Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Baldur's Gate: Killing Me Hardly and Repeatedly

I played a little D&D in my time. I have no outstanding memories or funny anecdotes from those sessions. I just remember that creating a character took a reeeally long time. And advancing your character took a reaaaaally long time. In regards to that, Baldur's Gate does not disappoint.

Expo98 and one if it's feet splashing things.
Baldur's Gate was released in 1998 by Interplay, forged by the creative minds at Bioware. I was too young to be interested at the time, even more so considering the blandness of the cover. Yes, I was a shallow little thing back then. More busy splashing my feet at the international fair and enjoying the sunshine with my equally shallow friends than actually delve into a story-rich AD&D based RPG. For shame.

A few years back I found one of those 4-in-1 boxes containing BG, it's expansion and BG2 and it's expansion in a bargain bin. I bought it, went home and shoved it in a shelf. It's just one of those things that a gamer just knows he/she has to have. It's a piece of history. Doesn't mean I ever played it.

Flashforward to a few days ago. I had just finished my second run through Dragon Age II and I was reading a lot about how it was dumbed-down, how it was a stain on BioWare's pristine record. So I decided to start from the beggining and picked said box from the bottom of the shelf, jumped through some hoops and some loops to get it installed and running and gave it a go.

You know how they say that games today just hold your hand through them from start to finish? Well, Baldur's Gate takes your hand and slaps you around with it.

Take Dragon Age II, for example (it's the only example that comes to mind actually, what with me having played so much of it recently). From the moment you gain control of your character you are presented with a tutorial phase and every action you can take is explained in detail by an intrusive oversized square on the top right corner of the screen. If you're unlucky (or Mike) you'll keep getting these tutorials when you're midway through the game. Bugs suck. My point being that the interface is explained step by step so you know what you're doing and what every single button has to offer.

Baldur's Gate starts off by telling you your short life's story. You're an orpahn raised by this mage person. And now he says you have to go so... go buy shit. Suit up. Gird your loins. Things of that nature, generally. The interface is pilfered with icons you won't at first recognise with what little old spoiled me took as a RTFM statement. It was strangely refreshing. I consider myself intelligent enough to, within 30 seconds of picking up a new game, realise that the analog stick is for moving. Baldur's Gate gives you credit and is merely littered with other mage like characters that explain to you what basics of AD&D you might not be familiar with.

Killing you in the streets.
Quite literally.

So I start walking around, performing minor tasks like locating rats and destroying books (or was it the other way around) and finally I decide to proceed with the plot and leave town. After the untimely demise of my adoptive father I am reunited with my childhood friend, Imoen. This is quite possibly the most annoyingly-voiced character in the game but she has quite the fan base so I might as well shut up about it right now.

After this point you are told... just about nothing. There are a few people waiting for you in a tavern up north and way further up north there's the city of Baldur's Gate. At this point you might suddenly remember the name of the game so you figure Baldur's Gate, with a quick detour to pick up a few party members, seems to be a good choice. But you can't get to Baldur's Gate; there be bandits on the roads.

You're basically free to go do whatever you want while picking up one deranged mage after the other. There is a defined plot but it's not as straight forward as what we're used to these days and the journal is more like, say, a journal than actually a handy indexed summary of available quests.

After eight or some hours of play I dinged level 2. It was quite a shock. Not that it took eight hours but the fact I hadn't noticed eight hours had gone by. Not that I didn't work my ass off for that level. Believe you me, I did. I must've died some 20 times and "cheated" my way through the first boss I encontered in a mine. Games today make progression seem much easier. You are rewarded with a new level and the chance to further customize your character within the first hour os so of gameplay. Not only because it makes you feel like the time you've spent so far has actually accomplished something but it also gives them the chance to throw another tutorial at you. The Leveling Up tutorial. Once I leveled up, I didn't get to choose anything. Or maybe I got to allocate another point in weapon proficiencies. I can't remember.

What I can remember is this. Baldur's Gate is fucking hard. Thank the Maker for that quick-save button. It makes every battle count. Every pack of wolves I mowed down made me feel better about myself. Every pack of kobolds that interrupted my nap in the wilderness was a worthy challengeto my skills.

'Make no mistake,' the game yells at you. 'This game is about you. If you die, I'm outta here no matter what pansy ass minions of yours might still toil against my evil spawn. You're the hero. Deal with it.'

Baldur's Gate has battered me into submission. I've been spoiled by these new fangled ressurection spells and lenient combat engines. BG slaps you around with a trout until you realise that you're in the big leagues. In the words of someone who once commented on the importability of Shepard from Mass Effect 2 to 3 in case he had died: "As in real life, the main downside to death is the inability to keep on living." I know what game taught them that.


  1. Those old games could be tough alright. They were down right heartbreaking when the really old ones didn't allow you to save in dungeons. All that work, frequently, for nothing after you wiped on the final boss.

  2. Some great memories there, as well as hours of fun.