Review: Baldur’s Gate I&II – Enhanced Editions

Playing the Enhanced Editions of Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 is sort of like going to see a recently restored van Gogh (Bedroom in Arles is my favorite). They’re still stunning works of art, only now they run better and look a little bit cleaner, a little bit more wonderful.

Developer: Overhaul Games/Beamdog
Publisher: Atari
Reviewed on: PC
Also Available On: OS X , iOS for BG1 Enhanced (BG2 Enhanced iOS support coming soon) and Android support coming soon for both
Release Date: Available Now

I hardly need to sing the praises of the original Baldur’s Gate games; even 15 years later, they remain two of the most finely crafted RPG’s ever made and arguably the best Dungeons & Dragons video games ever. It’s hard to critique two of the titans of the western RPG genre; games that literally laid the groundwork for other RPG greats like Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. At every turn, you’re astounded by the writing, breadth of choice, faithfulness to the AD&D 2nd Edition rules and even after all this time, the artwork/animation. Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, in their Enhanced Edition forms, have aged like like Vanessa Williams; still gorgeous with just a few wrinkles that come with the kind wisdom only time can provide.

My initial reaction to Overhaul Games’ attempt to update the original Baldur’s Gate 1 for modern systems was a lukewarm one. I still own the original versions of Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, and over the years, fan-made mods/patches etc. had done a lot to keep the games alive. I watched all the videos online showcasing the Enhanced Edition, dabbled with the game at friends house, and thought to myself “is this really worth $20 vs the current GOG version which costs just $10?” (BG1 Enhanced costs $20 and BG2 Enhanced costs $25) It’s a question I know a lot of my peers have been asking themselves and for good or bad, it’s a viewpoint that remains just as prevalent with Baldur’s Gate 2 Enhanced Edition.

Now I am a classic gaming fanatic, I keep an assortment of PC towers around just so I can play games on the setups they were made for. Which is impractical and a bit overkill but that’s just how I roll. It does not take much for me to put aside current heavyweights (sorry GTA V and Batman Arkham Origins) for a few weeks romping through nostalgia with THE LORD OF MURDER. Over the past month or so, I went on a D&D video game binge. I started with Icewind Dale 2, then Neverwinter Nights, and ultimately found myself playing the original version of Baldur’s Gate 1. It’s still a great game but it was definitely showing its age.

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My review copy of Baldur’s Gate 2 Enhanced Edition also came with a copy of Baldur’s Gate 1 Enhanced Edition so I figured, what better way to really give the new version a fair shake then to sit down and play it right after having played the original version? The differences were not night and day, but hour after hour, quest after quest, I slowly realized just how wrong I was to dismiss the Enhanced Editions as just more expensive versions of games I could mod myself.

You see the Baldur’s Gate games existed in a time when post release support was limited. There wasn’t patch after patch coming years out and both games have spent the last decade and a half with 100’s of unaddressed little bugs and glitches. Trolls that should die from fire but don’t. Spells going through walls and enemies infinitely spawning just to name a few. Overhaul Games’ biggest contribution, killing a massive amount of bugs, is the hardest improvement to showcase but it is without a doubt what makes the Enhanced Editions worth owning. The idea of going back to my original modded versions of Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 makes me cringe now.

Beyond bug fixes, both Enhanced Editions come with a cross-platform multiplayer offering. It’s not the slickest setup you’ve ever seen, but it works. Though you’ll likely need to plan out a session outside the game as a search for a random multiplayer game to join will likely prove fruitless as almost every session is password protected.

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Both Enhanced Editions also come packaged with a new, separate arena adventure called The Black Pits which has you fighting increasingly difficult assortments of enemies. Baldur’s Gate 2 Enhanced Edition’s The Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay does tie-in to The Black Pits from the first game. It’s fun for short bursts and serves as a pretty good testing range for tactics, spells and abilities you may not have otherwise dabbled with in the main campaigns.

One of the most welcome improvements to both games is the overhauled User Interface. The UI has been reshaped to provide more information at a glance and to make things a bit more efficient. It’s still a rather bulky UI that takes up a fair amount of screen real estate but these games are over a decade old so any improvement is welcome.

Both games support higher resolutions and widescreen displays now. UI text and dialogue is sharper and easier to read. The visuals on the whole look pretty great, especially the backgrounds, but character models suffer noticeably as you zoom in. The Infinity Engine both games were built upon, re-branded the Enhanced Infinity Engine for the re-releases, is still a powerful little workhouse. Pathfinding remains problematic but seeing as how today, 15 years later, games still struggle to get pathfinding right one can hardly take away points from the Baldur’s Gate games.

BG1 Enhanced ditched the original cinematics for animated hand painted ones. BG2 Enhanced kept the original cinematics. BG1 Enhanced also comes with all of the improvements from Baldur’s Gate 2 (classes, class kits and sub race). The Enhanced Edition of BG2  comes with the expansion Throne of Bhaal. If you ever need to reference a fantastic expansion, you could do a lot worse than Throne of Bhaal.

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The games also come with new characters you can add to your party. In BG1 Enhanced players could party with the monk Rasaad yn Bashir, Neera the half-elf wild-mage and Dorn Il-Khan, a half-orc blackguard. All of which can be romanced. Baeloth, the drow sorcerer antagonist from the separate Black Pits arena was added later. BG2 Enhanced also allowed you to party with these characters as well as adding one more to the mix; Hexxat the Thief. The adventures, areas and voice acting for these new characters are quite good and add a nice chunk of new content to experience. Keep in mind Baldur’s Gate 1 already had 26 different characters who could join your party and Baldur’s Gate 2 had 17 different part members to choose from as well. That’s the kind of variety modern RPG’s could only dream of.

As great as the improvements to Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 are, they are also where the Enhanced Editions stumble. Playing through the original campaigns I never encountered a single crash. I’ve collided with several playing in The Black Pits from both games. Likewise the new character adventures also sport a few progress halting glitches and odd dialogue hiccups. However, much like the multiplayer offering, forthcoming patches should address these problems and offer further improvements. Which is another really strong selling point for the Enhanced Editions; ongoing post release support. The games have been tweaked to make modding easier and Overhaul Games’ shows no sign they plan on slowing down with the patching any time soon; bless their hearts.

Would I have loved a more aggressive attempt to re-texture Baldur’s Gate? Of course I would. In the age of gamers screaming “GRAPHICS!!!” at the top of their lungs it would have made the Enhanced Editions that much easier to showcase. Of course the reality is re-texturing games as large and old as Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 are would require a herculean effort that’s just not practical for a small outfit like Overhaul Games to do without a lot more time in development and probably a higher price tag. That said, if an intrepid mod team decided to make an attempt I would not be shocked.

Due to the age of the Baldur’s Gate games there’s a whole generation of gamers who never played them. If you fall into this category you really owe it to yourself to pick them up. Visuals aside, pound for pound, I’d put Baldur’s Gate up against any modern Western RPG. If nothing else it will elevate your expectations for what you want from a great RPG and make you shake your head at just how much depth and choice is missing in the modern western RPG genre. If you are an old PC warhorse like me, someone who picked up Baldur’s Gate on release day, you’ll find the games just as rewarding as ever to play. Your nostalgia fueled memories of the games will be vindicated I assure you.

Higher supported resolutions and Widescreen support
Improved UI
A massive amount of bug fixes and the promise of even more post release support
New characters and content
Some of the new content does not run as smooth as the improved older content
Very bare bones multiplayer setup

I walk away from playing the Enhanced Editions of these two great games deeply satisfied. My heart is crying out to the video game gods for a new party based Dungeons & Dragons game. D&D is the most finely crafted, deep and well balanced gaming system ever made and every attempt to supplant it, whether it be in a game like Dragon Age or The Elder Scrolls, fails to come within spitting distance. You just can’t beat a rule set that has been improving upon itself for almost 40 years.

I leave you with this great collection of quotes from Minsc, the hamster (Boo) loving Ranger, a fan favorite and one of the greatest characters in D&D history.

Review copies provided by Overhaul Games/Beamdog

Played through most of the main campaigns, spent a few hours in The Black Pits on both games and 3 multiplayer matches. I would have loved to have completed all of the content start to finish but the games are simply too large for me to play both and get a review out in any sort of timely fashion. Rest assured I continue to play and will update this review should I come across anything noteworthy.

Baldur’s Gate 1 Enhanced Edition Official Game Site Baldur’s Gate 2 Enhanced Edition Official Game Site

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Comments

  1. Ah Minsc, maybe the greatest video game character of all time (next to Boo, obviously).

  2. Hans

    Exellent review…I bought it cuz of your review!

    Thanks

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