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A funny thing happened on my way to reviewing Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear. When I picked the game up, I realized that I hadn't played either of the original Baldur's Gate games in about 15 years. Since Siege of Dragonspear is supposed to be the bridge between the two, I decided that I'd play Baldur's Gate first so I could get reacquainted with the franchise. But then I was talking to our site admin, and he mentioned that our Baldur's Gate subsite was one of our oldest, and that it could use some updating.
No problem, I thought. I can update the subsite as I play the game. But I have a mental problem, so to speak. My brain translates "update" into "re-write," and so what should have been a simple(ish) procedure took months. As a result, when I was finally ready to play Siege of Dragonspear, I was so far past the release date that I figured I might as well write our walkthrough for it at the same time, which is more efficient for me, but which added even more months to the delay of the review.
And so here we are eight months later. The good news is that while I was working my way towards Siege of Dragonspear, a lot of its problems got fixed, and all of the dialogue that offended everybody got removed, and so what I'm reviewing here could be considered the final product rather than the initial release that everybody else looked at. The bad news, of course, is that people have probably already made up their mind about the game. But let's ignore the bad news. It's Christmastime after all, a time of hope and renewal.
Just in case you haven't been following Siege of Dragonspear, it's a role-playing game from Beamdog, which is probably best known as the developer behind the Enhanced Editions of Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate II, and Icewind Dale. Siege of Dragonspear is their first stand-alone project, and it purports to explain how your party went from defeating Sarevok at the end of Baldur's Gate to being locked up and tortured in Jon Irenicus' prison at the start of Baldur's Gate II. Siege of Dragonspear officially is an expansion pack (since it requires the Baldur's Gate EE to play), but it is lengthy enough that you can also just consider it to be a new game in the franchise.
To create a character for Siege of Dragonspear, you have three basic paths that you can follow. You can use any saved game from the Baldur's Gate EE to import your character; if you're playing the Baldur's Gate EE, then after killing Sarevok at the end, Siege of Dragonspear will automatically start up and import your character for you; or you can create a new character, which will get advanced to around level 7. Obviously, the best option is to import. Your character will have better stats (because of the manuals from Baldur's Gate), be a higher level, and have better equipment. But you'll earn plenty of experience and find lots of high level loot in Siege of Dragonspear, so even if you start out a little bit gimped, it shouldn't be a problem by the end.
Siege of Dragonspear uses the same character creation system as the Baldur's Gate EE, so if you have to create your character, it shouldn't be too complicated. You get to choose one of seven races, including human, elf, dwarf, and half-orc. You get to choose one of 11 classes (or one of the 37 kits based on those classes), including paladin, mage, thief, and shaman. You get to select weapon proficiencies and perhaps skills. And you get to roll your attributes until you get a set that you like. Nicely, the game allows you to save one set of attributes, so if you roll a good set then you can try beating it for a while, and if that doesn't work, fall back to it.
Along with your character, you can also work with up to five companions. Unfortunately, this is an area where Beamdog made some poor decisions. The original Baldur's Gate had 25 companions, and Beamdog added four more for the EE, giving 29 total. But Siege of Dragonspear only has 15 companions total: four new ones, the four from the EE, and a mere seven from the original game. For most games, 15 companions is plenty, but Siege of Dragonspear uses the same alignment system as the Infinity Engine games, where evil companions don't like working with good groups, and good and neutral companions don't like working with evil groups. So that means your choices are limited, especially if you're evil, and you might get stuck with an odd group. As an example, with my evil party I had to use the cleric Viconia (with her 8 constitution) as one of my tanks, just because she was one of the few companions available to me who could wear heavy armor. I also had to use a neutral companion, who at random times decided to leave my party, which wasn't a lot of fun.
Another imperfect decision by Beamdog is how they determined the statistics of the companions you meet. Basically, they decided that companions should have whatever stats they had in the saved game that you imported. That works just fine for the companions that you used, but poorly otherwise, which is a problem because half the companions didn't make the cut, and so it's not likely you're going to get to use the same party in Siege of Dragonspear that you used in the Baldur's Gate EE. As an example, when I played my good party in the EE, I briefly added Dynaheir while recruiting Minsc. So when I had to use Dynaheir in Siege of Dragonspear because she was the only mage available early in the game, she was only level 3 with no equipment, and she was barely any help at all. Yay. I have no idea why Beamdog didn't just advance all of the companions to the main character's experience level to prevent obvious problems like the one I just described. It also seemed pretty random whether companions kept their equipment from the saved game, or had (halfway decent) replacement equipment, or had no equipment at all, and so that didn't work out great, either.
But in better news, almost all of the companions get a quest, and they add dialogue all throughout the campaign, so they're not just automatons following you around. Plus, all of the voice actors for the companions came back to reprise their roles, so everybody sounds like they're supposed to, and you get to hear new dialogue from the likes of Minsc, Khalid, Edwin, and Viconia. Imoen is also around, but she's just an NPC while she trains to become a mage (a nod to all of you dual classers out there). So in all, the companions work out. It's just that they easily could have worked out better.
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