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Page 1 of 3There are dozens of classic PC RPGs, but few of them, at least amongst the masses, are as well-remembered and loved as Baldur's Gate. Originally released in 1998, the game blended a strategy game interface with gorgeous pre-rendered visuals, a stirring soundtrack and, of course, the trademark Dungeons & Dragons gameplay and Forgotten Realms universe, which have definitely stood the test of time. While not BioWare's first game, it became the title that all of their subsequent releases would be based on, and compared to.
Led by Trent Oster, who worked on the original game, Overhaul Games have now created Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, a re-release which modernizes the title with new technology, new features and new content. While their effort is commendable, and some of the additions are worthwhile, even only an hour's play-time reveals that many, many corners have been cut, even after the title was delayed for a bit over a month. Ultimately, and unfortunately, this new "enhanced" version of Baldur's Gate is, for the most part, anything but.
Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition certainly doesn't waste time in showing its new colors - literally. Upon first booting up the title, the old green stone menu screens have been replaced with gold-lined purple, described fairly accurately by the developers as "dwarven." From there, jumping into the original campaign shows off an all-new intro movie, drawn up in a series of moving stills that evoke the motion comic technique used in some other games, and when it comes time to create your character, you'll be treated to new voice packs and character portraits, all of which are quite well done. The changes are obvious and immediate.
This new version of Baldur's Gate integrates many features from its sequel, Baldur's Gate II, a feat previously requiring mods to pull off. New character classes, spells, racial options and more are all present and accounted for, which, if you've never modded the game before, make character development that much more interesting. Once you've actually got past the new interface and come to terms with the updates to the ruleset, you'll find yourself starting out in Candlekeep just like in the original title, however, and the old game (including the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion) is preserved intact, for better or for worse.
The new additions to the game content itself don't take too long to appear. As you adventure about, three characters join the fray: Rasaad the monk, Neera the wild mage, and Dorn the Blackguard. Each falls into an archetypical category - Neera is basically a "manic pixie dream girl", Dorn is a half-orc who is, yes, evil, and Rasaad is disillusioned with his faith following the death of his brother. You'll run into all of them by the game's second act assuming that you explore the game's main locations thoroughly, but it's nice to see the game doesn't necessarily highlight them or force them on you. All in all, they are fairly well written and decent additions to the game, but they certainly won't win awards for originality, and you'll be able to figure out their personalities, arcs and stories as soon as you lay eyes on them. At least they're all different classes than the original characters, so if you want to experiment more with unconventional party members, now you can.
The second major content addition to Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition comes in the form of The Black Pits, a stand-alone adventure bearing no relation to the main game. In it, your party is captured by the wizard Baeloth the Entertainer, and forced to fight a series of arena battles - the arena host expects you to die in the pit, and it's your goal to stick it to him by getting out alive. Although Overhaul Games boast "over six hours of gameplay", that is not accurate, as I completed it in closer to three, and I found it very repetitive after the first 30 minutes or so. Some of the battles are interesting from a tactical standpoint (a necromancer who summons skeletons, or a bunch of archers who have set up traps between you and them), but it's still the same old combat in the same two near-identical levels over and over, against the same old enemies. Let's face it - as an arena mode, The Black Pits seems to have been chosen to allow for the developers to reuse as much content as possible. It has some value as a way of testing party combinations and character builds, but none of your accomplishments there transfer into the main campaign.