You will need +1 to patience to play through this rewarding RPG classic
These days it is difficult to find a game that doesn’t feature “role playing elements.” Developers have found that giving the player some agency with respect to the development of their character or the progression of the story boosts investment in the game. Sports, platformers, adventure games, and even shooters commonly include adjustable statistic’s tied to the player’s in-game character.
Why is it that we want to make even a small part of a game our own? I for one enjoy seeing the long-term effects of my decisions on the game’s plot and my on my success on the battlefield. Rogue, a game many credit with being the first digital Dungeons and Dragons experience, gave the player a bevy of tactical options, placed storytelling in the hands of the player, and featured permanent death. This lowered the long term stakes on decisions, allowing the player to learn from poor choices and bounce back into another quick game at the expense of an involving narrative. Japanese RPGs, games in the vein of Final Fantasy, remove even more choice from the player’s hands, making them games about significant time investment that allow the player to experience a lengthy story. At the time of its release, Baldur’s Gate came the closest to the dream. A deep role playing experience with choices and story, like an honest to goodness D&D campaign. It is a game that rewards the player for their investment.
Choice comes at a steep price in most western RPGs, and Baldur’s Gate is no exception. Many western role playing games begin with a paralyzing array of options, most of which are presented without context. Hand in hand with the game’s protracted setup is its long play time. You don’t want to make a gimped character and suffer 20 hours into your story experience. This is where the flexibility of a real-life dungeon master comes in handy (well, if you’re playing with friends that is). However; the game does feature an extensive tutorial and some pre-made character classes, along with a pair of sizable pdf manuals. Baldur’s Gate is played with real-world D&D mechanics. All of the dice rolls and mathematics are internalized, but it helps to be aware of the systems before getting started.You will want to internalize at least some of Baldur’s Gates mechanics prior to setting forth on your journey. I made this mistake when I started with Baldur’s Gate 2 (I played them backwards). Remember: your patience will be rewarded.
For those of you not familiar with the D&D or Baldur’s Gate mechanics, these are games in which you create a character from the ground up and make him or her your in game persona. Players don’t typically venture alone, and non player characters take the place of real-world friends in Baldur’s Gate. Just like in D&D, Baldur’s gate places the characters into combat and storytelling scenarios. Combat is dependent on the characters’ positioning, stats, equipment, and the roll of the die. Players are given the option to make choices during story portions, and are free to roam through towns and the wilderness in pursuit of any quests they may pursue on behalf of one of the many non player characters in game.
Baldur’s Gate is an unmistakably old game. Graphics are pixelated, even in this enhanced version, and yet the environments are beautiful. Characters’ art changes dependent on the weapons and equipment you have enabled, and the battle effects can be dazzling. From a technical perspective, there isn’t much impressive happening visually. It is a testament to Baldur’s Gate’s art that I can still be impressed just gazing at the screen.
The Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate adds several features to the original game version. The changes, added classes and improvements implemented in Baldur’s Gate 2 are here, and the game now runs in high definition. The developers have added three new characters, and some new areas that correspond with those characters’ quests. Players new to Baldur’s gate have the option to buy just the game and later add on the extra characters- which is good because the original game was so rich in content to begin with.
Characters are really at the heart of Baldur’s Gate. Whether or not you care for the “chosen one” style overarching plot, there is always an interesting character or quest to engage with in BG’s massive world. Outside of the story mode, the developers have added an arena style combat mode, in which players fight through a series of battles with a completely customizable party. I think this is a great opportunity for advanced players to experiment with new class types and party combinations. I can also envision attempting runs through this shorter game mode (several hours) with challenge party configurations, like doing a white mage run in Final Fantasy V.
This combat-centric mode would work much better if the interface was more functional in the iPad version of Baldur’s Gate. The hidden downside of Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition on the iPad is the part that I thought would separate it from other versions in a positive way. Instead, I had similar issues to those present in other BG style games on the iPad. Movement and panning about are difficult, not because it is hard to touch the screen, but because the interface has a hard time telling the difference between me panning the screen and tapping. I can’t tell you how many times I panned to look at something and upon the release of my finger saw that my characters had been directed to move to that location. This gets to be tedious, especially in battle. The developers have tried to add visual feedback during combat, but I found that I had a hard time selecting enemies to attack, and even knowing whether or not I had selected the enemy. The key to knowing whether or not you are set up to attack the enemy is the absence of your walking reticule. A similar problem with selection exists in menus, if you want to look at details for a weapon, you must briefly select it for about 1-2 seconds, and then release your finger. This principle doesn’t work with spells, though, which can be annoying as you will ruin your ability to cast the spell for the day.
Thankfully players can issue battle commands while the game is paused. I would have appreciated something along the lines of a red vector showing a character’s current selected enemy, and blue vectors to indicate an enemy. Bigger hit boxes, or even a button to cycle through the targeted enemy would have helped. I don’t know what is economically possible within the game’s engine, and it may sound like overkill, but something needs to be done to improve the combat and movement in Baldur’s Gate for iPad.
As much as I love everything about the game’s mechanics, story, and artwork, this specific port does not work as well as it could have. I even encountered new bugs, the most annoying of which caused all of the game’s graphical interface to frequently disappear. The conflicts with panning and character movement are the worst, but fortunately don’t come up during combat.
Once I played enough of the game to become accustomed to the interface quirks, though, I was able to put them out of my mind for the most part and just enjoy this classic RPG.
Baldur’s Gate is available on iPad for $9.99