The role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Ameson, saw its release back in 1974, well before the advent of mainstream video game systems. A little over a score later, relatively new game developer BioWare announced a computer RPG based on the Dungeons & Dragons formula, Baldur's Gate, which was the company's first RPG. Many credit the game with revitalizing the computer RPG genre, but does it still hold up today?
Upon starting a new game, the player creates a character whose base stats remain fixed throughout the game, although the player can outfit their character with weapons and armor like in most other RPGs. The player can recruit a party of up to six characters, who, when enemies show up on the battlefield, begin attacking the enemy, although luckily, the player can pause the action anytime to change which enemies the player attacks. Upon killing an enemy, all characters in the party gain experience, with level ups happening occasionally, in which case the player may or may not gain points they can invest into different types of weapon mastery, and skills if one of the characters is a thief.
Experience levels rise very slowly, so it is therefore difficult to grind to make the game easier, and character deaths might be frequent, even if the player changes the adjustable difficulty to the easiest setting, and reviving deceased characters, especially when they reach higher levels, ultimately becomes cost-prohibitive. Luckily, the player can save their game anywhere but in battle, with reloads in case of character deaths likely to happen frequently. There is also a limit as to how many items characters can carry in their inventories before their movement slows, or even stops completely if their bags are full, which can definitely become annoying considering the loot enemies drop. The only major redeeming aspect of the battle system is that it's fast, but the aforementioned flaws prevent it from truly shining.
Granted, Baldur's Gate does have some things going for it, such as the absolute freedom in exploration and myriad of sidequests, with the player's journal keeping track of most of it, although sometimes it's difficult to figure out exactly what the main quest is. The limit on inventory space is also annoying, with a heavy degree of inventory swapping because of the different capacities of character inventories. Ultimately, interaction isn't perfect, but could have certainly been better.
The story and writing are okay, though the sidequests in many instances don't contribute very well to the main storyline, and character development amongst the player's party could have been a tad better. The sometimes poor direction on how to advance the main storyline is another mark off the plot, although it's still far from terrible.
The soundtrack and voice acting are okay, with some occasional epic tracks, particularly in battle, although it relies too much on ambivalent noise at times. The graphics are okay, as well, but when playing the game on Windows 7, black boxes serve as backdrops for animated sprites and spell effects. Ultimately, the game could have certainly looked and sounded better.
In the end, Baldur's Gate is BioWare's first RPG, and it definitely shows, what with its mostly tortuous battle system and its other aspects being mostly mediocre. Despite this, the game would receive an expansion and even a sequel, although it's definitely not the best introduction to computer RPGs, let alone one of the top Western RPGs.
This review is based on an incomplete playthrough of about twenty hours.
+Plenty of freedom in exploration.
+Story and writing are okay.
+Voice acting and music are okay.
-Battle system is torture to play.
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.
-Some graphical glitches on Windows 7.
The Bottom Line:
BioWare's first RPG, and it shows.
Game Mechanics: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 3/10
Playing Time: Unsure