Monday, 6 July 2015

Baldur's Gate Retrospective Walkthrough Guide Part I

Baldur's Gate Retrospective Walkthrough Guide Part I



Hi there, and welcome to my in-depth, eventually ten-part Baldur's Gate retrospective! The following comments, criticisms and pro-tips pertain to BioWare's first RPG - Baldur's Gate (1998) & Tales of the Sword Coast (1999), patched to 5512; so, what follows is based on the original release and expansion only. While fixes, tweaks and various ambitious mods have long-existed that address glitches, bugs and change the game-play, my concern is just with Baldur's Gate (& TotSC) as BioWare left it, "warts n all". Much of what I write here is from a somewhat fuzzy memory, so if I get something blatantly wrong please don't hesitate to jump down my throat, so that I can correct it before I mislead too many...


Special thanks to Rogueknight 333 and Vmode for their valuable input!

Contents

• Part I: Introduction, Setting & Scope, Ruleset & Chargen, Basic Combat System, Perspective & UI, Experience & Treasure, Prologue, Initial Exploration & Encounters, Pathfinding, Ambushes & Waylays
• Part II: Stealth & Theft, Archery, Resting & Healing, Arcane Spells, Summoning Spells: Arcane & Divine, Wands
• Part III: Tanking & Melee Combat, Party Composition & Companions, Sidequests
• Part IV: Divine aka Priest Spells: Cleric & Druid, "Level Scaling", Boss Encounters
• Part V: Durlag's Tower: The Venerable Deathtrap, Overview, Upper Storeys, Cellar
• Part VI: The Labyrinth of the Warders & The Labyrinth of Doors
• Part VII: The Labyrinth of Elements & The Chessboard
• Part VIII: The Labyrinth of Durlag's Ghost & The Demon Knight, Ulgoth's Beard: The Return & The Beast Unleashed)
• Part IX: To be posted. Begins the treatment of Baldur's Gate city itself

The retrospective will be capped off with the Finale in the Temple of Bhaal. I've revised my projection to 15 parts, all told.

Introduction

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster... when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss also gazes into you... - Nietzsche. 

The intro is presented in pre-rendered 3D, showing the heavily armored Sarevok cornering his prey atop the towering, moonlit Iron Throne HQ, thunder rumbling in the distance.


I will be the last... and you will go first. (Sarevok declares his intention to be the last Bhaalspawn remaining, the one who will ascend to the Throne).


No! You can't! *"prey" crawling back along the ground in sheer terror* There are others! I can show you. Please. Please! (By "others", he means other Bhaalspawn).


Sarevok laughs maniacally, then, with one hand, breaks the neck of the rival Bhaalspawn and hurls him over the edge, to his death.


The intro does its job.

Setting & Scope

Baldur's Gate is set in the Forgotten Realms, probably the most well-known and munchkinny of D&D campaign settings. The mascots of this high magic, medieval fantasy world are Elminster Aumar and Drizzt Do'Urden, both of whom have cameos in the game.

The adventuring takes place on the Sword Coast, starting in Candlekeep and stretching south to the Cloud Peaks (the border with Amn), east to the Wood of Sharp Teeth and then north to the city of Baldur's Gate for the finale. The Tales of the Sword Coast expansion adds in Ulgoth's Beard, Ice Island and Werewolf Island along with Durlag's Tower, an amazing multi-level dungeon crawl which I'll give special attention to later.

The player encounters all manner of powerful groups along the way, such as the semi-secret Harper society, the Black Network of the Zhentarim, bandit clans, Red Wizards of Thay and the insidious Iron Throne organization. The story stretches over several chapters of local, political and unearthly intrigue, interspersed with dream sequences; the scope surprisingly epic for a low to middling campaign (161,000 experience point cap, which equates to player level 8-10).

The Chapter One narration & first Dream Sequence

Ruleset & Chargen

BioWare implemented the AD&D 2nd Edition ruleset fairly faithfully, from the basic races, multi-class combos and to-hit roll (THAC0 - AC = to-hit), down to the nitty-gritty of armor modifiers against weapon type and racial saving throws modified by Constitution. Elven 90% resistance to Sleep and Charm (and Half-elven 30% to the same) was inexplicably left out, as was Ranger tracking and dual-wielding (see PHB for details). Tracking would have been an interesting and helpful mechanic in a campaign which is largely exploratory and somewhat based on survival (at least in the early stages when resource management can be an issue), but more on that later.

Chargen
For new players, the eight-step character creation process is straight-forward enough, providing they're not trying to do anything fancy like dual-class, or find a portrait for a female dwarf. You choose your gender, race, class, alignment, abilities, skills, appearance and name. Pretty simple, though I've never really warmed to randomly rolling and re-rolling the six ability scores and then adjusting them; it's tedious and usually results in an obscenely OP character, if you're patient. For a more sensible approach, I much prefer the point buy system as seen later in Neverwinter Nights and The Temple of Elemental Evil. Anyway, you're sort of expected to consult the tables in the manual for relevant ability score modifiers before accepting a roll, because the chargen itself won't tell you, for example, that, for your warrior, Strength 18/00 results in a +3 THAC0 and +6 damage adjustment. Then again, does the average player really need to know things like that? Probably not, but knowing "lower THAC0, AC and saving throws are better" and that "a round is six seconds real-time and a turn is ten rounds, or sixty seconds" - things like that - is going to be beneficial at the end of the day. In my opinion, BioWare succeeded in "rolling the dice" behind the scenes, yet also allowing serious players to look under the hood and find the info in detail, to know exactly what's going on. For example, by turning on to-hit rolls in the feedback window, and by paying attention to the right-hand scroll on the Character Record panel (though it doesn't show every modifier, mind you).

Basic Combat System, Perspective & UI

BioWare eschewed a traditional, tactical turn-based combat system in favor of "real-time with pause" (RTwP) or "pause n play"; and while I personally would have preferred the former - as seen previously in Goldbox and Fallout (and subsequently in ToEE) - apart from the niggling imprecisions related to pathfinding and spacebar tapping (ie, pause), combat is free-flowing and still fairly tactical and satisfying. The player controls up to six combat units (i.e, a party of adventurers) in "point n click" fashion, assigning them tasks singularly or as marquee-selectable groups which can then be moved in various formations (which are rotatable). The basic combat flow is: "pause the game when enemy sighted, assign commands to your units (move, attack, cast spell, backstab etc.), unpause and observe what unfolds, pause again to make adjustments and assign more commands, rinse n repeat until enemy is dead". I've written more in-depth on melee, ranged and spell-casting combat in the follow-up to this post.)

Sloppy copy-pasta
The playing field is presented in top-down isometric, a tactical perspective that should be familiar to most since it's common to many RPGs. Being 2D, the models are pre-rendered at that angle and then just pasted down onto the terrain and sort of smudged around the edges so they blend in. Most of the time it works, but sometimes it just looks like shit (see pic). In my opinion, the older Fallout and Diablo look heaps better. Terrain is "height-mapped", allowing for some terrain-based tactics in canyons and fortresses. The UI is well above-average, calling up the inventory and other modes is both fast and intuitive. The various panels are clear, and they're generally pleasant and efficient to interact with - everyone loves the paperdolls! (see below) Refinements and small additions were made to the UI in Baldur's Gate 2, but the lack of complete redesign suggests that BioWare got it right, first time.

Note: I have treated all Infinity Engine UIs in my User Interface Evolution series.


Experience & Treasure

Experience points are dished out in two forms - quest and kill - both of which are static; that is, neither scale with your level or party size. Quest experience is actually quite solid post-Prologue (+300 to +2,000 Exp ea), meaning it's possible to gain a level or two just by nosing around the Friendly Arm Inn (FAI), Beregost, Nashkel and their immediate outskirts (ie, in relative safety). Overall, kExp ranges from about +35 Exp for bottom-feeders up to a whopping +7,000 Exp for unique "Greaters", but some stronger critters can be farmed until your heart's content for +2,000 Exp ea, causing game-balance issues (ie, Sirines & Flesh Golems, see below).


Aside from loot gained from generic mobs, on-rest spawns and waylays, what you find is almost entirely hand-placed, from treasured artifacts of Realmslore down to the lowliest gem (in contrast to NWN OC's mostly randomized or tailored system). As with experience gain, considerable wealth can be accumulated by questing and thieving in and around the first three settlements. After the initial monetary hurdles and scrounging, loot is later thrown around like confetti, so don't be surprised when, having finally reached Baldur's Gate itself, you rock up to Sorcerous Sundries and easily buy them out.

Found or bought weapons and other items are amazing for a low to middling campaign, though it's unlikely most players will find them unless they comb the Sword Coast with a completionist mindset, or use a walk-through or wiki. Warriors, for example, can reach a negative THAC0 quite comfortably, even before they've hit the Exp cap, by equipping themselves with the right items and buffing accordingly; they can also reach surprisingly safe ACs, only being hit on a crit (a 5% chance on any given physical attack, and a helmet negates the double damage). Fighter/Mages are invincible in the right hands, capable of besting Drizzt in a duel to the death (ie, not using ranged cheese). A few items are just broken, including Algernon's Cloak ("Infinite" [1] no-save Charm ability), Dagger of Venom +2 (underrated: 6 poison damage per round up to a total of 15 damage) and various archery ammo and wands (regarding the last two, please see Blathering Part II). I liked the addition of cursed items such as the Claw of Kazgaroth, an artifact with trade-off effects. Consult this color coded item list for more info on items offered in the campaign.

Static experience point rewards and loot facilitates crazy meta-gaming experiments, which many have conducted over the years.

Prologue

The introductory narrative says I'm an orphan, now 20 years old, brought up within the secluded citadel-library of Candlekeep by the great sage, Gorion, a wise old owl, who raised me on a thousand tales of heroes and monsters, lovers and infidels, battles and tragedies. Gorion has been troubled lately, growing a little distant; but now, he has given me instructions to prepare for an "unplanned and unexpected journey". What is this, The Hobbit? ;)

The Lord of Murder shall perish
But in his doom he shall spawn a score of mortal progeny
Chaos will be sown from their passage
So sayeth the wise Alaundo


Chanters in Candlekeep, melodically reciting the Prophecy of Alaundo

Outside Candlekeep Inn, where it all begins...
I begin the adventure standing outside the Candlekeep Inn, looking every bit the first level scrub that I unmistakably am: dressed in peasant garb, holding a wooden stick (a quarterstaff), pockets jingling with the 120 GP given me by Gorion in order to prepare myself for travel. Stepping inside the common room, the portly innkeeper, Winthrop, greets me with the immortal line: "My hotel's as clean as an elven arse!" A merry song is played in the background, though no bard is in sight.

Interestingly, a locked receptacle in the upstairs lodgings can easily be looted for a very useful Potion of Clarity (Immunity: Feeblemind, Confusion, Fear, Charm, 5 turns). In fact, in the right hands, that potion could be the single-most valuable in the game for the power-progression it facilitates. Another locked receptacle, containing a valuable Star Sapphire, requires a Halfling thief with maxed Open Lock skill and Dex 19 to pick (Lock difficulty 65) [2]; otherwise, it's not available until Chapter Six, when the player returns to Candlekeep as part of the plot.

Map of Candlekeep
The Prologue offers six generic FedEx quests (fetch a book, fetch a scroll) and an obligatory "kill the rats" quest, found around the inner and outer grounds of Candlekeep, resulting in paltry material and experience rewards (e.g, a gem, +50 Exp). Players who explore inside the buildings will have two separate attempts made on their life by scrubby assassins, Shank and Carbos (+20 Exp ea). Evil players or power-gamers (same thing) can try their hand at murdering Firebead Elvenhair (+2,700 Exp!), who nevertheless is encountered later in the town of Beregost, presumably resurrected and suffering from memory loss (he greets you kindly). Phlydia is also a juicy target (+975 Exp), as are the respawning Watchers who can be farmed to gain several levels, if you have the patience (+175 Exp ea, Plate Mail Armor). For the rest, the Prologue is more blatantly a tutorial, what with the horde of monk tutors and a couple of boring training segments for totally new players; but I never completed them, even though this was the first RPG I'd attempted outside of Final Fantasy. The best thing about the Prologue is that you can safely and speedily bypass and ignore most of it: one can make a bee-line straight for Gorion, suffering only an interception by childhood friend, Imoen, a carefree, roguish teenager who seems to know a little of what's going on, having taken a peek at Gorion's letters.

Waiting for me at the entrance to Candlekeep itself is my foster father, the silver-haired and gray-robed Gorion, who isn't exactly cool, calm and collected. You see, the sinister threat likely to infiltrate The Keep is more serious than Shank and Carbos, so much so that traveling through the woods at night is preferable to being behind stone walls.

Scripted ambush
Before venturing forth from Candlekeep, Gorion tells me that, should shit hit the fan, I'm to reach the Friendly Arm Inn where I can find old friends of his, Jaheira & Khalid. Darkness falls as we scurry through the woods of The Coast Way, my protector assuring me he'll explain everything as soon as we find shelter; but suddenly we are ambushed by an Armored Fiend (later revealed to be Sarevok), flanked by a priestess (later revealed as his tragic lover, Tamoko) and two ogre berserkers. Sarevok demands that Gorion hand over his ward (ie, Me); Gorion staunchly refuses and orders me to run; I do so, and escape. In my absence a battle ensues, and the old man is cut down after exhausting his arcane repertoire, consisting of low level evocations. The departure and ambush are presented entirely as scripted, voiced segments. Despite some silliness, the Prologue manages to set the stage and draw the player into the campaign.

Initial Exploration & Encounters

After Sarevok slays Gorion, the campaign offers many opportunities for sight-seeing and getting in over your head. The world map only shows the location of the civilized settlements, those of the Friendly Arm Inn, Beregost, Nashkel, Baldur's Gate and Ulgoth's Beard - which are greyed out or "ghosted". This means you have an inkling as to their location, but haven't actually discovered them yourself. To do so, you must manually walk your party through uncharted territory, map by map, in the required direction, fighting off enemies and questing on the way, in order to reach your destination. That's called "adventuring", which is sort of what these kinda RPGs are about. Anyway, having discovered a string of locations, you may "fast travel" back and forth between them, at the cost of fatigue (-1 Luck penalty to rolls, stacking per four hours) and the risk of "waylay" (see Ambushes & Waylays, below).

In this game, I picked up Kivan at High Hedge, first
Encounters in the early stages are fairly tame, though there are surprises for new players who, perhaps foolishly, venture off the beaten track. Maybe they pick a fight with a bear on the first map, or explore "too far" east on the second, encountering the trans-gender ogre? Not a good idea. Surviving first level can be a challenge for new players; it's probably why the dialogue, chapter narrative, journal and letter from Elminster (looted from Gorion's corpse), all suggest you travel to the Friendly Arm Inn to meet Gorion's friends who you can trust, Jaheira & Khalid. Even so, don't expect a free ride even if you bee-line to the FAI with Imoen and the dastardly Zhentish duo in toe, as you're bound to encounter a gibberling or two, perhaps a ravenous wolf, a stray kobold arrow, or even a nasty bandit "waylay" if you're really unlucky. If your squishy, first level, bloodied and battered scrubs survive all that and the Horror-casting Tarnesh [3] on the staircase leading up to the Inn without so much as a reload - the most powerful "spell" in the game - then you're just that good. Congrats!

Once a solid party has been formed and equipped with the basics, dozens of wilderness areas can be freely explored, in any direction. Cloakwood Forest, the Bandit Camp and Baldur's Gate itself are off-limits, but sensible reasons are given as to why you can't go there (i.e, they're secretive places, Baldur's Gate is closed due to heavy banditry). Every other area is accessible, if only you're prepared to walk in that direction to find it, cutting a swathe through mobs of monsters on the way. I don't recommend delving Durlag's Tower at first level, though! Power/meta-gamers tend to head directly for the Lighthouse map to take out the Sirines and Flesh Golems (+2,000 Exp ea), then east of the Temple to take out Mutamin's Lesser and Greater Basilisks (+1,400 and +7,000 Exp ea); whereas normal players will most likely quest in and around FAI, Beregost and Nashkel, gaining experience and reputation, and building up wealth more slowly, but with minimal risk. Brandishing a few enchanted weapons, protected by heavy armors and shields, and with useful spell scrolls successfully scribed to the spellbook and memorized (Sleep, Blindness, Web), new players should feel more confident in exploring outward from the hubs, and further advancing the plot.

Pathfinding

The run-away winner for worst aspect of game-play is the pathfinding, even when search nodes are configured to their maximum in the game's external utility. Imagine "marquee selecting" your party of six and then clicking to a transition point, only to have them bunch up and jitter violently in a retarded clump, unable to pass through, all the while an unpleasant, poorly-recorded voice repeats:
YOU MUST GATHER YOUR PARTY BEFORE VENTURING FORTH
YOU MUST GATHER YOUR PARTY BEFORE VENTURING FORTH
YOU MUST GATHER YOUR PARTY BEFORE VENTURING FORTH
Now imagine the same situation, but you find out only five of your six party members are present, that the awful pathfinding routine has sent one poor slob in the opposite direction, now far away from your clusterf*ck, either backtracking through portions of dungeon cleared long ago, or down unexplored halls perhaps to their doom! Clunky navigation really makes my blood boil, but you can minimize the problem by using the correct Quick Formation ("follow, single file") and repeatedly clicking where you want them to go, thereby hand-holding them every step of the way. Believe me, you'll become an expert at it! Pathfinding issues were somewhat reduced in subsequent IE RPGs by designing wider mazes, so nothing as agonizing as the Thieves' Maze or Firewine Ruins exists in the sequel, Icewind Dale series or Planescape: Torment. In addition, your party members may also be discourteous to each other; a frontliner won't budge a single pixel to let someone in the back row, who has no other path, squeeze past, so you have to jiggle the clunky units around to create a clear path, first. For the uninitiated, the simple act of looting a chest can cause a comedy of positional errors.

Firewine ruins and the Thieves' maze are nightmarish to navigate

Ambushes & Waylays


Imoen: Gimme an antidote, queer fellow!
Random encounters come in two forms, which I'll call "on-rest ambushes" and "overworld waylays". On-rest ambushes can occur when you attempt to rest in the wilderness or dungeons, spawning hostile monsters native to the area at your campsite. The melee that ensues is usually trivial, but first and second level parties can be torn to shreds by angry mobs, especially if they were already stretched and lacking in resources when they set up camp (which is often the case). The infamous Flesh Golem cave is a rare exception (ie, non-trivial), unless of course the spawns are being repeatedly provoked by power-gamers for unsightly experience point gains. Overworld waylays can occur when moving between maps. Again, a wholly unpleasant and poorly-recorded voice trumpets: YOU HAVE BEEN WAYLAID BY ENEMIES AND MUST DEFEND YOURSELF
You then scramble to position your party as best you can against a random enemy mob or attempt to flee by reaching the map's exit, hoping not to catch an arrow in the back - or hit a pathfinding issue - in the process. Speaking of which, a particularly nasty waylay comprising of several archer-bandits can occur between The Lion's Way (AR2800) and Friendly Arm Inn (AR2300), possibly wiping out your half-formed band of scrubs who are just trying to sensibly reach the FAI in search of Gorion's Harper colleagues [4]. In such waylays, mages are first to die, since only one arrow has to hit its mark [5]. Perhaps the player character falls, meaning you're presented with the death screen and have to load the Autosave and try again, gritting your teeth at the thought of it happening twice in a row. Once the party beefs up, waylays are about as trivial as on-rest ambushes, though wyvern & spider waylays in the Cloakwood Forest can be frequent and annoying even for seasoned adventuring parties.

[1] Algernon's Cloak has 65,535 charges..
[2] Less skillful thieves may succeed with repeated attempts as some randomness is involved with lockpicking, but your skill needs to be within five or so points of the lock difficulty to have a chance.
[3] Relatively speaking, the Tarnesh encounter is one of the deadliest in the campaign. 
[4] This happened to me in the EE version, too, though it happened en route to 2800 (The Lion's Way) from 3300 (Beregost). The pic is from the EE version (just because I had it handy).
[5] First level mages can have a maximum of 6 HPs assuming a Constitution score of 16 (1d4 +2); delicate butterflies they are...


Theft, Scouting & Backstabbing, Archery, Resting & Healing, Arcane Spells, Summoning Spells: Arcane & Divine, Wands - oh my!

11 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading this - partly for the nostalgia as BG was one of my favorite games but I have not been able to find time to replay it in awhile.

    As you note one of the advantages of playing a D&D based game like this is that there is a lot of available data about how the game's systems work. Too many RPGs give so little info about how the "under the hood" mechanics actually function that sound character creation becomes too much a matter of guesswork, at least if relying only on the manual (and hunting the internet for the unofficial stuff can expose new players to more spoilerish info than might be desired).

    Ultimately you are of course correct that the random rolling of stats is a rather silly system. It does have one arguably nice feature though in that it makes it far more reasonable to play an oddball character with quirky stats, unlike point-buy systems where it will generally not make sense to play anyone who is not a min/maxed powerbuild. By contrast in the IE games it was often possible to (for example) give a character a bit more INT or CHA than was strictly necessary for power-gaming purposes.

    It is understandable that Ranger tracking was not implemented, as it would have meant a lot more work for the game devs (at least if it were done well enough to be noticeably useful), but as you suggest it was something of a lost opportunity, since in so many ways BG1 would have been the perfect game to be employing tracking and similar rangerish skills.

    I think you might be somewhat overstating the "brokenness" of some of the equipment (and of the game generally). Certainly if you come with a boatload of meta-gaming knowledge and know exactly where to go to get any piece of equipment, what NPCs can safely be attacked for XP and loot, and all sorts of other exploitative tricks, that is true, but obviously that was not how the game was meant to be played. Without knowing these things, it can take some time to get one's party decently equipped. I suspect part of BG's problem in this respect is that few games have generated such a mass of dedicated fans engaging in so many replayings, which led eventually to the discovery of all sorts of tricks that no one would have taken the time and trouble to figure out for a lesser game.

    On the other hand, one could argue that going into BG with no meta-gaming knowledge at all would make it far too difficult, and thus that it has a problem either way. The only way one is going to survive the early fight with Tarnesh (for example) is to either take advantage of meta-gaming knowledge or just get lucky. If he gets a chance to cast his Horror spell he can easily incapacitate the entire party at a stroke and then Magic Missile the PC to death at his leisure.

    As I mentioned before, my own ambush & waylaying systems in Swordflight were inspired by those in BG, so obviously I liked the general concept, though certainly the actual implementation in BG could have been improved.

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    1. Hi Rogueknight333, and thanks for the informed comments! For those who don't know, Rogueknight333 authored the distinguished Swordflight series of modules for Neverwinter Nights. For those who fancy Baldur's Gate, I'm all for you giving them a whirl:
      http://neverwintervault.org/project/nwn1/module/swordflight-chapter-one
      http://neverwintervault.org/project/nwn1/module/swordflight-chapter-two
      Part of the reason I'm idly blathering about Baldur's Gate is because I'm awaiting Chapter Three. ;-)

      ***

      I share your view of letting players look "under the hood", Troika's Temple of Elemental Evil is perhaps the best example of that, having "hyperlinks" in the feedback window that, when clicked on, call up separate panels with the particular info, and further link into a sea of rules.. I wish that game had been less of a bugfest, and so more commercially successful. :-(

      You're right that ranger tracking would have been lots of work to implement properly, as per the PHB. With scouting (stealth mode) being a little touch and go, I just always thought having an extra mechanic to refer to would have been welcome. Then again, the stealth skill can be perma-buffed with certain items (boots armor), and there are always the Invisibility line of spells and Sanctuary, plus potions to make scouting more reliable in a fledgling party.

      The problem is I can't really think like a new player anymore (I thought I separated meta-gaming from new player comments clearly enough, but I guess not), so if I've overstated the brokenness and perhaps the ease with which one can "get up and running", I didn't mean to. I also forgot to mention that, as part of the plot with the iron-taint, unenchanted metal weapons have a chance of breaking in your hand. That's a cool, but cruel, mechanic. Meta-gamers will roll with bows and just have one plated warrior up front wielding a +1 or better sword in no time, not worrying about it; then the first 3rd of the game is beaten already, assuming liberal arcane castings, of course..

      For new players, the Tarnesh encounter is a major difficulty spike and pretty much luck-based, its true. One of the deadliest encounters in the game, relatively speaking. Experienced players like to duck down to High Edge and pick up Kivan for those 2 extra ranged attacks, so Tarnesh's spells just fizzle from the barrage.

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  2. Good times, good times!
    Only problem... it was six disks (including Tales of the Sword Coast), but I remember I had an even worse experience with Bg2... I felt like a disk jockey! ^^'

    This was the first rpg I played on Pc, and yes, the first exploration was hard also thanks to D&d rules that gives you just a handful of hit points ... I agree with the point-buy creation, I spent so much time rerolling stats at the time!

    About graphic, you are right, while I liked the landscape, I found characters and monsters ugly to look at (Torment have some nice ones, and it came before Bg2), while instead the portraits were the best I've seen (on par with Shadowrun Returns).

    Anyway the amount of content, quests, companions and place was huge for the time. That's what I liked most.

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    1. Hi Marco Santaro! Thanks for mentioning the discs, I'm using the original six disc version that I've had since 1999, when TotSC was first bundled with Baldur's Gate; but because of wear and tear, they were imaged to ISO for installation using Virtual Clone Drive. I was also surprised to find the manual and map of the Sword Coast in an old box, though they've seen better days...

      For sprites and animation, yes, Baldur's Gate was a step down from Diablo and Fallout. But I feel nostalgia for the backdrops and portraits, and I think the music, ambient sound and voicesets are memorable, though I'm of opinion once again that Diablo and Fallout have better sound, too. Plus Fallout has talking heads, nothing beats that. ;)

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    2. Oh welcome back!
      Good choice... I still have Bg2 cds but wish I bought one of the collection that came out with Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale on dvd.

      I'm not a big fan of the system too... Ad&d was good for roleplay but the Thaco systems and the inverse Ac was something I didn't like so much. Third edition (3.0 in Nwn and 3.5 in Nwn2) was a better system (one I liked and played a lot)... even if probably D&d fourth edition had a rulesystem even more appropriate to be translated from tabletop to videogame.

      I remember Fallout talking heads, but they were few (even fewer in Fallout2 if I am right, but Butch was voiced by "mr. Hellboy" Ron Pearlman, the narrator of the serie) and the game felt so short compared to Bg. Good, but short...

      About sound I remember only... yes.. "YOU MUST GATHER YOUR PARTY BEFORE VENTURING FORTH" -_-'

      Sooo next time Companions...well that was what I loved of the game. Xar and Montaron were great! :)

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    3. I guess Fallout's campaign is quite short, but almost perfect in pacing and atmosphere. The Glow was amazing the first time you went there, just unforgettable. Fallout has 21 talking heads, Fallout 2 only 13 (according to the wiki). That's a lot, considering they're animated by hand; as a result, they ooze character. For many other reasons, Fallout is the finest example of a computer role-playing game, with Arcanum maybe second (imo).

      And yeah, 3rd Edition seemed to streamline things in a few ways, like with the five arbitrary saving throws in 2nd Edition (Paralyze/Poison/Death, Rod/Staff/Wand, Petrify/Polymorph, Breath Weapon and Spells) becoming simply Reflex, Fortitude and Will in 3rd Edition, derived sensibly from three stats (Dex, Con, Wis). It was just more intuitive and easier to get a grip on. I'll talk more about saving throws in my next post, when I attempt to cover spell-casting (which is a big subject!)

      4th Edition I haven't looked into, but I heard many complaints of them making it like World of Warcraft or something (don't know if that's true). I like 3.x most, which includes the Pathfinder ruleset ("3.75") by the ex-Dragon Magazine editors, Paizo. They have talented writers and their campaigns are GREAT reads, though I haven't yet found the time to really get into it properly and play.

      Yep, the creepy Zhentish duo are a riot. Xzar can actually be dual-classed to cleric if you get the Tome of Understanding from Durlag's Tower ASAP, because he is only 1 point shy of the cleric prime requisite when you recruit him (16 wis). This gives him better survivability than just as necro, because that school has Illusion as opposition, meaning he can't cast Mirror Image (except from an expendable scroll from quick slots, which might be a bug, not sure). Montaron can be specced into a little beast too, for backstab and sniping. Two of my fave characters, both with how they play and their amusing voiced lines and threats to the PC.

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    4. It's a pity that not every companion in Fallout 2 had a talking head... that was something that made great some characters like Sulik and Marcus.
      Fallout 2 was so large compared to the first one (never completed it, shame on me!) and added so many things (like the car. It was really useful).
      I agree on Arcanum being a great crpg, pity that I know few people that played that game, compared to Fallout and Bg.

      4th edition is very tactical and it feels like a boardgame. For example, speaking of spells (well it works for every ability), some are "each day" but others are "at will" or "each encounter (combat)" so resting isn't so crucial for spell users. And I think that this system, oddly, is more suitable for a videogame than for a tabletop rpg.
      3.x is hands down the best D&d (still, I've yet to see the 5th ruleset).

      The funny thing is that Xzar & Montaron are the first companions (well except for Imoen) you'll meet and that's a bit odd, being them evil (but more interesting that the stuttering warrior!). Still, as mage I prefer Edwin.

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    5. Yeah, Edwin's personality is amusing and from a power-gaming PoV he is the strongest arcane spell-caster because he receives +1 spell slot per level for being a Conjurer and +1 spell slot per level from his birthright amulet (then you can give him the Ring of Wizardry for 12 first circle spells slots..); but being Conjurer, his opposition school is divination, so it's a little inconvenient not being able to cast Identify.

      You can ID items at stores, but then you might be down many levels of dungeon and want to ID an item you just found; you can't without backtracking. But then, I like to roll with a second mage or bard, plus I know what the items are from meta-gaming and you can equip them and benefit from their effects without IDing, anyway. So, for me it's a non-issue. But not for new players.

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    6. Can't remember in BG, but in BG2 I rarely used Id spells, using almost exclusively shops or scrolls, when needed. Also, Xzar is a necromancer, and while I like these spells I never found them as useful as Conjuration, Alteration and Evocation spells.

      "you can equip them and benefit from their effects without IDing" ... yes, true,and that's how I discovered the powers of the 'cursed' belt of gender altering! :D

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    7. You can also buy the Glasses of Identification in BG2 (ID 3 items per day). BG2 made many mechanics more convenient or easier.

      Identify spell or loremaster is more useful in BG1, where backtracking to town from the bottom of a dungeon is more time consuming due to slower overall movement rate and no Mass Haste, worse pathfinding, more frequent waylays, overland fatigue etc.

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    8. Ok now I'm back to BG and its serie...don't know if I was inspired by these posts or by the disappointment caused by the last rpgs I played... but it's 15 years and my memory is bad enough so it'll be like a new game to me.

      All this to make a simple question: did you play a pure kensai?
      How's it? I'm looking around for suggestions ...

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