BioWare is amazing

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 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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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21 Responses to BioWare is amazing

  1. bhagpuss says:

    Probably my favorite computer game ever, Baldur’s Gate, and one of the very, very few I have played all the way through twice. I played it just before I bought Everquest and it was entirely due to BG that I even found out EQ existed. I was searching around online for something, anything similar to Baldur’s Gate when I came across some articles about these new-fangled MMORPGs.

    The Baldur’s Gate Sword Coast expansion was excellent, but even there the writing was on the wall for BioWare’s brief flirtation with open-world gameplay and by the time BG2 arrived we were smack into instanced linearity. I stayed with EQ for the right to roam and I haven’t really paid much attention to BioWare since.

  2. Giovan says:

    From old rpges Planescape: Torment is also amazing but it is very text and conservation driven game which I think would scare big amount of modern so called “rpg players” , and let’s not forget about both Fallouts.

  3. Aidan P. says:

    BG and the Fallout 1/2 account for a large part of my gaming youth. Throw in Mechwarrior 2 and you are there.

  4. Ulvheart says:

    Still have the CDs for this in the loft I think unless they got chucked in the recent house move.

    It was a great game back then, impressive that it’s still holding up to scrutiny now. The graphical side is something easy to live with – my most-played games were ‘roguelikes’ where ASCII was king and dead was dead.

  5. Professer says:

    You should check out Planescape Torment again too.

  6. The original BG is probably the last BioWare game I really played. I bought a copy of NWN, but never really got into it. And then, of course, EQ came out shortly after BG and that was about it for BioWare stuff for me.

    And I still think of THAC0 as “that new stuff.”

  7. Sand says:

    Planescape Torment crew checking in. i still consider this to be the best game ever made.

  8. Zyref says:

    THAC0 made me good at math through elementary school.
    Oh, do I miss it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Play Planescape:Torment. It *is* the best game ever made.

    • Max says:

      It is really nice but I would qualify it more like “interactive book”. PS:T is all about the dialogues and walls of text. Very nice story and characters, not so much about the gameplay itself (albeit I really liked how they made the higher levels spells pretty epic with special animations)

  10. Aufero says:

    I’d probably pay $25 for BG, assuming I didn’t own two copies already. It’s still that good.

  11. Jason says:

    BG is brilliant. If you were less than enamored with BG2, then check out Icewind Dale or ID2; both are equally brilliant IMO. However, for what is probably one of the best D&D gaming experiences ever, fire up NWN2. It looks fantastic and plays brilliantly; once you hit a certain point, you even get underlings to send off to do your bidding.

  12. Sebastian says:

    re: BG, I find it really hard to play without a full screen crack! There’s a couple out there, but I tend to use the EasyTutu project, (which requires BG2 as well). This puts BG in the BG2 engine, which is a little nicer, but allows you to specify your own screen size! It makes a huge difference.

    Also, BG2 is (IMO) better than BG1, so you win even more by getting it.

  13. Coeur-de-fer says:

    In a similar vein, having never played Morrowind back at release a decade ago, I recently acquired it, and have been thoroughly enjoying it. The character models may be a bit awkward, but after a few hours I didn’t even notice. The environments, though, I feel have held up fairly well. The pixel count may not be Crysis-level, but it’s more than adequate to evoke the proper atmosphere.

  14. ano says:

    If you love that game, you should definitely also buy BG2. Not only is that game amazing, there are also mods out there that allow you to import all BG1 to BG2 and play seamless through all titles as if it where one game.
    But not only that, you also have all the new features of BG2 available in BG1, for example play with any resolution you like ;)

    There are also many other amazing mods for BG out there, but I don’t recommend them if you haven’t played through the original yet

  15. Antivyris says:

    Actually, if you do a bit of research, you don’t have to play BG1 in BG1. There is a project out there where people have created an Frankenstein-BG. It’s BG1 + BG2 in the BG2 system, and you can play seamlessly one into the other. Since it uses the BG2 system, it’s a lot cleaner.

    The name escapes me at this moment, but I want to say ‘knights’ is part of it. If you look around BG stuff, their name will pop up and their forum where all these tools to create it are found. Playing through BG1 all the way to BG2 was as much an enjoyable week or two as Skyrim or Morrowing proper, not many games I’ve enjoyed that much.

  16. Joe says:

    I’m a big fan of Icewind dale 2..lots of great mods for it if you can get it to run on your comp.

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