Baldur’s Gate – Until Two, Too Little?

It is a bit hard to talk about Baldur’s Gate without also discussing its sequel. The first game has an ending, but it is unsatisfactory: near the end, the player learns that the main character is part of something far more significant than his current affairs. That matter won’t be resolved until the second game, or possibly the “Throne of Bhaal” expansion (for all I know), so it is futile to try for a close-ended discussion of the first game’s plot.

I could say that the plot follows a natural progression, at least assuming the MC is motivated by heroism and adventure, neither of which is actually a given for him, but is presumably a given for the player of the game. I can even say that the self-contained story ends… okay. However, there really is no conclusion. The villain is defeated, and then… roll credits. There is a brief cutscene, but it serves only to tantalize the player for the next game. Thus, it’s hard to speak much about the plot.

Same goes for many of the other aspects. Baldur’s Gate is really only the first part of a much larger game. It feels like trying to discuss the first disc of Xenogears without reference to the second, or Arc the Lad without having also played Arc the Lad II. There’s so much of the same game left to be played, even if some things might change, and thus the scope of the game cannot be fully appreciated.

What can I say so far? I like what I see. Combat is challenging: wading through dungeons without saving each room means losing minutes, or even hours, of gameplay, on a trap, puzzle, or surprise encounter. This game is unforgiving of error, practically expecting the player to reload. Even one of the advisory “while loading” statements is “be sure to quick save often”.

the cast of characters which can join in the first game is certainly colorful. Their banter is amusing. The only drawback is that they do not DO much in the first game: really, once they join you, most characters thereafter shut up and just follow along like mules. Yes, there are some exceptions: cases where characters have their own things, or areas in which they have a special impact, but these are few and far between.

The music is atmospheric, although a bit oppressive at times. I actually find the battle music to be a touch distracting, and wish it would stick with the ambiance music instead. The battle music ironically draws me out of the game.

Perhaps I will get into more specific thoughts on the first game later, or I might hold off on the bulk of them until I am further through the second game. Not my usual style, but this is also not my usual kind of RPG.

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The Imperial Birthday

Folks, today is my birthday. It’s been an exciting week, and I have loaded it with as much tabletop gaming as possible… I would play video games, but this is one of those times when I make a concession. Unfortunately, most of the games I play are single-player. It’s the lonely fact of RPGs. Fortunately, there is always Dungeons & Dragons, Hackmaster, Pathfinder, Arkham Horror, and a dozen other ways of meeting with people and having a great time of it. And that is what my week is looking like. ^^

Next week, I plan to get back to more regular posting. I have to beat Baldur’s Gate, then I will likely be moving onto Baldur’s Gate 2. Heh, I will have to squeeze in as much gaming as I can. Unfortunately, when I start law school in the fall, I will likely have significantly less time for gaming.

Here, There, Everywhere

Traveling 193 days, one might think that the party would reach the titular Baldur’s Gate, but my party is just going there now. This game, especially with the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion, has a lot of material packed into it. Baldur’s Gate itself is likely a relatively small portion of the game, ironically. And I don’t care. There is so much to occupy the player’s time, the main quest can wait.

Nor does the game drag. Each area in the game is roughly the same size, a square map on which there are some scattered monsters and usually a couple short quests. None of it has the “fetch quest” feel, and the quests are diverse enough that they never devolve into the mindlessness that makes the player question their character’s motivations.

The main quest, at least at first, waits for the party. The MC does not need to go anywhere at the beginning. He has some direction, and encounters a few people whom have an idea of where [em]they[/em] want to go, but the MC need not hurry down to the Nashkel Mines. Once he does, there is some impetus to continue, but it is nevertheless tangential to the character’s own motivations. Even this late into the game, the main quest is just another quest, albeit the most important one that the party faces. Rather than being a failing, it is a strength of the game to not push the party too hard. Creating a disconnect between the character’s actions and their motivations serves no purpose; the railroad needs to remain broad.

The term “railroad” refers to the structured progression of a game. Most, if not all, games, whether video games or tabletop, have a railroad. When well-made, it is practically invisible. Such railroads make it logical for the characters to be doing exactly what the game makes them do. Technically, even side-quests are a railroad of sorts: they are there to keep the player on the quests, and power them up for the main quests, or otherwise add information to the overall story of the region. By completing the side-quests of Baldur’s Gate, the player learns a lot more of the history of the Sword Coast, and of Faerun itself.

A bad example of a railroad? Look at some JRPGs. In Lufia 2, the party’s quest is to defeat the Sinestrals, whom intend to destroy the world. However, the game blocks off a bridge and says the mayor won’t let anybody past unless he gets the Glass Ruby from a nearby cave. Why is this here? Why can we not negotiate with the mayor? Why don’t we just swim? There is no reason to go there other than the game says “you must”.

Contrast that to Baldur’s Gate, where, technically, the party [em]could[/em] be spending their time finding out whom killed Gorion. But the game gives such precedence to the haste of finding more party members, then makes it clear that answers do not come easy. Thereafter, the party goes on a series of quests that build on each other and lead the party into Baldur’s Gate. There is a [em]little[/em] bluntness in the railroad if the party tries to visit Baldur’s Gate early. The guard there will not let the party in because of fear of bandit raids. Really? They will not let in [em]anybody[/em]? Not even merchants? It is ridiculous, but the party will likely be preoccupied with more pressing, actual dangers, so their inability to get into Baldur’s Gate is inconsequential.