Review by Heartless Angel

"I hope this isn't a sign for things to some..."

Introduction
Baldur's Gate is a fantasy RPG set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. It has attempted to place the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game play into a real time world. Can this western RPG compete with any of the others?

High Points:
- High character customization level
- Very long game
- High difficulty
- Easy control
- Large number of NPCs
- Character voices
- Non-linear gameplay

Low Points:
- Poor plot
- Extreme amount of dialogue
- Long loading times
- Low experience capacity
- Very hard to make characters better
- Some awful music
- Repetitive Voices
- Slow action

Storyline - 4

The story starts in the library city of Candlekeep, where your foster father, Gorion, has decided that you must leave or you will be hunted down since you are a child of Bhaal. Unfortunately, early on, Gorion and yourself are mysteriously attacked by a powerful warrior and his companions. You manage to escape, but only at the cost of Gorions life. Who are these attackers? You embark on a journey across the Sword Coast, eventually reaching the great city of Baldur's Gate to find your answers.

Baldur's Gate had a good idea for a storyline, but the way it was presented was not enough to hold my attention. When you initiate dialogue, screen after screen of text pops up at the bottom of your screen, I often ignored it just to go on--the game was slow enough as it was. I guess I had just gotten used to the fast action of Delta Force. There are very few major events in the game considering it's length. I can count about 5 off the top of my head. I was never drawn to the game as I was in other, more famous RPGs, such as the Final Fantasy series. I believe that much of the story of this game is derived from books and assumed knowledge of the Forgotten Realm. I, for one, have never even heard of anything pertaining to the Forgotten Realms until this game. The character development was actually rather good, not great, but considering what they had to work with, they did a fine job. Since the characters in your party can die permanently, you can kick characters out of your party whenever you want, and you can recruit new ones as you find them, it makes character development difficult. Most of the development comes from the conversation that takes place when you meet them, and the character's voices. Yes, that's right. Just form the voices (Which by the way were done very well) you can tell quite a lot about the character. My favorite character, Minsc, sounds like a good-hearted, yet stupid, evil hater. He believes that his hamster, Boo, is actually a giant space hamster. There is also dialogue that goes on between characters depending on which combinations you have in your group. Some get along, and some...don't. In the end though, despite the interesting characters, I found myself just playing through the game just to beat it--I didn't even understand most of it. I played Baldur's Gate for a good few days until I just lost all desire to play it any more. It was a few months later that I decided to play through the rest of it. It didn't get any better.

Game Play - 7

The game play starts with designing a detailed character. In fact, the characters you can make are more detailed than I have ever seen before in a game. First you get to choose between two genders (obviously), then you choose your portrait for your character. After that, it really gets detailed. You choose one of six races for your character, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. After you have chosen your race, you get to choose from about 8 classes depending on the race you chose. The classes range from the normal fighters and mages, to thieves, clerics, druids, and paladins. Then you must choose the alignment of your character. You can create a Lawful Good or one of nine other alignments ranging all the way down to Chaotic Evil. Now your abilities (stats) must be chosen. You can change and randomize your stats over and over until you get the ones you're looking for. When you're satisfied, you can choose your proficiency skills, then finally your name. Now you get to start your quest...

When in the game, you can interact with all of the people that are walking around within the city. You'll probably find though that most of them have little or nothing to say. You won't see battle for a little while; so you have the option of running around and completing meaningless side quests for pity rewards, or you can continue just go on with the game. When you leave the city, you are presented with a map of the Sword Coast. The places you are able to access are shown, and the ones that you haven't gotten to yet, aren't shown. So you pick the place you want to go, it loads the area, and you are set at the edge of the area, free to explore the vast darkness as you please. Now, let's assume that you happened to be at the west side of the area. If you leave the map to the south, you may reveal a new area to go on your main map. Likewise, if you go east, you may reveal a new area to the east. The choice is yours. You may encounter enemies while exploring. In battle, you generally just command your guys to attack the enemy with normal attacks or magic, or you can get more strategic, if you're having trouble, and pause the game while you're giving commands. Either way, you'll be notified of the details of the battle in a text box at the bottom of your screen. It shows hit rolls, hit damage, enemies, experience gained, etc. You may wish to let your party rest after a battle so that they can re-memorize spells, and recover health.

Now, to fully understand BG's game play, you must acquire a general understanding of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. With each attack made, and attack roll is made as well. This attack roll is a random number between one and twenty. The victim's armor class is added to this number, then the final number is compared to the attacking character's THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0). If the final number is greater than the attacking character's THAC0, a successful hit is made. Then, when the hit is made, the damage must be calculated from several factors... Well, as you can see, the game play is quite complex if you're not already familiar with the AD&D rules.

Knowing this, many things are turned around in the game. In most RPGs, a high armor class if good. In Baldur's Gate, you strive for a low armor class. Armor keeps you from getting hit as often, it doesn't absorb or reduce damage. Many other things are reverse from classical RPGs.

One thing I liked and disliked about the game play was the freedom that you have. You are free to play the game however you want, so long as you complete a few key quests. You would think that this would be great, but at times, you get lost and have no clue as to what you are supposed to do next. You end up traveling all over the place for clues and wasting a lot of time. There are many side quests that you are able to do while you're at it. In fact, there are so many that you may loose track of them. While you're being so free in the world of Baldur's Gate, you can easily get yourself into a lot of trouble. If you happen to sneak into a house, then look through an empty drawer, you will most likely be greeted by a group of Flaming Fist guards if someone saw you. You can go ahead and kill them, but then your reputation will go down, and no one will like you. If your reputation goes too low, you'll end up having to fight more and more of these guards and wizards everywhere you go until you just can't live anymore. This takes a while lot of fun out of the game. At times I feel like I would love to kill that commoner, or that beggar, but when I consider the consequences, it's just not worth it.

Multiplayer is one of the worst experiences I have ever experienced. I played on Heat.net and just loading the game lobby took a good few minutes, then getting into a game took multiple tries, and by the time you got in, it was just plain hard to do anything. When a new player joined, all people in the game must return to the character importing/creation screen, then the host must re-launch, and at that time, a few players would usually not connect properly and have to drop. I have never stayed in a multiplayer game for more than a half hour without problems. I have never tried LAN or IP games; those would have to have been an improvement over Heat.net.

The game takes up 5 CDs (6 if you get the expansion). I think they could have put it on less if they had made the maps smaller, but they didn't. CD changing gets really annoying. Since the game is non-linear, you may be on disc 1 one minute, then on disc 3 the next. Baldur's Gate's game play is very complex and allows a great deal of freedom. Yet, that freedom is severely hindered throughout the game in many ways.

Graphics - 5

These graphics are nothing special. Most of them are rather hazy. There are many cut scene movies that are of very poor quality compared to the FMVs of Playstation, but compared to other PC games, they are quite good. The 2-D backgrounds are very well done. The majority of the spells have reasonably good lighting effects.

The map areas are very well done, but for some reason I just cannot see why the map files would be so large. Some of them are around 40MB, which lengthens the load times a lot. Your screen resolution is limited to only 640x480, but the actual screen size is cut down greatly by all of the menus around your screen. Baldur's Gate's graphics aren't an eyesore, but they aren't what you would want to look at if your eyes were sore.

Sound - 7

I liked much of the sound in the game. There were a few songs that were really relaxing in a town or bar, and then there was that awful battle music. Most of the sound, however, set a good atmosphere for the game. The character voices are what I truly enjoyed. Each character portrays his/her emotions or feelings quite well just through the way that they say what they say. After many hours of playing the game, they sometimes get annoying. You also have the option of making custom voices for your main character. This is fun, but hard to do. You must record about 16 different sounds, then label them correctly in order for them to all work. It's more work that it's worth though, in my opinion.

Control - 8

I really prefer the control of this game over Diablo's. You just tell your character once what you want him/her to do and they'll do it. However, when you have six people in your party, it often gets hard to control battles without pausing the game, which ruins the whole point of real-time role-playing.

Replay/Length - 9

This game is a long one, no doubt about that. It probably took well over 50 hours for me to beat the game, and I didn't do many of the side quests. As for replay, the importing and exporting of your characters really makes this high. The only drawback is that I really wouldn't want to play through a game that long again.

Final Thoughts:

I think Baldur's Gate would be a great game for anyone with a lot of free time. But if you're anyone like me, you really don't have that kind of time to spend exploring a vast area in Baldur's Gate. I have high hopes for Baldur's Gate II, the sequel. So far, I really haven't found any PC RPG's that are as good as most console RPGs. Until Baldur's Gate II, I'll be sticking to fast action first-person shooters.

Baldur's Gate Score - 6


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 06/23/01, Updated 06/23/01


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