BG1: Gaming’s regression on display

As mentioned, I recently finished Baldur’s Gate 1, and here is a post about that game as it relates to current-day gaming and more specifically MMOs.

For starters, it’s amazing how well BG1 has held up. Obviously graphically it’s not going to blow your socks off, but even so there are some areas/scenes that pull you in far better than most visuals today. On the audio side, and particularly because it’s a BioWare title, some of the voice acting is so good and memorable even today that you just can’t help but stop and listen. And most importantly, the gameplay today is still better than just about anything out.

Amazing game aside, BG1 is also a pretty solid sandbox title. It has a main quest, one that trumps what Skyrim recently did by a mile, but that quest is just one (important) activity in a large, rich ‘world’. Better still, the challenge is what it is, and the game leaves it up to you to decide how difficult you want to make things for yourself. If you want to faceroll, go cookie-cutter party, find all the uber gear, and smash away. If you want to challenge yourself, or just do something different, roll a ‘flavor’ character, pick a party based on RP rather than stats, and let the content drive you. What’s very important to note here is that the latter feels natural, rather than specifically going out of your way to gimp yourself (like raiding without armor or something equally stupid).

Yet while both Skyrim and BG1 are open worlds with various quests, BG1 does things better. Rather than always scale things based on your level, it artificially splits the world into two pieces; pre and post city. In the first section of the game, you can’t enter the city of Baldurs Gate, shutting all of that ‘later game’ content until you progress to a certain point. This allows that later content to be scaled to a certain difficulty, without feeling overly out of place.

The split does not mean all content is always at the ‘correct’ difficulty level. There are plenty of areas in both pre and post city that might be far too difficult for your party at a certain time. Again, rather than always scaling and always allowing you to win, BG allows you to try, but does not always roll over. What this ultimately does is it gives you a great sense of power growth. Your little band of nobodies truly does get stronger, becoming the heroes through experience rather than scaling. In stark contrast, you can do anything at any time in Skyrim, so a level one nobody can still become the mage guild grandmaster, or a lvl 50 in god armor will still be asked and ‘challenged’ by cleaning out a random cave.

At a higher level, my enjoyment of BG1 today reaffirms to me that a well-crafted game is made BETTER by challenge. The entire medium has not ‘evolved’ by allowing everyone to do everything at all times, ala Skyrim. Don’t get me wrong, I love Skyrim, but how much BETTER would that game be if it was structured more like BG in terms of encounter tuning? How much longer would MMO X retain you if, at times, you ran into something that knocked you on your ass and told you to come back later?

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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5 Responses to BG1: Gaming’s regression on display

  1. bhagpuss says:

    It’ll be interesting to see what you think of BG2. I agree with pretty much everything you say about BG1. Did you play it with the Sword Coast expansion?

    I did finish BG2 and enjoyed it but I thought it was a pretty weak in comparison and my memory tells me that was largely because most of the things you pick out as strengths in BG1 had been “corrected” in BG2.

    • SynCaine says:

      I played with the expansion, but did not do much of its actual content. Not sure why exactly, but once I’d done most of the side quests and finished the main, I felt ‘done’.

  2. roqoco says:

    Certainly agree with your assessment of of BG1 and I didn’t have Bhagpuss’s reservations about BG2 either, thought it was a great game. But, they aren’t really sandbox games, they just give you options at the particular level you happen to have reached.

    The problem with sandbox games, that allow you to experience everything from the start, is that they have their challenge backwards. They’re hard at the start when you have no skills, but easy later when you’ve progressed those skills. Oblivion/Skyrim did try to fix that, but it doesn’t feel right & doesn’t work too well.

  3. Matt says:

    I tried BG2 once. It had the worst combat system I have ever seen.

  4. Curuniel says:

    To my mind, something like Skyrim is very focused on a sense of personal story – everything scales with so that YOU might become head of the mages guild at level 3 but find the Companions quests more challenging, whereas I (or another character of yours) might join the Companions at level 3 but find the mages guild to be difficult. It’s all focused on playing out a story for that specific hero.

    By contrast, Dark Souls is a perfect example from recent games of one which offers little guidance about where you’re “supposed” to go next. If something destroys you in one hit, you should probably leave and come back later. I like this style too, but it gives a sense of world exploration rather than personal legend. They’re different styles.

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