Reviewed by Dr David Bate, 1999
Firstly, I should say a few words about my experience of roleplaying to date to put this review in context. I am a long time pencil and paper roleplayer with a preference for the Rolemaster system from ICE. Over the years I have played many systems including AD&D, but definitely prefer the more skill based systems.
I have only recently started playing computer and console RPGs and so have not got the same level of experience of these systems. Therefore, this review will be more from the Pencil and Paper roleplaying angle.
To start the review I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Baldurs Gate. Overall it is a well put together game with a sufficiently interesting, if a little cliched, plot but with enough freedom to allow you to wander.
The game engine is based on the AD&D rules. It doesn't appear to be completely faithful to any particular revision, including weapon proficiencies with up to four levels, but removing almost all non-weapon proficiencies. However, the spirit of AD&D is quite clearly apparent.
In the (single player) game you create a single character from the available races and classes. As there are options to re-roll and to move points around, your character is likely to be a better than average example of their type, unless you are very strict. During the game you will meet NPCs who will offer to join you, you can either accept or reject these offers.
One aspect to bear in mind with this aspect of the game is alignment. The game faithfully implements the AD&D alignment system and this means that if your reputation doesn't match with the NPCs it can come to blows. This can lead to the situation where, a Neutral main character has both good and evil characters in the party, who will fight to the death over their differences.
As the game progresses, your party, consisting of your main character and up to 5 NPCs, will travel around the main map solving the main plot, many subquests and slaughtering large quantities of monsters. This generates experience points that allow the characters to advance as one might expect. Thankfully, there are plenty of experience points available for completing quests rather than just killing monsters. However gold pieces do not convert into experience points. There are also several towns and other places where items and treasure can be bought and sold.
Baldurs Gate is not without its flaws. For me the worst is actually the spell memorisation rules, which are part of AD&D, and so it is not a problem with the implementation but with the underlying rules. The problem this causes is mainly that you don't know what you will encounter the next day, so you tend to memorise lots of general purpose spells and ignore the more interesting but specific spells.
Another annoyance is the lack of a party equipment screen. This means that for character A to pass an item to character B, they must first drop it on the ground and then B must pick it up. A screen similar to the Materia exchange screen in Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation would have been very helpful.
There are other minor annoyances, such as NPCs talking to hidden and invisible characters, thus triggering some plot elements while you are trying to scout the area. Also there are occasional lapses of the AI for the party causing some members to get trapped behind a wall rather than following the rest of the party.
One complaint I have heard from several people is that Baldurs Gate was full of bugs and crashed regularly. Personally, I didn't see this. The game crashed out to Windows about 5 times in about 100 hrs of play. I would prefer zero crashes but compared to some software this is pretty good.
Finally, I would like to reiterate my initial point, this is a thoroughly enjoyable game whose flaws do not seriously damage it. I would certainly recommend it to any pencil and paper roleplayer who doesn't mind a fairly combat intensive RPG experience.
Baldurs Gate is published by Interplay and was developed by Black Isle Studios based on the AD&D rules of Wizards of the Coast (AD&D formally owned by TSR Inc).
All copyrights and trademarks acknowledged.