While I had known about the practically legendary Baldur’s Gate games for years, the impending release of the long-awaited Baldur’s Gate 3 is what really motivated me to finally play them myself. Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 were released in 1998 and 2000 respectively and are considered to be must-plays for any fan of DND or CRPGs, or both. The term “CRPG” is one that I’ve wrestled with for years, as I wasn’t sure why they’re categorized differently than role-playing games. Most people seem to agree that the term stands for Computer Role-Playing Game or Classic Role-Playing Game, but to me the first one makes the most sense. The term was coined for games that took the setting and ruleset of DnD and put that into a video game. Since DnD is a TTRPG, or Tabletop Role-Playing Game, there needed to be a distinction in genres. CRPGs typically follow a certain style; they use a party-based system, an isometric camera view, and turn-based combat. As I love that style of game, I’m surprised I held off from experiencing Baldur’s Gate for as long as I did.
There were a couple reasons why I put off BG for so long: intimidation due to lots of DnD lore, and the games being over twenty years old. In reality, BG1 does a pretty good job with explaining lore elements through the story. Besides that, though, the game has plenty of books that contain information on important events and, barring that, skimming through a Baldur’s Gate wiki can be a good resource. While the graphics and UI are most certainly dated and can take some time to adjust, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. The story was interesting and well done, and throughout my adventures in both games I felt like I was playing through a DnD campaign. The game felt very open and allowed me to adventure outside of the main story, and rewarded curiosity with fun items or intriguing side quests.
A big advantage of party-based games are the relationships formed along the way. In both BG1 and BG2 players can have up to six party members, including the main character created and customized at the very beginning. There are lots of colorful characters that can be added to your band of adventurers, and one of the best is Minsc and his faithful miniature Giant Space Hamster Boo! Minsc is happy to adventure with the player as long as they’re being generally good and justice-seeking; as both games are based on earlier DnD rulesets, character alignments are important. His battle cries as your party engages in combat for the good of the realm are something to behold indeed, and he was a constant companion throughout my journey. While Minsc is a very close second, my favorite character ended up being Imoen after the conclusion of BG2’s expansion, Throne of Bhaal. Imoen is with the player from the very beginning; from the time the player flees Candlekeep – the player’s home where they grew up – with their adoptive father Gorion. Imoen is the same age as the player and is very close with them, and is described as more of a sister than a friend in the games. Her arc throughout the player’s journey from a soft-spoken kind-hearted young girl to a more capable and confident young women is my favorite development in the game. Throne of Bhaal is an expansion to BG2 and serves as a final ending to the story and ties up loose ends.
So, with all that being said, the earlier Baldur’s Gate games were a great experience and I would recommend them to any fan of CRPGs or simply anyone who loves good story-telling. While the games use an older version of DnD’s rule set and is much less accessible than DnD’s current fifth edition, the game includes multiple difficulty settings. One setting disables death in combat, and is an excellent way to play the game for those who, like me, would like to experience the story before moving onto BG3 and don’t want to learn old DnD rules. However, since BG3 is set more than one hundred years after its predecessors, it isn’t closely related to the first two games and is much more accessible. I am glad that I played both games to get the full context of Baldur’s Gate, though, and have since already started BG3! I’m still very early on in the game, but I’m looking forward to giving my thoughts on it soon.