Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition

Baldur's Gate. It is a classic. An icon of the golden age of PC gaming. One of the quintessential roleplaying games of all time. Even gamers who have never touched the game, who have never played a single roleplaying game in their lives, know its name. First released on the 30th of November in 1998 by a small development studio called Bioware, Baldur's Gate quickly became a favorite of gamers the world over and catapulted Bioware to the upper echelons of developer fame. One year after the launch of Baldur's Gate, Bioware graced the world with a sequel, Shadows of Amn, which to this day is regarded as the pinnacle of the Western-roleplaying game genre and one of the finest computer games in history. In 2012 a site went live on the Internet, the domain simply Baldur's Gate. It was nothing but a generic tiled wallpaper and an audio track playing in the background. A small, inconsequential thing--and we saw it. 

Gamers across the globe analyzed the music, the imagery, the website information. Rumors of a Steam version of Baldur's Gate abounded. Rumors of sequels and remakes spread like wildfire. We all dared to hope, dared to voice the greatest desire of our heart--to see the Baldur's Gate series return to the gaming world and usher in a new roleplaying renaissance renaissance.

Ultimately, it was not a re-release or a re-make, but something in the middle. A small company, Beamdog, with much discussion, debate and determination managed to secure the rights to make an enhanced edition of Baldur's Gate. To redesign the venerable Infinity Engine to perform better on modern PCs, to display properly at higher resolutions, and to incorporate touch controls to appeal to the rising market of tablet gaming. One week after Beamdog began accepting pre-orders for the Enhanced Edition, two-thousand people had opened up their wallets and exclaimed, "Yes, please!"

And we waited. And we waited. And now, finally, it is here. Fourteen years after the original release of Baldur's Gate, Beamdog's Enhanced Edition offers revised gameplay mechanics based off the Infinity Engine build used in Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal; widescreen and high resolution support; full optimization for modern operating systems; new characters, quests and story content; as well as full translations of the game in French, German, Spanish, Polish and Czech thanks to the tireless efforts of the community. Baldur's Gate was one of the greatest games ever made. By all rights, this offering from Beamdog should be either equally good, or even better. Does the Enhanced Edition of Baldur's Gate live up to the well-earned reputation of its original incarnation, or does it just make a mess of things? 

"Magic is impressive, but now Minsc leads! Swords for everyone!"

Baldur's Gate is an isometric party-based roleplaying game employing real-time simulated Dungeons & Dragons combat mechanics. When starting the game, you select either a pre-built character or make your own, choosing your race, class, stats, weapon proficiency and in certain cases special abilities. Each class has different strengths, weaknesses and unique skills. Fighters, for example, excel in melee combat and have enough health to soak up a fair amount of damage, whereas wizards are "glass cannons"--they are incredibly powerful at range, capable of incinerating huge numbers of enemies at once with massive fireballs or volleys of magic missiles--but have almost nothing in the way of defense, and so little health that a single attack can be deadly. The complexity of the battle system can be a bid daunting at times: simply learning what the hundreds of different spells and abilities do can be difficult, let alone learning how to best utilize each one. But there's a great deal of depth and versatility to explore, so learning the ins-and-outs of combat is quite rewarding. The ability to pause combat at any time to issue orders to individual party members removes much of the stress factor. Harder battles play more like a game of chess: you spend more time thinking about what move you might make than you do actually making the move itself.

The game can be a bit difficult, especially early on (especially with one of the classes that is under-powered at lower levels) as you are almost immediately thrust into very dangerous circumstances with virtually zero experience and only a single ally to count on. Making your way through the game in the beginning is tense--your characters are weak, making every fight a trial, every encounter an ordeal. The player's early struggle to grasp the game mechanics and survive the hostile world do an excellent job of mirroring the circumstances of the narrative, making the difficulty suitably seamless to the game rather than frustrating. Once you make it through the opening areas and gather up some trusting friends at the Friendly Arm Inn, the game truly opens up. The world of Baldur's Gate is huge, filled with inter-connecting areas (and no fast-travel) and save for a handful of areas, you can go any where up or down the Sword Coast whensoever you choose. There are plenty of side-quests to undertake, plenty of characters to meet and plenty of potential allies to recruit. After a few hours with the game, only the clumsiest of minds will be unable to grasp how Baldur's Gate managed captivate gamers all over Earth for so many years.

The original gameplay of Baldur's Gate, particularly with the changes made to the Infinity Engine in Baldur's Gate II (which are used as the base for the Enhanced Edition) are pretty damn close to flawless. There were a handful of path-finding issues (which are still present in the Enhanced Edition) but nothing major. Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition makes many changes to the basic control mechanics, user interface, and peripheral gameplay that do a great deal to alter that original perfection. Fully scaling difficulty options make the game suitable for gamers of every inclination.

The most obvious change in the Enhanced Edition is the addition of several new classes and kits from Baldur's Gate II that were not present in the original game. The new classes are very much a two-edged sword. Some are much more powerful than the original classes, diminishing the difficulty of the game substantially as all of the encounters and enemies in the game are unchanged from the original; others are substantially weaker than the original classes (as all classes in Baldur's Gate II started with a good seventeen levels or so) making the game potentially far more difficult, particularly for new players. The additional game content also changes things a bit, as it's far easier in the Enhanced Edition to find yourself hitting that level cap and finding yourself a tad overpowered for the enemies your facing than was possible back in 1998. Ultimately, the content additions in the Enhanced Edition do very little to diminish the overall experience--and, as one might well imagine, even enhance the experience. The changes and "improvements" Beamdog made to the mechanics of the game are a different matter altogether.

The first thing a Baldur's Gate veteran will notice after starting up a game of the Enhanced Edition is the new user interface. The UI is mostly the same as every other Infinity Engine game, though perhaps the buttons are a bit larger relatively speaking. The Beamdog's changes to the UI are mostly unnecessary, and hamper functionality instead of improving the experience. The dialog box is letter-boxed on either side by big ugly granite panels. The text is blurry at high resolutions and there is no option to change font size or style. The quick-use icons are randomly divided into clusters of four, breaking apart the three icons for spells/abilities and items across three partitoned section. The partition between each cluster of icons is just wide enough to have accommodated a fourth quick-use icon for items and spells, which would have been a fantastic, obvious way to enhance and improve the game. The random segregation just makes things slightly more confusing and slightly less efficient. The only "improvement" that actually improves the game is the addition of a quick-save icon... which is evidently necessary as the quick-save keyboard shortcut has a tendency not to work. Many of the keyboard shortcuts tend not to work, and even mouse controls can be unreliable--moving the cursor to the edge of the screen to scroll the map up, down, right or left will sometimes work. Sometimes it will not. Baldur's Gate's gameplay was phenomenal in 1998, and it's phenomenal now. And while the user interface changes are annoying (and pointless), they're not exactly game-breaking--but the crippling bugs are. Or, rather, they were.

At launch, the Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition suffered from just about every kind of bug imaginable. Some people couldn't even get the downloader to work, others couldn't even get the game to install, and some see nothing but a blank white screen once they did. The meat of the game is no different than the original, but when plagued by a host of technical issues ranging from audio hiccups to vertical desynchronization to text leakage to framerate dips, the make is much more difficult to enjoy. Many bugs hampered the experience by  sometimes making it so that dialog will not trigger--and other times it will trigger--treating the player to several repetitions of the same line. And then there was the input-bug which rendered the game all-but unplayable. 

Simply put, the input bug caused the game to refuse to recognize specific inputs. This would range from simple things like moving the cursor to the edge of the screen and being unable to activate the mouse scroll; to more mild issues, like keyboard shortcuts not functioning; to more drastic changes like interfering with the basic mechanics of party selection and command--which serve as the foundation of the gameplay. As best I've was able to determine, some or most of the input bugs could potentially be explained by the game acting as though either the control or shift key on the keyboard is constantly being pressed. So, for example, when you pressed the "Q" key to quick-save the game, the Enhanced Edition perceived the command as "Control+Q," which is invalid, so nothing would happen. This absolutely destroyed the party selection mechanics as they are fundamentally dependent on whether or not the control or shift key is activated. The normal method of selection is simple. Click on a character or his portrait to select him, drag a box around multiple characters to select them. Selecting character A and then selecting character B is fast and efficient, allowing the player easily issue commands in a timely manner. This ensures that the pacing of combat is fast and painless, allowing the player to focus more on thinking about how to fight--where to move, what spells to use, and so on--instead of fighting the interface and spending most of his or her time manically trying to issue out even the simplest of orders. The secondary party selection mechanics, activated by holding down either the shift or control key, give the player more, fairly intuitive options for party selection, further refining the bases efficiency of the system. But these secondary mechanics only work well in service to the primary mechanics, and the input bug made them the sole party selection mechanic, which was absolutely ruinous for the ease-of-control and pace of combat of the game.

With the secondary party selection mechanics, clicking specific characters adds them to a "selection." If you click character A, he or she is added to your selected party member. If you then click on character B, instead of selecting character B you simply add him or her to the party selection alongside character A. Clicking portraits instead of characters on-screen works exactly the same way, as does using the mouse to draw a box around your party. This means that if you have characters A and B on screen, and character A is already selected, that if you then use the mouse to draw a box around both characters, instead of selecting both characters you end up selecting character B and deselecting character A. I honestly can't think of a less efficient method of party selection. It's just terrible. If you want to move your party (of up to six allies) from one point to another, you have to select all six characters to move them. Fine and dandy. But once you get there, or along the way, you're ambushed! Hobgoblins! You tap the space bar to pause combat and ascertain how best to react to the sudden threat. The vile creatures are clustered together: fireball. Good thing you rolled a mage, eh? Well, in Baldur's Gate, all you had to do was click your mage, then cast a fireball. In the Enhanced Edition, you have to click on the every other party member except the mage to get them deselected. Then, you get to cast that fireball--which may take you a moment as the haphazard icon placement may mean that your fireball quick-use icon is partitioned alongside your quarterstaff and knife, instead of with your other spells.

I should point out that this game-breaking input bug, as is the case with all of the other bugs and technical issues mentioned, were, well, bugs. Not every gamer experienced them. The lucky may have been able to play through the game for hours without seeing a single one; the less fortunate found nothing but. I fear that the sheer quantity and prevalence of bugs in the game served to "burn" many games to the Enhanced Edition altogether. When the game launched, the bugs resulted in making it an inferior product to the original game. But what about now?

Well, only two months after the game launched, virtually all of the bugs plaguing the Enhanced Edition have been fixed. There are still a few issues, but they are--at best--minor. The game, now, is pure gold, and unarguably superior to its original incarnation.

The Baldur's Gate games have fantastic narratives, characters and atmosphere yes, but they rely--as all Infinity Engine games do--on the complexity, versatility and accessibility of the combat system to become truly great. And while the instability of the game at launch went a long way to making that fantastic gameplay a tedious and cumbersome affair--when they weren't breaking the game completely--they didn't go all the way. And even with those bugs, the game was a fantastic experience. And now that all of those bugs have been fixed, those flaws polished, those wrinkles ironed out, we have nothing less than an fantastic, updated port of an incredible classic game. The Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is a game breathtaking beauty and quality that lives up to--and, more importantly--surpasses the original in every respect.

Story & Characters:
"After frolicking a bush that we now know to be of suspicious nature, both Boo and I have contracted the Calimshite Itch in rather... private places. A salve would be most joyously anticipated!"

The Baldur's Gate duology tells the tale of the Bhaalspawn, children of dead god--Bhaal, the Lord of Murder. So prophesied the wise Aluando: "The Lord of Murder shall perish, but in his doom he shall spawn a score of mortal progeny, chaos will be sown by their passage." Baldur's Gate, as the first entry in the series, is mostly occupied with establishing that premise (instead of exploring it). This means that the narrative of Baldur's Gate mostly follows the archetypal "hero's journey" as outlined by Joseph Campbell in 1949 ("The Hero with a Thousand Faces"). There are a few surprises and twists, most of which are telegraphed to the extent that you don't have to predict them to see them coming, you just have to keep your eyes open. The main plot is mostly notable for the menacing character of Sarevok, a fantastic villain who perspires malice. Sarevok's presence drives the story forward quite well, from his initial appearance in the opening cinematic all the way through to the very end of the game. In many ways, Baldur's Gate is not the player character's story, it's Sarevok's story. In this light, the flaws of the story are easier to overlook. It's not a great tale, but it's a damned sight better than typical RPG fare these days, and more than enough to compel players to the finish line.

So, we've established that unlike its phenomenal sequel, the story of Baldur's Gate is a fairly predictable by-the-numbers romp. The delivery of the narrative is somewhat hampered by inconsistent writing, a flaw furthered by the additional content of the Enhanced Edition which adds yet another writer's voice to the mix, several years removed from the souls who penned the original lines. In the end, though, the story is certainly very satisfying to play through, even if it doesn't really engender much thought, discussion or analysis. A good part of that stems from the characters. Sure, Sarevok was a fun villain, but our it was our friends, our dear friend--our allies who fought beside us against ogres and drakes and basilisks. Minsc, the noble--if slightly deranged--barbarian, and his inseparable companion, Boo; Jaheira, the sultry half-elf Harper; Xan, the neurotic enchanter; Edwin, the psychopathic wizard with the worst luck when it comes to gender-changing magical artifacts; Viconia, the alluring Dark Elf struggling to survive in a world that despises and fears her for the color of her skin. There are 25 potential party members in Baldur's Gate, each one filled with character, charm, and plenty of entertaining dialog. The Enhanced Edition adds three new party members, each one just as well executed as the original twenty. I found myself particularly fond of Neera, the wild mage, who quickly displaced Imoen in my party-of-choice. Beamdog is currently working on an Enhanced Edition of Baldur's Gate II (which will include the Throne of Bhaal expansion), and though most of the 25 party members from Baldur's Gate were not playable at all in Baldur's Gate II, and though many did not appear in the sequel at all (having either vanished or died), Beamdog promises that all three of the new characters will be able to travel with the player character to the very end of his or her journey.

Word of warning: remember that Baldur's Gate was a revolutionary RPG. Many of the elements of the WRPG genre we now take for granted originated (and were perfected) in the Baldur's Gate series, true... but that series includes three games, and Baldur's Gate was the first, meaning many of those elements had not yet been introduced. Particularly unsettling to new players is the lack of party interaction. There are no random conversations, few quests based on party members, no romances, and on a little party commentary, usually general comments related to the party's overall reputation rather than anything contextually triggered. All of these elements are present in Baldur's Gate 2 in prime form, and their absence in Baldur's Gate is surprisingly noticeable, particularly for gamers new to the series applying modern standards and expectations to a game more than a decade old.

The Enhanced Edition's new characters and quests are well-written and executed, and go a long way toward making the Enhanced Edition a worthwhile purchase. There are a few hiccups, however. Several quest-lines seem to end a bit too quickly, tending to follow the straight and narrow path. That's all fine and good and, I'll admit, fits in well with the rest of the content in Baldur's Gate, but I would have appreciated a curve-ball or two. But that's a minor gripe. Though the Enhanced Edition does little to improve the fairly mediocre main plot, the additions to the cast are very welcome, and does far more to improve the experience of the game than any of the other elements included in the Enhanced Edition.

Audio Effects:
"Utterly amazing! You spoke so long, but you didn't say anything."

The audio effects present in the Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition are very much a mixed bag. In addition to all of the old audio from the original release of the game, Beamdog has recorded new audio for their new characters and have also added a few new selectable voices for the player-character. Theoretically, the sound should be perfect. The original musical score is fantastic; the new music is fantastic. The original voiced dialog was well written and well acted; the new dialog is well written and well acted. Should be perfect. It should--but it's not. The problem lies in the quality of the audio files. The newer audio sounds great. It's very clear--just listen to the main theme. Brilliant. The old audio? Well, it's not so great. I can only assume the original recordings for Baldur's Gate have been lost, because the audio for all the original content in the game is of the exact same quality as it was when Bioware printed it out on five different CD-ROMs back in 1998: horridly, horridly compressed. The new audio, by itself, is great. The old audio, by itself, is also great. But put the two together and the juxtaposition is quite jarring. 

Low-quality compressed audio aside, it's very worth noting that the Baldur's Gate series has some of the best voice acting gaming has ever seen, and it still holds up to the much higher standards of quality we enjoy today. The dialog itself is surprisingly well-voiced, considering it seamlessly switches between an archaic faux-old-English and more modern vernacular. The two competing styles of speech, coupled with much of the strange terminology and funny-sounding slang of game setting are usually make decent voice acting impossibly difficult--but in Baldur's Gate, everything works, with no apparent effort. Nearly every line of dialog in the game feels perfectly natural: a feat many contemporary games cannot manage.

The audio effects are decent, but a bit sub-standard by today's standards. The spell effects feature generic whines, the melee combat effects the usual thumping and slapping. There's not much "weight" to the effects, and though they were passable in 1998, they're a bit lacking these days. It's a bit hard to describe why. They lack "oomph." When a fireball explodes, for example, it doesn't really sound like what I imagine an exploding fireball would sound like. And, obviously, the heavy compression of the audio data only makes this worse.

But the music--good Lord, the music. Say "phenomenal" three times fast. Then three times faster. Say it until all three utterings merge into a single sound and you'll have the closest approximation I can imagine to a word suitable to describe the musical score of Baldur's Gate. I first played the game in 1998. I've gone years, a decade even without playing the game, or even really thinking of it. But not a single day has passed where I haven't been able to recall, instantly, the title theme. It's perfectly suited to a heroic saga. It's epic and uplifting and memorable. The moment you load up the game and hear it... hot damn, does that noise get the blood boiling! The rest of the music is equally excellent, capable of igniting all kinds of emotion in service of the characters and story. If the characters make Baldur's Gate great, it's the music that makes Baldur's Gate a classic.

Visual Effects & Presentation:
"See battle Boo? Run, Boo, run!"

The Infinity Engine has produced some of the most visually impressive games of all time. Though there's a limit to player immersion due to the limitations of the isometric, two-dimensional approach, Bioware always went to great effort to ensure that the quality of each background image, each sprite, each spell effect was the very highest. And though Baldur's Gate was the first Infinity Engine, much more crude than the polished fare of subsequent titles, it can still be quite stunning and beautiful. The visual aspects of Baldur's Gate can be divided into four distinct categories, and I'd like to deal with each in turn. First, the backgrounds, which make up the environment, the game world itself; then, the sprites and effects used to animate the characters monsters and magic of the world; the graphical user interface--or GUI; and the cinematics. 

As an old-school isometric RPG, Baldur's Gate relies entirely on two-dimensional backgrounds to construct its world. These maps, or environments, are hand drawn from a top-down perspective granting the player a clear view of the battlefield, as well as a near-omnipotent sense of the shape of the world. Because two-dimensional--2D--art is simply a drawn image, it typically ages far better than three-dimensional art, and true enough, the visuals of Baldur's Gate have held up remarkably well. Of course, the great downside to 2D assets is that they are far harder to upscale to higher resolutions than three-dimensional assets. In 1998, the typical higher resolution computer display was 800x600. Modern high definition displays (1080p) register in at 1920x1080, which is an increase of approximately 1.5 million more pixels--an increase of more than 400%! Because all of the original art for Baldur's Gate was lost, Beamdog was forced to use the in-game art assets which was sized for the 800x600 displays of the time, applying various image-editing-trickery to make the backgrounds look passably decent at high resolution. For the most part, Beamdog's efforts tidying up the backgrounds paid off. Though still a bit blurry and pixelated when you zoom in, the world of Baldur's Gate has never looked better. At the default zoom level, the game looks spectacular--even by contemporary standards. The new areas related to the new Enhanced Edition content look even better, as Beamdog was able to compose them in high resolution without relying on Photoshop to upscale smaller images. At 1080p, the backgrounds look pretty damn good. Unfortunately, the game is extremely limited in its Options menu. The "graphics" tab consists of only a single check-box allowing us to toggle full-screen mode on and off, so there's no real option to lower the resolution. I have a feeling the visuals might be more cohesive at lower resolutions, but as my monitor's default display resolution was 1080p, that's the resolution the game set to and I was stuck playing with. The windowed version does display at a lower revolution (obviously), and for the amount of time I tried to suffer through it, the images seemed much more crisp.

The biggest problem going into the Enhanced Edition were the character sprites. With all of the original artwork for the game missing, I never held out much hope that Beamdog--or anyone else for that matter--would be able to explode a character sprite forty pixels to four times its original size and not look rubbish. As I expected, Beamdog failed to polish up the old sprites (and heaven forbid they re-draw them) and they look pretty bad, particularly when you zoom in all the way. They look fine enough when you zoom out all the way, but zooming the camera out presents the same gameplay problems as the widescreen mod for the original game: it expands the player's field of view far beyond what the game intended, giving you both an unfair advantage and a map mostly obscured by a garish fog-of-war. The sprites don't look good at all and the animations are fairly simplistic. Because the Enhanced Edition is built using assets from the second game, Shadows of Amn, many of the original Baldur's Gate sprites have been replaced by their Baldur's Gate II counterparts. Basically, armor and weapons often look different than they did in the original game. This isn't something I mind, personally, as I feel Baldur's Gate 2 benefited from a far stronger, more coherent aesthetic, but I have seen other fans complaining about it, so there you have it.

I've been harping on the visuals for a bit, and, uh, I'm not quite done on that front, but I would like to take a moment to praise the visual effects--particularly the spell effects--which are fantastic, and in my opinion depict the majesty, might and mystery of wizardry far better than any other roleplaying game produced in the last decade. Magic is crazy in Baldur's Gate. Crazy. There are tons--tons--of different spells and magical effects, and every single thing has its own unique animation. And the animations are fantastic. Those fireballs I keep mentioning? They blast super-heated flame in a massive thirty-foot radius. Visually, it's crazy-impressive. Love it. Magic missiles fling up to ten ruby-red orbs at your enemies, each one the size of a cannonball. Awesome. Mechanically, magic can be very effective at dealing damage, but the visual effects really go the distance and make you believe in the vast otherworldly damage you're dishing out. I think that's really one of the biggest reasons for Baldur's Gate's enduring popularity. Sure, there's a great story to be told there, and fun characters and all that, but the incredibly engrossing, intuitive combat system and the impressive, over-the-top and insanely detailed visuals really make the game.

Of course, the low-resolution artwork of the original game would probably be just as passable if that was all we had to worry about. After all, Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II still look fantastic today. But as I was playing the Enhanced Edition, even though I was playing a much crisper looking game a a much higher resolution, I found myself thinking, "the original game looked better." Why? Once again, it's a matter of juxtaposition. As much as the game material is heavily-filtered, blurry and pixelated, the GUI is not. The GUI, poorly designed though it may be, is rendered properly at high resolutions. Everything is very crisp and very clear, and because the GUI frames the game screen, there's always that constant reminder that the game has been upscaled, and just doesn't look quite right at higher resolutions.

Then there are the cinematics, which manage to demonstrate fairly well both the best and worst sides of the Enhanced Edition's visuals. The game's rendered cinematics are pretty damn cool. Simply, they're hand-drawn animated renderings of the old CGI movies from 1998, and they look pretty damn cool. Think Sarevok's introduction lost menace with time as the 3D movie quickly became outdated? Yeah: Beamdog fixed that. But then there are the in-game cinematics, or cut-scenes, which are just awful. I mentioned before that the game is really lacking in terms of options. Beyond the fact that we're not able to tweak any of the new elements of the game, several old options that we used to have are now gone. One of those options was whether or not to display spoken text (outside of the dialog box) while in the world. This means that random NPC dialog is audio-only, so there's no text to read if you miss it. But the feature is still there... it's used in the in-game cutscenes. Each time an NPC talks in a cut-scene, a paragraph of white text is plastered over the character sprite. Very unseemly. The in-game cut-scenes also zoom the camera out quite a ways (most likely to reduce pixelation and blur effects). This means that in addition to the giant character-obscuring text walls, we're also treated to seeing huge swaths of terrain swathed in fog-of-war, robbing these scenes of the tension and terror they had in the original game.

Comparison of each version of the original Baldur's Gate at maximum resolution (1920x1080 for modded BG and BGEE)

Final Comments:
We are all heroes: you and Boo and I. Hamsters and rangers everywhere! Rejoice!

Baldur's Gate is one hell of a game. Sarevok's reign of terror along the Sword Coast, the Iron Crisis, the progeny of a dead god wreaking havoc on the realm. It's a classic, make no doubt. It's one of those games every gamer ought to play at least once.But for all the prestige and achievement of the original game, this Enhanced Edition is unfortunately diminished by an armada of bugs and technical issues. These bugs, coupled with some of the nonsensical alterations to the user interface frequently transform the ecstasy of combat into an incomprehensibly tedious and clumsy ordeal. The lack of improvements to the visual presentation of the game or the audio effects, coupled with Beamdog's relatively high price tag for the game, make Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition somewhat unappealing.

Though many elements of the Enhanced Edition do, particularly the additional party members and quest content, improve on the original 1998 game, those technical issues and bugs doom it to be an inferior incarnation. Baldur's Gate is a masterpiece. I recommend--in the strongest possible language--that every gamer play both main titles at lease once. I would, in a heartbeat, recommend any gamer out there who hasn't already picked up Baldur's Gate to grab the Enhanced Edition immediately.

In a heartbeat.

But to gamers of the old school, my fellows and friends, I cannot say the same. While I still recommend the Enhanced Edition over the original game, I must also caution against replacing the original game. Not all of Beamdog's changes are for the better, and if you're not playing the game at a widescreen aspect ratio, or at a higher resolution, there's little merit in purchasing the new version. Those gamers who appreciate game mods should also beware, for several mods of the original game are not compatible with the Enhanced Edition. The community has been hard at work updating the bigger, more beloved of those mods--and indeed, as of now, most do, in fact, work properly with the enhanced edition. But, currently, the "fan-favorite" mod--the Baldur's Gate NPC Project (a mod that adds party banter and dialog to the game, emulating the model introduced in Baldur's Gate II) is still being worked on. So, for those veterans, I cannot fully endorse the game right now--but it's still a game I'd suggest they keep their eyes on (particularly when it comes to the status of mods). Unfortunately, I fear many of those veteran gamers simply won't give the game a proper chance due to the sorry state it was in at launch. And that's a shame. But most of those issues have been fixed, and I think it's time to move on. And I really and truly think, and I--and I!! What? ...Yes, but... but... alright. Boo tells me that I'm raving again. I did not notice a difference, but I shall heed his word, nonetheless.

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