I remember it was an awesome time for RPGs, round this era into the early 2000s, with titles such as Diablo 2 and a Baldur’s Gate expansion (Tales of the Sword Coast) alongside Icewind Dale 1 & 2 and Planescape Torment amongst many others, from a wealth of developers. We had a HUGE raft of releases to get our teeth into during the PC boom, when the first GeForce and Radeon cards were available, and the cRPG (Computer Role Playing Game) was taking the world by storm which started when Diablo arrived in 1996 to wet our appetites in the first place.
Using Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules, Baldur’s Gate takes us on a high fantasy journey following an unknown character become a hero. Baldur’s Gate 2 takes our hero on a journey to become a God in the sequel. Storytelling the whole saga over 2 games and an expansion for the first brings hours of pure joy and exploration.
Gameplay will see you gathering a party and venturing forth, as is the case with most RPGs. In this case, you start at Candlekeep, doing a few menial tasks in the area. These tasks in the opening area teach you the basics of the game (after you have done the tutorial), after which you will head into a storeroom to kill rats. You will also find an item in the hay for someone nearby, and take a few items to their owners. It helps you get to grips with control and live-pause etc before heading out into the wilderness, and northwards to the Inn to find and speak with two adventurers who will join your party, before heading south to Nashkel and the mines, there. You initially need to find out why there is a shortage of metals for weapons etc, but also find out what has been happening to miners and adventurers alike in the mines.
Viewpoint on these classic games is isometric – which can be zoomed in and out and zooming out whilst exploring the areas – makes exploration a bit quicker and easier. The backgrounds are pre-rendered, much like the Final Fantasy games and you can interact with certain parts like doors and chests. Characters look decent, but if you zoom right in do look a little dated and rough around the edges. However, this doesn’t detract at all from the overall experience. The effects have been updated for modern systems, and spell effects look great and updated nicely from the already decent originals from ’98.
The map itself is a bit different to what you may expect from a map screen in modern games. It shows areas that you can get to and explore, but you must visit an interconnecting area to get to your location. As an example, heading north to the Inn from Candlekeep, sees two areas you must traverse, heading north, exiting north side of each area till you can select the Inn. Reading the quest journal can be important to succeeding with a task (there are no map markers telling you where to go), as it may tell you which way you need to head once you get to a certain area, and then you have to search said area to find what you were tasked with.
My only gripe, visually, is that the map screen is really small and I have had to get up and move closer to my 55″ screen to read the names of places to be able to proceed. It is quite strange that the map doesn’t scale to your screen. I’m not talking about stretching it right out – as it is in portrait, but feel they need to enlarge it so it fills the screen top to bottom, making everything a little bigger. The reason I find it strange is that you have a wealth of options available in the settings – one of which is text size – but it does not affect text on the map (you can put custom markers on maps which helps).
The controls were what I was worrying about more than anything else, given my hands on experience was always mouse. Thankfully, I can report that the developers have managed to translate the controls over perfectly for modern consoles. To move about now you will use the left thumbstick, which gives full free movement to explore. Pressing square takes you down to the quickbar on the character selected, then you highlight and select what you want to be using.
Shoulder buttons select the character either up or down via the portraits on the right, and the right trigger opens up a selection wheel with map, character screen, journal & Inventory etc (everything which is normally down the left side of your screen on the original PC versions). If you want to select a character or specifically move a character quickly, pressing right on the D-Pad brings up a pointer where you can target a specific enemy or move a character to a safe distance to use arrows etc. It allows freedom of movement and tactical thought during battles with positioning of characters.
This package is simply superb offering up many hours of superb gaming. I have always loved these old RPGs, and I’m pleased to see them on modern systems 21 years after their original release. They have aged really well and pull you in from the moment you start playing. With both Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 – and the expansion Tales of the Sword Coast – it is a complete package. On top of this the expansion for the original game, Siege of Dragonspear (from 2016) and The Black Pits is also included in the package.
The game can get quite tough after a few hours, but to be welcoming to every player you do have an easy mode and story mode. For story mode, the enemies are a fair bit weaker, and your party NPCs can never die, so you can literally work your way through the awesome story.
I do think that maybe the pricing is a little high given it is £48 for the digital version and £40 for the packaged disc. Looking on Steam, the entire saga on PC comes in at £60 or you would pay £15 for the first game and then another £15 for the Siege of Dragonspear expansion, so you can see it soon starts adding up.
Regardless of pricing, there is great value to be had if you want a truly immersive role playing game. These games are Bioware’s roots and will look familiar to Dragon Age fans when you use the tactical view during battles.
If you love these games, then check out the other pack with Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment, which are also available now, while December sees Neverwinter Nights arrive on console and I cannot wait for that to come to provide a Happy Christmas!
Overall, as you might expect, I simply cannot recommend these games enough!
- Developer: Beamdog (Wizards of the Coast / Bioware originally)
- Publisher: Skybound Games
- Players: Single player only
Retro at heart and lover of all things ’80s, especially the computers, the music and the awesome movies and TV shows! Crazy huge retro gaming collection spanning the ’80s and ’90s with hundreds of tapes, discs and carts for various machines on top of a 600+ strong Steam library that is ever-growing. No I am not a serial hoarder, just a dedicated retro gamer!