|Publisher(s)||Black Isle Studios
|Distributor(s)||Wizards of the Coast|
|Release date(s)||December 21, 1998|
|Genre(s)||Role-playing video game|
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. The game received critical acclaim and was credited for revitalizing the computer role-playing game genre. The game allows development of the player character through choice of companions, dialogue choices, exploration, and battle. Baldur's Gate uses a reputation system and 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 was later 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 amount of 89,000 experience points. 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 is called the Sword Coast, containing 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 such as the Zhentarim, the Red Wizards of Thay, The Iron Throne, the Flaming Fist, The Chill, The Black Talons, and the Harpers, investigating a conspiracy involving the groups, and finding out the main character's own ancestry and history.
At the beginning of the game, the Sword Coast has entered a difficult time: iron production has virtually halted, with metal products quickly 'rotting', tools and weapons breaking easily as a result (except magical weapons), while bandits scour the countryside seeking iron over any other treasure. Before the game's story begins, the protagonist and friend Imoen had grown up together in Candlekeep, an ancient fortress-turned-library in the rural Sword Coast region south of Baldur's Gate, under the tutelage of their guardian, the mage Gorion, both of whom were brought in as orphans. Gorion, sensing trouble, decides to leave Candlekeep with the protagonist (known as Gorion's Ward), explaining nothing of importance other than to move on; during this time, Gorion's Ward finds himself attacked by a couple of men seeking his death.
The night after leaving Candlekeep, the pair are ambushed by a group of bandits led by a mysterious armoured figure. Gorion refuses to hand over his ward and is attacked by the bandits. Gorion defeats most of them but dies in doing so at the hands of the armoured figure, yet he does enough to allow his ward to escape. In the morning, the protagonist encounters Imoen, who had followed in secret after reading a note on Gorion's desk about the journey. The protagonist finds this note but learns little except that Gorion had known that his ward was in danger.
Gorion's Ward now has no secure hiding place to use (Candlekeep demands a unique, valuable book as its admission fee, while the city of Baldur's Gate closed itself off to outsiders from fear of bandit hordes), so he chooses to find allies to survive further attacks on his life. He opts to investigate the cause of the iron shortage, dubbed the "Iron Crisis," by travelling south to the source of the iron supplies in the region, the mines of Nashkel. In doing so, he begins to unearth a deeper conspiracy, after finding out that kobolds had been contaminating the iron in the Nashkel mine and killing miners, along with finding documents from the person controlling them that connect the operation with the iron-hunting bandits, ultimately leading the protagonist and his party to a secret campsite of the bandits. In actuality, they find that the group, a mixture of humans and humanoid mercenary companies, are in the employ of The Iron Throne, a mysterious organization which is aggressively expanding its influence in the area. The Iron Throne's intentions remain unclear to the party, but they find that the group have a working iron mine in the region, located deep within the Cloakwood forest. As the protagonist sabotages the mercenaries' installation in the Cloakwood mines, the pressure on Baldur's Gate from bandits is relieved enough for the city to be re-opened, allowing the party to confront the local Iron Throne leaders at their headquarters.
In Baldur's Gate, the group are either enrolled by the Flaming Fist city guard to investigate the Iron Throne or enter the headquarters and are recruited afterwards. Either way, the party find no damning evidence, learning only that one of the regional leaders took the evidence with him to a meeting in Candlekeep. This forces Gorion's Ward and the party to spy on a meeting of the Iron Throne leaders. While much has changed in Candlekeep since the protagonist left, it is soon revealed that the fortress has been at least partially taken over by Doppelgängers, while also introducing a mysterious man named Koveras. In reality, he is Sarevok, seeking to harm the protagonist. While investigating the fortress, the party are charged (rightfully or falsely, depending on the player's choices) with the murder of the Iron Throne leaders and imprisoned until they can be transported to Baldur's Gate. However, one of those not convinced of the charges (or knowing that Gorion's Ward's actions were justified) provides the party with the only route of escape - through the catacombs below the town. Managing to escape the catacombs and returning to Baldur's Gate, they find that things have taken a turn for the worse, as the party is framed for the murder of an Iron Throne leader, and also accused of being the cause of the Iron Crisis, assassinating one of the city's Grand Dukes, and poisoning a leader of the Flaming Fists. This forces the party to 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 party discover that he is actually half-brother to the protagonist, and that both are children of the dead god Bhaal, the Lord of Murder. The main character's Bhaalspawn ancestry explains much about the past, and raises questions about the future, while Sarevok's plans turn out to be very sinister. The Iron Throne had originally created the Iron Crisis simply to create a monopoly on iron and thus get rich when they sold it to the city at exorbitant prices; yet Sarevok was using the plan to fuel his own intentions. His foster father and other regional leaders had attempted to thwart Sarevok's plans, so he killed them and the others and framed the protagonist's party for the crime. Through manipulation of politics and resources, Sarevok then planned to start a war between Baldur's Gate and the kingdom of Amn to the south, causing enough carnage to become the new Lord of Murder. However, the party thwarts this, and chases after him under the city, where the protagonist defeats Sarevok and sends his tainted soul back to Bhaal.
Baldur's Gate was developed by Canadian game developer BioWare, a company founded by 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 that 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 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 that 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 had low sales expectations from Interplay, but 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 the "basic buzz was positive" surrounding the development of the game. 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, 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 was announced entitled Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, 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, for Mac OS X on February 22, 2013, and for Android on April 17, 2014.
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