay is simple enough, a top-down RPG in the style of the original Fallout’s, Diablo’s and any other RPG you can name from that period, though perhaps it is more accurate to say that they are modelled after the style of Baldur’s Gate.

The world is particularly generous, almost on a scale I rarely see anymore, especially in the amount of weapons, enemies, locations and quests but, (and this is one of the few reasons the D&D universe, though one I thoroughly enjoy, has never captured my attention as much as other Fantasy settings), it does not feel as though it is a living world. Every problem in the game is there for you to solve, every Demon to be banished, every Bandit to be slaughtered and helpless villager to be rescued, has been placed in for YOUR enjoyment. Though I used to think this is a good thing, I find myself thinking that this makes the game feel as though it is only there for YOUR enjoyment.

Yes, that may have been the same point but from opposite sides of the argument but it IS how I feel. I enjoy stepping in to ‘living worlds’, worlds where you feel as though it would continue whether you were there or not. Each and every NPC is simply waiting for your party to come traipsing through, swords swinging, arrows spitting and Magic Missile flying from outstretched hand. In addition to this, the trope of your character being the ‘Chosen One’, or some variation of the same, has never really done anything to endear a game to me. It was one of the few problems I had with the narrative of Skyrim and the Dovahkiin.

All that colour customisation!
You don’t get this level of in-depth character design anymore!

All in all, it was good to head back into the game, and I even picked up a few additional titles from the same series which I had never played before, namely Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment so, for a few days at least, I have no doubt I’ll be reliving the enjoyment of my childhood. But the re-buying of the game was worth my reaction as I chose my Half-Elven Mage’s first two spells, the nostalgia burning in my eyes as I saw Magic Missile and Identify on the list giving me a condensed version of all the enjoyment I had with the title, when I was younger.


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