The Backlog Rewalk Files: Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition

“It shall be even bloodier than you hoped.” – Dorn Il-Khan

Love is a funny thing, humans.  Sometimes it feels so strong at first, only to burn out or fade over time.  But the best and truest love is the love that remains a bond; the love that, even when apart for a time, remains in your heart and can pick right back up where it left off when reunited.  (Editor’s Note: …who even are you?)  Shut up, I’m having a moment here.  I loved Baldur’s Gate.  I had always wanted to play tabletop D&D, but I lacked a very important component: friends with which to play.  So while I read as many rulebooks and companion materials as I could get my hands on and rolled character after character, I never got to take them on adventures and quests…until Baldur’s Gate.  So it was with some trepidation that I approached a fresh run through Beamdog’s Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition – could we pick up where we left off years ago?  In a word: yes.

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First things first: I adore what Beamdog did with the visuals.  They were never going to take an isometric PC RPG from the late 90s and make it graphically spectacular.  But as you can see above, they took the approach of function over flashiness, and it absolutely worked.  The Infinity Engine was a landmark interface for the genre, and Beamdog took into account widescreen, HD monitors and incorporated interface elements that would normally have required additional user effort to access right into the main play screen.  They also smoothed out and enhanced the sprites for HD resolutions.  But the classic look and feel of Baldur’s Gate remains unchanged.  This carries through to the sound as well – hearing Imoen tell me “I’ve done had enough of this” as I instructed her to pick a lock made me smile despite the fact that I knew I was going to hear it 1,000 more times.

For those that may be unfamiliar, Baldur’s Gate operates on the now archaic-sounding Dungeons and Dragons 2.5 Edition ruleset (Editor’s Note: For comparison’s sake, you may want to mention that the modern ruleset is 5th Edition.)  What?!  What kind of masochistic non-nerd would still be reading this and not already be aware of that?!  (Editor’s Note: …fair point.)  While at first seeming overly complex and strict when compared to more modern interpretations, once you understand the system there is a tremendous amount of freedom to be had within its confines.  So many multi-class and class kit options are available that are either no longer viable or not nearly as unique and interesting as they were under the older ruleset.  So, what does an Evil Wizard, Esq. do when creating his Forgotten Realms avatar?  Well, obviously…he rolls a half-elf Fighter/Wizard/Thief multi-class.  (Editor’s Note: I…don’t know how “obvious” that is…)  Hey, sometimes I want to stab mortals, sometimes I want to set mortals on fire, sometimes I want to steal all of their things and laugh maniacally into the night…I like options.

Now we come to my favorite part of the Enhanced Edition by Beamdog…added content.  When Beamdog developed the new release, they didn’t just port the original game and it’s Tales of the Sword Coast expansion.  They wove into the game new party members and quests, incorporated characters from the sequel into the first game to add backstory, and finally, created and released Siege of Dragonspear, a totally new expansion that bridges the story gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II.  The new content is a masterwork – in particular the characters that were not originally present.  The original Baldur’s Gate assumed that you were going to lose party members – either to death or just utility loss – and replace them, so while it’s party members were often endearing in some ways, they were not particularly fleshed out.  Beamdog has taken the more modern approach of giving characters meaningful backstories and motivations, personal quests you can assist them with, and even possible romances with your character.  And these are not cookie cutter characters – they span the alignment gamut, with some being teeth-achingly sweet and others deliciously sadistic.  It’s tough to pick a favorite, but my party has included the half-orc blackguard Dorn Il-Khan, who gleefully gives the quote at the top of the page when asked to…do anything, really.  Even just walk to a certain point or open a door.  It’s amazing.

My time with Baldur’s Gate was taking a long overdue vacation with your best friend.  You both have been busy with work and life, but you still text and call each other.  When you finally are able to spend some time together, you still laugh at all the same things, you still finish each other’s sentences, and even when you disagree on something, it feels more of affection than argument.  My worries about the Enhanced Edition not living up to my nostalgic memories of the original were unwarranted – as soon as I got back into the game, just like spending time with an old friend, I was home again. – EWE

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The Backlog Rewalk Files: Darksiders Warmastered Edition

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton

The Four Horsemen. Just the name alone is enough to conjure so many images to mind – four larger than life forces of nature, carving a bloody path of destruction leading inevitably to the apocalyptic end times.

Horsemen
Also these guys.

The very idea of four supernatural harbingers of the end of days has always, naturally, fascinated me. So the opportunity to play as one of the legendary Horsemen in a post-apocalyptic world designed by famed comic book artist Joe Madureira and inspired by the classic Legend of Zelda series sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Enter the puntastically named Darksiders: Warmastered Edition.

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War never chang- wait, sorry, wrong game.

 

A graphically enhanced edition of the original Darksiders PS3 game released for modern consoles and PC, the game places you in the hulking, brooding form of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the universe of Darksiders, an ceasefire has been reached in the endless wars between Heaven and Hell, with the balanced maintained and enforced by the mysterious and creepy Charred Council, a weird collection of talking skull-rocks that won’t allow the heavenly hosts and hellish hordes have at one another until such time as the world of humans is ready to participate in the final conflict. In order to maintain the Balance, the Council employs the aid of the Horsemen, four mysterious siblings of unbelievable power.

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“Always” is a REALLY long time…

A catastrophic series of events leads to a massive upsetting of the precious Balance, and War is left to take the fall for it. Slapped with a sentient shadow that acts as both a restraining bolt and warden, War sets out across the ruined Earth to discover who is truly to blame for the upsetting of the Balance and cut that person to ribbons with his BFS Chaosbringer. But all is not as it seems on the remains of world, and War will need to explore puzzling ruins, acquire useful tools and artifacts, and make deals with several devils – and angels – before he can solve the mystery and get his revenge.

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Dude. You can’t tell me that every last breath mint on Earth has been lost.

The visuals in Darksiders are, in a word, stunning. Madureira’s character designs are spectacularly realized – War is a hulking brute of a warrior, with oversized boots and gauntlets that somehow don’t seem out-of-place at all. Surrounding him are fiery demons, packs of angels wielding both swords and laser cannons, and giant, tumorous monstrosities that look like nothing more than eldritch abominations. Colors are vibrantly contrasting, popping off the screen and giving you the impression that you are in control of a graphic novel published by Dark Horse.

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…I don’t suppose we could talk this out, could we?

The gameplay can best be described as a glowing, polished love letter to the 3D Legend of Zelda games. War’s journey will take him from one dungeon to another, each one serving to introduce newer and more complex gameplay mechanics and often including new tools or equipment to assist War in solving environmental puzzles in order to advance. This gameplay loop builds upon itself in an immensely satisfying fashion, with puzzles and challenges incorporating and expanding upon the tools and solutions discovered in previous places.

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Well that glowing just CAN’T be good.

Boss fights are often puzzles in and of themselves, with each one serving as a culmination of the tools, tricks, and traps found in their environments to defeat. For all the power that War possesses, it is his – and your – ability to analyze and adapt to his situation that serves him best throughout the entirety of his adventure. That isn’t to say that every card up War’s sleeve is entirely useful – one might go the entirety of the game, for example, without ever even knowing that War is capable of blocking some enemy attacks rather than utilizing a well-timed dodge. Similarly, while War has access to a small selection of magic spells, I found only one to be something that I used more than once, and even then it’s use felt situational and more of convenience than necessity.

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You know, something about this thing seems important.

The sound design is equally polished, if in my opinion less memorable. While my youngest son insists that the soundtrack and battle music in the early stages is among the best that he’s ever heard, for me there is nothing of note to distinguish from one growling guitar background to another. That isn’t to say that any of it is bad – just that it is there and serves it’s purpose without ever truly standing out. One exception I would note is that the voice acting is amazing, particularly Liam O’Brien as War.

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This should end well.

After more than a few twists and turns, Darksiders’ narrative ends with a fairly obvious hook for further sequels – sequels which have since come to be. Would they pick up that story trail? I guess you’ll have to come back to my upcoming discussion of Darksiders II to find out! – EWE

For Fans of Shadow Hearts (and Fantastic Podcasts in General)

Humans – just a quick word about one of my favorite pieces of content from one of my nearest and dearest frienemages (Editor’s Note: uh, I don’t think that’s a wor-) IT IS NOW!  Ahem, here are some of the absolutely fantastic mages of The Well-Red Mage discussing one of the most underrated RPGs of the PS2 era, Shadow Hearts!  Give it a listen, and browse through the rest of their amazing work as well! – EWE

Let’s Play! – The Witcher – Ep.2

 

Lookie here, mortals – I’ve managed to actually get a second stream done and uploaded!  Still now live viewers/subscribers – but that’s ok, I think we have all learned by now that I can happily carry on a conversation with myself (Editor’s Note: …what’s that supposed to mean?)  So, if you would be so kind, watch the replay of Let’s Play! w/ Evil Wizard, Esq. – The Witcher – Ep. 2 on Twitch or right here below!

As for some other goodies on their way, I’m still working out the script and a recording time for my flame-haired offspring and I to sit down and record the first episode of our podcast – with tentative topics being a breakdown of the new Legion expansion of the popular (and free to play) Diablo-killer, Path of Exile, as well as a discussion of the fantastic start that new North American pro wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling has gotten off to recently!  In addition, I’ve been bitten by the bug to do some old-school D&D dungeon crawling and have been powering my way through Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition and will be bringing you my thoughts as I finish that campaign and carry over to the Siege of Dragonspear interquel.  So you’ll be seeing, hearing, and reading me more and more, fleshbags!  (Editor’s Note: Uh, that sounded kind of threatening, don’t you think…?)  MWAHAHAHAHA! – EWE

Let’s Play! – The Witcher – Ep. 1

 

Good evening, mortals!  As I said last time, my fire-haired eldest spawn has decided that I should do a series of Let’s Play streams taking us through the world of The Witcher.  To anyone that was able to join me live, thanks so much, and I’ll try to get the audio better next time.  But if you missed it, well, there’s no time like the present to get caught up!  Join me, won’t you?

Here’s a link to the original video on Twitch since I CAN’T GET WORDPRESS.COM TO EMBED THE GODDAMN VIDEO!!

I also uploaded it to my YouTube channel – and I would be ever so grateful if you followed and subscribed to either or both!  (Editor’s Note: “Grateful” here having the meaning “won’t immediately torch your village.”)  YOU’RE NOT HELPING.

That’s all for now, fleshbags!  To anyone in the US, have a safe Independence Day, but remember – if you watch or support the Orange Hobgoblin’s Nazi Dictator Military Parade, I have a meteor with your name on it. – EWE

The Ever Expanding Evil Empire

You may recall, humans, that I had recently mentioned some changes that were possibly in the works here at the Ominous Dark Tower (TM) and that details would be forthcoming.  Well, that day has come!  After consulting with my hordes of darkness (Editor’s Note: meaning me, which probably doesn’t count, his sons, and Malevolent Moogle) HORDES OF DARKNESS, I have decided that you all have not been graced with enough of me only posting here.  As such, I have decided to expand my empire: in addition to getting back to posting more Game Night videos, I will be live streaming more on Twitch and posting some Let’s Play videos on YouTube.  I’m also in the early planning stages, along with my boys, of writing and recording a periodic podcast focused primarily on gaming, comedy, and wrestling (although they rejected my naming it “GCW” and doing a loop of wrestling fans chanting “G-C-DUB!  G-C-DUB”) with the occasional tangent when I feel the need to rant off-topic.

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First suggestion from the oldest son? A video series through the Witcher franchise.

Further details and links will be coming soon, but to give you an idea how excited I am to do this, I cancelled my Netflix and subscribed to Game Pass just to give me more material to work with and fewer excuses not to work on it.  I hope you enjoy what we have coming soon as much as you’ve enjoyed my ramblings here thus far.  Because I’m going to need help and input to make this work…as I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.  Talk to you more soon, mortals! – EWE