There is very little “enhanced” about the Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate, but that just serves to highlight how well the original game has held up.
This comes as a bit of a surprise to me.
It’s true, I had an unhealthy obsession with the Infinity Engine titles back in the day, but more importantly I remember those games – Baldur’s Gate in particular – as being rather rough around the edges. There were broken quests, awkward pathfinding, and terrible voice acting, not to mention the horrid 2nd Edition D&D rules. As such, all I expected to get out of Baldur’s Gate in 2016 was about 30 minutes of warm, fuzzy nostalgia, followed by 30 minutes of frustration, followed by a quick and decisive uninstall.
What’s really happened is OH GOD I CAN’T STOP.
Seriously, Baldur’s Gate has me in a vise grip, eating and sleeping optional. Party like it’s 1999, but with slightly increased resolution! And let’s be clear, slightly increased resolution is pretty much all the “enhancement” you can expect out of the Enhanced Edition. Sure, there are also three new characters, but for some reason I’ve just ended up with the exact same party I had back in the day. So those new characters might be great, I don’t know. One of them is a Monk, so probably not.
Beyond that I can’t seem to find any other improvements. Killing the 2nd Edition rules with fire would be too much to expect, of course, but the pathfinding is still terrible, the quests are still broken and the voice acting is…well, Gorion would have none of this, ’tis shameful.
Please, Khalid, just shut up and hit things.
So why does it still work? Honestly, I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s not the combat, which is terrible. For most of the game your low-level characters just stand around in a huddle, flailing about (sometimes with actual flails) but failing to hit things. Eventually, someone dies. If it’s one of your characters, you reload and hope for a better result. At higher levels this improves somewhat (once you have Fireball, everybody dies), but since Baldur’s Gate has a very low level-cap it never improves by all that much.
It’s also not the story or the writing, because there’s surprisingly little of either. If you remember reading a lot of dialogue and making interesting story decisions…yeah, that was another game. Maybe Baldur’s Gate 2? Or Torment? Not Baldur’s Gate 1, though, which has a main character with a mysterious past, a secret destiny, and amnesia.
Maybe it’s the terrific sense of freedom. I love how the game is quite happy to let you ignore the main plot. Screw my mysterious past, there’s a Sword Coast to explore, monsters to bash, cursed halberds to accidentally pick up, and bickering characters to tolerate. The game’s roughness just adds to this, really. There’s a sense that they were figuring this out as they went, which means you never quite know what’s around the corner.
The answer to this is often “nothing”, but that’s great, too. The game just lets a wood be a wood, sometimes. A wood has trees, maybe a bear, and usually very little else. Most video games forget that and in an Ubisoft world where every square centimeter of the map needs to have three icons on it, it’s really refreshing to just wander and find…nothing.
If you do meet a bear, though, be sure to murder it. Bears in Baldur’s Gate are harmless, quite friendly and give a lot of XP without a reputation drop.
Murdering bears aside, it’s also remarkable how well the game’s dense atmosphere remains intact, even 17 years after its release. In many ways it remains the best realized expression of the Forgotten Realms aesthetic ever made, with a stronger sense of immersion than many modern games that have 12 DirectXs in them.
Whatever the exact reason, I am officially doomed. The Infinity Engine games are back in my life. My current queue of games I want to play looks like this: First, finish Baldur’s Gate, including Tales of the Sword Coast. Then play Siege of Dragonspear, followed by Baldur’s Gate 2, including Throne of Bhaal. After that, play Pillars of Eternity, naturally including the White March. After that, Tyranny, followed by Torment: Tides Numenera. I hear they are already working on Pillars of Eternity 2!
As you can tell, all of this would roughly take until February 2029, by which time people will probably feel nostalgic about the 2016 wave of Infinity Engine games and start Kickstarting another batch. I guess that’s why it’s called the “Infinity” Engine.
I will probably come to my senses at some point. At least I hope I will. Until then, heed my warning. Baldur’s Gate is still really good and you should definitely not play it. At least not if you have any plans between now and February 2029.