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By Matthew Prince, RPGamer Writer
Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, there was a game. This game was called Dungeons and Dragons. This game became very popular. It involved getting a group of people together, and role-playing through fantasy situations. This game became popular. Now, warp ahead many years, to 1998. A game, based on the system started with Dungeons & Dragons, was released in the holiday season. Truly, it was a gift to us all.
Baldur's Gate became a standard for PC games to come. One of the most popular games, it is being ported to both Sony Playstation and Sega Dreamcast. Even after more than a year, it continues to be wildly popular as both a single and multi-player game around the world.
The story begins as one might expect for a D&D game. You create your character, including class, stats, and abilities. From here, you enter Candlekeep, a fortress of knowledge located on the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms. You discover that you must leave that very same night, and explore the fortress. Meeting different people, you are allowed to become acquainted with the controls of the game in a non-threatening manner. After talking with Gorion, you leave Candlekeep, and are plunged into a massive story over which you have almost complete control.
The plot is simply stunning. None of the traditional "save the princess/world" clichˇ here. Instead, the story revolves around the adventures of you, the main character, in your quest to help or hinder the people of the Sword Coast. Herein lies one of the best parts of Baldur's Gate: the ability to be evil. It is quite possible to make a character that is Chaotic Evil (evil incarnate in D&D terms), and go on massive townsman killing sprees. Similarly, you can be Lawful Good (good incarnate), and be kind to every person you meet. However, you are not limited to the two; all the shades of gray in-between. Not only this, but you can select from over 8 different classes for your character, ranging from a fighter to a mage.
The gameplay is wonderful, with only a few glitches. One major problem was with party members getting lost and going the wrong way when having them move long distances. With the newer patches, this problem was solved. The pause feature is a wonderful addition, and makes battles a joy.
Battles in Baldur's Gate are all in real-time. However, the system was designed to prevent fights from becoming clicking wars. Once you click once, the character will execute that command. When attacking, the character will continue to attack until the opponent is dead or a new command is given. To make battles much fairer, the pause feature was added. You can pause the game at any time and issue new commands to your people. This comes in handy, especially in fights against a few strong enemies.
The art is extraordinary. Each scene is prerendered, and all of them are unique. There is no "Didn't we see that tree?" "No, that was a mile back. This is the same tree, just in a different place." The music fits with the scenes perfectly. The little extra sound bits added realism to the game. When near a river, a soft babbling sound ensues, and makes you feel as if you really are near the actual flow of water.
The actual voiceovers are wonderful. Not only does the game come with 8 different voices for your main character, each person that joins your group has their own voice. Not only that, but many people around the Sword Coast also have unique voices. This also lends to the feeling of realism.
The major problem with Baldur's Gate is its tendency to crash. Every once in a while, it will randomly shut down. This can lead to major trouble if you haven't saved in a while. Fortunately, saving is very easily accomplished. Not only can you save everywhere except when in a fight; all you have to do is press one key to save.
All in all, Baldur's Gate is a good buy. The visuals are great, the music is awe-inspiring, and the plot is amazing in its non-linearity. My official opinion: Get it, and get it now.
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