Sunday, September 7, 2003

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A Must Have Utility

Baldur’s Gate

Concerned about crime in the streets? Brace yourself. You are about to become a crime statistic in your very own home — victim of a blatant, dastardly theft.

Baldur’s Gate, named role-playing game of the year by several PC magazines in 1998, is finally ready for the Mac, and it’s going to steal your leisure time. All of your leisure time.

A true role-playing adventure set on the Sword Coast of Forgotten Realms and using traditional Dungeons & Dragons rules, Baldur’s Gate will grab your attention, charm you, and ultimately turn you into a bleary-eyed addict.

You are a youngster living in the relatively safe haven of Candlekeep. (You build your own hero, an adventurer who becomes the focus of all later action, choosing gender, race, character type, and even moral stance.) You don’t know much about your background because your protector, Gorion, seldom speaks of it. But he has told you that something strange and very dangerous is about to happen, and that you must arm yourself and learn to fight.

Candlekeep, then, becomes an excellent tutorial. Green-robed monks spout useful hints as you wander through the streets to buy equipment and sample a few simple sub-quests. Warriors teach you in painless battles how to fight singly and in groups. But the impending danger is near, and you must soon flee with Gorion. Once you leave the safety of Candlekeep, the true adventure begins.

Gorion exits gameplay almost instantly. But as you wander, you can add as many as five characters to your party, each with different abilities. Your travels will take you to towns, public alehouses, private homes, peculiar temples, farms, meadows, and woodlands, most filled with assassins, monsters, and deadly perils. Stay with your party for safety. If any of your traveling companions die, they can be replaced. If you die, the game is over.

It’s a huge, gorgeous world — five CDs worth — with no repetitious textures or tiles. Each scene is individually rendered. You’ll visit dozens of towns and cities in which every building is carefully detailed. You’ll wander through forests and meadows filled with vibrant colors. You’ll cross mountains, lakes, and streams alive with all kinds of birds and animals.

Sunny days and starry nights give way to rain, thunderstorms, even light snow. You’ll hear footsteps clattering, people shouting, cows mooing, chanters singing, doors opening and closing. And you’ll find numerous side quests, items to search for, and scads of monsters waiting to cut you into little pieces.

Combat is a big part of the game. Battles erupt suddenly and foes come at you in real time. When that happens, pause the game by hitting the spacebar so you’ll have enough breathing space to gather your thoughts and issue attack orders to each member of your party. You’d also be wise to save often, since some of the early battles come before you have adequate arms and experience, and can quickly end in defeat and death.

The constant fighting serves a purpose. Your party will pick up valuable booty from corpses, and you’ll gain new skills and experience points as you win battles. You can also add experience points through quests and reputation points through personal behavior. Speak kindly, do good deeds, donate money to priests, and your reputation soars. Speak harshly, pick needless fights, steal from the innocent, and you can kiss your honor goodbye.

Dungeons & Dragons fanatics will delight in this game because it’s one of the first to use advanced D&D rules. But Baldur’s Gate is put together with such a user-friendly interface that total novices will enjoy it just as much. The excellent engine, great graphics, and meticulous attention to detail made this game so thoroughly addictive and fun that the PC version sold more than a million copies. Mac players will no doubt increase that number.

Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Baldur’s Gate:
Simulations  |  |  800-580-4723


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