Review by velmarg
"Single handedly revived the PC RPG."
In the mid 90's, PC role playing games were just considered dead. The genre was thriving on the consoles, with series like Final Fantasy, but the PC was all about shooters and strategy games. As a result, many sort of shrugged off Bioware's Baldur's Gate when they first heard about. Then slowly people started to get interested. When it hit store shelves, things were slow. Then sales began to pick up. The game started getting praise all over the place. By the end of 1998, Baldur's Gate had become a classic. Considered by many (including me) to be one of the greatest role playing games of all time, it resurrected a supposedly dead genre. Here's what Velmarg thought of it.
The graphics weren't anything to scream about when it was released, and they're certainly nothing to scream about now. They managed to get the job done, however. And what the game lacked in actual graphics, it made up for with artistic presentation. The many locales (from small towns to great cities to mountains to forests) were spectacularly drawn; it's clear Bioware has some talented artists. Characters are represented by sprites, which look good enough. Spell effects range from ''Ok then..'' to ''Oh, that's pretty''. Overall, as stated earlier, the graphics aren't wonderful; but they get the job done well enough to warrant an 8.
Sound fares a bit better than the graphics, with fantastic voice acting, good ambience, and a great soundtrack. The many monsters you'll come across all have their own distinct grunt or scream. The many NPCs are all voiced with precision. Combat sounds, from weapons clanging off armor to magic missiles pulverizing something, all sound good. There's really nothing bad about the sound at all.
Baldur's Gate's interface is a love or hate it setup. You have your party (represented by portraits) along the right side. On the left, you have your various subscreen icons (options, inventory, character information, map). Along the bottom of the screen are the many commands, which vary depending on the character and class you have selected. There's an attack button, a converse button, a spell button, a theiving button, item quick slots... It's a bit overwhelming at first, but you get the hang of it. You move your characters by selecting one or more of them (with the common drag box or a button which selects all members) and clicking where you want them to move. This is where some problems might arise.
Often when you tell a character to move to a certain point, they'll go over that mountain, around those trees, through that swamp, past the pack of ogres (which begin to follow them) and eventually they arrive... the problem is, there's usually a much more direct (and much safer) path available. Path-finding has been an issue with the Infinity Engine. It's not a major problem, but it can get annoying.
The interface can take some getting used to, but once you figure it out, it works quite well.
This is where Baldur's Gate excels; in its gameplay. You being by creating a character from scratch or selecting a premade one. It's much more enjoyable to make one of your own, obviously. You choose a race (human, elf, dwarf, gnome, half-elf, halfling... your typical DnD races), a class (fighter, mage, thief, ranger, paladin, cleric), and your ability points (strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence, charisma). Then you choose what weapon you'd prefer to be use with skill; the amount of weapons you can specialize in depends on your class. If you're a mage or thief, you'll also choose some spells or thieving skills, respectively. You choose a voice, customize your appearance, and you're off. I won't spoil the story, but I'll lay out how the game generally plays.
Baldur's Gate is referred to as a role playing game, and while this is definitely true, it's also very much a strategy game; Strategy-RPG is a fitting description. The roleplaying side has you choosing what you want to say in dialogue; want to tell that farmer to find his own son? Go right ahead, though you might miss out on some treasure. Don't like the way that thug is talking down to you? Kill him. Or try to talk some sense into him. Conversation's not quite as free form as it sounds, since you choose from pre-written dialogue options, but there's almost always a response that'll get your point across. You can also kill any character you wont, though you'd better be prepared for the consequences.
Which brings us to combat. Here, you utilize all of your characters' abilities to take down your foes. Thieves can hide and backstab an opponent dealing tremendous damage. Mages can hurl magic missiles from afar. Fighting can whip out a longsword of bad mojo +1 and dish out the hurting at the front of the battle. Combat actually flows much like a real-time strategy game, though on a much smaller scale. The pause feature is very nice. It allows you to pause the game, at any time, with the tap of the spacebar. Then you can issue commands to all of your party members, and when you unpause, they perform. This pause feature becomes very important later in the game, as battles can become brutally difficult.
Baldur's Gate is one of the most free form games I've ever played. Once you have a little group of people, you can basically just go off and do whatever. You don't have to follow the main plot quest right away. There are many, many side quests to do, and all of them are fun. They'll reward with you the necessary experience as well, which you can use to level up and gain new abilities.
Conclusion: Baldur's Gate is one hell of a game. Not very technically impressive, it's the gameplay that makes it stand out. This is a true role playing game. The sequel, Baldur's Gate 2, admittedly puts this game (and if you ask me, all other games) to shame, but it wouldn't have happened if this hadn't started the fire. If you're a fan of RPGs, I'd definitely recommend giving this one a look. It's a classic.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 02/21/03, Updated 02/21/03
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