Black Isle Studios
|Release||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. It was the first game to use the Infinity Engine for its graphics, with Interplay using 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: Torment. The game's story focuses on players controlling a protagonist of their own creation who finds themselves travelling across the Sword Coast alongside a party of companions, to unravel the mystery surrounding a sudden iron crisis affecting the region and attempting to discover the culprits behind it, all while uncovering dark secrets about their origins and dealing with attempts on their life.
The game received critical acclaim following its release and was credited for revitalising the computer role-playing game genre. Its success led to an expansion pack entitled Tales of the Sword Coast, as well as spawning a sequel entitled Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, which later received its own expansion called Throne of Bhaal. An enhanced version of the Infinity Engine was later created as part of Beamdog's remake, entitled Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, the first new release in the franchise in nearly nine years.
Players conduct the game from a top-down isometric third-person perspective, creating a character for each playthrough who then travels across pre-rendered location, taking on quests, recruiting companions to aid them, and combating enemies, while working towards completing the game's main story. Control is done through a user interface that allows a player to move characters and give them actions to undertake, review information on on-going quests and the statistics of characters in their party, manage their inventories, organize the formation of the party, though the screen does not need to be centered on the characters being controlled and can be moved around with the mouse and keyboard, the latter also capable of accessing various player options through keyboard shortcuts. All of the gameplay mechanics were coded to conform to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition role-playing rules, with game automatically computing the rule intricacies, including tracking statistics and dice rolling. Although the game is conducted in real-time, some elements of the ruleset used in the coding were modified to allow it to feature a pausable real-time mode, allowing players to pause the game at any time and prepare what actions a character do, including the ability to set the game to automatically pause at preset points in combat. All new playthroughs require the player to either create a new player character (PC), or import one they exported from a previous playthrough. Every new character requires the player to determine what their name, gender, race, class, and alignment are, and what ability scores and weapon proficiencies they have, with thieves requiring points be allocated between their thieving skills, and spellcasters having a few spells set up for them - those using priest spells have them available for use from the start, while those using wizard spells add them to their spellbook and have one primed for use at the start of a new game. New PCs can be multi-class, but must adhere to the restrictions that come from this, in accordance to the 2nd edition rules; a character who is both a cleric and a fighter, may only use weapons of the former class.
The game's main story is divided up into eight parts - a prologue and seven chapters - with each requiring the player to complete a specific task in order to complete it; while free exploration of the game's world map is allowed from the outset upon completing the prologue, some areas are not accessible until the player has advanced to a specific chapter. With the exception of imported characters, all PCs begin off as weak characters from the start, but eventually grow stronger as the player explores the game's world, completing both the major quests and the game's large variety of side quests, killing hostile enemies, earning experience points to level up their character, finding new spells to use and new pieces of equipment to wear, and recruiting a variety of companions, each with different classes and skills, to aid them in their travels. A PC may have up to five companions travelling with them in their party, with the player free to decide who to recruit and who to dismiss from the party. Upon reaching the experience threshold for their current level, defined by their class, both the PC and companions can level up, increasing their hits and occasionally improving their weapon proficiencies, with thieves provided additional points to distribute between their skills, and spellcasters gaining access to additional spell slots, sometimes gaining access to new ones for higher levels of magic. All characters are limited to a maximum amount of 89,000 experience points in the game, with characters who multi-class being also affected by this cap - an elf who uses two classes may only earn half the cap in each, with experience divided equally between the two classes, while a human who dual-classed after earning a third of the cap in their base class, may only earn the other two thirds in their second class.
The main user interface consists of three action bars surrounding the main screen. The first bar consisting of buttons to the various options players can use, including a map of the party's location and the world, the journal that logs all details of notable events and all on-going and completed quests, character records for each member of the party, the inventories for each character, spellbooks containing all spells available for spellcasters, a time display that also acts as the pause mechanism when clicked, and the various game options. The second bar consists of the portraits of each character currently in the party, detailing their hit points, their order, and any positive and negative effects they currently experiencing, with the portrait switching from colour to greyscale when the character has died. The third bar provides specific actions depending on the number of characters being controlled by the player; if one is selected, the player has the ability to switch between the weapons they are using, use any spells and items set up for quick use, and utilises a character's special abilities or those of certain pieces of equipment, but if more than one is selected, the bar displays options for conversing with or attacking NPCs, regardless of being friendly, neutral or hostile, stop what is being done, and change their formation to those available in the game.
The inventory system used in Baldur's Gate follows the conventions of the "paper doll" mechanics, in that each character can equip items depending on what type they are - weapons, ammo, armour, helmet, necklace, rings, belt, cloak, feet, and usable. The amount of items a character can both equip and carry is affected by their weight limit, which is determined by their Strength ability score; going over this limit will encumber the character causing them to move slowly or prevent them moving altogether, until they remove items from their inventory. The system notably indicates what equipment a character can't use as defined by their class, which also determine how many weapon slots they have available for weapons; by default, all character have two weapon slots along with an off-hand slot for shields and weapons, but some classes allow character to one or two extra weapon slots to use. In addition, characters may equip three stacks of ammo for ranged weapons (bows, crossbows and slings), and use three different types of usable items (potions, scrolls and wands). Items can be examined in the inventory, though most enchanted items require identification before their properties are known, while any cursed equipment can't be removed unless through magic or visiting a temple. Any potions found can be used without being set up for quick use, while mages can learn spells from scrolls that they do not have knowledge of and have room for in their spellbook; unlike priest classes, who have access to all the spells of each level magic upon acquiring a slot in that level, mages need to learn spells from scrolls found in their travels or bought from shops, but can learn those of higher levels that they do not have spell slots for, though higher game difficulties incur the possibility of failing to learn a new spell. In addition, any spells set to a spell slot cannot be used until the spellcaster rests first to "memorise" it.
Dialogue is an important aspect of the game, which relies heavily on it. Conversation can be initiated by players selecting a member of the party and clicking on a friendly or neutral NPC, though some conversation are initiated automatically when characters come close to them, and while most conversations are mainly text-based, some include spoken dialogue. Most conversation include a list of responses that a character can use, some that can provide information on certain topics, lead to quests, or access services, while others can have an impact on a situation, such as provoking a fight, or finding another way to solve a problem. Certain NPCs offer services that character can use when talking with them, including shops where characters can buy and sell items and get unknown enchanted items identified, inns where the party can rest in safety and recover lost hit points and memorise spells, and temples where characters can pay for healing services, such as resurrecting a dead party member.
Other features that affect gameplay include:
- The ability to customise their PC after creation, albeit with some restrictions.
- The ability to change the primary and minor colours used by each character.
- The ability to switch on/off the game's AI, and change what AI script a character uses ; one script might dictate they proceed to engage an enemy when spotted, while another might dictate they keep their eye out for traps.
- Most locations are hidden when first visited but are revealed as the character moves around them. A fog of war effect hides explored areas when the player's characters move away from them.
- A reputation system that tracks the moral actions of the PC and affects how they are perceived, changing if they resolve a problem or commit a crime in the view of witnesses. Higher reputations offer discounts at shops, while low reputations risk the character being attacked when in town. Companions are also affected by reputation, with evil companions leaving the party, even attacking it, if it is high, and friendly and neutral companions leaving when it is low.
- The ability to keep track of in-game time through the changes in lighting and the activity that is occurring. Characters become fatigued after spending a full in-game day, especially after travelling long distances between world map locations, and must rest to recover, either in an inn or camping out in the countryside/within a dungeon.
- Characters can be ambushed when camping out or travel long distances between world map locations.
- Players can play either in Single-Player mode, or in Multiplayer mode. The latter allows up to six players to work together online with their own created characters.
Baldur's Gate takes place in the fictional world of Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms setting, during the year of 1368DR. Focusing upon the western shoreline of Faerûn, the game is set within a stretch of the region known as the Sword Coast, which contains a multitude of ecologies and terrains, including mountains, forests, plains, cities, and ruins, with the story encompassing both the city of Baldur's Gate, the largest and most affluent city in the region, and the lands south of it, including the Cloud Peaks, the Wood of Sharp Teeth, the Cloakwood forest, the town of Beregost and the village of Nashkel, and the fortress citadel of Candlekeep. In addition to the region, a variety of organisations from the Forgotten Realms setting also feature as part of the game's main story, including the Zhentarim, the Red Wizards of Thay, The Iron Throne, the Flaming Fist, The Chill, The Black Talons, and the Harpers.
Baldur's Gate includes around 25 player companions that can join with the PC. A number of the characters who appear include several who are canon to the official Forgotten Realms campaign setting, including Drizzt Do'Urden and Elminster.
In 1367DR, the Sword Coast begins experiencing issues with iron, with anything made of it suddenly "rotting" and falling apart upon being used, eventually leading the region to suffer from an iron shortage a year later, defined by people as the "Iron Crisis", resulting in iron production virtually halted, and any shipments of iron being stolen by bandits over any other treasure. In the ancient library fortress of Candlekeep, the young ward of the mage Gorion, brought into the citadel as an orphan when they were a baby, finds themselves ordered by their guardian to prepare to leave the citdel during the night with no explanation about the departure. On the night after leaving Candlekeep, a mysterious armoured figure ambushes the pair and orders Gorion to hand over his Ward. Gorion refuses, and dies while ensuring his Ward can escape. In the morning, the Ward encounters Imoen, a childhood friend and an orphan like them who lived in Candlekeep, who had followed them in secret after reading a note that Gorion had received, which merely stated that Gorion's ward was in danger. With no safe hiding place available, Candlekeep no longer accessible to them without Gorion's influence to circumvent the citadel's admission fee, and the city of Baldur's Gate currently closed off to outsiders due to increasing bandit raids, the Ward searches allies to help them survive further attacks on their life, and then opts to investigate what is causing the Iron Crisis.
Travelling to the mines of Nashkel, the Ward's party slowly uncovers a deep conspiracy surrounding the Crisis, discovering that the mine's ore is being contaminated by a group of kobolds led by a half-orc, and that they and the bandits plaguing the region - a group consisting of a mixture of human and humanoid mercenary companies - are being controlled by a mysterious organization known as the Iron Throne, a merchant outfit who currently maintains a branch within Baldur's Gate. After sabotaging a mine they uncovered within the Cloakwood, the Ward's party head into the city, after the pressure on it is relieved enough to let it reopen to travellers. Venturing to the Throne's headquarters, the group find no damning evidence that links them to the Crisis, instead learning that such proof was taken by one of the regional leaders when they and the others headed to Candlekeep for an important meeting. Revealing their findings to Duke Eltan, the leader of the Flaming Fist, the group receive a unique valuable to help them purchase admission into the citadel, in order to spy on the meeting. During their investigations in the citadel's library, the Ward discovers a prophecy written by the ancient seer Alaundo, foretelling how the offspring created during the Times of Trouble by the dead god Bhaal, the Lord of Murder, will soon sow chaos in their tracks until only one remains to become the new Lord of Murder, eventually finding a letter written for them by Gorion revealing the Ward to be one of these offspring, known as a Bhaalspawn. Sometime after arriving in Candlekeep, the Ward's party is imprisoned for the murders of the Iron Throne leaders, regardless of whether they did so or not, until they can be transported to Baldur's Gate to be executed. Tethoril, a prominent keeper in Candlekeep, who suspects something is amiss, voices his belief the party are innocent or were justified in their actions, voicing concerns that something is wrong in the citadel, and that a mysterious man they met called Koveras is really the foster son of one of the dead leaders called Sarevok, who had been seeking to harm the Ward and was responsible for Gorion's murder.
Believing that the Ward will find answers by pursuing Sarevok, Tethoril transports the party into the catacombs beneath the fortress, where they encounter doppelgängers in the forms of the various people they knew from the citadel. Returning to Baldur's Gate, the Ward's party find themselves accused of causing the Iron Crisis on the orders of the Kingdom of Amn, falsely charging the Iron Throne for this, assassinating one of the city's Grand Dukes, and poisoning Duke Eltan. Forced to stay hidden from the Flaming Fist, the party work to uncover the truth. They soon discover that the Iron Throne had originally created the Iron Crisis simply to create a monopoly on iron, using doppelgängers to weaken the other merchant outfits and ensure that they were the only ones with iron, thus getting rich when they sold it to the city at exorbitant prices. However, Sarevok sought to use the scheme to fuel his own intentions, after having uncovered that he was a Bhaalspawn. His plan was to use the scheme to fuel distrust between Baldur's Gate and Amn, making each think the other was responsible for creating the crisis, and thus cause them to go to war, believing that the resulting carnage will be enough to allow him to become the new Lord of Murder, perceiving the Ward as a threat to this plan upon learning of their Bhaalspawn ancestry and their relation to them, and thus hired assassins to kill them. Sarevok remained loyal to his father until his meeting in Candlekeep threatened his plans, thus eliminated him and the other regional leaders of the Iron Throne before taking over the outfit and transferring their stores of iron to the city in order to be seen as a savior.
Realising that he intends to kill the other Grand Dukes, upon being appointed as a replacement for the one he had assassinated, in order to start his war, the Ward's party gain entry to the Duchal Palace and present evidence of his schemes during his appointment ceremony. Exposed for his crimes, Sarevok flees into an ancient underground ruin beneath Baldur's Gate, whereupon the Ward confronts him and defeats their brother within an ancient temple to Bhaal, saving the Sword Coast, and ending their brother's schemes. In the final ending cinematic, Sarevok's tainted soul departs his body and travels deep underground to a large circular chamber of alcoves, and destroys a statue of himself contained in one of the alcoves, whereupon it is revealed that the other alcoves each contain a statue of each of the Bhaalspawn that exist in Faerûn, or the remains of those that used to live.
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 (used mainly as a debugging tool) 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 was released on November 30, 1998, and was published by Black Isle Studios, an internal division of Interplay. It 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. According to IGN, Baldur's Gate did much to revive the role-playing video game genre. John Harris of Gamasutra wrote that it "rescued computer D&D from the wastebasket."
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. It won the Origins Awards for Best Roleplaying Computer Game of 1998. IGN ranked Baldur's Gate No. 5 on their list of "The Top 11 Dungeons & Dragons Games of All Time" in 2014.
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. On March 17, 2012, Beamdog founder and former BioWare employee Trent Oster confirmed via Twitter that Baldur's Gate III would be the company's "long-term goal."
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