I actually played Baldur’s Gate (the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion, in case you’re wondering) well after Baldur’s Gate II and looking back, the original isn’t even in the same ballpark. Admittedly, that may be matter of having been used to improvements that weren’t in the original. But there’s no denying that said original had serious problems. For instance, I’ve never played any other RPG in which healing with items could be quite inconvenient (see Gameplay).
But it was the best RPG, right? Only among the Dungeons and Dragons games, which were… not good, for the most part.
Plot: 10 out of 10
What’s great about this game’s plot is the mystery. After creating your character under the D&D second edition rules (yes, I know what that means), you are told that you were raised by your foster parent, Gorion. You are suddenly told that you and Gorion have to leave home. Gorion explains that you have to leave home without explanation. When a mysterious, huge man in dark armor and his monstrous associates kill Gorion and you barely escape, a lot of questions emerge. These questions and others, particularly those concerning a complicated power play in the city of Baldur’s Gate, are answered.
A nice thing that would be built on as more of Bioware’s RPGs and action RPGs came out is the random conversations between the people you add to your party. Sadly, you can’t directly talk to them yourself in this one. That would come later.
I must admit that I really didn’t enjoy this story as much as I could have. Again, I played the sequel first and, thus, absorbed a lot of spoilers.
Graphics: 5 out of 10
Character models are a tad lacking, but the landscape is nothing less than amazing. The lack of variety in the dwarf, elf, and halfling models cost this category a point or two, though.
Sound: 8 out of 10
These Bioware-produced RPGs have great voice acting. Environmental sounds are also quite acceptable facsimiles of the kinds of places they are used in. If there’s anything this earlier western RPG does just as well as BGII and the many RPG brands that Bioware has trucked out since, this is it.
Gameplay: 6 out of 10
D&D is translated quite well. No complaints there. The combat and spell-casting systems also work well. I do have a complaint about how little info you’re provided with. Instead of being able to get a map that shows all the locations on the map you can go to, you have to go to the north/south/east/west edge of the current area to reveal the next place in that direction. That might not sound so bad, but there are dozens and dozens of places to go on the world map, so this is really inconvenient and, eventually, annoying. The important locations that don’t become available until you talk to a specific person aren’t exactly helpful.
Another bad thing is that the game is automatically unpaused when you go to your Inventory. Each character does have “ready item” slots that don’t unpause the game, but they’re only three each and don’t allow easy transfer of items from character to character. So your use of healing potions is fairly restricted.
One final pet peeve is that the AI of party members is troublesome. It’s stupid enough to mess up long walks that aren’t completely straight if you leave your people to their own devices. Needless to say, frequent pausing is necessary in battles, lest the micro-brains screw it up.
Bioware had to know that it screwed up, because BGII has a more informative world map and going to the Inventory doesn’t unpause the game. The former having occurred in the first place is understandable. The latter? I think not.
Challenge: 4 out of 10
This is without question Baldur’s Gate’s weakest suit. It’s just too inconsistent. Remember how I said that this game translates D&D well? This is also true for characters being extremely weak in the earliest levels. Unfortunately, the programmers didn’t recognize the ramification of this. As a result, It’s too easy to die at that point. Be extremely careful in the early portion of this game.
Before too long, the difficulty suddenly goes down. Well, if you went through most of the minor places. Otherwise, this part is modestly tough.
In the later portion dominated by the city of Baldur’s Gate, the difficulty goes back up to the top all of a sudden. In particular, the final battle is one of the hardest in the history of RPGs. If you play in the original version with its experience cap, this is even harder.
This inconsistency is simply not how to do it. Baldur’s Gate doesn’t know whether it wants to have high or mediocre difficulty.
Overall: 6 out of 10
Despite being historically important to the western RPG sub-genre, this is not all that good a game. Truth be known, the pause-breaking Inventory alone costs this game a point. I do love Baldur’s Gate II, but the original just doesn’t have the magic that some think it does.