STAFF REVIEW of Baldur’s Gate & Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition (Xbox One)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019.
by Brent Roberts

Baldur’s Gate & Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition Box art Growing up a child of the 80's, it's fair to say that I've developed a unique perspective of the gaming industry, and more specifically, the RPG tabletop style games. This came in the form of an iconic series that's still played to this day; Dungeons and Dragons. What started in book form with physical dice has digitally transformed into what could be called a "genre defining" title, Baldur's Gate. This game released back in 1998 (some of you reading this weren't even born yet) and it become the definition of an icon, legend, myth or whatever word best befits a game that helped shape CRPGs to this very day. Many moons have passed since the game's original release and now RPG games are focused on player UI, graphics, story, or at least they should be.

Very few games have made such an impact on the industry as Baldur's Gate, and it's easy to see why. Baldur's Gate offers an immensely in-depth character creation and gaming experience that always feels fresh and very challenging at the same time. This is because Baldur's Gate focuses on delivering the quality classic experience that made it legendary. Rather than bowing to the community that would demand "pretty" graphics and a more "modern" take on the game, Beamdog decided to bring this iconic staple back to life in all its original glory, and I love that.

That means that this game isn't some hyper reality visual masterpiece that you find in current RPG games that have 15 entries, but rather 1998 graphics done in beautiful detail. Yes, the pixels are back and very tiny! The environments are steps above what you would find back in the 1980's, but nothing like you have come to expect from today's games obviously. While other games have incredible lighting effects, Baldur's Gate does not. I cannot stress this enough, as this is classic gaming at is absolute finest, so if you're expecting something different, then you're going to be disappointed.

As I stated before, Baldur's Gate is a pure Dungeons & Dragons experience. You start off by choosing your difficulty. There are 7 levels to select from which, as you may have guessed already, get progressively harder. Just as you would expect to have variety of difficulty, you also have more choices when pertaining to the type of character you want to play as. Not only do you have your basic single class characters, but in Baldur's Gate you have 2 and even 3 class characters. Now, before you go off thinking you're going to be some trifecta God that can steal anything undetected, pick any lock without fault, slay any enemy with more physical power than a deity, and conjure up the most devastating magic by selecting these multiple class characters, you will have drawbacks including not being able to master weapons, etc. This is because Baldur's Gate is setup so that you can play how you want.

While you may be able to play how you want, Baldur's Gate will implore you to play as a team and as you progress along in the game, and you'll be glad you did. You're guided along your quest by a narrator which acts as the game's dungeon master, and throughout the game you will be faced with moments that will define your character. How you choose to interact with these moments will encapsulate how your character is viewed by your party and will affect the dynamic in which they interact with you. These are all mechanics we find in today's top of the line RPG games that capture our imaginations for days, weeks and months, but games like Baulder's Gate is where we can trace some of the earliest examples of this.

To say that the customization level of the game is deep is like saying there's a few grains of sand on a beach. If you're familiar with D&D and those massively detailed character sheets, you'll understand and appreciate just how well they transferred over to the console, but if you don't want to spend all this time creating your character from scratch there are tons of presets that you can activate and just jump right into the game. This aspect helps cater to the hardcore and casual fans simultaniously.

Earlier I touched on how the graphics of Baldur's Gate seem dated, but when you dive into the realm itself you'll see just how open and expansive this land really is. While the visuals of what you can see will be shown via a revealing circle, the fact that you can see the land itself and plan is paramount when talking strategy. One thing I have to make note about, the one thing that has aged like fine wine is the soundtrack. I found the voice acting to be better than average, but nothing, and I repeat, nothing compares to the soundtrack itself. The chords and melodies that construct every second of audio within this game is reason enough to make it one of your top favorite games of all time.

With this "bundle" you get Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, but if you jump right into 2 you will effectively ruin all of the first story, and if you have never played the first release, the game should almost lock you out of playing the second because the story is one of the best ever experiences in the video game industry. This "experience" however, wouldn't be possible unless the great minds of Beamdog figured out a way to allow the user to interact with all the endless menus and selections and sub-menus all from an Xbox controller. It really is a tremendous feat to see what kind of UI interaction Beamdog created using the limited controls that you find on a console controller rather than a keyboard with many more keys.

This new interface is an absolute blessing but it's not the only new thing in town. Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition also brings to the table some brand new classes and characters than what was available back in 1998, but guess what makes its debut after all this time? MULTIPLAYER! Yes, now you can dive into this D&D experience with your friends and really enjoy everything that Baldur's Gate has to offer. These upgrades help solidify why Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 became iconic staples and foundations of an entire genre of future gaming.

In today's world, you can pay full retail price for a RPG experience and most people expect a grand cinematic interactive experience, and an overwhelming majority of the time they are disappointed. Not in the pretty graphics, or the sounds, but in the story. Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 provide what could arguably be called the greatest RPG experience ever found on a digital platform (even better than Final Fantasy VII). Yes, the graphics are dated, but now they are 4K dated, and the audio sounds better than ever before, and the story you find in both games is the reason why for $49.99, Baldur's Gate Enhanced Editions is the best value for money that ever existed on any outlet to date.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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