Baldur’s Gate was originally released in 1998 as BioWare’s second ever video game and quickly established itself as one of the quintessential computer RPGs (and BioWare as a development studio to keep eyes on). There had been numerous Dungeons & Dragons based video games before but I don’t think any had as big an impact on the industry as Baldur’s Gate did.
In 2012 Beamdog (founded by ex-BioWare staff) began releasing Enhanced Editions of Baldur’s Gate and other Infinity-Engine D&D games on PC, and now, over 20 years after Baldur’s Gate’s initial release, in conjunction with publisher Skybound Games they have come to consoles for the first time.
This release is without a doubt an absolutely massive amount of content. The collection includes the following:
Baldur’s Gate (with Tales of the Sword Coast expansion)
Siege of Dragonspear (2016 expansion)
The Black Pits (arena combat challenge mode)
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
Throne of Bhaal (expansion to Baldur’s Gate II)
The Black Pits II: Gladiators of Thay (more arena combat)
A $49.99 MSRP may seem a bit steep of a price for “old games”, but the wealth of content included makes it a bargain. Between the main quest and the immense number of side quests, even a single playthrough through all of the games could last a couple of hundred hours, and completionists and trophy-hunters will have multiple playthroughs in front of them in order to see everything the games have to offer.
As far as gameplay goes, Baldur’s Gate is an RPG with combat that plays out similarly to an RTS. On the PC even though there were hotkeys for many functions, a mouse was used for almost everything; selecting units to give commands to, casting spells, selecting dialog, moving units, picking where to search for traps and treasure, etc. It’s one of the PC-est of PC games. So when Beamdog and Skybound Games announced that they were porting Baldur’s Gate and other Infinity Engine games to the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch I was extremely curious how they would play and the answer is surprisingly well.
By default the left stick gives direct movement control over the party, the right stick is camera movement, when you get close to objects that can be interacted with they are highlighted and it just takes a single button press for context sensitive actions (whether that be talk, loot, fight, search, etc). Pressing right one the d-pad also switches to a cursor-style selection system similar to the PC version. It is never going to be as precise as a mouse pointer but it feels perfectly fine in this case.
Another question that comes when porting old games to new platforms is “how well does this hold up?” Graphically it’s not great. The developers made changes to make it fit modern resolutions but the sprites themselves look extremely dated. Not even in a cool 8/16-bit retro kind of way, it just looks like 1998 graphics output onto 2019 monitors and TVs. Everything else about the game though I would say holds its own with the titles of today. The voice acting is great, the orchestral music sets the mood appropriately (and despite getting stuck in my head every time I hear it, I never get tired of the title theme), and the story & writing are top-notch.
One of the most fascinating things about Baldur’s Gate is that despite it being BioWare’s first RPG, you get to see just how much it served as a blueprint for the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises. You start with a character who is a bit of a blank slate to customize, you have numerous companions that you can choose to take along with you, each with a distinct personality and abilities (and Baldur’s Gate II even adds the ability to romance some of them), the ability to do good or evil acts and your choices impacting your reputation and NPC reactions, many of the hallmarks of a “BioWare RPG” were there from the start.
So ultimately, who is the audience for this collection? If you’re exclusively a console gamer who is a fan of BioWare games and want to see how they got their start, or if you’re a just a fan of good storytelling in games, this is an easy recommendation. Due to the mouse-and-keyboard roots of the game it’s going to play best on the PC, but Beamdog and Skybound have done a very laudable job of making it playable with a controller.
Trophy and achievement hunters will have their work cut out for them on these titles, most of the trophies involve playing through the story and experiencing the side-content, but some will involve multiple playthroughs (or creative use of save points) since there are separate trophies for contradicting decisions you have to make during the game (saving a character vs killing them, for example). There is also one trophy for Baldur’s Gate I and one for Baldur’s Gate II involves beating each game on “Throne of Bhaal” difficulty, which takes the already deadly Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition ruleset and stacks the odds against the player even more. Since the console release does not have the benefit of quick-saves or quick-loads I expect that to be a bit of a frustrating experience at times.
If you have ever been curious about the original Baldur’s Gate games but for some reason have never experienced them, this is an excellent way for console players to jump in and give it a shot. It’s not going to play as smoothly as it will on a PC, but it’s great that even more people now have access to the adventures of Gorion’s Ward, Imoen, Minsc, and Boo.