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Thread: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

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    Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)



    Video explores the question of why Baldur's Gate is seen as a classic, and remains a uniquely impressive achievement in videogames, despite the fact that the impact and popularity of the re-releases / enhanced editions seem underwhelming by modern standards.

    The essence of the answer seems to be the extent to which Baldur's Gate successfully translated the tabletop roleplaying experience into a single-player computer game. No game before or since did such a good job of that.

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    It wasn't just an incredibly accurate translation of the rules of the game. It also captured the essence of a well-run campaign: quests with great rewards (XP and loot), hidden treasures, an interesting set of plots built around the actions of the player, rewards for those who explored.

    I enjoyed Siege of Dragonspear (the expansion for the Enhanced edition). It wasn't as good as the original, possibly because they added some classes that really aren't so hot (shaman), and because there was a fair amount of "if you missed it, can't go back" content which is the exact opposite of how the original played. But after playing it I didn't understand a lot of the hate it got. One thing it did very well: there were a lot of branch points where actions changed future events in important ways. It's the flip side of "can't go back", but it did add significant replay value to the expansion.

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    The game also did an awesome job of creating unique characters that each had their own personalities and goals. They weren't just "guys (or gals)" to fill a spot in the party and just tag along for the main character. They had their own stories and needs and if they didn't like you, they'd leave.

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    Seige of Dragonspear wqas very good
    but yes too linear

    Baldurs Gate was awesome, was what I got on the Net for
    *Crom Faeyr*
    wish they made more of 'em, but Pillars of Eternity SUCKED, sorry it did, it was just too...dry, it didn't engage me.
    icewind Dale 2 was great as well, continuing in that vein but I do like turn based (which I prefer as in BG or Temple of Elemental Evil)
    no reason not to use 5th ed mechanics





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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    The Icewind Dale games seemed very mechanical to me: combat combat combat, not a lot of questing or interesting plotlines, quite linear. The combat was great - some of those tower fights were amazing, even if your party was stacked (like all anti-undead paladins - Cavaliers? - as melees). But I'd compare them more to the gold box games than to Baldur's Gate in terms of gameplay. I'd love to see a "Temple of Elemental Evil Enhanced edition".

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    Dolores
    true, but still fun

    yeah Temple of Elemental Evil is IMHO a sadly overlooked gem! Really could do with a revamp
    ended up hating 3.5ed D&D because as DM the complexity became an utter PIA, but when the CPU does it for ya...

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    So I played through Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn again. I've started Throne of Bhaal, not sure if I'll finish it. At this point I have no plans to bother with the Extended Edition. Some thoughts...

    Again have to agree with Delores about the way both games flow mostly like well-run campaigns. I might agree that perhaps XP and loot flows a bit too easily in the early parts of Shadows of Amn(Celestial Fury, Flail of the Ages), but that's largely a matter of taste. The balance between quest rewards and combat experience is just about perfect, and the per-character quest rewards nicely balance the desire to have a full party with maximizing xp gain. I don't think anyone ever grinds in BG2. Plus it's a nice side-effect that the big per-character quest rewards are more likely to result in a character level-up at a convenient moment. I also think that while the choice to have compact, content-dense areas that you proceed through mostly linearly as part of a quest worked well for a higher level campaign, but must admit that I somewhat miss the open-world, open-ended feeling of the original BG1, and nothing in the sequel's main plot matches the narrative effectiveness of the mysterious iron crisis from the first game. Many of the quests serve as good examples of how to do a quest in an CRPG without relying too much on fetching and collecting. They're also paced pretty well, although the downside is that certain areas, like the sewers and forest zones, can feel small and underwhelming. From a gameplay perspective there's also a relative lack of good outdoor encounters where Druid/Ranger spells and abilities come into play. Call Lightning is fun but by the time you wind up in a zone where it might be useful you've probably forgotten you even have it and won't bother loading it up anyway.

    The plot in BG2 is good, but I would not call it amazing. There are some great moments, and the "special destiny" for CHARNAME as a child of a dead god of murder is still a great concept (I am not one who cares much about being able to fill in my own backstory in a videogame character). The cryptic dream sequences in the first game were great at hinting about this mysterious history. In the SoA, they're a bit pretentious although David Warner is truly awesome as Jon Irenicus in a era when voice acting was rare in video games. The basic plot structure is fine (Irenicus plots to steal your soul, succeeds at the half-way point, and the rest of the game is you trying to get it back). The Vampire plot through chapter 3 is good, but Bodhi quickly becomes an annoying (and rather stupid) villain. The story cheats a bit to portray Irenicus as a Magnificent Bastard(albeit less charismatic than the archetype), to automatically capture you in chapter 4. Plus the whole charade with Desharik to get yourself imprisoned in Spellhold on purpose seems misguided to me... if getting yourself imprisoned in spellhold was all it took why not just get convicted by the cowled wizards in Athkatla?

    Lots of people love the banters, though personally I find them rather mixed. I find Jaheira annoying. Korgan's story about why he killed his previous companions was amusing the first time I clicked through the dialog chain. After the 10th I was very sick of it. There are bright points, though. I think my favorite is probably this exchange between Irenicus and Korgan:

    Irenicus(As Spellhold Coordinator): This is Wanev. He used to be the Asylum Coordinator before I took the post. Too much exposure to magical forces, I suspect.
    Irenicus: His mind could not handle the energies that circulate in this place. A bad reaction to a particular spell unhinged him quite dramatically.
    Korgan: I had me a partner once that had an unfortunate reaction to a particular sword. That don't make it an accident.

    What I like about it is that it's both in-character and understated. It's funny, without being try-hard.

    In general, though, I am just not a big fan of multiple-choice branching dialog in RPG games and never have been. While I've seen specific scenarios done well (though I can't think of one off hand), most of the time it just feels way too limited and deterministic to be anything like actual "role playing" and far more tedious than cutscene-centric model. As far as BG2 goes, the multiple-choices can get a bit repetitive, and a lot of them feel meaningless (mostly because in game terms, they are meaningless. Dialog often proceeds the same way regardless of the choice made. Sometimes only one line of response that's different. Other people seem to love it though and claim it makes them feel more engaged, so whatever. Tangentially, I just saw a paper about representing videogame dialog as first-order logic (rather than strings).

    The combat system in BG2 gets criticized from many angles, and many of those criticisms are valid. That said, it's still a reasonably good system. The auto-pause system is certainly idiosyncratic, and was perhaps the key innovation that enabled the merging of the RTS/Warcraft style gameplay with DND Rules; allowing players to control the pace of action based on their own playstyle or the encounter itself.

    The BG2 tactical system is not as deep as some purely tactical games (Final Fantasy Tactics and that whole class of tactical RPG. Even the older Gold Box games had deep tactical combat). Now I love those games, but they aren't everyone's cup of tea and it's hard to deny that those deep turn-based systems don't scale DOWN very well. Every battle is a major commitment and encounters where you far outclass your opponent often require a lot of tedious attention. In BG2, if the story wants you to mow down somebody, you just click attack and watch the chunks fly. Lady Galvena and her dickhole wizard partner in Brynnlaw come to mind. More commonly, you'll have an encounter where the first few rounds are key, but then the battle is won and the rest is just mopping up. You can pause liberally at first and then just let the melee characters slaughter the rest once the battle is won. That's another scenario where a PnP game offers a wider variety of (unscripted) victory conditions like surrender or retreat (fleeing in panic on morale failure doesn't really count, as that's more like a status effect). The realtime option also works seamlessly with the RPG/exploration elements. The gold box Dragonlance games used two completely different game engines for exploration and combat. Exploration was 1st-person grid-based, like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, while combat was 2d turn-based. Final Fantasy Tactics doesn't even really have an exploration engine, not in the same sense as a real RPG at any rate. I believe the OP video did touch on this point.

    From the other angle, the BG2 combat system is not as fast and streamlined as an actual action RPG like say, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Compared to Skyrim, BG2's combat feels complicated and bogged down with lots of rules and details that mess up the pace. Which is true, but then, Baldur's Gate at least has SOME semblance of balance, risk, and challenge. I'm not saying BG2 is particularly hard, but in Skyrim, you can literally pause the game at any time and drink potions until your health is full. Equipment choices usually don't matter that much, so long as what you're using is level-appropriate. Dragon fights are boring as shit in Skyrim and just involve waiting around for the Dragon to land, at which point you whack it with your weapon until it takes off again. If you get caught in the breath weapon, just potion up when necessary. The Dragon Fights in BG2 feel epic, precursors to the Everquest Vox/Nagafen era raid mobs. You can beat the BG2 Dragons fairly easily with normal-sized party, but they still involve heavy-hitting breath weapons with AoE fear/dispels, dangerous melee, and strong magical resistances. BG2 has nothing like the elaborate, scripted encounters in a game like World of Warcraft, but then BG2 wasn't an MMORPG either.

    The jump from the Infinity Engine era to the 3D era seemed to shift the focus to first-person games with gameplay oriented around a single PC. Additional party members are either AI-controlled henchman, or they're live players online. Multi-boxing aside, the model of a single player with full control over multiple characters seemed to fade from Western CRPGs. While 3d worlds allow for some greater flexibility in what an individual character can do, controlling just one character still limits the tactical depth of the game a great deal. BG2's hybrid real-time/tactical combat engine helped enable this. While the focus in BG2 is definitely on your main character and it's possible for party members to abandon you or even attack you if you piss them off sufficiently, for the most part the whole party is entirely under your control. AI exists for convenience, but it's possible to completely micromanage every action if you want to. I notice that Divinity: Original Sin II has rave reviews and seems to include a move towards controlling multiple party members in tactical combat, but I haven't played it.

    Then, of course, there's the DnD combat in general angle. Harping on Thac0, like the reviewer above, though, is rather silly, especially in the context of a videogame where all the math is done for you behind the scenes. Sure it's a quirky acronym that doesn't sound like anything cool, and a lower base thaco0 is better. But none of this really matters much if you just read the item descriptions. If your weapon says thac0 BONUS then it means it's GOOD. You want more bonuses on your weapons. If some effect says PENALTY to enemy thac0, that's bad for them (and presumably good for you). It's not that complicated. If you want to actually calculate the math and expected damage per round and all that stuff-- well then you're not going to be fooled by which side of the equation the numbers happen to be on. If there are inconsistent descriptions on items and spells, that's more due to the fact that every single item description in the game is hand-written, than anything about the mechanics themselves. It was up to the content creators to use terms consistently, and in many cases there are terms that just aren't in the descriptions (item enchantment level, for example, when it doesn't match the thac0 bonus, isn't always included. Eg: Mace of Disruption +1 hits as a +3 weapon). And sure, using the dice metaphor in a videogame can be off-putting to people coming from other videogames ("Is 2d4 better than 1d10?" For BG2 the answer is: it's not actually that important).

    The AD&D 2e system certainly has some issues but thac0 and negative numbers are really the least of its problems. The better criticisms I've seen point out how that edition can be a really jarring mishmash of different concepts that lack many real central principles guiding the design. While there can be a certain organic charm to the way DnD evolved over the years, it's hard to argue that the five categories of saving throw are really the best way to handle magic defenses. What makes a "save vs wand" different from a "save vs polymorph"? They're pretty arbitrary.

    The BG2 game system was amazing for its time in terms of the sheer variety of spells it was able to support, from the bizarre "Creeping Doom" to warding spells like "Symbol, Death" to magical weapons like "Black Blade of Disaster." You can summon spellcasting Djinni, polymorph into a regenerating troll or a magic-immune golem. It supports stationary effects like stinking cloud and cloudkill. It had invisibility that actually worked and was useful. There's a great variety of buffs and debuffs. Some spells have quirky and interesting effects like "Teleport Field." But ultimately, the system still winds up feeling a bit limited. Because encounters are all static, enemies almost never move around until combat begins, and traps and wards like Glyph of Warding, Skull Trap, and Delayed Blast Fireball wind up working best as extra direct-damage combat spells with long cast times. The vast majority of polymorph/shapechange abilities are worthless. There's no polymorphing into a cat to sneak through a narrow crack in the wall, or into a giant to climb over one. In fact apart from a mild movement rate bonus, there's almost no benefit whatsoever to being larger. Occasionally, blocking a hallway can be useful, but that's a very minor perk. I once hacked the game to include Silver Dragon as one of the polymorph options, which turned out to be worse than useless. It might have been fun in BG1 to roam around the countryside as a dragon, but in BG2 the only places where it's convenient to engage in combat in dragon form are the lairs where you actually encounter the dragons. Every other area is far too small with too many obstacles. In the PnP game, turning into (or summoning) something as huge as a dragon would still come with lots of downsides, but there would be pros and cons. A small boulder in the path that small-sized entities must navigate around might just be ignored by a Dragon in a PnP game. But in BG2 the strict collision rules makes the path completely impassable for the Dragon. A wooden stockade might have a door that fits only human-sized creatures, but a Giant could just bust a hole in the wall big enough to walk through. In fact, open-ended modification of terrain/environment is a whole class of ability that, AFAIK, even modern RPG engines haven't managed to implement. BG2 doesn't even include obstacle spells like Wall of Ice, which could theoretically be implemented in the Infinity Engine using sprite objects with just a bit of tweaking.

    The other combat phenomenon in BG2 that is rather less than optimal, and is in no small part related to the underlying DnD system, is the number of all-or-nothing Rock/Paper/Scissor combat scenarios. Now, having an R/P/S dynamic with overpowered/instant-kill attacks and defense/immunity relationships isn't automatically bad. When such a dynamic is present, it can force combat to proceed in some more unusual direction-- using the "rock" against the "scissors" for example might have some other meaningful and interesting implication to the gameplay. For example, a mage may put up a barrier that prevents melee, meaning no one can attack until your own mage casts Breach (assuming it's memorized). This means that for that round you need to find something else for the melee characters to do than hammer on the enemy mage. Then there are all the golems that are immune to everything but crushing weapons. Other enemies require "magical weapons of +x or better" to hit at all. But this kind of thing can get tedious after awhile. Vampires are mostly pushovers if you have charm protection and negative plane protection. If you don't, you'll get dominated or level drained and then the question becomes whether it's less of a pain in the ass to reload or cast restoration. Though to be fair, vampires are also vulnerable to fire. Firkraag's vampire ambush is fun to incinerate with a triple-fireball spell sequencer (as well as anyone else who can cast a fireball, like from the book of infinite spells. Still, there's a lot of encounters in the game that are easy if you have the right buffs and attacks, but very deadly or tedious if you don't, and managing buffs gets really tedious after awhile. Not as tedious as inventory management, but it's still annoying.

    And speaking of inventory management, that's another angle that's really rough in BG2. Looting mobs becomes a huge god damn chore, although it's less bad on subsequent playthroughs when you know which enemies drop loot you care about. The bag of holding helps, but there's still a lot of clicking around crap and trying to keep organized various stacks of scrolls, potions, miscellaneous loot, etc. I don't have a problem with the inventory limitations as a balance mechanic (although this sort of thing was done much better in Dark Souls). But all the clicking can get SUPER tedious after awhile.

    There are many other minor issues like that that you can critique. I often like to point out how certain games have great synergy with their platform wind up with a timeless quality that persists despite advances in graphics and such. The original Legend of Zelda, for example, remains a fantastic came to play today, even on the original hardware if you can find a working model. The graphics don't seem too dated, because they're all stylish representations of virtual game pieces in the first place, anyway. That's not so true of Baldur's Gate. While the sprites and such aren't BAD or anything, they're definitely dated and rather limited compared to what you can have in 2017, and most importantly that limitation can actually be felt in the game. It's mildly disappointing that there are so few interesting changes to either your paperdoll or your battlefield sprite. SOME looks are implemented, but many aren't. So it feels rather half-finished, and it's purely due to the limitations of the engine as it shipped with the original game.

    Anyway, this is a long ramble that's been building for months and had to get it off my chest. Thanks for reading.

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    Quote Originally Posted by Goladus
    As far as BG2 goes, the multiple-choices can get a bit repetitive, and a lot of them feel meaningless....
    A lot of them only differ if certain conditions are met, like CHARNAME is a certain class, or gender, or has stats above a certain point. I agree that most of the time the dialog feels "on rails" - you're going in one direction and that's it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Goladus
    That's another scenario where a PnP game offers a wider variety of (unscripted) victory conditions like surrender or retreat....

    *SNIP*

    The other combat phenomenon in BG2 that is rather less than optimal, and is in no small part related to the underlying DnD system, is the number of all-or-nothing Rock/Paper/Scissor combat scenarios.
    I'm surprised you didn't run into situations where the R/P/S stuff created more tactical approaches to combat. I played the game enough times that I can't say that sending characters ahead of the group was "scouting" in the purest sense of the word. But sending single charm- or level-drain-immune characters into a fight against a creature with those abilities while the rest of the party stayed well out of line-of-sight? Did that. Send a caster forward to launch a static effect into a room of tough mobs, then run back to the waiting party, forcing the mobs to all run through the static effect? Did that. Block narrow passages with melees and/or summoned creatures while most of the party used ranged attacks? Did that, along with forming "melee walls" around casters and having casters "kite" melee creatures while waiting for a melee to intercept it. I even did retreat tactics in the maze with the teleport portals in the Demogorgon keep - zone through, pick off a couple of creatures with focused fire, retreat before anyone dies, heal up, repeat. It's more than "attack attack attack defend defend defend", or at least it was for me. (Thief traps also fall into the strategy category, as they cannot be placed in combat. There's a fair number of boss-style encounters that I beat with the amazing initial burst damage from those.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Goladus
    And speaking of inventory management, that's another angle that's really rough in BG2.
    It favours being really organized and anal about things, but it is pretty tedious. The Lore system for identifying items is partially to blame here, since odds are your party leader (which is the character which will loot if you click on items without isolating a different character) isn't the character with the highest Lore score. It would have been a lot better if right-clicking unidentified items applied the best Lore score in the party automatically, if Identify could be cast regardless of who looted the item, and if certain classes of items (gems, potions, scrolls) would automatically go to the appropriate type of bag without being shuffled around.

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    I'm surprised you didn't run into situations where the R/P/S stuff created more tactical approaches to combat. I played the game enough times that I can't say that sending characters ahead of the group was "scouting" in the purest sense of the word. But sending single charm- or level-drain-immune characters into a fight against a creature with those abilities while the rest of the party stayed well out of line-of-sight? Did that. Send a caster forward to launch a static effect into a room of tough mobs, then run back to the waiting party, forcing the mobs to all run through the static effect? Did that. Block narrow passages with melees and/or summoned creatures while most of the party used ranged attacks? Did that, along with forming "melee walls" around casters and having casters "kite" melee creatures while waiting for a melee to intercept it. I even did retreat tactics in the maze with the teleport portals in the Demogorgon keep - zone through, pick off a couple of creatures with focused fire, retreat before anyone dies, heal up, repeat. It's more than "attack attack attack defend defend defend", or at least it was for me. (Thief traps also fall into the strategy category, as they cannot be placed in combat. There's a fair number of boss-style encounters that I beat with the amazing initial burst damage from those.)
    No, I agree with you for the most part. It's definitely a good enough tactical engine to offer a good variety of gameplay. I remember in the first baldur's gate game having a hell of a time with the ally-affecting AE spells, and it's true that enemies tend to close in on your very quickly, preventing a number of potential tactics. But with all the resistance-buffing possibilities in BG2, it just means you have to plan ahead a bit. Resist Cold + Ice Storm. Protection from Acid + Death Fog. Protection from Fire + Meteor Swarm (or fireball, or incendiary cloud, etc..).

    I guess that, apart from finding the "spell buffed tank w/ missiles" strategy boring after awhile (especially the buffing part), it's mostly the high-level mage battles that I find tedious (or frustrating). There's large number of defensive spells, many of which provide some sort of 100% immunity but can also be canceled with a single counterspell or two so long as you know the right sequence to use them and/or are high enough level. Which is OK except that the rules for canceling spell defenses are fairly complicated and the game doesn't give you much in the way feedback or clues in the midst of a battle when you hit those defenses. And then you have your own array of spell defenses to deploy, like Spell Immunity: Abjuration to block Imprisonment or Spell Immunity: Divination to protect your invisibility or illusion. It's just really effing complicated.

    Some mages can be killed/interrupted with area-damage spells like fireball. Sometimes you can just cast breach and clunk them over the head with a heavy object, other times you have to get rid of a spell trap first. All this requires scrolling back in the message buffer to see exactly which protection spells were cast so you know which counterspells will work. Or just sneak your rogue up behind before the combat starts hit the mage with a quintuple backstab and watch the contingencies fire on a corpse. There's also the Inquisitor kit for Paladins with that Level+20 dispel (game gives you Keldorn if you want him). There are other strategies of varying levels of cheese that you can use, so it's not like this is some kind of deal-breaking game-ruining dynamic. I just don't like it very much.


    edit:
    For reference, here's the list of spells that grant 100% immunity to some large category of melee or spell, omitting elemental resistance buffs and illusions:

    Code:
    Minor Globe of Invulnerability
    Minor Spell Turning
    Spell Immunity: <School>  (which is really like 8 different immunity spells to pay attention to)
    Protection from Normal Weapons
    Spell Shield
    Spell Deflection
    Protection from Magical Weapons
    Globe of Invulnerability
    Mantle
    Improved Mantle
    Absolute Immunity
    Spell Trap
    Here's the corresponding array of counterspells:

    Code:
    Dispel Magic
    Remove Magic
    Breach
    Spell Thrust
    Secret Word
    Pierce Magic
    Khelben's Warding Whip
    Ruby Ray of Reversal
    Pierce Shield
    Spellstrike
    This also does not include any potential innate immunities of a particular enemy. Lichs, I belive, are immune to spells of level 5 or lower. At least, any Lich wearing LICH.ITM in their ring slot, which seems to be most of them as far as I can tell. So, when you cast Breach on a Lich, nothing happens because it's a level 5 spell. The game doesn't give you any hint as to why it failed. Also it seems like I've hit a Lich with magic missile before, though perhaps my memory is foggy.

    Anyway, the point being that the rules are rather byzantine, seem even more byzantine than they are because of the poor feedback in combat, and can't be easily ignored because they involve 100% categorical immunity to important abilities. And typically, the enemies that use these kinds of immunity spells also have some really nasty offensive spells like Imprisonment, Symbol: Stun, Time Stop, and Horrid Wilting.
    Last edited by Goladus; November 13th, 2017 at 06:59 AM.

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    The chain-Breach/Ruby Ray on targets can get annoying, agreed. It's a primary reason why I usually keep Keldorn - greater whirlwind Holy Avenger keeps most mobs clear of buffs for long enough for melee damage to smoke them. I never use buffs vs. AE effects, mostly because I like to go as long as possible without resting and having more damage/healing effects available is better for that than one-fight combos. One thing that Icewind Dale did well was not have those incredibly complicated anti-wizard fights with multiple buffs and contingency buffs to strip.

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    Keep in mind the era the game was designed in. For what it did, it did it very well and it was the first game to "get it right". It did it so well that even 15+ years later many of the game systems are still found in modern games and there is a whole sub-genre of BG2 (I forget what the game engine's name was) style games being produced and released by independent game shops.

    A very good, and interesting, analysis of the game, though Goladus.

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    Re: Thorough Look at Baldur's Gate (2 hour video review)

    Quote Originally Posted by Dramadon View Post
    Keep in mind the era the game was designed in. For what it did, it did it very well and it was the first game to "get it right". It did it so well that even 15+ years later many of the game systems are still found in modern games and there is a whole sub-genre of BG2 (I forget what the game engine's name was) style games being produced and released by independent game shops.

    A very good, and interesting, analysis of the game, though Goladus.
    Thanks.

    The game engine is the Infinity Engine. There's an open source version of it called GemRB.

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