|Publisher(s)||Black Isle Studios, Interplay Entertainment|
|Designer(s)||James Ohlen, Ray Muzyka|
|Release date(s)||21 December 1998|
|Genre(s)||Role-playing video game|
|Distribution||5 CD-ROMs, 3 CD-ROMs, 1 DVD, download|
Baldur's Gate is a fantasy role-playing video game developed by BioWare and published in 1998 by Interplay Entertainment. It is the first game in the Baldur's Gate series, and takes place in the Forgotten Realms, a high fantasy campaign setting, using a modified version of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) 2nd edition rules. Receiving critical acclaim, the game was credited for revitalizing the computer role-playing game genre. The game allows development of the player character through choice of companions, dialogue choice, exploration, and battle. Featuring a reputation system, Baldur's Gate rewards the player depending on the choices made in the game.
Baldur's Gate was the first game to use the Infinity Engine for its graphics. Interplay went on to use the engine for other Forgotten Realms-licensed games including the Icewind Dale series, as well as other licensed D&D campaign worlds such as Planescape, setting of Planescape: Torment. The engine would later be enhanced for use in a remake of the game entitled Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, the first game in the franchise in nearly nine years.
Baldur's Gate takes place in the fictional world of Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms setting. The mechanics of the gameplay were coded to conform to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition role-playing rules, though various elements from the ruleset were modified to allow the game to be executed in pausable real-time mode. Hence, although each character is in constant action, the game allows the player to pause the activity at any time, or set the game to automatically pause at preset points in combat. The game features a top-down isometric perspective and real-time third-person combat system on pre-rendered backgrounds. It is also possible to script combat behavior for characters, such that they are able to act and respond to changing situations without explicit guidance from the player.
Character creation involves selecting various characteristics, such as class, race, alignment, abilities, and skills. During the game, past and present events are related to the player through dialogue, written text, journal entries, or cut scenes. Dialogue is initiated when the player clicks on computer controlled characters. This generates written and sometimes spoken dialogue with a short list of responses from which the player can select. Such interactions can lead to quests or missions.
The game is separated into seven chapters interspersed with segments of spoken dialogue. Free exploration of the world map is allowed in every chapter, though some areas are not unlocked until the player's character (PC) advances to a certain point in the game. The PC begins as a weak character, poorly equipped and without allies. As the game progresses, the player discovers new and more powerful equipment and magic, and can recruit a party of up to six characters, including the PC. Experience points are gained through completing quests and killing monsters; at predetermined point thresholds the characters' levels increase, resulting in improved abilities and skills. Characters are limited to a maximum level of six. The game includes over one hundred side quests.
The flow of time during the game is expressed by changes in lighting and the opening and closing of most shops, with an increased likelihood of combat encounters during the night. Taverns are open during the night, but there are no changes in the presence of customers or the barkeeper to reflect the flow of time. The troupe of characters controlled by the player will become fatigued after traveling for a full day, and require rest to recover.
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The western shore of Faerûn along the Sea of Swords, called the Sword Coast, contains a multitude of ecologies and terrains, including mountains, forests, plains, cities, and ruins. The region encompassed by the game is bordered to the south by the Cloud Peaks, the east by the Wood of Sharp Teeth, the west by the Sea of Swords, and the north by Baldur's Gate, which is the largest and most affluent city in the region. The characters travel the countryside, exploring the various towns, dungeons, mines, forests, castle ruins, and Baldur's Gate itself, confronting the clandestine plots of organizations like the Zhentarim, the Red Wizards of Thay, The Iron Throne, the Flaming Fist, The Chill, The Black Talons, and the Harpers, investigating a conspiracy between the groups, and finding out the main character's own ancestry and history.
The protagonist PC and his or her friend Imoen have grown up together since childhood under the tutelage of their guardian, the mage Gorion. As orphans, they were raised in Candlekeep, an ancient fortress-turned-library in the rural Sword Coast region south of Baldur's Gate. At the beginning of the game, the Sword Coast has entered a difficult time: iron production has virtually halted, metal already produced quickly 'rots', tools and weapons break easily (even the player's own, except for magical weapons) and bandits scour the countryside seeking iron over any other treasure. There are mercenaries with designs on the main character's life, beginning inside the once-secure walls of Candlekeep. Gorion knows the source of the trouble, but will not tell the protagonist, and instead decides to leave Candlekeep and journey with the PC to a hiding place. The night after leaving Candlekeep, the pair are ambushed by a group of bandits led by a mysterious armored figure. When Gorion refuses to hand over the PC, he is attacked by the bandits; Gorion defeats them but dies in doing so. Escaping capture, the PC soon encounters Imoen, who has been following in secret after reading a note about the journey on Gorion's desk. She too sees Gorion's murder, and now insists on accompanying the character. The player can allow her to come, or leave her behind, though regardless of the player's decision she will join the party anyway. The player then has the option of traveling North, to the Friendly Arm Inn to enlist further aid, as was suggested by Gorion prior to his death.
The PC is left bereft of a secure hiding place as the nearest cities are blocked from access: Candlekeep demands a unique, valuable book as its admission fee, while the city of Baldur's Gate is closed off to outsiders from fear of bandit hordes. Seeking safety, the PC teams up with other adventurers, and soon he or she is drawn into an effort to find the cause of the iron shortage by traveling to the source of the iron, the mines of Nashkel. In doing so, the PC begins to unearth a deeper conspiracy. Kobolds have been contaminating the iron in the Nashkel mine, and documents found there connect the operation with the iron-hunting bandits, ultimately leading the protagonist to the secret campsite of the bandits. In actuality, they appear to be mercenary companies employed by The Iron Throne, a mysterious organization which is aggressively expanding its influence. The Iron Throne intends to gain control of the Sword Coast by diverting the iron supply to its own armies exclusively, and stockpiling all plundered iron at the only working iron mine in the region, located deep in the Cloakwood forest. As the protagonist sabotages the mercenary's installation in the Cloakwood mines, the pressure on Baldur's Gate is relieved enough for the city to be re-opened to outsiders, allowing the PC to confront the local Iron Throne leaders at their headquarters.
In Baldur's Gate, the PC is enrolled by the Flaming Fist city guard to investigate the Iron Throne, but as no damning evidence is found, the PC returns to Candlekeep to spy on a meeting of the Iron Throne leaders. Much has changed in Candlekeep since the PC left, and it is soon revealed that the fortress has been at least partially taken over by Doppelgängers. The protagonist also encounters a mysterious man named Koveras. Soon after leaving his company, the PC is charged (rightfully or falsely, depending on the player's choices) with the murder of the Iron Throne leaders. The only route of escape is through the catacombs below the monastery. The PC manages to escape the catacombs, and returns to Baldur's Gate. But things only get worse, as the PC is framed for the murder of an Iron Throne leader and must stay hidden while working to uncover the truth, finally uncovering a grand scheme masterminded by Sarevok, the man who slew Gorion.
Seeking to confront Sarevok, the characters find out that he is actually half-brother to the protagonist, and that both are children of the dead Lord of Murder, Bhaal. The main character's Bhaalspawn ancestry explains much about the past, and raises questions about the future. Sarevok's plans turn out be much more sinister, as the Iron Throne is just a façade for his real intentions. Through manipulation of politics and resources, Sarevok plans to start a war of sacrifice between Baldur's Gate and the kingdom of Amn to the south, causing enough carnage to become the new Lord of Murder. In the end the PC defeats Sarevok and sends his tainted soul back to Bhaal.
Baldur's Gate was developed by Canadian game developer BioWare, a company founded by a pair of practicing physicians, Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk. The game required ninety man-years of development, which was spent simultaneously creating the game's content and the BioWare Infinity Engine. The primary script engine for the game's AI was Lua.
At the time that the game was first shipped, none of the sixty member team had previously participated in the release of a video game. The time pressure to complete the game led to the use of simple areas and game design. Ray Muzyka said the team held a "passion and a love of the art," and they developed a "collaborative design spirit." He believes that the game was successful because of the collaboration with Interplay.
Release and reception
Baldur's Gate was released on 30 November 1998. The game was published by Black Isle Studios, an internal division of Interplay.
Baldur's Gate received positive reviews from virtually every major computer gaming publication that reviewed it. At the time of the game's release, PC Gamer US said Baldur's Gate "reigns supreme over every RPG currently available, and sets new standards for those to come." Computer Shopper called it "clearly the best Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) game ever to grace a PC screen".
Maximum PC magazine compared the gameplay to Diablo, but noted its more extensive selection of features and options. The pixel-based characters were panned, but the reviewer stated that "the gloriously rendered backgrounds make up for that shortcoming." The main criticism was of the problems with the path finding algorithm for non-player characters. Despite this, the game was deemed an "instant classic" because of the amount of customization allowed, the "fluid story lines," and the replayability.
The game was a financial success, selling over two million copies worldwide. According to GameSpy, "Baldur's Gate was a triumph [that] single-handedly revived the CRPG and almost made gamers forgive Interplay for Descent to Undermountain".
The reviewer from Pyramid felt that while the "basic buzz was positive" surrounding the development of the game, but found that the "actual results are a mixed bag, but there's real promise for the future" thanks to the inclusion of the Infinity Engine.
Baldur's Gate was the first game in the Baldur's Gate series. It was immediately followed by the expansion pack Tales of the Sword Coast (1999), then the sequel Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000) and its expansion pack Throne of Bhaal (2001). As of 2006, total sales for all releases in the series was almost five million copies. The series set the standard for other games using AD&D rules, especially those developed by BioWare and Black Isle Studios: Planescape: Torment (1999), Icewind Dale (2000), and Icewind Dale II (2002). The novel Baldur's Gate (1999) by Philip Athans was based on the game.
Baldur's Gate was re-released along with its expansion in 2000 as Baldur's Gate Double Pack, and again in 2002 as a three CD collection entitled Baldur's Gate: The Original Saga. In 2002, the game and its expansion were released along with Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter and Planescape: Torment as the Black Isle Compilation. In 2004, it was re-released once again, this time along with Icewind Dale II, in Part Two of the compilation. More recently, Atari published the Baldur's Gate 4 in 1 Boxset including all four games on a combination of DVDs and CDs.
Baldur's Gate and its expansion were released digitally on Good Old Games (later GOG) on September 23, 2010. It has also been made available via GameStop App as part of the D&D Anthology: The Master Collection, which also includes the expansion Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter, Icewind Dale: Trials of the Luremaster, Icewind Dale II, Planescape: Torment, and The Temple of Elemental Evil.
On March 15, 2012 a remake entitled Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition was announced, originally slated for release in Summer 2012. Five days later, Overhaul Games announced that the Enhanced Edition would also be released for the Apple iPad. On September 14, Trent Oster, president of Overhaul Games, announced that the game's release would be delayed until November, citing an overwhelming response and a desire to "make the best Baldur’s Gate possible". The game was launched for Microsoft Windows on November 28, 2012, for iPad running iOS 6 or greater on December 7, 2012, and for Mac OS X on February 22, 2013, with the Android launch expected soon after.
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