Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is a very cool isometric RPG and initially releasing in 1998, it's one of the first open-world RPGs as well.
You play as a hero who has a humble life in the castle of Candlekeep. You were fathered by the mage Gorion but you don't yet know your true origin story. You're told that you must leave on a dangerous journey but Gorion won't tell you the reason why. On the way, Gorion is slain by a powerful mage but you run and escape. Now, without your father for guidance, you must forge your own path and find out the source of the evil that plagues the Sword Coast.
Baldur's Gate is an open-world RPG which is unusual because there weren't many around in 1998. If you beeline through the main story, it's actually a fairly short game. However, there are a lot of different areas to explore and the world is packed with side-quests. Most of the companions have their own side-quests as well. For example, you can rescue the lady Dynaheir on request of the space-hamster-loving Minsc. There are a lot of cool companions to meet like the wild mage Neera or the half-orc Dorn. Since Baldur's Gate is such a story-driven game, it would be a mistake if your companions didn't get the character development they deserve. Thankfully, there are a whopping 25 companions which is perfect for anyone planning to play through the story multiple times.
You customise the party leader at the beginning of the game then you find and recruit your companions as you progress. There are twelve classes to choose from: fighter, ranger, paladin, cleric, druid, monk, shaman, mage, wild mage, sorcerer, thief, and bard. Additionally, each class has a few subclasses which change up the class in interesting ways. Baldur's Gate also uses a nifty combat system which implements the 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons rule set. D&D may be a turn-based tabletop RPG which is starkly different from Baldur's Gate as it is played in real-time but they both use the same rules behind the scenes.
Needless to say, there are lots of possibilities to be had. Mages can use damage spells like Fireball or Magic Missiles or you can support the rest of your party with crowd-control spells like Sleep. Fighters are your bread and butter and you'll send them to the front lines to take damage for the rest of the party. Meanwhile, rangers are a consistent source of damage if you build them right thanks to their high accuracy, thieves are a necessity if you want to disable annoying traps, and a druid or cleric is needed for their useful healing spells.
Between the character customisation at the start and the addition of companions, you can have almost any class combination you want except perhaps having six characters of the same class. One thing to remember is that if you're coming from Baldur's Gate II, Icewind Dale, or Planescape Torment, Baldur's Gate just ends by the time you reach level 10; perhaps even lower. For example, some classes struggle without high-level spells such as druids who won't have animal summoning until very late in the campaign.
In Baldur's Gate, THAC0 is accuracy and the lower it is, the better. Naturally, you want low accuracy on your damage dealers like fighters. Your armor class (AC) represents your enemies' chance to deal damage to you. Like THAC0, the lower your AC is, the better. Casting spells is a little tricky as it requires you to rest while you have spells memorized. It's also tricky that you must identify magically enchanted weapons and armor before you can use them by performing the "Identify" spell or by bringing them to a shop that can do it for you. Using the Thief class is tricky as well because picking locks, finding traps, and scouting ahead requires a lot of micromanagement.
I came to play Baldur's Gate after enjoying both Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment. I have a lot of knowledge thanks to those games so I already knew how some of the systems in Baldur's Gate work. That being said, there are a lot of symptoms of poor game design that haven't really been addressed in the Enhanced Edition and here they are in no particular order:
- Statuses like fear, confusion, sleep, and hold person last way too long and can be insufferable to deal with. The only way to do so is to know when they're coming and that involves a lot of save scumming.
- Traps are invisible and seem to strike your party at any time with the aforementioned status ailments. Either you need to know where they are or scout constantly with your thief. Not fun.
- When your party members die, you have to pick up their items and make your way to a temple where you can resurrect them but the fee increases with level and it gets very expensive with high level characters.
- The whole "Identify" mechanic should have been done away with. To be frank, it serves no purpose.
- Every time I level up and have to choose a weapon proficiency slot, I forget what type of weapon that character is using.
- This is yet another game that I wish I could just plug a mouse and keyboard into my Xbox One and play with those. As with many other isometric games, that would increase gameplay intuitiveness quite a bit.
Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is a fun blast from the past for fans of classic RPGs. However, it's too rough around the edges for me to recommend unless you're a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan.
- + A dozen fleshed-out Dungeons & Dragons classes with interesting subclasses
- + Solid replay value
- + Tons of side-quests to complete
- - Can be difficult for new players
- - Statuses last way too long
- - Numerous other annoying gameplay issues