Baldur's Gate/Baldur's Gate II Retrospective

No doubt inspired by Beamdog's mysterious Baldur's Gate project, one of the editors over at Eurogamer has whipped up a retrospective for the entire Baldur's Gate saga, and it's pretty clear that the series left as favorable of an impression on the author as it did on me.
I don't remember how many evenings I rushed home to throw myself into that game, to lose myself in its beautiful depths and to let it paint smiles across my face. I was rapt, in awe of its production quality, of its gorgeous rendered backgrounds, its enormous playing area and its seemingly endless hidden treasures. I had never seen a game with such a detailed and yet such an open world, a world where you could literally wander off the beaten track into the whispering, autumnal and often deadly woods.

Adventure was everywhere, with quest treasures begging to be seized, plot threads waiting to be grasped, my travels taking me from the haunted hilltop ruins of a mage school to the wyvern-infested caverns under a forest a-scuttle with giant spiders. It didn't even matter that the central plot was a convoluted introduction to a sinister secret, because it was just one story among so many that this game was waiting to tell me. Baldur's Gate rewarded me every time I exercised my curiosity, showing me that, whether I could handle it or not, adventure was not only waiting for me around every corner, it practically hung in the air like morning mist, so drenched was this world in danger and magic.


When its sequel arrived two years later I would've been happy with more of the same, but Shadows of Amn was like a fine wine, richer and darker, while even more grandiose in its scope and themes. It took the Dungeons & Dragons formula to its logical conclusion, painting adventuring parties not as wandering heroes for hire but as lonely bands of damaged people who repeatedly witness death and suffer loss, roaming the lands together as rootless, surrogate families. The game's vaunted romances, where non-player characters would grow closer to the player and which prefigured those of Mass Effect or Dragon Age, all told stories of terrible loneliness and hurt, while other characters carried forth from the first Baldur's Gate had also suffered great harm.

The game was as much a coming-of-age story as it was an adventure. Both the player and their companions gradually came to understand the true nature of the protagonist, someone wrestling with a growing awareness of their heritage and with a fear of what they might become, even how they might harm those few close to them, their fellow travellers. Mirroring this, its environments became ever more sordid and unpleasant. Its cities were grittier, its crypts murkier - and, eventually, it took its players into the fabled Underdark and even the many hells themselves, regions where it became all too easy to feel at home.