The first name in paper-and-dice RPGs finally makes a worthy splash into video gaming with Baldur's Gate, a shrewd mixture of Diablo and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. However, AD&D is a highly complicated world, and with such a wealth of games in the role-playing genre, it remains to be seen if BG can stand on its own.
Everybody Was Real-Time Fighting
Set in the Forgotten Realms world of AD&D, BG lets you build characters and take them into a fantasy setting to battle monsters and scavenge the land for all-important experience points and gold pieces. Staying true to both the Diablo and AD&D formulas, BG blends a unique system of real-time fighting with turn-based strategy. You can also alter your attacks during battle by pausing the game at any time (just like calling a time-out). Unfortunately, you must constantly pause when you have more than two characters in your party, and before long you'll wish for an option to take care of this automatically. Other downsides include the archaic practice of rolling dice to pace the action (if you don't know what "ID6" means, you're out of luck), the lack of a tutorial campaign, and little guidance throughout the adventure.
Surprisingly, BG's best feature is its strong multiplayer game, which enables you and your friends to create a party of up to six characters and play as a cooperative group through the games main story line. Aside from the chaos that many human players bring to the battle system, its excellent.
BG's graphics mimic Diablos, but give you a slightly closer character view for greater detail. The highly immersive environments feature superb lighting and weather effects such as the transition from day to night and lightning that temporarily illuminates dangerously dark areas.
Although the cinematic soundtrack nicely complements the game's fantastic world, BG's crisp sound design is poorly implemented. Each character says only one or two lines of vigorously repeated dialogue, and the orchestral score doesn't dynamically shift into danger mode when beasties are near.
Dungeons & Polygons
Baldur's Gate beautifully infuses the AD&D experience into its virtual world, but the dice-based action will prove too excessive for newbies. Hardcore role-playing enthusiasts, fans of AD&D, and those desperate for Diablo II will consider BG as the answer to their prayers. However, casual gamers looking for a story-based RPG won't be swayed by this complicated behemoth.
- Pick up all the weapons you find-even if you can't equip them. You can sell them later.
- Journey to two areas South of Friendly Arms to reach Nashkel, where a mysterious iron shortage keeps the folk struggling.
- Candlekeep is littered with people who will teach you the ways of the land. Make sure to cover the entire map and enter the battle training area in the south.
- Thoroughly search Gorion and the Ogres after finishing your battle-there's gold in them thar corpses.
- Always identify mysterious items before you equip them. Otherwise, you may fall under a diabolical curse.
- You can't return to Candlekeep until later in the game, so complete all the assignments in your journal before leaving with Gorion.
- When you're ready to take on Tarnesh, lead him down into the courtyard to gain assistance from the guards during your battle.
Baldur's Gate presents a crisper, cleaner version of Diablos isometric gothfest Realistic lighting and weather effects support the well-detailed characters and haunting interior designs--this is what RPG fans have always dreamed AD&D worlds would look like. Its a pity the cut-scenes are so bland.
Swirling spell sounds and compelling character voices immerse you in the action. Unfortunately, the characters say very little and most conversations take place through subtext Why go halfway? Luckily, the cinematic score picks up the slack.
Learning BGs controls takes time, but its well worth the effort when you realize how much power they give you over your characters' inventory, appearance, fighting style, and positioning. The fighting interface offers gamers the best of both worlds by nicely blending real-time and turn-based strategy.
The game's steep learning curve and lack of a tutorial may steer away newbies, but fans of AD&D will embrace Baldur's Gate wholeheartedly. In either case, give it a chance--underneath all its complexity, Baldur's Gate is a fun adventure that deserves a look from the RPG faithful.
Download Baldur's Gate
Baldur's Gate slipped quietly on to the PC scene, and like many classics, its true colours were only revealed over time. It's only years later with the benefit of hindsight that we can see the impact it had on the RPG genre. In its most basic form. Baldur's Gate is a role-playing game which appears simple on the surface, but hides deep complexity and intricate rule sets within its game engine. But while this in itself made for a deep and involving game experience, it does not account for the lasting impression it has left on gamers all over the world, nor does it explain why it became a benchmark for the role-playing genre for many years following its release.
To get to the heart of the true appeal of Baldur's Gate, you need to look at three things: storyline, characterisation, and a truly interactive gameworld. Many games in the genre have incorporated one or more of these vital ingredients, but none has ever blended all three as successfully as the Baldur's Gate series. Right from the outset you are plunged into a dramatic storyline, which is expanded upon by many of the people you meet in the first of the towns you come across.
Each town or location you visit offers new characters to meet and interrogate, and it is this varied cast of personalities that brings the game's story to life in ways that delight and amuse at every turn. The entire gameworld sings and shouts 'interaction', with a mind-boggling number of NPCs to talk to, and countless side-quests and sub-plots to distract you from the main storyline.
When all three of these elements are brought together, the end result is a game so immersive you can quite literally lose yourself in its world, much as you would with one of those rare books you come across that's so engrossing you simply can't put it down.
In The Beginning
Baldur's Gate was brought to the world by Bioware Corp. We hunted down Dr Ray Myzyka and Dr Greg Zeschuk (both joint CEOs and co-executive producers for Bioware), and asked them where they got the inspiration for a game that has brought so many hours of entertainment to so many people. "The inspiration for Baldur's Gate came from quite a few different sources," says Ray. "Mainly I think it came from the many great RPGs we had played over the years — games like the Ultima series, the Wizardry series. Wasteland, Betrayal At Krondor, the Gold Box D&D titles like Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor and the Curse of the Azure Bonds, and the like. We also looked at the engines of RTS games like Command & Conquer and Warcraft for inspiration for the RTS combat engine inside Baldur's Gate."
If you've been following our Games That Changed The World features, you'll be familiar with the question. 'Were you surprised at how successful your game has become?'. And you'll no doubt be equally familiar with the formal 'no' response, soon followed by an explanation of how surprised the games' creator is at its success.
No such false modesty here. Bioware was fully convinced from the beginning that it had a world-beater on its hands. Greg explains: "Everyone at BioWare was confident that Baldur's Gate would revitalise the whole RPG genre - this is something Ray and I were sure of when we started BioWare in 1995. We started working on Baldur's Gate in the mid-1990s (it's shocking how long ago that seems now) and the working title of the game we were building was Battleground Infinity. Bl was going to be a mythology-based RPG with a lot of multiplayer features. The industry perspective was that RPGs were dead, and there weren't any significant RPGs in development (aside from a little something called Diablo, but that hadn't been announced at the time we started our work). We were very fortunate to find supportive publishers in Interplay/Black Isle - they shared the belief that RPGs were going to re-emerge as a significant factor in PC games."
Of course, a game the size of BG is no easy undertaking. We asked the two Docs to share with us the highs and lows of the development process, secretly hoping for juicy tidbits such as PCs being thrown out of windows and wives giving ultimatums. No such luck. However, Ray offered these insights: "We've learned a lot from the things that worked well and not so well in BG. For example, we didn't spend as long as we might have wanted on the prototyping of the game, and we kept on thinking of better ways to do things. So to maintain consistent quality we ended up redoing the art for the backgrounds two times, and redoing the animation of the characters in the game once. This was a lot of work, but the team really put their hearts and souls into the game so it ended up being very good in the end." Greg expands: "The final version of BG is exceptionally close to the original version of the game. In fact, it is even similar to the original version of Battleground Infinity we imagined. We've since gone back to many of the early design documents for BG (and Battleground) and it is evident we stuck to our guns with the vision - practically all of the features we planned were in the final release. The most shocking thing is seeing GUI designs from 1995 that match the final game. But then we did have a tremendous team working on Baldur's Gate, and everyone had a very concrete vision of the game we were building - it was a tremendous accomplishment for a group of people that had never worked on a game before."
The Quest For Perfection
It's difficult to see, given the technology available when BG was first released, how it could possibly have been made any better than it was. Strong storyline, hugely interactive gameworld and a fascinating myriad of quests were enough to keep even the most picky of RPG fans happy for a small eternity. But what if they could do it all again? What, if anything, would they change? Ray responds: "I'm not sure we would change anything - we tried our best and made a very good game in the process. Certainly, we try to improve with every game, since one of our philosophies at BioWare is to try to make each game better than the last. And many of the things that we recognised we could improve we did improve in the sequel to Baldur's Gate, BGII: Shadows Of Amo."
Ah yes, BG2. It was arguably the most eagerly anticipated RPG sequel ever to arrive on PC. Lofty expectations were rife. It was the first real test of Bioware's integrity as a games publisher. Should they stick with an established formula and give gamers more of the same (ie cop out)? Or would they move the series forward and introduce new elements to expand the experience? We know now that the correct answer here is they did both. All the good things about the first game were intact, and many new features were successfully introduced, making BG2 the 'perfect' RPG gaming experience and the new benchmark for the competition. But how did Bioware feel about the end result? "We were very happy with Baldur's Gate II: Shadows Of Amn," says Greg, "and it seems most of the audience was as well (in fact, it continues to sell at an excellent rate years after its release). BGII allowed us to use everything we learned making the original Baldur's Gate and apply it in an environment with a stable technology and tools framework - a game designer's dream. The superb work of the designers on the game is evidence of how much fun everyone had working on it. BGII is one of those exceptionally rare games where even in retrospect you wouldn't really want to change anything."
Baldur's Gate 3
We couldn't resist asking about Baldur's Gate 3. It's the game every self-respecting RPG fan is waiting for. Dreams of Baldur's Gate in true 3D. perhaps even with a first-person perspective, are no doubt common among fantasy gamers everywhere. An intricate BG storyline bursting with interesting characters married to the latest in graphics technology would surely be the ultimate RPG. So, is it going to happen? Over to Greg: "The best way for me to answer this is that we don't really know the future of the Baldur's Gate series. We closed the Child of Bhaal story arc with Baldur's Gate 2: Throne Of Bhaal, and we were very happy about being able to finish things off property. All too often game stories are left unfinished, and we're content that we concluded the story behind the Baldur's Gate games we developed at BioWare."
That's not the answer we were looking for at all. It was in fact the 'wrong* answer, an erroneous response, but if Ray and Greg have a secret version of BG3 up their sleeves, they are refusing to be budged on it. So on this particular subject, we are dropped soundly back in the land of 'wait and see'.
So where do we go from here? Every year it seems the PC press make new announcements explaining why the RPG genre is dead and buried, and every year a new RPG title comes along to prove them wrong. The truth is RPGs are evolving and changing along with gamers tastes and whims. Action RPGs have become fairly common, though purists would no doubt argue they are not true RPGs unless they have 20 gazillion stats to mess about with. As far as Ray is concerned, RPGs aren't going anywhere anytime soon: "I think RPGS are a vibrant genre - it's all a question of how you define them. Since we consider an RPG to be any game with heavy story or character development, we think that the future of RPGs looks very strong indeed. More and more games are including elements of story or character development these days, whether they be action games, action-adventures, RTSs, or any of a myriad of other categories. As such, we have a lot of possibilities available to us for our future titles as well." Greg adds: "BioWare's focus is story and character development. Our definition of RPG is very broad, and we believe that any game containing significant story and character development can be classed as an RPG. In the future it is likely we'll explore more merged genres sutji as action RPGs and RTS RPGs."
Strong hints, then, that hardcore RPG specialist Bioware will be moving in a more conventional direction with some of their future titles, and as Ray explains, some of these titles may be with us sooner than you think: "We're currently working on a number of very cool games - five projects in total. One of them is Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, for Xbox and PC. SW: KotOR is a very cool RPG - the first RPG ever in the Star Wars universe, actually. In it, you get to be a Jedi, playing either on the dark or the light side of the force. The storyline is set in an exciting period of the Star Wars universe, some 4.000 years before the movies. We're also working on two expansion packs to Neverwinter Nights. The first of them is entitled Shadows Of Undrentide (codeveloped with Floodgate Entertainment) - this should be ready by the early summer - the second will have more details announced later this year, with Christmas as a target date for its release. We're also working on another new, BioWare-created intellectual property for Xbox, to be published by Microsoft - we'll have more details on that game later in the year. Finally, we have a new, BioWare-created intellectual property for PC that we're also early in development on - we haven't yet shown this to publishers. All told, we have a lot of projects in development right now."
The future looks bright for Bioware then, but let us not forget where it all began, with a classic game called Baldur's Gate. It seems pretty evident now that we are very unlikely to see a Baldur's Gate III, but BGII. being the current 'definitive' version of the BG series, still remains a shining example of how to make a near perfect RPG, the likes of which we may never see again. Even today I can think of very few titles that can grip you in the same way the Baldur's Gate series did. Maybe it's a sign of the times, and an indication that action games are slowly edging out hardcore strategy and RPG titles. Or maybe it's because real classics are few and far between, and truly innovative titles are destined to only appear once every couple of years. Whatever the reason, games like Baldur's Gate serve as a firm reminder that pure and addictive gameplay will always win over the a games-buying public, despite what the flavour of the month might be. If we could only get this message through to today's development teams we might find games like Baldur's Gate would prove to be the rule, rather than the exception.
What we thought
"Baldur's Gate is a very competent game that has weeks of addictive gameplay in store for those willing to spend enough time with it to appreciate its hidden depths."
What you think
- "While you mentioned the fact that Baldur's Gate used the AD&D rules, I don't think you quite realised how important this was to hundreds of thousands of players. The fact that it uses the Forgotten Realms setting is a double bonus for someone who wasted an entire childhood playing AO&D using the boxed set. If Black Isle can create a multiplayer version along the lines of Ultima, and recreate as much of the Forgotten Realms as they can, then Baldur's Gate will rule the Web. In short, your review was wide of the mark; it is definitely a long-awaited, and much appreciated classic."
Is 85 per cent a bad mark? Did we massively underrate Baldur's Gate? We felt we were more than fair towards a game with limited mainstream appeal.
While much has been made about the death knell tolling for the adventure game (admittedly mostly by us), another genre has been slipping by the wayside. Equally frail, distraught and malnourished, it too has been served by too few titles after having spent years in the spotlight as a dominant gaming form.
Like the precocious and intermittently annoying younger brother that it is, the role-playing game has been mimicking the ailing fortunes of its sibling genre; huge in the late '80s and early '90s, with Ultimas, Wizardries, Bard's Tales and all those gold-boxed Dungeons & Dragons titles holding the very finest of courts, strolling the city streets with pride and gamering respect from all quarters.
Then, just as FMV caused adventure games to become too big for their own talent, the vastness of the seventh Ultima title caused problems for everyone else in the field. No one could do it like Richard Garriot (creator of Ultima), so why bother trying? Besides, there was this Quake thing coming along that looked quite good...
So the role-playing game withered. A few half-hearted attempts to shore it up saw it through the mid-'90s but, as with the adventure game, it was a case of too few titles and too little quality. However, just as the adventure genre now seems to be in the ascendant once more, so too is the RPG picking itself up and trying to make a go of things. Final Fantasy Vll acted as some kind of wonder tonic, an elixir of such potency as to inspire others to sup from the fountain of youth. And nowhere is this more apparent than with Baldur's Gate, the first Cproper' Dungeons & Dragons title since 1992.
I think that one problem with computer RPGs is that they are so big, confesses Dr Ray Muzyka, Bioware CEO and producer of Baldur's Gate. It takes a long time and a great deal of effort to make them good. We've spent close to three years now, working with a lot of very talented people making Baldur's Gate. Chris (Parker, co-producer) is busting a hump trying to co-ordinate it all.
Baldur's Gate is set in the AD&D world of The Forgotten Realms. It chronicles the exciting story of dwindling iron deposits in the local community, and the economic strife that follows as a result. The stuff of legends, no less. Oh, and there are also prophecies, invasions, murder, conspiracies, one man's destiny to defeat evil... It's all in there - a rich fantasy soup in which you are the central crouton.
But that's just what's on the surface, the glossy facade that lies atop the really important elements of the game - the AD&D rules. Baldur's Gate adheres to the many complex rule books that make up TSR's fantasy world. Indeed, some would question the decision to use AD&D at all, since in the world of tabletop RPGs there are far more effective and efficient rule systems available.
Muzyka explains: When we began, we developed a short demo called Battleground: Infinity that Greg (Zeschuk, joint CEO) and I pitched to a number of different publishers. We signed with Interplay because we knew, liked and trusted them after working on Shattered Steel, and also because they had The Forgotten Realms licence from TSR. We thought it would be really cool to develop the game set in that universe. We've been fans of pen-and-paper role-playing for a long time, and AD&D is the grandfather of pen-and-paper RPGs.
Isn't the overly complex nature of AD&D a worry? Aren't they afraid that people unused to the concepts of THACO rolls, Armour Classes and Saving Throws will be put off, scared to venture into uncharted waters?
Baldur's Gate has the advantage of being able to do most of the dicerolling and rule-checking in the background where nobody needs to see it, assures hump-buster Chris Parker. All the combat rules, spell effects, attribute modifiers, monster statistics and everything else are handled by the computer quickly and painlessly. For the player familiar with AD&D who wants to know what's going on, there are options that enable you to have the various dice rolls displayed in the text box. Various effects and other character actions are similarly displayed. For the player unfamiliar with AD&D, who doesn't want or need to see these things, they're just turned off.
When there's an instance in which the rules must be used - selecting the class of your character at the beginning of the game, for example -it's accompanied by a text box to explain what you need to know and do. Hopefully there will never be a point in the game where you actually need to know AD&D to be able to play it. Cue sighs of relief from all points around the gaming community.
We're trying to make the kind of game that we would want to play ourselves, says Muzyka. I think that the two most notable accomplishments we've achieved with the game are the level of immersion, as well as the multiplayer aspect, which is rather different for an RPG - it's true co-operative multiplayer, in which we've tried to emulate the feel of the pen-and-paper role-playing sessions.
What's really being hoped for is that Baldur's Gate will prove popular enough to become that most dreaded of words to the artistic community - a franchise. It's very much the start of a new series, says Muzyka. We've written a plot outline that will be sustainable for the next few games. We're planning at least three - the first takes you to levels one to seven, the second to levels seven to 12, and the third to levels 12 to 18 - plus mission packs that will enable you to extend the life of your game, plugging right into the original game.
As a schoolboy, the announcement of a new AD&D game was a cue for the sort of excitement a male rabbit would experience upon being told that the mating season is to be brought forward by an extra week -Pool Of Radiance, Curse Of The Azure Bonds, even the oddly (and somewhat ill-) conceived dragon simulator all made me as giddy - and is one of the things that made those early, innocent days of computer gaming so great. RPGs were games that lasted. You could spend months playing them, partly because they were such fun, partly because they were so immersive, but mainly because they were so bloody huge.
With games like Ultima 9, Fallout 2 and Diablo 2 looking good enough to help resuscitate the genre, and Bioware announcing that the Baldur's Gate engine is to be used in another AD&D spin-off game called Torment, maybe those days can live again.
The (artificial) life of the party
A different Al script for each member
Any good role-player knows three things: one Is that dice-rolls can always be fudged to suit your needs; two, that yellow fingernails and excessive bodily odours aren't anything to be ashamed of (really); and three, it's all about teamwork, baby. The classic gold-boxed AD&D games knew this, and gave you full control over every member of your party. Thus, battles were complicated, almost wargame-style encounters and, naturally, turn-based play was the only way to handle It all.
Perhaps the proudest boast Interplay are making regarding Baldur's Gate (certainly it's the most frequently mentioned) is the transparent Al. In layman's terms, this means that each member of your party can be issued one of many Al scripts that determine how they behave in combat situations. Charge In screaming for blood, back away lobbing arrows into the melee, or just run away like a girl. All are possible, which means you can spend more time worrying about your own character than about the lives of those who dare to hang with your posse
Baldur's Gate is an expansive fantasy RPG, leading players through a slew of interesting locations and exciting battles. Players take on the role of their custom character, a young student of the mage Gorion living in the town Candlekeep. Set in the fantasy area of Faerun, the player-character must investigate an iron crisis, which is causing valuable weapons and items to break unexpectedly. Without the guidance of Gorion, you embark on a journey through the Sword Coast, a region of Faerun packed with a variety of locations and environments. This lengthy adventure is considered one of the best fantasy RPGs ever made, and went on to spawn countless sequels and imitators.
Perhaps Baldur's Gate's biggest strength is its gameplay foundation, which is based on the Dungeon and Dragons 2nd Edition rules. For those who have played Dungeons and Dragons, you'll know how complex but flexible those rules are. For the uninitiated, this means that Baldur's Gate rests on a set of well-defined rules that allow the player to approach situations in a variety of ways. When you first start the game, you'll have to create your character. Besides choosing things like appearance and race, you'll have to decide on a character class and your proficiencies. In Baldur's Gate, you can play as a wide assortment of classes, including thieves, warriors, wizards, and much more. Depending on your chosen class, you'll want to ensure your character is proficient in the proper areas. For example, thieves and rogues might want to select lockpicking and light-weapon proficiencies, whereas magic-users will want to rank up in completely opposite areas. Baldur's Gate lets you play the way you want to play, and the fantastic Dungeons and Dragons2nd Edition rules are a great foundation for that.
Since Baldur's Gate allows so much variation in gameplay, your experience will differ depending on how you approach situations. However, the main story and quests remain similar despite these differences. As you progress through the game's eight chapters, you'll encounter new locations, characters, and enemies. You'll often undertake quests for townsfolk and important characters, which offer a slew of different adventures. From clearing rats out of an inn's basement to thwarting Kobolds in dank mines, Baldur's Gate offers a great variety in location and combat. Battles are a mixture of real-time action and strategy, as you'll want to make your attacks count. Enemies move freely around the combat area, and you engage with them by selecting the proper ability.
Baldur's Gate is a long game, but there's plenty to see and do along the way. There are well over 20 unique character to recruit into your party, hundreds of quests, and dozens of unique locations and towns. As you progress through the game, you'll earn experience to level up your character. Leveling up comes slowly, but you feel exceptionally more powerful when you finally hit that next level. Combat isn't the only way to grow in power either; discovering and equipping new gear and weapons is just as important as gaining experience. Overall, Baldur's Gate offers an intriguing fantasty journey of significant quality and length, with the player at the center. Exploring the Sword Coast is tons of fun, and the freedom the game gives you is truly exceptional. If you enjoy the fantasy RPG genre and haven't played Baldur's Gate yet, you're missing out. Do yourself a favor and give this classic a play.
Not since the Dark Sun series from SSI has there been such a complete translation of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game to the silicon screen. From the intricate character generation to the lavish 32-bit palette used for all the graphics, the attention to detail in Baldur's Gate will draw you deeper into the fantasy than ever before. You control up to six characters through seven chapters covering almost 10.000 screens of pre-rendered terrain. The well-done sound effects include solid voice acting and atmospheric effects. Although many bugs plagued our beta version, none were so great that they couldn't be fixed in short order. For all PC RPG fans, this game is shaping up to be a must-see.