Resurrection: Baldur’s Gate
By Greg Giddens
Today Next Friday, since the date’s apparently been pushed back, a bunch of Interplay classics are re-released, all optimised to work on modern PCs. One of these games is Baldur’s Gate. Here’s why you should still care.
Baldur’s Gate defined a generation. A wealth of role-playing games were born from the success of BioWare’s classic, and the generation of gamers at the time were inspired and amazed by its achievements. It’s games of this impact that push the boundaries of what the medium is thought to be capable of.
Baldur’s Gate wasn’t a difficult game to learn. Its design allowed the modified AD&D Second Edition rule set to work its magic behind the scenes, leaving the player to concentrate on enjoying the experience of the narrative and characters. Knowing how the rule system worked and taking the time to master all the elements involved made the experience a little less punishing along the way. But the true magic behind the game was that, whatever the player’s level of knowledge, Baldur’s Gate remained accessible to all. Nothing was overly complicated, and the initially harsh combat simply encouraged a more cerebral approach. Simple controls and well designed menus kept things tidy and intuitive, all adding to its phenomenal success.
//It’s not the taking part that counts. It’s the winning…
The game’s timing helped, of course. The PC, while still the prominent gaming platform, was beginning to lose ground to the growing popularity of the consoles. The direction of RPGs’ style was being influenced by this shift, and so more and more games were shying away from the more traditional role-playing form, made popular in the mid to late 90s by games such as Diablo and Fallout. Baldur’s Gate defied stylistic and graphical progress in an attempt to maintain the standards of PC role-playing, and with great success. Among the crop of titles on offer at the time, Baldur’s Gate was able to provide a refreshing yet safely familiar experience, one that rallied PC gamers, raising morale and showing that the genre was certainly not dead.
Success can be measured by either quality or quantity. With Baldur’s Gate, neither was compromised by the other. The multi-linear setup allowed players to experience hundreds of side quests before committing to the narrative, and each quest and area was beaming with quality, with intelligent dialogue to detailed environments, rendered for style and individuality rather than simply tiled. The whole package was brought to life by smart design choices, leading to a single problem: having to put the game on five discs. The disc swapping became a nuisance early on, but despite this obstacle to immersion, Baldur’s Gate never felt like it was cutting corners in any respect, remaining interesting throughout.
//Armed to the teeth and packing a hamster
Narrative is vitally important in RPGs, and while Baldur’s Gate certainly has a well-paced, imaginative and interesting plot, it’s the characters that really drove it and made it as memorable as it remains today. Baldur’s Gate allowed inter-party relationships to dynamically evolve throughout the adventure, making for a much deeper and immersive experience than many similar titles at the time – and even now. As a result, the story remained interesting and dynamic, text dialogue was enhanced by its delivery, and players became attached to certain characters and personalities – none more so than Minsc and Boo, two of the most inspired characters to ever grace a videogame. Minsc’s demeanour and attachment to “giant miniature space hamster” Boo made them both household names, loved by players more so than their own created characters. While everyone in Baldur’s Gate had unique and well-written dialogue, Minsc’s quotes tread the line of genius and insanity with such unsteady footing that they live on, even to this day, as classics, and are a testament to the creative prowess of the BioWare team.
Achieving successes at release is a sign of a good game. Maintaining that success on a level that’s so much more than just nostalgia is an achievement only obtained by timeless classics. Baldur’s Gate proudly belongs to this exclusive club.
//Impersonation is the highest form of flattery
Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, Dungeon Siege to an extent, and many more were all born from the popularity of the original Baldur’s Gate, it having revitalised the genre with its deep characters and narrative, excellent use of the AD&D rules, and attention to detail in all areas. It became a new benchmark, and inspired countless similar games for a number of years. Other titles set about to mimic the same qualities that made Baldur’s Gate the great game it is, but even a decade on nothing quite like it has surfaced. This is a game whose innovation has now been immortalised by an overwhelming response from fans, developers and the press. Today’s re-release packages prove its appeal is timeless.
We are truly blessed this month. Not only have we been given Dragon Age: Origins, a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, but renewed access to the Baldur’s Gate series itself, providing the current generation of PC gamers the same experience we fans so fondly remember and cherish. If you have yet to experience the magic, or want to revisit it without the hassle of swapping five discs, then now is your chance. I powerfully urge you to take it.