by Mike Fahey

  Bioware 

  RPG 

  Interplay 

  Now 

  PC 

 
5 CDs 

  Multi

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System Requirements:
Required:
  • Windows 95/98
  • Pentium 166
  • 16MB RAM
  • DirectX certified video w/ 2MB
  • DirectX certified sound card
  • 4x CD-ROM

Test Machine:
  • Windows 98
  • AMD K6-2 350
  • 128MB RAM
  • 16MB Quantum3D Raven
  • Aureal A3D Interactive 360° Positional Sound
  • 32X CD-ROM

Recommended:
  • P200MMX or Higher
  • 32MB RAM
  • DirectX certified video w/ 4MB
  • DirectX Compatible Sound Card
  • 8X CD-ROM

I'd say I started playing Dungeons and Dragons back in 1985. A group of friends and I would camp out in the woods behind my apartment complex and play all night long. I've been playing pretty steadily since then, and I can honestly say I've invested at least 2,000 dollars in the game over the years. I am currently searching for copies of the cartoon (remember Uni?) on video. I have every novel, have played every computer D&D game that's come out, and I own at least 20lbs of dice. D&D (or more correctly AD&D) is one of my greatest passions, right up there with videogames, good Italian food, and my wife (though not necessarily in that order.) That having been said, believe me when I say that Baldur's Gate is the best AD&D videogame yet to have been released.

Baldur's gate, developed by Bioware, plays like tabletop AD&D with very animated miniatures, no smoke or potty breaks between rounds, and no waiting for the Dungeon Master to finish up reading the module in the bathroom before you can start. Everything else is by the book, and by that I mean all the rules are here. Encumbrance, THAC0 (to hit armor class 0), fumbled hits, thieving skills, weapon proficiencies, random treasure generation; if it's a rule in the DM or Players' guide, then it's a good bet it made it into the game.

Sounds complicated, right?

It is, but not to the gamer. All of these calculations and effects take place behind the scenes. If you fumble and break your weapon, the game will tell you. If you carry more than your strength allows you will have serious trouble keeping up with your party. If you fail your saving throw against petrification, the lesser basilisk will kill you dead. The end result is very satisfying. You can't almost hear the dice rolls going on and you may even catch a whiff of unwashed fanboys enjoying themselves.

The story is classic fantasy material. Your initial character is a mysterious orphan, raised by a loving foster father in the city of Candlekeep. Everything is lovely and peaceful until one day, when murderers start showing up hungry for your blood, and your father asks you to flee the city with him under cover of the night. You of course agree, fleeing with him only to be attacked on the road outside town, resulting in the tragic death of the man who was the only family you ever knew. Tired, frightened, and alone, you set off to find the truth behind your life and his death. Thus begins your epic tale.

As you travel you'll meet some very interesting characters. There is a doom and gloom speaking mage, a druidess who often addresses the player as "Oh omnipresent one", and a Ranger whose sidekick is a miniature giant space hamster named Boo. And these are just the characters you can play. Bioware has populated the Forgotten Realms with familiar faces like Elminster the Archmage and Drizzt Do’Urden the Drow ranger. If you've read the books you'll notice familiar concepts too, like the elven mage you can have join your party who is bonded to his hereditary Moonblade.

The game incorporates many features from other popular games. The perspective is Diablo. The point and click commands reminded me of Warcraft and other games of that ilk. Basically you control your character and up to 5 others as a group or singularly. You pick actions using shortcut keys or handy icons on the display, and the characters follow the instructions. Do you have all characters attack at once, or do you let a few hang back in case of ambush, throw some big fighter into the fray and have your thief circle around for a backstab? Do you want to control all characters yourself or pick from several behavior archetypes? Paper or plastic? That's the beauty of the game. There are so many things to do and so many ways to do them, so gameplay never gets dull or repetitive.

The game's presentation is very solid. The menus are mainly icon driven and easy to navigate, especially the "paper doll" style inventory screen where you can drop equipment, armor, weapons, and even quick-access spells onto your characters to prepare them for battle. On the main screen you have a large playfield area, with the areas you have not visited blacked-out (love that feature). Each character has a set of quick icon commands that appear along the bottom of the screen when they are selected. Here you can place oft-used spells, magic scrolls, wands, potions, or special abilities like turning undead or laying hands. Everything you need is right at your fingertips thanks to the intuitive interface.

The detailed graphics of Baldur’s Gate are nothing short of amazing. Each map location is almost like a painting, with a look and feel that balances technical skill with artistic flair. While this is enough to satisfy most critics, the developers add day and night effects as well as snow and rain, complete with lightning lighting up the screen. Your characters and other NPC's not only look great but animate smoothly. The fact that your characters' looks change with their equipment is a very nice touch. Monsters are menacingly portrayed, from the tiny kobold to hill giants and beyond. Baldur's Gate also has its fair share of special effects, most notably the spells that spring to life from their caster's hands in brilliant flashes of light and color and sound. Just like I used to imagine them.

Adding to the ambiance is the soundtrack, consisting of tunes as epic as the adventure it accompanies. Pounding music meets the clash of weapons in battle while underlying menace can be heard in the dungeon dirges. The sound effects add to the environment nicely, bringing not only the clang of swordplay and the growl of the beast, but also the ambient noise of the realms, like crickets chirping at night or the murmurs from a crowded tavern. Rounding out the sound portion of our review are the voices, which manage to avoid being cheesy while adding some (much needed at times) comic relief. You may lose bladder control the first time the insane ranger yells, "Go for the eyes Boo! GO FOR THE EYES!"

The multiplayer play consists of the same storyline as the main game, but instead of one player controlling 6 characters, up to 6 people can play at a time, each controlling their own character. Almost like sitting around the old gaming table. If you get a good group together it almost doesn't get any better than this. As with every game of its type, beware of the few bad apples out there who want the money from your pouch and the experience from your death.

Now to be fair I did have a few problems with Baldur's Gate. The install was the main issue. Unless you have room for the full install you will have to swap between the 5 CDs frequently. Oh, and the full install is 2.5GB. Yes, times are a'changing. I also had some trouble with slowdown during some of the more "Ten Commandment" sized battles, but not enough to ruin my overall enjoyment of the game.

After playing Baldur's Gate for several days I have still not seen everything. The game is huge and every inch is more interesting than the last. I have to say it's about damn time someone truly captured the essence of AD&D in a computer game. Bioware has done it, and with the promise of further expansions (read: modules!) for this masterpiece, Baldur's Gate will keep you going for a long time coming. Just remember to eat and bathe, fanboys.
 
 

 Graphics:  
  Beautifully landscapes clash with horrible creatures. The attention to detail is unsurpassed.
 
 Gameplay:  
  The is AD&D, without the hassles of playing it live. Intuitive and highly addictive.
   
 Sound:  
  The music draws you further into the world as do the sound effects. Voices are well acted as well as humorous.
   
Originality:  
  A little off here because you can see the influence of other great games in the makeup of Baldur's Gate, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
   
Replay Value:  
  The main quest is huge and involving. Then there's multiplayer. Then the promise of additional adventures to come. Yeah baby.
   
Overall:  
  Forget about all the other Dungeons & Dragons titles. This is the big one. Baldur's Gate is a game any RPG lover, tabletop or PC, needs to have.
 
 
 
 
 
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