No, I’m not talking about that 90% retention rate they have going.
I’m talking about Baldurs Gate. The RPG from 1999.
I picked up BG on somewhat of a whim a few days ago from GoG.com for $10. It’s funny that BG is $10 while games 10 years newer are selling for $5 on Steam. Not that $10 is too high for BG. A game locked at 640×480 is still worth more than that today.
What’s most interesting about playing BG now is how open and ‘sandbox’ the game feels. While gaming overall has greatly improved since 1999, there is something to be said for a game not treating you like a newborn. About not coloring ‘special’ NPCs a different color, or labeling quest items as “quest item”, or making ‘important’ items BoP. About letting you travel into an area you have no business being in, of having the dice go horribly right/wrong and dealing with the result. It just gives the world you are playing in such an amazing level of realism. It makes decisions important because of how they will actually impact your character/story, rather than what pre-scripted path you go down or what quest reward best fits your build.
It’s entirely possible to screw yourself in BG. Horribly so really, and ‘cost’ yourself dozens of hours of playtime. You can drive away party members, kill quest NPCs, produce a gimped main character, drop/sell quest items, etc. And when you die, it’s “Game Over” and you are back to your last save. And if your last/only save is still AFTER you did something really wrong, starting over might be the only option. Or you can walk uphill in the snow, power through it, and still go on. You can also min/max and go god-mode. Up to you.
I mentioned the game being locked at 640×480. A mod will allow you to increase this, but not cleanly IMO (UI gets funky, and the camera does some strange stuff if you increase the resolution too much), so I’m playing the game at 800×600 on a 24”, 1900×1200 native monitor. The big surprise? BG still looks decent. The characters and animation are very crude, but the backgrounds/scenery has held up well. The movies are somewhat laughable overall (especially the intro), but still have some charm to them. In a way though the lack of graphics just increases the roleplaying aspect. Rather than seeing every last detail, you have to imagine a lot of it based on the text, and for me that really works. It helps that the writing is brilliant, as is the voice acting when it kicks in.
BG is based on AD&D 2.5, so things like THACO are still around. At level one characters have 4-15 hitpoints, meaning that early on even one unlucky hit can be deadly. The fact that you don’t level up in the first few hours, let alone minutes, is also notable. This also means that combat is often a long series of swings-and-misses from both sides. It’s incredibly different from modern gaming, especially themepark MMO combat. My wizard, while he has access to a few spells, spends most encounters throwing stones from his sling, with the spells only coming out when things get ugly. My fighter just swings his sword; no special attacks, rage meter, or combos. It’s much simpler, but again has a certain charm and purity to it. You get to actually watch and enjoy the combat rather than focusing on a hotbar and some near-scripted rotation.
I played BG when it was originally released, but I have to say I’m enjoying it more today than I did back then. I’m sure part of that is my better overall understanding of gaming, and being able to appreciate some of the finer details. Being able to save/load without a massive delay helps as well. But I also think BG itself does a lot of things better than modern RPGs, even gems like Skyrim. Skyrim has amazing graphics, great stories, and all the modern bells and whistles you could hope for, yet BG has some moments (meeting Minsc, rescuing Dynaheir) that just stand out so vividly in your imagination. Skyrim, in part because of its technical mastery, leaves little to your imagination. Everything you experience, you experience exactly as-is. It’s all right there in front of you, and everything is exactly how the devs planned it. In BG, much of the detail is left for you to fill in, and much like reading a great book, that makes it more memorable.
If you never played BG back in the day, or even if you have, I’d recommend loading it up. Look past the graphics and UI shock, get 10 hours into it, and you will be sucked into the game. It’s as much a masterpiece today as it was back then, and it will likely give you a new perspective on current-day gaming.