Review by chris2001
Baldur's Gate (henceforth BG) is an RPG based on traditional Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) rules. It attempts to bring these rules into a ''real time'' world, and pulls it off almost flawlessly.
Before you even begin the game itself you're confronted with a rather daunting-looking character creation menu. Here you get to customize many aspects of your character, ranging from their name and gender to their specific class, race and alignment. The various races and classes offered will be instantly recognizable to those familiar with AD&D. There are 6 races offered, humans, elves, half-elves, halflings, gnomes, and dwarves. Many different classes are offered too, implementing either mainly physical fighting power (e.g. Fighters, Rangers), magical skills (e.g Clerics, Mages), or a balance of the two (e.g the bard). While in the character creation menu you can also edit more mundane options, such as your clothing and skin colour, which is a nice, if unimportant little touch. Finally in character creation, you will ''roll'' your stats. The stats you get are based on rolls of 3 dice, but are capped at various minimums and maximums depending on your race and class. If you're unhappy you can re-roll your stats, and, although it can be a pain, doing so and waiting for good numbers to come up will make your life a lot easier in the long run.
Once character creation is out of the way (and it will take you a while if you're new to this sort of thing..), you're thrust into the game itself. You start in Candlekeep, a small, quaint area that seems relatively peaceful. However, your mentor, Gorion, wishes to flee the town with you. Why, you do not know, but you flee with him into the night nonetheleless, and your journey begins...
The game itself is an enjoyable experience. As you proceed you will come across non-player characters (NPCs) who will give you various quests to undertake if you're nice enough to them. You have the choice of whether to do most of these quests or not, but successfully completing them will net you experience, and thus make your characters stronger, and you might be able to plunder some good loot along the way. Sometimes you can have a lot of quests ongoing at once, and this is where the Journal comes in handy - it is in essence a log of your journey so far, and contains details of the quests you've received, and whether you've completed them or not.
With all the side quests ongoing, it can sometimes be hard to be sidetracked from the main plotline of the game. Again, the Journal helps here, as will several other documents you pick up along your way, and if you go too far off track for too long (especially near the beginning of the game), some of your party members will give you little reminders of what you're actually meant to be doing and where you're meant to be going.
Ah yes, party members. During your journey you'll come across other people who may offer their help to you. Sometimes out of the goodness of their own heart, but most of the time these people will have tasks of their own they want you to help them with in exchange for their company. This provides you with a dilemma, do you allow yourself to get sidetracked from your own quest, or do you press on at the risk of irritating your colleagues? The choice is yours, but it can prove very difficult at certain times to keep everyone in your party (your party can have up to 6 members, including yourself) happy, especially if your party members are of different alignments...
The combat system is fairly effective. AD&D rules are used to determine your attack rate and chance to hit an enemy, and you basically just fight the battle out, in real time, of course. Magic can be used to good effect, although mages start the game with very few spells available to them, they get stronger as the game progresses and they level up. Magic can either be cast from memory (you choose to memorize a number of spells depending on your level and these spells are replenished when you rest), or from spell scrolls, so your supply of magic is decent, but you are encouraged not to over-use it. If there is a problem with the combat system it's that you'll be pausing often to issue commands, and it can get a little slow and frustrating at times. However, the ''Auto-Pause'' feature helps a lot here, as you can set the game to automatically pause when certain events happen, enabling you to react quickly to them.
There are an abundance of items available to help you on your way, such as magical weapons and armour, potions of many types, and jewelry. Some of these items can be bought, some will drop from monsters, and some you will just have to find, whether they be hidden in places or given to you as quest rewards. Either way, it's important to hoard all the good items you can get - this game is hard enough as it is without having to use inferior equipment.
The game also has a few nice touches of realism. You need to rest every 24 hours, otherwise your effectiveness in combat will diminish. Your party members will respond either favourably or critically to your actions depending on their alignment. Good and Evil-aligned characters in your party might even start fighting among themselves if you do nothing to prevent a feud developing between them. Sometimes it's just best to ditch a troublemaking ally and move on in the hope that you can find better help ahead...
Aesthetically the game is pleasing. The graphics, although nothing to write home about, certainly do the job. During the middle of the day the landscapes can get a little bright and garish, but that's nothing a little fiddle with the brightness switch on your monitor won't fix. Other than that the player characters look fine, as do the monsters, and some of the spell effects are pretty cool too. The sound is unremarkable - the music is okay, but everywhere except in battles is too ambient, and the sound effects consist of your basic sword-clanging, magic-jingling fare.
More than anything though, the game is great to play. It's a remarkably non-linear experience - you get to choose whether you want to press on with the main, plot-critical quests, or whether you want to wander around in search of other side-quests in order to build your experience up and hopefully gain some nice items. The only problem is if you choose the side-quests you have to do a lot of exploring - each area can take ages to explore fully, and you can find yourself wandering through nothingness for 5 minutes at a time, which isn't so great. However, this also just leads to a renewed feeling of happiness once you do find that elusive quest-giving person too...
There is a multiplayer mode, but as far as multiplayer modes go it's pretty weak. You have little individual freedom of movement (all players must be in the same area at the same time), so prepare yourself for arguments if you both want to go to different areas. If you find some people who share exactly the same mindset with you though, multplayer can be fun.
Replay value: 9/10
Overall (not an average): 9/10
The final word: What are you waiting for!? Go get it - and get the expansion pack and its sequel while your at it! ;)
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/19/02, Updated 05/20/02
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