Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast
A fantasy role-playing game based on the ever-popular Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, Baldur's Gate took the games charts by surprise earlier this year. Not surprisingly, publishers Interplay have decided to milk the market that little bit further by releasing this bolt-on expansion pack.
Few will complain though, because the single-CD package slots simply and easily into the original five-CD game, and gives you another 20-30 hours of playing time without affecting the outcome of the main adventure.
If you've got a game saved just before the final showdown, you can add Tales Of The Sword Coast and backtrack happily in search of the new quests. Even if you've saved a finished game, the TOTSC installation program changes it to a point just before the last battle, so you can go back and visit the new areas before repeating the finale. Or, if you prefer, you can start the whole thing again.
In Baldur's Gate you need to do plenty of adventuring to gain experience and make sure your characters are strong enough to win. The TOTSC expansion pack gives you even more room to manoeuvre, expanding the game world with new areas and a handful of new monsters, different weapons and magic items - but not NPCs, regrettably. The monsters are mainly variants of existing types, such as polar bears, crypt crawlers, undead demon knights and greater ghouls, but this is partly balanced by new, high-level spells such as Polymorph self, Chaos and Otiluke's Resilient Sphere, as well as items like +3 plate mail.
TOTSC also gives you the chance to 'up' your characters another level (161,000 experience points) before you step into that final scene. This means that some classes, like druids, rangers, magic users and thieves, can reach two levels higher than in the original game (tenth level for thieves and druids, ninth for mages, and eighth for fighters and clerics, for example).
Four new areas have been slotted in: an island off the Sword Coast that can only be reached by ship, a small fishing port called Ulgoth's Beard, an underground labyrinth, and Durlag's Tower, which has five sub-levels and some new, powerful enemies to boot. We won't reveal the locations, as half the fun is finding the new areas. In fact, it took me about ten hours of play to work out where they were and how to reach them.
There are no fundamental changes to the system apart from obvious bug fixes and a few minor improvements, although clerics and other characters get the benefit of two 'quick' weapon slots. While most missiles are now quicker, you can also dodge spells like fireball (a welcome fix'), and druids can buy and use scimitars as per AD&D rules.
Note that everyone in a multiplayer game has to have the add-on installed but, on the plus side, it supports up to six players talking to each other during the game using microphones.
In all, TOTSCis excellent news for Baldur's Gate fans, with plenty to see and do, but whether it's worth the money depends entirely on your view of the original.