The enhanced edition of the first two Baldur's Gate games arrive on consoles, to the delight of everyone who still knows how THAC0 works.
Baldur's Gate & Baldur's Gate II are iconic games. No other computer title before or since has so accurately recreated the rules, environments, and play style of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, a fact which is both the game's strongest element and, unfortunately, the exact aspect which makes this franchise so incredibly tedious for some people to play.
Although new additions by Enhanced Edition developers Overhaul Games and Beamdog go a long way towards making the first two Baldur's Gate games tolerable for today's players, the whole experience is very heavily tailored to a specific fanbase. Players not willing to put in dozens, if not hundreds, of hours conforming to AD&D rules, reading extensive blocks of text, and crossing their fingers during repetitive dice rolling sessions should look elsewhere. However, if the prospect of nearly unlimited player choice alongside a well-written slow-burn fantasy adventure is intriguing, then the Baldur's Gate series is almost required playing.
Originally released in 1998 and developed by BioWare, the first Baldur's Gate can be best described as a low-level Dungeons and Dragons adventure game. Players venture through pre-rendered backgrounds in an isometric, third-person perspective, collecting party members and battling monsters while travelling up and down the Sword Coast, the western shore of Faerûn, in search of both the cause of a region-wide iron shortage and in order to discover the reason why they were driven from their home in the first place. From battling rats in a basement to sneaking through the bowels of a palace, Baldur's Gate not only features nearly every fantasy cliche imaginable, but revels in them.
Baldur's Gate and its sequel are unforgiving games. Death can occur at any moment throughout the nearly 100-hour campaign, and although some NPC fatalities can be reversed with high level spells or access to a proper temple, some of them cannot. This can happen even when not in combat, as party members (and the player themselves) can get struck by lightning randomly during storms, prompting lengthy strings of profanity if said player hadn't saved their game in a while.
The combat mechanics of the Baldur's Gate games are pulled directly from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, incorporating the innately confusing To-Hit-Armor-Class-Zero (THAC0) system when deciding on the results of randomized attack rolls. A combination of strict adherence to this somewhat archaic format and the inconsistency of random dice rolls leads to hundreds of lengthy combat encounters in which the player has very little control over the outcome of the battle, forcing them to sit back and watch with a mix of frustration and tension as over and over again both parties attack, miss, attack, miss, and repeat until someone finally does damage.
As a late 20th century PC role-playing title ported to consoles, Baldur's Gate & Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition suffers from some layout issues. A useful feature is the Auto-Pause, which, once found in one of the multiple menu screens, allows the player to adjust the times when the game automatically pauses, which can be a lifesaving feature in battle. Lacking a mouse to direct the player's movement and attention, the controls can be a little touchy, with the selection tool rapidly jumping around when too many interactable objects are in the same direction the player is facing. Small glitches, such as the player character becoming stuck on the side of the screen after fast traveling or changing from interior to exterior locations, were also observed during gameplay but easily fixed.
Baldur's Gate & Baldur's Gate II are both fantastically written, adequately-voiced games, and thanks to the Enhanced Edition players who want to experience just the story and exploration of these titles without dealing with frustrating combat and high-stakes death gambles can do so by selecting the game's new Story Mode difficulty feature. While this may remove much of the tension combat encounters in these games are rife with, certain areas of both titles can be so incredibly tedious and irritating some players may find it a necessity in order to complete them at all, or at least to do so without some serious save scumming.
Fans of later BioWare titles like Mass Effect and the Dragon Age games will find a lot of familiar mechanics in the Baldur's Gate series, especially where companions are concerned. Players who want to grow their adventuring party can choose from a plethora of different types of characters they meet along their journey, and these characters all have unique personalities and specific questlines attached to them. In an act which has become a BioWare tradition, the player can even form a romantic relationship with some of these NPCs.
Player characters can be carried over from the first Baldur's Gate to Baldur's Gate II, another BioWare staple which was also featured in Mass Effect. Although multiple companions from the first game are featured in the sequel, none of their statuses carry over in the same capacity. Also included are all the expansion packs for both titles, even 2016's Siege of Dragonspear which bridged the narrative gaps between the first and second game, and any campaign can import a character at any time, even if the original Baldur's Gate was never completed. Hopefully, the upcoming Baldur's Gate 3 will include this function as well.
Baldur's Gate & Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition is a quality port of a highly complex mechanically-focused Dungeons and Dragons video game translation. While most definitely not for everyone, players who delight in THAC0 number crunching, dungeon dwelling, retro RPGs, or any form of fantasy writing will find a lot to enjoy in these former PC-only titles. Gamers who prefer a little less talk and a lot more action, however, might not get the warm fuzzy feeling others do when playing this somewhat irritating but irrefutably influential game series.
Baldur's Gate & Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. A PS4 code was provided to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.