Published on January 11th, 2013 | by Fraser Brown6
Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition
Baldur’s Gate remains one of the most grandiose, picturesque, witty and compelling roleplaying experiences I’ve ever had the good fortune to enjoy. Fourteen years ago I got my grubby, much smaller and less hairy hands on the game after begging my exhausted parents to extend my pocket money just this once — again — so that I could lose myself in the realm of the Sword Coast. It set the bar for RPGs and then its sequel kicked that bar up several notches.
Now, almost a decade and a half later, Beamdog and Overhaul Games have crafted an enhanced version — but how enhanced is it? The fortuitous news is that the title is no worse off for all the tinkering, indeed, it’s marginally better. Unfortunately, these often minor additions don’t do much to detract from the fact that this is an old game that looks like every single one of its fourteen years, and that you can pick the vanilla version up with substantially less strain on your wallet. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is, then, a version very much aimed at folk who have yet to experience the original, and offers significantly less reasons for veterans to grab it.
The epic, sweeping yarn that has a party of — for the most part — interesting adventurers trekking up and down the Sword Coast is completely intact. It deftly provides a tale which is stirring and exciting where these elements sit comfortably next to moments of comedy and subversion of RPG tropes that are just as relevant now as they were back in the ’90s.
Added to this already sizeable adventure are three new companions and a slew of minor improvements, many of which can already be found for free in mods that have been created for the original over many years. For those who have no interest in tinkering, however, these are definitely welcome improvements. Animations, spell effects, inventory management and several other features which were added in Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn have now made their way across to its predecessor, and while they do little to change the fact that this is a rather aged game, they do make it a somewhat more pleasant experience.
Other features have been transposed from the sequel, including extra class kits for all the base classes; allowing players to make Shapeshifters, Wild Mages, Clerics following specific deities and all that lovely stuff that made the second game a lot more flexible. I was overjoyed to be able to select a Kensai for my player-character rather than a mere fighter, and these extra classes also inspire even more replayability from a game that already begged to be played many times over.
While the original NPC party members retain their plain classes, the three new ones showcase the extra kits. The Half-Elf Neera is a Wild Mage, Rasaad is one of those monk chaps and the grim Half-Orc Dorn is a Blackguard, a class that was not available even in Baldur’s Gate II – it’s essentially an anti-paladin. These new chums are a lot chattier than their older compatriots, and most of their dialogue is full voice acted. Competently, I should add.
Baldur’s Gate has always made it a little difficult to really enjoy an evil party, with its rather silly reputation system, so this was the first time I did a full naughty play-through. With this in mind, Dorn was may favourite of the new companions. He’s rather articulate for a Half-Orc, though as brutal and moody as you’d expect. One rather amusing conversation led to me telling him that I love how he refers to himself in the third person, and that it’s simply chilling. He became concerned that the party had been gossiping about him behind his back, and demanded that I admit who the instigator was. Of course, there was no instigator, but I’d been getting sick of one particular companion who constantly question my decisions. I told Dorn it was that individual, and he proceeded to hack them up into little pieces with his greatsword. Classic Dorn.
While these additional characters should definitely be checked out, they do, unfortunately, feel a little out of phase with the rest of the group. They interact with each other quite often, but it only goes to make everyone else seem rather quiet or not connected to these new folk. They do mark the most obvious and enjoyable of the extra features Beamdog saw fit to attach to the main game, however.
Aesthetically, the game remains much the same. It looks a little better on modern PCs than the vanilla version, in great part due to the extra resolutions and rejiggered UI, but this aspect of the game is predominantly untouched. The source code is gone, which is the main reason for this. So, little could be done to make the areas look better than they already were — not that this is a huge loss. While not technically impressive for its time, Baldur’s Gate still managed to look lush and interesting, covered in lots of little details and bits and pieces to aid immersion.
There are a few new areas to enjoy, though, all connected to quests offered by the new party members. These locations remain consistent with the rest of the massive map, yet are noticeably prettier. They also benefit from slightly more interesting layouts, voice acted NPC dialogue and, of course, the extra quests contained within.
The dodgy 3D cutscenes of yesteryear have been replaced by much more attractive hand-painted scenes, and though they are, as with most additions, minor, they are most certainly an improvement. The originals were pretty dire when they were first made, so I doubt many people will lament their passing. New voice packs and character portrait art have also found their way into this edition, with the latter being especially welcome. Jason Manley designed these absolutely gorgeous portraits, and some may recognise his art from Icewind Dale.
The biggest draw of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition will likely be the new standalone adventure, “The Black Pits”. Players may create their own squad of gladiators or import their party from the main game and battle through fifteen challenging conflicts, each tougher than the last. What could have been a throwaway scenario is elevated by excellent writing and the delightfully eccentric Baeloth the Entertainer — a loopy Drow and master of the pits. Sadly, this adventure is in no way connected to the main game, and can only be accessed via the main menu.
Detracting from the from the whole experience — though notably and thankfully absent from The Black Pits — are a myriad of bugs that cause frequent frustration. Incorrect text, repeating dialogue, bugged encounters, lots of crashes — it can be a bit of a mess. It’s a hell of a lot more stable now than it was on release, but it’s far from completely fixed. One particular issue kept spoiling my mission to be an arsehole to everybody south of Baldur’s Gate and only recently disappeared. Neera, one of the new characters, would initiate the same dialogue sequence over and over and over again. I couldn’t get to the part where they gave me her quest, and every time I bloody woke up from a well deserved rest, there she’d be, nattering on about her crappy home life.
I confess that I would have appreciated more new content on top of the subtle improvements, but Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition stays true to the game’s original vision and manages to make an already wonderful title a tiny bit better. Beware of the bugs — many of which still exist — but if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to enjoy the original or you’re hankering for another play-through after losing your discs, then this is undoubtedly worth your time.