Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition Twitter Commentary, Part 11
By Dwip January 23, 2013, 9:00 am Comments (3) RSS Feed for this post

This is part 11 of my expanded Twitter commentary on Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition. You can find the master list of all parts here.

If you’re just tuning in, there are spoilers below the fold. Go play the game, then come back here.

This is, as I believe I’ve noted, one of the great strengths of Baldur’s Gate, and not necessarily of the games that followed after it. I tend to think that BG2 gave you the best hook into why you would want to go do a ton of sidequests and exploration rather than the main plot, but in the sheer amount of stuff to be done sense, I’m fairly sure that most Bioware games of later vintage aren’t even in the same league, and your better comparison is probably an Elder Scrolls game, though Mass Effect 1 and 2 make valiant attempts.

To those of you I’ve been making the “Skyrim is a better Baldur’s Gate game than Dragon Age” argument to, this is basically it – the ability to wander off in the wilderness and do your own thing, and come back to the main plot at your leisure. Dragon Age never really gave me that same feeling of stuff going on in the world besides $MAIN_QUEST that games like BG and Skyrim do.

And, you know, day/night cycles.

In Chapter 5, Scar comes and offers you 2,000 gold to go investigate the Seven Suns. And he bills this as being a lot of money. And he’s right, it really is a lot of gold, more cash than anybody who isn’t a noble earns in a year. And it’s completely dwarfed by the amount of cash I have from looting the entire rest of the game.

I guess there might be a point about game balance or ways to spend your excess gold or something in there, but really I just find it amusing.

That said, here’s the paradox. You need to make high level armor and magic gear expensive to make it, you know, rare and wonderful. Thus, high price tags that aren’t so high in and of themselves so much as they add up in aggregate. And at the same time, if you’re going to provide NPC challenges at high level, these people need to be equipped like you are, which means magic, which means defeating these guys and selling their gear makes you rich. And doing this several times puts you in Croesus range.

This is an issue a lot of games struggle with, and very few overcome successfully.

The whole “investigate the Seven Suns” mission actually isn’t particularly involved, and boils down to walking in, picking a fight with some dopplegangers, and rescuing a dude in the basement. In fact, if you do basement guy first you only have to fight like one guy.

I killed everything, obviously.

And this is basically where we note that screen resolution has improved an awful lot since the old days. Because check this out:

And there’s a whole lot more black screen where that came from. None of which was apparent in the screen resolutions of 1998, but here in the future it sort of begs to be modded into a full map showing bits of the rest of the city, which would be kind of cool.

This really is one of my favorite parts of the game – I’m a sucker for the whole “protagonist leaves home, grows a lot, then returns home in some fashion to drive home the fact that they are now bigger than this place” device. And, to be honest, I have some quibbles – the whole random dopplegangers in random rooms in the catacombs at Candlekeep doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, even while being emotionally gratifying, and if you aren’t creeped out by dopplegangers (and want to make them a villain in your next AD&D game) after this game, I dunno what to say to you.

Also, that middle area with the skeleton hordes that respawn instantly? That place is bullshit.

But really all of Chapter 6 just works for me on every level. I think this is probably the high point of the game.

Like I said, I really love the doppleganger combat taunts. I love that strange sound their voices make, I think they’re kind of creepy and hilarious at the same time, and I’m just a huge fan of dopplegangers in general.

Depending on how you run through the game, the last time you encountered basilisks was probably a long time ago – maybe the top of Durlag’s Tower, maybe the basilisk map. And so by the time you’re escaping Candlekeep, basilisks probably aren’t much on your radar.

And that’s probably why they’re hanging out at the end of the catacombs, because people who design games are sneaky and devious like that. Unfortunately for them, this bit is exceptionally memorable, and unlike some other Robin Hoods, I remember to how summon undead.

So, when Angelo and the Flaming Fist arrest you in Baldur’s Gate, they essentially throw you in prison and don’t take even so much as a dagger from you – you keep all of your weapons, armor, and equipment. And so you have to wonder: oversight on the part of the devs? Technical limitations with the engine? Or is Angelo just that incompetent?

Hard to tell.

I think I already told the “we’re level 5, we can take on their base!” joke, but there’s a point at which you can assault the Flaming Fist garrison, and while a guy in there calls you on the foolishness of attempting such a thing, he only really shows up with 4-5 henchmen, none of whom are anything like a match for my party.

Again, technical limitations, or is Angelo really this bad at being an evil semi-overlord?

At some point during the development of Baldur’s Gate, somebody sat down and looked at the endgame. The party has, in the last few hours of gameplay, gone to Candlekeep, returned from Candlekeep bearing great revelations, fought against a dastardly plot that reached through every part of the city, and finally confronted Sarevok in an epic battle with his doppleganger minions, defeating them once and hopefully for all. This is very certainly the climax of the game, and we’re building at a rapid pace towards the final confrontation with Sarevok and his henchmen. He’s escaped, but things are going at a nice clip.

And so they looked at that, and decided the best possible idea between the Ducal Palace and the Undercity was to have the Thieves’ Warrens, an extremely large and extremely dull maze populated with random creatures and traps of little consequence, less point, and even less frequency. There is no reason whatsoever for this area to exist, and it is probably the worst idea in the entire game not named Karoug. Every time I play through this part, I always get bored and take a break halfway through, and it completely ruins any excitement I had for the endgame.

Honestly, if Overhaul had enhanced BG:EE by completely removing this entire area, I’d be fine with that, and I think you’d get a better game out of it.

All of that having been said, I haven’t counted the number of playthroughs I’ve had that started with me going to Candlekeep at the start of the play session and ended with Sarevok’s final death in the wee hours of dawn, but I’m going to guess that it’s most of them.

Unfortunately, I’m not 18 anymore. I keep late hours, but it gets harder.

You may recall the point at which Neera decided that fleeing into an acid pool was a preferable alternative to not being attacked at all by ghouls. Here, she’s fleeing from a big, nasty party of Iron Throne guys I’ve already killed into the arms of…kind of a lot of zombies. Actually more zombies than you can see there. Maybe if she had just stood still.

Baldur’s Gate AI, I love you. I do.

In contrast to my utter loathing for the Thieves’ Warrens, I really do enjoy the Undercity. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s a nice mix of random minions versus high level badasses, and the random minions actually do have an interesting storytelling purpose behind them. This really is what an endgame area should look like.

I ran into a couple of known bugs fighting Sarevok. The first one is that even if you paralyze him, he won’t die until the paralysis wears off, which is how I beat him the first time. And, after you do beat him, your game crashes while trying to create the final save, ultimately generating a dump file hundreds of megabytes in size. Even after I beat him the second time and it worked, the final movie was still extremely choppy, as if I was trying to watch streaming video over dialup. The only thing missing from the retro 1998 feel was a RealPlayer window and some Netscape logos.

I’m guessing that’s going to be a thing they look into in the next patch. Either way, that brings me to the end of the regular part of BG:EE.

So, being an Enhanced Edition, they added some things that weren’t present in the original game. I guess there’s also a tutorial, but I can’t really comment on it because I’m pretty sure it’s not for me.

Beyond that, there’s also the Black Pits. And if you haven’t played it, the basic premise is that you and your adventuring party, decidedly a different “you” and “party” than the ones you just spent a few dozen hours with in the main game, get abducted by a crazy drow mage and forced to fight for his amusement in an arena.

And, look. If this had been one of those promo minigames, of the sort EA likes to release for phones next to big PC/console release titles (Mass Effect had a few of these), that would be one thing, and I don’t think I’d have a problem with it. As it is, I was so bored by the concept that I stopped playing once I finally got all my people killed, 10-12 fights in.

Here’s the thing. The best parts of Baldur’s Gate exist when they combine rich roleplaying with interesting backstory and engaging tactical combat. Black Pits tries to evoke the first two, but without your main party you’ve just spent a real time month with, that idea is basically dead on arrival, and no amount of new conversations every 5-10 fights is going to solve that.

Which leaves you with the tactical combat part, which appears to have been made for that subset of the Baldur’s Gate audience who plays on the hardest difficulty settings with mods all the time and whines about how weak the enemies are. Thus, you are almost always outmatched, almost from the start, and while I can play that way, and while there are compelling plot reasons for this state of affairs to exist, at a certain point you have to ask yourself: is this a way I want to play Baldur’s Gate?

For me the answer is no.


Computer Games - Baldur's Gate Series, Gamecraft Comments (3) Trackback URL for this post RSS Feed for this post
Comments on Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition Twitter Commentary, Part 11
avatar Comment by Samson #1
February 3, 2013 at 1:04 am

Was that it? 11 parts? This sort of ended with the feeling there was a #12 planned.

avatar Comment by Dwip #2
February 3, 2013 at 1:10 am

Yeah, this is it. I didn’t really feel the need for a wrap-up post, and I boredom quit Black Pits halfway in, so.

I suppose if there were things people wanted me to talk about I’d voice some opinions, but otherwise I think I’m done for now.

avatar Comment by Samson #3
February 4, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Heh. No. Don’t torture yourself by trying to finish Black Pits. It’s not even worth it. I ctrl+y’d my way through to the end after getting utterly bored with it myself. There’s no real point.

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