I’m not going to be addressing the controversy surrounding Beamdog and Amber Scott’s supposed social justice warrioring (yet) simply because I haven’t reached that portion of the game. I rolled a new character from scratch with the intention of playing through the entirety of the original game (on Normal, because I’d like to do it quickly; Story mode seems like too much of a cop-out since I remember most of the fights pretty well) and hitting the new expansion’s content with the story of the original Baldur’s Gate as fresh as it can be.
I’m also new to the Enhanced Edition because my go-to version of the Baldur’s Gate saga is basically a heavily modded version of the original games so I might be talking about things some of you already know. But for anyone who hasn’t played BG: EE either, perhaps this will equip you with enough information to decide whether or not to buy it and the new expansion pack.
My thoughts, after 95 minutes of playtime are below.
I’ve seen the original EE main menu and title screen; it gets a pretty dramatic alteration for Siege of Dragonspear. Here’s what it looks like.
They’ve kept the music, thank god, but there was a fair bit of dissonance for me. The music launched a whole bunch of expectations about what I would see and I didn’t actually see any of it. It isn’t a bad look, by any means. Just new. It felt to me like this was one of Beamdog’s ways of making a statement, leaving their mark on Baldur’s Gate, as it were.
As a brief aside, I wasn’t especially happy with the art style of the intro, but I’m happy they haven’t screwed with Sarevok’s voice. I’m also glad it still starts with Nietzsche.
I like that Total Roll field. Extremely useful, made rerolling until I got a total of 88 (or 89, I don’t remember) very easy – by which I mean I did not have to poke math with a stick to get my stats the way I wanted. Nice touch.
I’m not happy with the way they’ve tweaked the transition from main class selection to subclass selection. In the old UI, the moment you click a class, you’re taken to a screen that shows you all of the subclass options. Here, before that transition, you need to click a ‘Done’ button first. I actually thought they dropped the subclasses when I saw the button; it feels entirely unnecessary. The original wasn’t broken, so it didn’t need fixing.
The range of colours for clothing, skin, and hair customization is nice, I like how broad the selection is. I stuck with the reds and browns that I’ve been using since my very first playthrough, but it was good to have options.
Character outlines and health bars
I did not like the outlines around characters at all.
Made the whole thing look weirdly cartoony; was very jarring and I’m glad there’s an option to turn it off. I imagine it’ll be both practical and useful to turn on in the middle of those large battles that Siege of Dragonspear is supposed to have but I don’t need it in Baldur’s Gate yet. Certainly not in Candlekeep, at least.
Health bars above all characters in combat are nice. Not an essential addition, certainly, but useful. At least I have clearer indicators of how close to winning (or losing) a fight I am. I’m glad it’s toggle-able, though, for anyone who doesn’t want to use it.
Another aside – I’m not especially happy with the black-popup-with-white-text tooltips that have replaced the unfurling scrolls of the original game. Again, that’s something that wasn’t broken, why fix it? And, frankly, the scrolls just looked nice.
Speaking of losing fights, I found a bug
It was a bloody weird one, too. After Imoen and my monk got murdered by a black bear, the difficulty auto-dropped to Story mode when I reloaded my game. Thank goodness for the little message that says “Story mode active” because otherwise I would never have known. I suppose the sudden wealth of resistance and immunity icons on the portraits might’ve been a bit of a clue, though.
Beamdog, fix this, please? It is extremely patronizing – and sometimes bears are legitimately badass, okay?
Dafuq is this shit?
This is the dumbest, most ridiculous, most hideously immersion breaking thing they could have done to the game. Why in the world would Beamdog implement a feature that allows me to scroll past the edges of the map? I mean, look at this. This is nasty.
It completely shatters any involvement I have with the game and yanks me forcibly out of the experience. Poking around forums tells me that there are people who both love and hate this particular feature so, for god’s sake, make it toggle-able.
This is probably my biggest gripe with the game thus far. Beamdog, (what) were you thinking?
The journal is excellent
This is a legitimate improvement. Rather than taking up the full screen like the Records screen or the spellbooks, this opens neatly on the top left. Collapsible entries make scanning through open and closed quests really really simple and the fact that they don’t disappear from the list when finished – the original journal collected completed quests separately – means that I remember to read the last journal entry for a given quest, something I almost always forget.
I also like the popup that appears every time the journal gets updated. Font scaling needs to be sorted there, though; up to three lines of text are perfectly legible – but when journal entries are longer the preview text gets annoyingly small, irrespective of what font scaling is set in the options menu.
Incidentally, this may not seem like a big deal, but since I usually keep track of quests in my head, I very often forget to read journal entries and miss out on some great bits of good writing as a result. I liked the reminder-popup, especially at the start of the game because the Candlekeep journal entries are quite amusing.
And finally, I can’t make up my mind about the UI
It’s odd, certainly. And I don’t entirely understand why they changed it. If the goal was to reduce the amount of the screen space that the interface occupies, making the sides of the bottom bar transparent wasn’t really the way to go. I would have preferred a complete UI redesign, Pillars of Eternity style, or even the thing that Icewind Dale 2 used.
This middle-of-the-road-change of recolour plus tweaks doesn’t really feel very well thought out; it’s as if someone said ‘Let’s do something with the UI for the expansion’ and then everybody else just shrugged and said, ‘Eh, okay.’ This, for example, is what the merchant screen looks like, courtesy Winthrop of Candlekeep.
It makes no sense to put the vendor inventory up top, leave a bit of blank space in the middle, and then have buttons to switch between vendor offerings at the bottom. It feels different for the sake of being different rather than a legitimate improvement over the original UI and, overall, feels quite pointless.
One good addition is a button that lets you toggle object highlights – essentially, the same thing that holding down the Tab key does. I use Tab instinctively so I didn’t get much use out of the thing, but I imagine that it’ll make spotting objects much more welcoming for new players.
So, to sum up Part 1 …
There is some stuff I haven’t talked about yet. Things like the modifications to the area and world maps, the new subclasses that they’ve added, changes to scripts, updates to the protagonist’s biography from the original Baldur’s Gate – which is probably one of my favourite changes – and the difficulty levels on offer. I’m keeping those for Part 2 because this is long enough already.
But I will say, after 95 minutes, it still clicks. It still feels like curling up with a well-worn book or easing your feet into a pair of slippers that you spent years breaking in. It still feels comfortable and it still feels like home. There are enough general improvements to Baldur’s Gate that anyone who hasn’t played it before can jump right in and experience the vanilla game plus Tales of the Sword Coast without needing to bother about mods.
But as someone who plays the entire Baldur’s Gate saga once every few years, I miss Unfinished Business, the Fixpack, Sword Coast Stratagems, and a long list of mods that have come to define my experience with Baldur’s Gate over the years.
One thing that I think Beamdog should very seriously address (if possible; the technical nuances are very far beyond me) is to integrate BG mods with Steam Workshop or work with modders to create custom installers for GOG and the like – to make modding BG more welcoming for newcomers. Beamdog could help out with the Big World Project, for example.
Mods are what made the original Baldur’s Gate stay strong and steadily get better over almost twenty years. And if the Enhanced Edition is meant to stand the test of time, that’s the way to do it.
(Part 2 of this series will follow as soon as I feel like I’ve played enough BG:EE and Dragonspear to justify writing it.)