I have no shame in admitting this; when I first found out that Beamdog was rereleasing Baldur’s Gate, I was ecstatic. One of the best games from the golden age of PC gaming, Baldur’s Gate was considered by many to be the benchmark that other RPGs needed to be held against. The idea of an updated version that could introduce a brand new audience to one of the all-time greats while adding on to the experience was almost too much to believe. Well, I really should have listened to my gut on this one. Simply being retro doesn’t make a game good, and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition ends up falling short for all but the most diehard fans.
Baldur’s Gate was originally released in 1998 as a revamped take on the Dungeons & Dragons formula. The story was always the highpoint of the game, and even after all this time it holds up incredibly well. You start your story as the apprentice of a powerful mage, who is pretty much immediately murdered while he attempts to bring you to a safe. You quickly find yourself on your own in the middle of nowhere with seemingly no chance of survival.
The core game stands out as one of the best RPGs ever created. The plot itself was all right, but the party aspects of the game and its brilliant use of old school Dungeons and Dragons rules set the game in a league of its own. In order to succeed, you had to rely on your party, consisting of a varied group of characters each with their own personalities and goals. If your party doesn’t get along infighting will begin and characters will eventually even defect altogether.
Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition totes the brand new Black Pit content, but I was let down by the experience. The standalone horde mode focuses entirely on the fantastic tactical combat found in the game, but offers little else to supplement it. You’ll choose from a selection of pre-rolled characters and will be tested on how many waves of enemies you can stand against. It’s a nice little distraction, and if you play Baldur’s Gate strictly for the combat you will be enamored with this offering. However, I find it fails to highlight the storytelling that made the game great.
While Overhaul Games did try to buff out the graphical bugs left over from the original, it’s important to remember that this is still a 14 year-old game, which hasn’t aged well. While the animations have been pulled from Baldur’s Gate 2, they still stick out as being a bit blocky. The low resolution pales in comparison to recent releases, and while it is nice to be able to zoom in via the mouse wheel, the pixelated images don’t offer much incentive to do so. The backgrounds of the original were static to begin with, but I will admit that they have been fleshed out a bit, adding more life to the environments.
The other major change from the core game is the inclusion of three new companions. As I previously stated, party management is the heart and soul of Baldur’s Gate, so the ability to expand upon that with three brand new characters was exactly what I would have expected from an enhanced edition. You’ll encounter all three of the new characters early in the game, and they all have been interwoven into the game world seamlessly. They never felt superfluous or overpowered; they were simply three new encounters to add to an already deep game.
The cutscenes have been changed from their clunky 3D videos to hand-drawn static images. While I personally would have enjoyed updated 3D cutscenes as the vehicle to drive the story, that’s strictly a taste issue and there’s nothing wrong with the new cutscenes.
The characters themselves saw a decent upgrade with brand new portraits and voiceovers. It’s not a major facet of the game, but it’s refreshing to be able to easily differentiate your companions on the battlefield.
Sadly, while these minor improvements are nice, the game falls flat in other aspects. Overhaul Games has been consistently updating the game, but it is still absolutely plagued with issues. I was met with regular crashes with little rhyme or reason. Switching locations, changing menus – you name the situation and I probably encountered a crash there at some point in time. The only place that seemed to be safe from these crashes was the new Black Pit content.
When the game isn’t crashing, it seems to forget about your progress surprisingly often. Party members would seemingly abandon my group only to immediately ask to be let back in. Conversations would repeat, and in rare instances some quests would start all over again as if I had never done them in the first place. I imagine it’s what living in The Matrix must feel like.
The path finding in Baldur’s Gate was always pretty dreadful, but after 14 years I was hoping that it would have been ironed out a bit. Characters would wander off across the map, entire parties would lodge themselves in doorways attempting their best Three Stooges impression, and ranged characters would charge headfirst into battle leading to their imminent demise. It would be fairly hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that these bugs can momentarily derail the game.
The UI is still incredibly clunky, something I really had hoped would receive some love in this re-release. While being able to hold more arrows in a quiver and items like gem bags are a welcome addition, trying to manage them can still be a hassle. Behind the scenes, the complete lack of options is incredibly disappointing for a PC game. When your PC game’s graphical options are limited to one button to put the game in full screen, you have dropped the ball.
My main issue with Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition isn’t the Baldur’s Gate part, but the Enhanced Edition part. The core game, even with its admitted issues, stands up as one of the consummate RPG experiences of all-time. With that being said, I’m not sold on the idea that the Enhanced Edition offers something demanding of your attention. While the Black Pit is a welcome distraction from the rest of the game, it’s essentially a standalone expansion that offers nothing crucial to the core experience.
While we at WeGotThisCovered fully believe that we should review products in a vacuum, money does become a factor in this situation. It’s hard for me to recommend Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition for $20 when you can pick up the original Baldur’s Gate for under half of that and invest a half hour or so in modding it for what could be argued as the better experience.
The bottom line here is that you’re going to have to decide what you’re shopping for. Those of you who already own Baldur’s Gate can safely pass on this. However, for those of you who are new to the experience, Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition does offer a streamlined experience that will be ready to play almost immediately; the only delay being the time spent downloading the official patches from the launcher. Also, the inclusion of a horde mode may be enough to win over certain gamers. Then again, those of you who are willing to put a little bit of elbow grease in may be better served with the original and downloading some unofficial mods that offer some of the same features and even a few brand new adventures straight from the minds of fans.
Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition is not the definitive version of the game. It’s not any better, but it’s not any worse. It’s simply something different catering to a specific taste. I insist that any hardcore RPG fan play the series in one format or another; you’ll just have to choose what flavor you want your experience to come in.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game that we received for review purposes.