Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition PC Review

Playing Dark Souls last year reminded me of how difficult video games used to be. Dying again and again, I eventually learned my lessons and ventured forth to beat the game after learning my lessons. Imagine my surprise when Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition presented me with a similar type of challenge, contrasting against everything I’d heard about the series. Prepare yourself for a challenge, and make sure that you have plenty of time available to devote to the definitive version of Baldur’s Gate, a game that deserves every nostalgic and present award bestowed upon it.

Though this is the Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate, the improvements displayed here are more than simply cosmetic despite the game’s improved performance and graphics. Initially, you’ll notice that the game runs smoother and far more consistently than it did in the 90’s, and environments look stunningly great for a game heralded as the father of modern RPGs. However, there’s also a new arena – The Black Pits –  that considerably improve the game’s longevity (not that the game needed it) and three new characters to take with you on adventures, and the expansion pack Tales of the Sword Coast is here too. Suffice to say – you won’t be bored.

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Moving past the noticeable improvements, the question becomes whether or not the fourteen year old game is still enjoyable and worth playing. Take it from me – as someone who has never played any of the games in the Baldur’s Gate series, the game is an absolute blast. The story and cast of characters you encounter favorably compare and even exceed many modern RPGs, and that’s partly due to the challenge of managing to stay alive. Each character you encounter has an intriguing backstory and interacts with the main hero in a unique way, leading to dialogue and stories that compel you to weigh your party members beyond their usefulness in battle.

However, unlike Mass Effect (which owes quite a bit to this game), these characters may eventually hate and even leave you based on decisions, not to mention that any party member’s death means they are gone from the game for good. That’s right – unless you’re a habitual saver, you’ll more than likely lose party members because of the game’s difficulty and habit of punishing you for exploring.

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That penchant for exploration, while always an integral part of RPGs, will get you into trouble in Baldur’s Gate because of the game’s unique gameplay. While click-and-attack is the mainstay, successfully hitting your opponent is an entirely different matter. There’s a complex, numbers based system at the heart of the game, where statistical anomalies don’t exist and a character’s ability to wield a particular weapon could be the difference between survival and death. D&D folks are likely incredibly familiar with the system, but, for the initiated, a turn-based system pits your character’s statistics against an enemy’s; mix in a measure of unpredictability (it feels like playing Yahtzee at times), and you have a system that, while complex, manages to engage and challenge.

One of the problems with such a system, however, is that character proximity becomes just as important as statistics in order to win a fight. For example, you can expect to be ambushed by assassins in bars. And by expect, I mean quite often. Frustratingly, when I encountered the assassins, I had to be sure that the encounters took place in an open area; otherwise, my party would inexplicably be stuck behind something and leave me in a one-on-one encounter with the assassins. Thankfully, I’d saved the game just a few moments beforehand, but fighting alone while five party members endlessly struggle to wander around a table is an era of bygone AI and level design we shouldn’t have to encounter.

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With that said, only the inside of certain buildings frustrated me; the dungeons and outside environments you’ll explore are immaculately designed and a blast to play through. If you’ve played an environment in a modern RPG, chances are it’s represented here. Immense towns, castles, magma-ridden caves, carnivals, forests, ice-covered mountains; apart from a Balrog’s watery grave, you’ll see them all here. Amazingly, in a testament to Baldur’s impressive lasting power, not once does exploration feel dated or meticulous. Random encounters and a plethora of NPCs questioning your motives keep you constantly engaged, and just when you think you’re done exploring, one more area will appear and off you happily go.

So should you buy this game? Well, that depends on your answer to two questions. First – do you have time on your hands? Second – are you willing to play one of the best RPGs ever? If so, take it from me – three weeks, two days, and 95 hours later, I’m still loving this game. You’ll love the new upgrades to the original content, and don’t be surprised if the game makes you rethink what you thought you enjoyed about RPGs.

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9 out of 10
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