Baldur’s Gate is a fantastic game. That’s pretty much a known quantity. Back in the late 1990s, a smorgasbord of RPGs were released using the Infinity Engine, including the Icewind Dale series and Planescape Torment. They all had similar gameplay, offering the closest example of Dungeons and Dragons in a video game form. That quality of the game isn’t in question. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, brought to us from the folks at Overhaul Games, looks to release the game again, mostly in its original form. The only question is, do the new characters, and the addition of the Black Pit, warrant the $19.99 price tag? The answer is a bit complicated.
The protagonist of Baldur’s Gate is an orphan who grew up in rural area of the Sword Coast, under the tutelage of the mage Gorion. Soon after the game begins, Gorion warns him or her of an unknown danger out to kill the protagonist, and within a day the two of you flee. I won’t go too deep into the story, but it consists of the player uncovering what this danger entails, and uncovering the protagonist’s past along the way.
Visually, the Enhanced Edition looks exactly the same as it did back in 1998. This ends up being both a positive and a negative. Fans of the original will be filled with occasional bouts of nostalgia, but to those without any connection to the past release, it’ll just look like a fourteen-year-old game. Overhaul did provide tweaks, however, to the occasional cinematic scene. Once simple still images now have animations, giving an appearance similar to an animated comic. These changes are minor, but serve to improve these scenes, giving them more life.
Before I get into the combat, it should be noted I played the PC version. Mechanically, almost nothing has changed, and this is fantastic. The only real differences involve a few features that were present in the game’s sequel, Shadows of Amn. Baldur’s Gate was known for its combat. The strategy involved and the intricate party management was what made the game profoundly engrossing. Largely based off the Dungeons and Dragons second edition rules, there’s still plenty of satisfaction to be had immersing yourself in the wide variety of spells and abilities. Characters populate the story who fit an array of classes, giving you the opportunity to construct the party you wish. And, of course, you have complete control over your own character to develop as you wish.
That being said, anyone unfamiliar with the style of gameplay present in Infinity Engine games may find the combat unappealing. Players must be very deliberate in later battles, pausing between each action, and choosing spells one after another. Leaving your party to act freely is often not an option, and can lead to more than a few frustrating deaths. It really is a game for DnD nerds who want to hover over every action a party makes in the hope of defeating an evil much more powerful then you.
Multiplayer also exists in this version of Baldur’s Gate, and Overhaul does some interesting things with it. Players can join up with others online, across all platforms. PC and iPad versions already exist, with Mac and Android versions upcoming. However, playing online can get complicated, as this is the kind of game that requires a certain amount of communication, and will only be fully experienced with a team of your friends. Again, this development is appealing to the table-top nerd in you, but you’re going to need a bunch of others just as committed as you for it to really have value.
The main addition to the Enhanced Edition is The Black Pit. Functioning as a separate campaign, it involves a different cast of characters or a player-created party, depending on which you choose. It requires a bit of a time investment, but for hardcore DnD fans, it’ll be a lot of fun. Minimal story beats bookend fights, as the premise basically revolves around a party that is captured by a maniacal spellcaster, bent on forcing people to fight to the death. What this amounts to gameplay-wise is an arena-style series of fights with progressively harder encounters. Characters level much faster than in the main campaign, and money is dolled out pretty liberally.
This lets players level an entire party of characters in a few hours, and really dig into the combat mechanics. Battles become combat puzzles, that you must try repeatedly to solve, constantly altering your strategy to take down the next enemy. As said before, the story is pretty lackluster, but it scratches that combat itch fans of DnD know all too well. Experimentation makes this additional feature a lot of fun in the long run. Overall, The Black Pit contains around six hours of brand new content.
I love what Overhaul Games is trying to do with Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition. In a world where this style of RPG has fallen by the wayside in favor of flashier, more streamlined experiences, it’s nice to see a developer willing to look back to the classics. And most importantly, they treat the game with respect. When it comes to the core experience, they don’t muck with what made it fun, and the added content can be pretty satisfying. The main problem is, with a $19.99 price tag on PC, Baldur’s Gate can be found much cheaper elsewhere. If you have no history with the series, you may want to consider another entry-point, or possibly check out the iPad version for $9.99. As for die-hard fans, there may just be something here for you.
Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition was developed by Overhaul Games and published by Atari. A PC copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.