Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition Twitter Commentary, Part 3
By Dwip January 13, 2013, 3:07 pm Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

This is part 3 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.

Baldur’s Gate goes pretty out of its way to encourage you to go straight on up to the Friendly Arm and pick up Khalid and Jahiera. And indeed, if you want to go and do that thing, it’s a pretty valid idea. However, as a practical note, there’s a lot to recommend Beregost first. It’s fairly central, gives you a fair number of quests, availability to a number of merchants, and access to several of the very good NPCs including Kagain, Kivan, and now Neera.

On a theoretical level, this tweet is meant to call back Skyrim, where after you get out of Helgen you can pretty much do whatever you want, versus Dragon Age: Origins, where I don’t know how the hell long you’re in the middle of an origin story through to post-Ostagar, but it’s a long time. And while both of these choices on how long to keep the player on rails are pretty valid in their own ways (you can wind up feeling disconnected from the plot in BG1/Skyrim, less so in DA:O or Mass Effect), I find more and more that BG1 style intros are refreshing, and multi-hour DA:O style intros are extremely exhausting due to the rails and the giant plot dumps.

There is such a thing as frontloading your plot a bit too much, and Baldur’s Gate is not guilty of it.

Baldur’s Gate has a wildly different method for introducing NPCs to the party than later Bioware offerings, which is to say that it more or less doesn’t with the exception of Imoen. Modern RPGs are a lot less hesitant to make their NPCs talk to you first, which is arguably a good thing when not combined with such failings as A) being a gnome; B) being forced to take them along.

Neera, who as the next few tweets show is now a member of my party, is more in the modern mold. She talks to you first, has an intro encounter (with mages, which was kind of scary before becoming no big deal), and is much more fleshed out than most of the old BG1 NPCs. Unlike those modern NPCs, however, you’re perfectly free to tell her to go to hell. Since one of the joys of new content is, you know, experiencing it, I didn’t do that.

We’ll be coming back here, but while Neera herself is an extrordinarily useful mage, wild magic itself is a lot more…iffy. Nahal’s Reckless Dweomer pretty much lives up to its name quite well, and I never was able to make it perform the spell I actually want.

Wild surges were, however, always amusing, even when they did some totally unexpected things. Like cast fireshield on everyone around. Or make bats. Or blind me and not the enemy.

I don’t talk about the sound design in Baldur’s Gate much, but it’s actually some of my favorite ever. While overly repetetive in some places, one of the things it does very well is ambience – walk around outside an inn, and you’ll hear the patrons. People in the background talk and make noise on the streets. People in shops and inns sound like they’re doing things.

And I bring this up because I can think of very few games that have done this well, most of them by Bioware – I get the same feeling when I’m in the clubs in ME2/ME3. On the other hand, for all the things Bethesda games are good at, this sort of human background ambience is not generally one of them, and it shows, inns in Oblivion, it shows.

Kagain’s accent is a bit strange. He sounds sort of like a mob boss, except when he doesn’t.

As far as the “never took” bit, I habitually play good parties. I’m terrible at being evil in video games – I’m way too straight and narrow for my own good, even when I’m merciless about petty thievery. But there’s a line between petty thievery and straight murdering guys randomly and puppy slaughtering, and it turns out I’m not much good at puppy slaughtering.

At some point if you want new NPCs you have to make accomodations, though.

So much black fog. So much.

We’ll come back to maps soon enough, but I really do enjoy clearing them, and I even go back and clear up little patches I’ve missed just to make the whole thing pristine and more easily admirable for the art.

Shouting “NERD!” at me loudly is probably acceptable at this point.

One of the things that used to happen in games before they got all crazy about balancing was that the designers would hide various things around the world for you to find, and as it turns out Baldur’s Gate 1 has a fair number of these, including the Ring of Wizardry and the Ankheg Plate.

I don’t think modern gamers really get this, because you can just look all this stuff up on a walkthrough now, but back in the 90s there was this sort of cult knowledge feel to discovering these things – you’d hear about it from your friends who were playing, or on the primative forums and Usenet groups of the day, in the sort of hushed tones people reserve for imparting great secrets and legendary information. And you’d spend 20 minutes trying to find whichever damn tree it was near the Friendly Arm, or which spot in the field near Nashkel the thing was hidden at, moving your mouse in search patterns in order to see the pointer change to the claw and ring pickup pointer.

And now we have the TAB key and ubiquitous internet walkthroughs.

By the end of the game, I was rolling around with something like 250,000 gp in cash, but when you’re fresh out of Candlekeep and can’t afford plate mail, let alone a +1 weapon, 200 gold is a really big deal.

One of the things that works really about early levels in 2nd edition is the economy. Later on, somewhat less.

One of the more unfortunate things about Neera when you first meet her is that she has proficiency with a quarterstaff and nothing else. It’s actually a very nice +1 quarterstaff, but unless you’re a high level mage, going into melee with your 2nd edition mage is a fool’s errand (even with Xan. Especially with Xan).

This lack of ranged weapons and ranged weapon proficiency is that Neera either dominates everything with magic or stands around missing everything with a sling for the next 5 levels. Every mage in the game is kind of like this, but Neera is truly a standout in being bad at it.

Which is only fair, all things considered.

I wonder how many gamers these days have ever seen a user-writable journal, or user map notes, or any of that. It wasn’t ever a feature I ever used a lot, but I really missed it when it wasn’t there. Especially the map notes.

That said, the journal in BG:EE is not yet wholly positive. There’s still a bug where sometimes journal entries don’t show up right, and another one where they appear totally out of order, never mind random points where it keeps talking about things that I already did or declined to, but that’s every journal system ever.

Unlike a lot of other games, crime in Baldur’s Gate is no joke. If you get caught thieving, never mind murdering, guards will be called, they’ll come almost instantly, and it’s pretty much going to result in a fight or in you going to jail. And should it result in a fight, killing even one or two guards is enough to completely tank your reputation. Worse, if your reputation gets low enough, hit squads start showing up. Progressively tougher hit squads. Low reputation is a pretty tough row to hoe in this game.

This is all by way of noting that I totally forgot all of this, looted some random crate, and as a result got some nice guard loot and a 3 reputation for a while.

You get a few quests in the Friendly Arm and Beregost. The easiest of them is to kill that ogre I was talking about earlier. There’s also a pretty major one involving a serial killer, which you probably need 3-4 levels and way better gear to even attempt. And then there’s what should be an easy spider quest, which turns out to be brutal because poison is extremely lethal to low-level characters. Neera’s sleep spell is really the only thing that saved my four man party here.

Like everything else about early levels in 2nd edition, simply walking out of fights alive is a real challenge sometimes.

During the early parts of BG1, you get jumped at various points by assassins. The first two of these, in Candlekeep, are tutorial level enemies, and easily killed. Then there’s Tarnesh at the Friendly Arm, who’s appropriately sized for a small party.

And then, should you be unwise enough to walk into the Red Sheaf Inn in Beregost, there’s Karlat, who has a pretty low AC, hits pretty hard, and is emminently capable of wiping out your entire party if you’re not lucky or very quick on the drop. I’m pretty sure he kills me the first couple of times I try to fight him in every single game I play. Pretty sure Blindness helped me out this time.

I don’t know if you could call BG1’s combat taunts great, per se, because I don’t know that combat taunts in and of themselves are great. What I do know is that BG1 combat taunts are frequently humorous, and frequently pretty memorable. When you hear something like “Spare no one!” you have two options: loathe the damn thing, or be charmed by it. By and large, I go with charmed.

Yes, I can still quote a lot of these 15 years after the fact.

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