Oh 1998 and its isometric filled charms. There is hardly a week that goes by where I can't be found in one capacity or another, stamping on my hat Yosemite Sam style, arguing the virtues of the PC RPG of way back when. Kids today (and I say this as a 22 year old upstart), they think they're so good. Between all of the CoDs and Battlefields, they simply do not know the joy of a mouse and keyboard - that is outside the realm of MineCraft. To think, they haven't even sampled the delights of a 6 disc, big box, and complete with map, CRPG.
And just as an aside: we didn't even think to call it a special edition - y'know why? Every PC game was a freakin' special edition. But I'm getting sidetracked. The crowd-pleasing minds over at Overhaul Games have been toiling away on an updated remake of the original BioWare classic and now it's finally available. Utilising the collective powers of their namesake (I imagine there's some combining of rings involved too) Baldur's Gate is now shiny, refreshed, and oh so playable again.
Of course, at the time of writing it's not all good news. The iOS version has been kicked back a week or two pending the App Store review process - and there are a few disgruntled customers lingering on the Beamdog forum. It is important to note that this is an indie company releasing a labour of love - but I'll be damned if download times don't get my goat and make me want to invoke the God of Murder.
So the most obvious change is the switch to new resolutions. Unlike the 800x600 original, all sorts of weird and wonderful monitor displays are now catered for. What this means is that this Bhaal-inspired tale now pops and crackles with loving detail. And yes, it's acceptable to feel the same way about the Infinity Engine as you do an old high school flame.
There's a timeless quality to the visual styling's of the popular 90's powerhouse. The isometric view, while limiting, allows for the game to be laid out with crystal clear clarity. The hand drawn scenery, the structures, the foreboding ruins, they all transport the player back to a time when game playing came hand in hand with a dollop of imagination. Putting it simply: Baldur's Gate looks a treat.
But what about the gameplay itself? This is after all a 15-year-old RPG. While admittedly it does creak in certain places, and it's slavish devotion to the D&D rule set jars with certain "modern" design decisions, it's still a rip-roaring tale of adventure and gibbling slaughter.
Apart from a few fixes here and there, the core experience remains largely untouched. Veterans will pick up and play effortlessly, and the then groundbreaking tutorial will easily help newcomers to get into the grove. It is important to note that while this comes from the imagination of BioWare, it is much slower in pace to its more current successors. Combat can clatter to an explosive halt almost immediately, or it can be drawn out into a lengthy slog of missed hits and wasted potions.
In fact, given the time since its release, and the general gravitation of newer RPGs, Baldur's Gate begins to feel like a very unique adventure. Like The Witcher or Dragon Age's new stabs of innovation, the retrospective mechanics feel new rather than rusty. Slower pacing might sound dull, but it actually combines with the atmosphere to create a D&D experience unlike any you have played, since, well the 1998 original.
And for sadists amongst us, Baldur's Gate is still the difficult and unforgiving experience it always was. Party members dying early on is still a pain, and the odd Hobgoblin swipe will see you hurtling back towards the "load" screen. To help things along however is a quick-save button; but really, this is a game that features a gender-bending belt within the first 5 minutes - that is irreversible - a certain amount of "bastardry" is ultimately its charm.
Other changes and fixes that are thrown in are new characters, another adventure known as "The Black Pits" and improved cinematics. In every sense of the phrase, this is truly the Enhanced Edition of the BioWare classic.
Of course, there are a few drawbacks - some players are reporting bugs and crashed, with Overhaul promising to look into the issues. I personally would have liked to given this a spin on the iPad, but at the time of writing only the PC version is available (a fact that will hopefully be remedied before Christmas).
So if you feel like gunning it up to 88 MPH and heading back to the late 90's, Overhaul has your back for $20. Polished, improved, and still very much living up to its billing as a classic - any RPG fan should be heading back to the Forgotten Realms for this one.
The game can be found here and remember, voting with your wallet will see Overhaul remake Baldur's Gate 2, and there are possibilities for PlaneScape Torment. Black Isle-gasm, indeed.