Review: Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II Enhanced Editions

Dungeon Master: The group enters the cave. It’s all dark in there and none of you can see a thing in front of you. You can hear something snarling but can’t determine where it’s coming from.
Warrior: We should use a torch to light our path in these treacherous caves. That’s the only way we will be able to find the treasure.
Thief: I pick a torch from my inventory so my companion can light it up.
Sorceress: I use a fire spell on the torch to light it up.
Dungeon Master: As soon as the torch starts to light the cave, you feel the warmth coming from its fire as your eyes get used to the luminosity. But as soon you start seeing things clearly, you notice the group isn’t in a simple cave: you’ve just entered a kobold hideout and now you are surrounded…

If you have already seen this scene or anything similar to it, there’s a high probability you know what a true tabletop RPG game is. And if you know what a tabletop RPG game is, you are probably familiar with the name Dungeons & Dragons. For those unfamiliar with it, just keep in mind that Dungeons & Dragons (or simply D&D or DnD) is the game considered as the beginning of modern role-playing games and its industry. And why I’m bringing this up to you now? Well, because we are about to explore the Forgotten Realms, a campaign setting – or world, if you prefer – from D&D in which our adventures will take place.

Baldur’s Gate was a fantasy RPG game developed by BioWare (and therefore BioWare has always been known by its incredible RPG games) and published by Black Isle Studio / Interplay (developers of Bard’s Tale, Wasteland and Fallout) for PCs in 1998. In a time where FPS and RTS games were on vogue, releasing Baldur’s Gate did much to revive the genre, showed the world BioWare’s true colors and their talent on creating incredible gaming worlds, stories and characters. Two years later, the two companies joined forces again to release its sequel, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn in 2000. Continuing the story of its predecessor, it improved most of the flaws of the original game and was critical acclaimed, being noted as one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. Both titles received an enhanced edition by the hands of Overhaul Games (today, Beamdog) in 2012 (the first Baldur’s Gate) and 2013 (Baldur’s Gate II).

And now in 2019, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the series, the Canadian developer Beamdog brings both games in its enhanced editions to the current generation of consoles, giving us the opportunity to play once again (or for the first time), both games with all their DLCs. Now prepare your party, roll a D20 and embark on a journey through these lands of fantasy guided by this review from your Dungeon Master.

What do you do? In this pack, you will encounter dozens of hours of gameplay in the lands of Sword Coast while exploring villages and dungeons, fighting enemies and accomplishing missions for NPCs. In a group with up to six members, you will play in an isometric perspective and fight enemies in semi-real-time battles (which you can pause at any moment to give specific commands to your party members) in a quest to find the assassin of your foster father.

Something lurks in the dark

What we liked!

  • Overwhelming in content: Hear me you all! If content is what you look for, look no further. This pack will keep you busy for days – if not weeks! It is composed of both games full campaign plus the DLCs already released for both titles: In the first Baldur’s Gate you will venture from the walls of Candlekeep to the city of Baldur’s Gate, while the Sword Coast is at the brink of war. After completing the campaign, you can challenge the arenas of the Underdark in The Black Pits or face the army lead by the Shinning Lady in Siege of Dragonspear. In Baldur’s Gate II, you will escape the prison where the wizard Irenicus holds you captive and stop him to become immortal. And after the campaign, you will be taken to the arenas in Thay, where once again you will fight for freedom in The Black Pits II or fight the children of the dead god across the land of Tethyr in Throne of Bhaal. You can craft your way in these stories in any order you wish, but to enjoy the most of the adventure, I strongly recommend you to play them in the correct order (the first game and its DLCs and them the second on and its DLCs). There’s enough content here to keep you busy for days – if not weeks!
  • Deep character creation: If you have already played any tabletop RPG game (not only D&D system but also GURPS, Traveller, Pathfinder, Dread, Vampire, the Brazilian 3D&T or any other system), you know how important is to correctly build your character. And in electronic RPGs too. Following the rules of AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) 2nd edition rulebook, you go through a long but well-detailed process of creating your character. You select your gender, race (between human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, halfling, gnome and half-orc), appearance (class (where you can choose among fighter, ranger, cleric, druid, mage, thief and many others), alignment (amongst Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Çawful Neutral, True Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil and Chaotic Evil), distribute your ability points (between Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma), his skills (weapon proficiency, spells and natural abilities – depending on his class), his appearance (the colors of his skin, hair and clothes) and, at least, his or her name. That’s what I call a deep character creation system!
  • … and script customization: You can also fully customize your characters’ battle script, deciding how they will behave while in combat. You can select from a list of pre-built sets or fully customize his actions, with options between using ranged or melee weapons and using (or not) spells and special abilities. Since it’s hard to fully control your party members, customizing their scripts will become handy and helpful!
  • Story-heavy: Players who enjoy good lore in their games will find A LOT of things to learn and discover in this Baldur’s Gate pack. There’s a rich world in these games for you to delve into. And if you get interested, you can check for the novels about these campaigns – there’s a trilogy that goes from the first adventure to the Throne of Baal DLC. They are a little old, but you may find them in your preferred online bookstore.
A comfy room where your adventurers can rest… over the dead bodies on the floor

Somewhere between

  • Dated visuals: The visuals of Baldur’s Gate games and DLCs didn’t age very well. The 2D graphics with an isometric view had a great evolution from the first to the second titles, but the “enhanced” from its title doesn’t mean they have been upgraded to the current generation of consoles. This pack keeps the same visuals of its enhanced editions released in 2012 and 2013. The scenarios are very well detailed in dark and brown villages, forests, fortress and dungeons. The characters, on the other hand, have very little variation. Your human Paladin with the most badass picture will have the same character model as the bald human thief. You will only differ them by the armor and weapons they carry – which is cool – or when they are from different races like, let’s say, an orc and a halfling.
  • Audio: The music in Baldur’s Gate is epic. Period. A soundtrack worthy any Lord of the Rings movie. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about its sound effects. Baldur’s Gate has a pretty lame voice work, with uninteresting phrases and doubtful dubbing. But in Baldur’s Gate II, the dubbing received the appropriate importance, with great voice acting.
  • Adaptative difficulty: Trying to make more accessible for those who aren’t very familiar with the world of AD&D, there are 7 different difficulty levels that weaken or strengthen your enemies, turns permadeath on or off and can create a real challenge for those who search for adventure in the Sword Coast. It’s a valid attempt to attract more players to the game, but after playing it I’d prefer more approachable gameplay for those who don’t know what a THAC0 means.
Each one of these shelves holds a book that will teach you more about the game world

What we disliked

Hard to learn gameplay: I will giveit to you, Beamdog: adapting dozens of mouse and keyboard commands to the controller may not have been an easy task, but you did a great job making it possible to fully enjoy the game. And I praise you for that. That said, the gameplay in Baldur’s Gate is one of the most complexes I’ve ever experienced. By emulating the AD&D system into the game, there are lots of gimmicks that must be considered when using weapons, equipment or spells and special abilities that only players that know the tabletop game – which I don’t – will fully understand. Even after some good hours of gameplay, I was still struggling to do some easy tasks and to understand its mechanics. Even though there’s a huge and very detailed tutorial that explores the game mechanics that took me more than an hour to complete. But only after finishing it, I noticed it explains MOST, but not all the game mechanics. Thankfully, there are some tutors in the game that helped me after I really started the adventure. But you better understand everything before venturing any further into the game. It’s great how they managed to translate the AD&D world into a videogame for the tabletop game fans – but apparently only them. I first came in contact with the franchise in 2004 or 2005 with the action RPG spinoff Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II for the good and old PS2, but I barely managed to understand this game’s system and mechanics, taking great part of the joy of the adventure.

Get used to this ‘game over’ screen because you will see it a lot!

Rating:

69%

Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II Enhanced Editions is a love letter to the longtime fans of the franchise. It will take players one more time through an epic journey that will change the fate of the world! But only these fans, because the game isn’t welcoming for those who never experienced it before or aren’t familiar with the tabletop game. If you love RPGs, here lies one of the most prominent series of the genre with hundreds of hours of gameplay. You won’t need your dice set, but you better be ready for adventure

Written by Rafael

Xbox writer for LifeisXbox

Between an Excel spreadsheet and trying to conquer the world (one game at a time), he’s ready to share his experiences about every title he plays. Be it to praise a game or to bash it, you will always find an honest opinion in his texts.