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    HUGE D&D Video Game Sale!

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    Paeter
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    HUGE D&D Video Game Sale!

    Post  Paeter on June 13th 2014, 1:15 pm

    For those interested, there is a huge sale ending in 18 hours for all the D&D based games at gog.com!

    Check it out at: http://www.gog.com/promo/summer_hasbro_bundle_130614


    As it happens, I was just writing a review for Baldur's Gate 1&2 that will eventually be a video review and also on the podcast near the end of the summer. But to help you make your choice now I'll copy the rough draft below.

    You might also check out my review of Neverwinter Nights 1&2, which are also included in this sale!

    http://christiangeekcentral.blogspot.com/2013/08/neverwinter-nights-1-2-retro-video-game.html


    Baldur's Gate 1&2

    This review isn't for people who have played the infinity engine games and never had to use a cheat code to beat them. Congratulations, you are too smart for this review and will not find it useful.

    This review is for those who don't even know what the infinity engine is. Those used to console RPGs like the early final fantasy games and modern console RPGs like Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls.

    For those new to the BG series:

    These games could be described as real time tactical RPGs (with a tactical pause interface). You can control up to 6 characters, each of whom interacts differently with every other combination of characters that may be in your party.

    These games have a lot of good storytelling and flavor. The dialogue is very strong and the voice acting was ahead of its time in the video game world, still ranking among the best video game voice acting produced today. The Baldur's Gate games have some unforgettable and likable characters. All of these elements combined do a lot to help overcome the visual limitations of the games.

    The main gameplay view is a fixed isometric perspective, much like the Diablo games. The character graphics are primitive and lack detail by today's standards, with animation that looks choppy. That said, the pre-rendered graphics which make up the locations and backgrounds look great even by today's standards. (If you don't mind the fixed perspective.) And mods available for the game allow you to adjust screen resolution, which improves the perceived fidelity of the images if you don't mind all the characters being a bit smaller.

    Either way, the intended look and feel of the game still effectively communicates the nature of the game world, which is the most important job of game visuals. The visual designs of the numerous spells are also fun to watch and convey the sense of power appropriate to the genre. Put simply, if you like eye candy don't be afraid to give these games a try. If you adjust expectations and think of this as either an indie game or a digital version of a really awesome fantasy board game, I don't think the visuals will dissappoint at all.

    Even more so, the sound design has aged very well. In fact I'd argue it hasn't aged a day. The music is expertly orchestrated and sounds almost live despite the use of instrument and choral samples. Its soundtracks like these that have transitioned me from collecting film scores to collecting video game scores. Beautiful, epic, intense and foreboding. The perfect score for every situation creates a fantastical and cinematic experience that transports players to another world.

    The game also has wonderful sound design. Crunching footsteps and clanking armor bring the simple movements of your party members to life. Looting fallen foes is accompanied by the sounds of scraping metal, jingling coins, and rustling fabric. Even the buttons in game menus have a wooden clicking sound that makes me happy for reasons I can't guess.

    For fans of dungeon crawls, BG1&2 deliver in major ways. There are numerous character class options, including multi-classing, to really customize your party members. Although you'll want to create your own party from scratch to truly take advantage of these options. There is tons of loot to find, sell and buy. There is an extensive magic system to wrap your head around and master. All the layered complexity of Dungeons and Dragons is here, but without most of the number crunching.

    The combat is very satisfying and tactical. It requires you to constantly be on your game even early on. Combat uses the rules for 2nd Edition D&D, but the computer handles on the number crunching behind the scenes. The passage of turns and rounds happens in real time, and the player may (and should) pause the action whenever they want in order to give specific commands to individual characters. The game comes with some AI pre-sets you can give characters, but much of the time you'll want to give them your own commands in response to the ever changing combat situations.

    For me, combat was very enjoyable for much of BG1, but became a serious shortcoming of the games, starting late in BG1 and getting worse through much of BG2. I found it especially frustrating at the end of BG2 and in the expansion Throne of Bhaal. The reason is that combat doesn't just become difficult as the game progresses, it actually changes in its very nature.

    In most of BG1, my combat experience was about managing HP levels, equpping the right weapons, taking out spellcasters early... all the basic yet satisfying tactics you'd be expected to master in most any RPG. But as the games progress, enemies increasingly have immunities to various types of damage that you are only able to discover by trial and error. Additionally, enemies more frequently cast status effect spells on your party that come in a variety of names but largely have the same effects. Sleep, stun, charm, berserk, fear and confusion (just to name a few) all result in removing party members from your control. I hate this for the same reason I hate player elimination in board games. Games should never tell you that you can't play them anymore, and on a certain level, that's what these kinds of spell effects do.

    You can use spells to prevent some of these effects, but there's virtually no way to predict when you will need which kind of protection. And since you can only have a limited number of spells "equipped" during combat, this can get pretty frustrating. I found myself repeatedly getting into fights that I would have to just quit and reload my last save in order to better prepare for. I would prefer to have the ability to get myself out of challenging situations without having to be able to predict the future or reload my last save with the advantage of hindsight. And yes, I played these games on the easiest difficulty setting available.

    Making matters worse is trying to keep track of what each spell at my disposal could do and which characters had access to which spells. One spell will remove fear, but not prevent it. Another would prevent it but not remove it. Some restorative spells only my wizard could cast and some only my cleric could cast. In the good old days of final fantasy, status curing spells had much broader application and could predictably be found in my white mage's spell inventory. But nothing about the magic system in BG1&2 is intuitive. If you are not intimately and specifically familiar with the 2nd edition rules for D&D, you'll just have to stumble through repeatedly reading spell descriptions, figuring things out and trying to remember what spells do what.
    In my opinion, the faithfulness to the source material actually hurts the game a bit in this instance. For example, although the game plays in real time, spell effect durations are still described in terms of "turns" or "rounds". And many spell effects change based on your character's level. ("Such and such" lasts 1d8 rounds per caster level, for example.) So even if you know the difference between a turn and a round you'll still have to switch to your character's info page, make note of his level and do some math to properly factor a given spell into your battle strategy. I ultimately just became familiar with how effective or long lasting my spells were by simple experimentation. But if intuitive gameplay is a high priority for you, you might as well skip these games, or at least BG2 and Throne of Bhaal.

    Despite all of this, there are some work arounds that keep things from getting too frustrating. There are numerous cheats and mods available for the game that I would highly recommend new players explore without feeling any shame. Being able to rest anywhere makes spells much more readily available. Having a bag of holding early on removes annoying carrying capacity restrictions and makes looting all the more enjoyable. In my case, I added what I call "the plot sword" to my inventory halfway through BG 2. It's a sword that seems to have been used in developer debugging sessions. It grants the user haste, all kinds of protections, and does 1000 damage per hit. Is a battle looking too tough and you don't want to reload your save? Advance the plot by unleashing "the plot sword" to move things along!

    Numerous mods that are easy to find and install allow you to tweak these games to fit many of your preferences. They don't make the rules less clunky, but they do make the consequences for not understanding them less of a pain.

    Like many fantasy games and stories, the Baldur's Gate games frequently employ spiritual themes worth considering, either for their truthfulness or falsehood.

    There are hypocritical church leaders (yaaawn...), druids who value trees as much as humans and a humanitarian rogue. The nature of evil and the soul is explored, as well as themes of salvation and redemption. In fact there are so many small moments that lightly explore real world spiritual issues I couldn't possibly keep track of them all. However, the potential for these elements to actually trigger worthwhile thought or conversation may only be significant for those who haven't had much experience in D&D inspired games or for Christians who actively excercise discernment while engaging in entertainment. For those familiar with this type of experience, these elements may easily fall into the background of classic tropes common to the genre.

    Despite the shortcomings of the games, its easy to recommend at least the original Baldur's Gate, if not the entire series, which can be found for a great price on gog.com. Gamers who like the visual style, storytelling and gameplay of the Dragon Age games will find its roots in Baldur's Gate. Roots that go deep and have a lot to offer.

    Quality: 8.5/10
    Relevance: 7.5/10


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