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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Dungeons & Dragons and MORE Dungeons & Dragons

Salutations, creatures!  I’ve missed you, too – so much so that I’ve found myself slaughtering villages out of irritability rather than solely for funsies, like I normally do.  But now here we are, together again, and just in time to discuss one of my favorite all-time subjects – Dungeons & Dragons.  Now, what brings this on, you may ask?  Well, answering that leads us to the first recommendation I have for you this week!

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A while back, I was in the bookstore and saw this sitting there and realized I had never before explored the Dragonlance campaign setting of D&D.  Also, I have a tendency to read several books at a time, and I wasn’t reading any fantasy novels at that moment.  And since this was the first book in the campaign setting, I couldn’t help but jump headfirst into YET ANOTHER fictional universe that will end up costing me lots of time and money to fully explore.  But…should I even bother?

So, the story behind the Dragonlance setting is that Weis and Hickman decided that classic Dungeons & Dragons was somewhat lacking in the dragon part of the equation, and so they decided to remedy that.  Now, this series was originally published beginning in 1984, and it wasn’t exactly the most original of works.  Tanis Half-Elven, a (gasp!) half-elf jack-of-all-trades, his surly dwarven warrior ally Flint, stoic and honorable knight Sturm, and twin brothers Caramon (a kind, gigantic, and simple-minded warrior) and Raistlin (a laughably evil mage) are a classic adventuring party who find themselves drawn into a quest to protect barbarian princess Goldmoon and her love, Riverwind, after the pair discover a mysterious crystal staff and subsequently rediscover the clerical magic of the lost gods of Krynn.

This is all about managing your expectations.  If you’re looking for the next coming of Tolkien, well, keep looking.  But even though this world and it’s characters feel like they were taken from ye olde grab bagge of fantasy tropes, just because they are tropey doesn’t mean they aren’t well-crafted and developed.  As the first book in a trilogy, Autumn Twilight does a fantastic job of resolving it’s own internal plot while still introducing plenty of elements to set up the larger conflict.  All-in-all, if you’re a fan of classic fantasy settings and stories, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a fun, breezy read.  Recommended!

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All the reading about D&D had me hankering for some classic D&D video gaming, and it doesn’t get more classic than Baldur’s Gate!  I originally played it way back in the day, but the great folks at Beamdog decided that it was time to update this classic masterpiece for modern gaming systems.  And what a fantastic job they did with that – maintaining the classic elements of the game while retouching the visuals and adding some quality of life improvements that the original release lacked.  Hence we have Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition.

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Ah, the sweet Infinity Engine.

Now, for you younger people out there, Baldur’s Gate was designed off of the classic Advanced D&D 2nd Edition rules, which are very different from the modern rules many of you may be used to.  While the mechanics are all handled by the engine behind the scenes, it still results in a much higher early-game difficulty level than any modern equivalent.  Expect to spend lots of time in combat watching everyone swing and miss everyone else.  But that isn’t to say that all of the archaic elements of the game are left untouched – the previous journal in the game was next to useless in keeping track of quests, but the new journal function is much better.  But that isn’t the biggest news – Beamdog, in addition to releasing Enhanced Editions of Baldur’s Gate and it’s sequel, it also developed and released an entirely new expansion – Siege of Dragonspear.  Intended to bridge the gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II, I can’t wait to finish running my half-elf cleric/mage through the first game so I can see what this new adventure has to offer.

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These are clearly absolute classics, but that isn’t to say they are perfect.  Inventory management is still pretty awful even with the efforts Beamdog took to improve it.  You will still be loading saved games after your party is decimated by gibberlings.  You’ll still probably swear several times that you’ve rolled a useless character and start over.  But in the end, you’ll love it, because they just don’t make games like this anymore.

Until next time, kiddos, remember – as great as D&D is, sometimes you roll a 1…just like the entire United States did in the last election. – EWE