Review: Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition serves up the classic RPG better, and worse, than you remember
At a Glance
Bioware made it big riding on the back of Baldur's Gate, and its success became the basis for add-ons, sequels and spin-offs that established Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk as legends in the gaming industry. A mix of undiluted 2nd edition D&D rules along with party combat dynamics, well-paced leveling and a strong, character-driven narrative produced an experience so satisfying, its remains a benchmark other RPGs are measured against. Overhaul Games, fresh off the slick remake of MDK2 HD, aimed its sights considerably higher in the Bioware back catalog and produced a long-requested and highly anticipated update to this crown jewel of gaming. Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition ($20, buy-only) introduces official native high-resolution visuals, new story content, multiplayer support and a gladiator-style combat mode for quick action. It delivers on these promises, but like most translations, something of the original spark is lost in the process.
Overhaul Games, who started out life as a division of online game distributer Beamdog, petitioned Bioware for over a year before being given access to the sacred Infinity Engine source code, the lifeblood from which Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape flowed. What followed were hundreds of bugs fixes and improvements as the engine was refitted for modern OS and hardware environments along with visual upgrades to the artwork and interface graphics.
The technical improvements are largely successful. The game runs in crisp high resolution without lag and supports widescreen monitors natively, feats the original game can only perform with substantial end-user modification. Engine improvements from later games in the series, such as Shadows of Amn, have been retroactively fitted so additional class kits and subraces are available to round out character creation. The experience cap has also been raised, giving a little headroom for point gobbling multiclass builds.
Gameplay is largely the same, with characters arrayed on the right side of the screen, mode selections to the left, and actions across the bottom. Control is more like an RTS game than a traditional action RPG, focusing on mob attacks using a pause-go command flow to issue orders to your party or relying on AI. Quick slots let you pick preferred weapons or items via function keys and despite its age, the ergonomics of the layout are easy to appreciate. In some ways, they surpass the radial menu paradigm Bioware used for the subsequent Neverwinter Nights series.
Stylistic changes are less on target, however. The redone, 2D overlay cinematics are obviously derived from vastly improved content creation software, but this doesn't render them any more effective than the sparse originals. The rudimentary 3D animation featured in the 1998 version seems more authentic and fits the rest of the game's art style more closely, even to modern eyes.
Content updates are hit and miss. Some new material is welcome, such as the gladiator mode that allows you to level up, try out different combat strategies, and generally master Infinity Engine combat outside of plot-affecting encounters. New side quests are less polished, however, with dialog and creative aspects that don't hold a candle to the original storyline.
Nevertheless, the game remains supremely entertaining and a nice package for the $20 asking price. With more updates planned, remakes of the rest of the Infinity Engine based series in the works and an eventual plan to create Baldur's Gate III, the people at Overhaul deserve a little love and attention. If springing for the PC version irks you because the original, complete with mods, graces your hard disk, consider the iOS or upcoming Android version.
Note: The Download button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.