Back to Baldur’s Gate – A Look Back on Bioware’s Legendary RPG
I have vivid memories of a Christmas over a decade ago, my face lit with the unhealthy glow of a CRT monitor screen. Evenings spent lost dungeon crawling and exploring side quests which introduced compelling characters. I carefully crafted my character in a manner which I had been unable to do in my previous gaming experiences and this intense experience has always stayed with me. This December I felt compelled to reinstall this title again and re-experience this gem of PC gaming once more.
Developed by Bioware in 1998, this is a vast fantasy epic set in the Forgotten Realms universe, this is one of the most popular campaign settings in the long running Dungeons and Dragons franchise. You begin by creating your protagonist using an intuitive and deep character editor then embark on your adventure, travelling along the Sword coast, a stretch of rocky coastlines, deep forests and labyrinthine dungeons. Typical to Bioware’s style, there’s a main storyline which the player can follow but it can be eschewed to pursue other side quests to further develop your sense of the world and the character you play as. You could decide whether you were a hero or villain or something in between, this allowed the player to craft a personal narrative outside the massive main quest. This was a fundamental design in order to build an immersive experience.
Playing through the game again, it’s striking how much personality is injected into the title. It features a lot of Dungeons and Dragons fantasy but also projects character and some of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious. I found myself bumping into a random NPC on the street and the carefully delivered lines made me smile on more than one occasion. It’s this attention to humour which makes the game title far more than just another serious Role Play Game experience.
As you explore you will find yourself bumping into interesting and oddball characters who help make the game world burst to life. From mad wizards to pompous lords and the occasional drunken Dwarf. There’s an incredible wealth of text, which means plenty of reading, but the writing is high quality and unlike many text-heavy titles never breaks the games sense of immersion. There are 25 recruitable companions in the game but unlike most RPG companions who swear unfaltering loyalty to the character, the characters of Baldur’s Gate are fiercely independent. If your actions conflict with the goals of your companions they will voice discontent and after a time may leave you or attack you due to their frustrations. This brought a wonderful sense of realism to the players interactions with the NPC’s.
The character sprites haven’t aged well, they were fairly ugly even by 1998 standards however the pre-rendered backgrounds still look fantastic. It’s amazing how atmospheric the game still is and a lot of that atmosphere is due to the sound design. Chirping birds, booming thunder and howling wind bring the environments to life, not mention Michael Hoeing’s stirring orchestral score. There’s a feeling of deep relief when you escape the wind battered wilderness to the arm glow of a welcoming tavern, resting your bones before heading out to the fray once again.
The difficulty and cost of making a game as big, complex, and freeform as Baldur’s Gate with modern production values means we’ll likely never see a game like it again from BioWare, but with Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity on the way, and Larian’s superb Divinity: Original Sin dominating the Steam charts, the CRPG seems to be in the throes of a magnificent and unexpected comeback. Going back to Baldur’s Gate, where it all began, has only made me more excited about its resurgence.
You can re-experience this magical and classic RPG at Good Old Games
Summary : “Join Dr Chris as he opens the vault of classic video game titles once again and reminds us just how good Baldurs Gate from Bioware actually was.”