On November 30, 1998, a little-known company called BioWare released a strangely titled game named Baldur's Gate for personal computers. It was critically and commercially acclaimed, an excellent RPG with a gigantic world, interesting characters and lots of little details to discover and enjoy. Fourteen years later, Baldur's Gate is back. Today marks the release of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, a touched-up port of the iconic RPG with some new characters, features and enhancements. But what's inside? Is it worth revisiting, or playing for the first time today if you missed it in the past?
What is a "Baldur's Gate"?
Baldur's Gate is the name of a city that you can find in a role-playing game called Baldur's Gate. Fitting, right? The game is based on the world of Dungeons & Dragons, meaning you'll find priests, half-elves, THAC0, and all the other quirky features and stats that make D&D what it is. You roll your own character under D&D rules and restrictions, then take him or her into the world for questing and adventuring.
It's hard to sum up all the charm and wonder of Baldur's Gate in one or two sentences, but at its core, this is a giant role-playing game with a huge, sprawling world. There's a main storyline to follow, but there are also tons and tons of sidequests: you can go help a crazy berserker rescue the love of his life from a troll fortress; you can save an apprentice wizard who has accidentally transformed himself into a chicken; you can search for treasure in the undead ruins near a hobbit village; and much, much more.
Oh, like Skyrim!
Well... yeah! Kind of. Instead of giving you a first-person perspective, Baldur's Gate is isometric, which means you get a top-down view of the world. You move your characters by selecting them and clicking where you want them to go, which doesn't have quite the same feel as the direct control of a game like Skyrim. Some other aspects feel rather different, but if you like the exploring and role-playing of a game like Skyrim, you'll probably like this game too.
Also, Baldur's Gate has party members.
You can recruit up to five allies (for a total party of six) to follow you around, do your bidding, and fight for you.
Fun part is, all of the characters in Baldur's Gate have their own goals, personalities, and ambitions. If you recruit someone to help figure out why there's an iron shortage, but you don't seem to be looking into the iron shortage, that someone might get mad and decide to leave you forever. You also have to worry about balance: if you team up with a Lawful Good paladin and a Chaotic Evil sorcerer, they might not get along too well. They might get into a fight and force you to pick a side. Loser dies.
That does sound kind of awesome. So what's the story?
Your main character is an orphan (yeah, yeah, I know) raised by a dude named Gorion in a quiet, studious city called Candlekeep. One day, Gorion is all like "yo we've gotta get the hell out of dodge." So you're like "okay." Then you run into a terrifying guy named Sarevok. And then... well, bad stuff happens. You have to piece together a series of mysteries from there. And kill lots of people.
How do you kill people?
Combat in Baldur's Gate is really interesting: it's sort of a mixture of real-time and turn-based battling. Everything happens at once, but you can pause combat at any time to give orders to your party. So you can pause to have your characters gulp down healing potions, cast spells, move around the map, and figure out optimal strategies for taking out your opponents.
It can get rather difficult, particularly at the beginning of the game when you're rather low leveled, but you can always change the difficulty settings, and there are always ways to upgrade your party's equipment and abilities.
OK, OK, this does sound pretty cool, but what if I already knew all this? What if I've already played Baldur's Gate? What's different about the Enhanced Edition?
Lots of things. Let's make a list:
- The first thing you'll notice is that Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition can support a high-definition display. Everything is crisper and cleaner, and you can even zoom in and out on the main screen (not possible before). The art assets, however, have not been changed, so they don't look too great when you zoom in closely.
- This version of Baldur's Gate also takes a great deal from Baldur's Gate II, the 2000 sequel and by most accounts one of the best games of all time. Baldur's Gate II added a number of extra classes and sub-classes, some new features (like dual-wielding), .
- Bug fixes! The game's creative director Trent Oster says they've zapped some 400 bugs while porting over the game.
- This version of the game comes with Baldur's Gate's expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast.
- It also comes with plenty of new stuff. First of all there's a new area called The Black Pits, which is basically a set of combat trials
- There are also a few new characters: Rasaad yn Bashir, a monk (and his new area, the Cloud Peaks); Neera, a wild mage (also comes with her own new area); and Dorn Il-Khan, a half-orc Blackguard.
- More to come, Oster has promised, especially if this one does well. There may be DLC in the future.
So it's out for PC today. Wasn't it supposed to come to iPad? Or Mac? Or Android?
It was. All of those versions have been delayed: the iOS version had a game-stopping bug, and should be out next week, according to Oster. The OSX version is also still waiting on Apple's approval, and the Android version should be out by Christmas.
The PC/Mac versions are $US20. The mobile versions will be $US10, but much of the extra content will not be included; you'll have to buy it separately as DLC.
When the different versions do all come out, you'll be able to play cross-platform multiplayer.
I remember playing Baldur's Gate like 10 years ago. Has it aged well?
It's hard to tell. If you're used to the fast-paced, actiony gameplay of today's Western RPGs — games like Mass Effect, Skyrim, and even Dragon Age — you might have a tough time adjusting to the more sluggish tempo of a game like Baldur's Gate. Characters move very slowly. It takes some getting used to.
But the writing is fantastic, the world is full of interesting (and funny!) little details to uncover, and the interface enhancements definitely help make it more accessible than it was a decade and a half ago.
Wait a minute. I remember playing Baldur's Gate with some crazy mods a few years ago that did similar things. Is there anything you can do here that you can't do with mods?
Probably not. The new content designed by the folks behind Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition will be exclusive to this game, but a lot of the interface changes and BG2 enhancements can be patched into a standard version of Baldur's Gate with a number of free mods.
On the flip side, this may very well be the definitive version of Baldur's Gate. You don't have to worry about messing around with system files and inadvertently causing bugs in your game, and the folks behind BG: EE promise patches and future content that will make the game better. Also: even though it's not out yet, this may be the only (non-jailbreaking) way to play Baldur's Gate on your iPad or Android tablet. Look forward to more Kotaku coverage of the iPad version of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition when it's out.