Impressions: Baldur’s Gate: Extended Edition

Baldur’s Gate was an important to me, as a kid. It was my first ‘real’ PC game. It introduced me to sprawling games with interesting characters who -acted- human; if you did something they didn’t agree with, they’d bail. Hell, some of them would attempt to perforate some of your very favorite virtual arteries if you pushed them too far. It was endless hours of fun, so when Beamdog announced they’d be improving it, I was first in line to hand them my money. In spite of my reservations about ‘remastering’ older games, I was eager to see a game so near and dear to my heart given the treatment it so richly deserves. Better graphics, higher quality audio, the whole bit.

For those not immediately familiar with Extended Edition, it’s a remastering of both the original Baldur’s Gate and its expansion Tales of the Sword Coast. The concept is rather simple- an adopted child, you grow up in the library-fortress of Candlekeep with your adoptive father, until one day he calls you to his study and tells you that the two of you must flee as it is ‘too dangerous’. Things happen, he dies, and you’re on your own to unravel the plot against you (among others) in the classic setting of Faerun.

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There were problems, right off the bricks. The game refused to run on my system until the most recent patch, which initially caused a great gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts and lamentations. Once that bump in the road (admittedly, quite irritating for many players) was cleared up…the game ran beautifully. There have been UI improvements, the most noticeable at the main game screen. There is the Black Pits adventure, the tutorial (and trust me when I say it’s critical that new players use it), and then the main game all sectioned off on the load screen. The journal has been improved, and small changes to make writing more legible. There’s also a new quick save button, and the level cap has been removed. Some things have remained the same- the merciless Second Edition rules, for example. Not everyone is familiar with the old rules, including THAC0 and the calculation thereof.

One thing that newcomers to the franchise may find irritating is the bizarre difficulty curve that Second Edition  causes. Baldur’s Gate turns out to be harder in the first hour or two than the middle part of the game, simply because at level one your character and the NPCs  accompanying them are incredibly fragile. As a mage, for example, you aren’t permitted armor and start with a whole four hitpoints. It can even be less, depending on the ruleset you want to use; strict Second Edition rules call for a 1d4 hitpoints, which means that there’s a chance you can start with a single hitpoint, and gain one per level…for the rest of the game. The average weapon (shortbow or short sword) does 1D6 worth of damage…without any bonuses or being critical. A few lucky hits, and it’s game over. This works both ways, of course- a lucky hit from one of your party can devastate an enemy. It’s all part of the classic charm of the game for me- it was challenging, but not absurd.

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I’m truly enjoying the game- the game is crisp and what changes have occurred improve the game. While many of the upgrades from Baldur’s Gate II made it to the game, I don’t think it was a detriment- and it might make it more accessible to those unfamiliar with the game.  There are three new characters, all reasonably interesting and fleshed out. I haven’t been able to finish all of them, so it’s hard to say with certainty just how good the new characters are- doubly so because of their vastly different alignments. I haven’t been able to play all of them, so as a reviewer, I don’t feel I can say they are all good- but I’d bet my last match they are anyways. They also have their own adventures and dialogue, and they are valuable additions to any group- and their adventures are a welcome addition to a long game. That’s one of the things I really like about the game- it was long without being a grind. With mods no doubt on the way, I figure that the game will weigh in at sixty-plus hours for the average player.

A final point to consider is the fact that this game is cheaper than most releases (19.99 USD), and can run on most machines. While original is available, the level of fit and finish simply isn’t there until you mod the hell out of the game. Even then, the level of graphical quality won’t be present, nor the new adventures. As a fan, I found it to be worth the extra ten dollars- the game runs smoother, faster, and looks better. There’s more spells, there’s improvements from Baldur’s Gate II. Baldur’s Gate is essentially canon for me, and this version is accessible to everyone.I bought the game, and would gladly do so again. The team at Beamdog did a great job, and as soon as Baldur’s Gate II is available for preorder, I’ll gladly do so.

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