Saturday, 15 December 2012

Baldur's Gate - it's a type of fetish

So, I've been playing Baldur's Gate ... on the iPad.  I have got very far, but that's BG for you.  I haven't really tried the arena fight Black Pits side game, and I've barely looked at any "enhancements".  In Baldur's Gate -Enhanced Edition- proper, you crawl inch by inch, you die, or a party member dies, you sell weapons for resurrection fees, you learn something, someone tells you to go somewhere, you die, you have a think, you go back to an earlier save, you crawl, you fight, and you may even be victorious!  You pray that in the next inn there isn't another assassin who attacks you right at the point you need to sleep, heal and regain spells, but no, someone wants you and your Chaucerian travelling crew obliterated, for a paltry 200 gold coins.

I discovered Baldur's Gate a few years later than when it came out - a friend insisted I played it.  It was already dating but it still ticked all the boxes with regards to simulating the mechanics of D&D, right down to the fact that at first level wild dogs can kill you.  When I played the game on the PC around 2000 I marvelled at how it combined managing a party, a traversable campaign world, character speech etc. with good old fashioned AD&D rules.  Except I had played AD&D 1st edition and despite what people say, there are differences with 2e plus whatever small changes Bioware had made.  Talking to NPCs can be a real drag -way too much text, laboured acting, with some humour - reminding you that across the table this would be an actual conservation - but therein lies the 30 year rub with computer RPGs, so all that left is the graphics and the system.

The graphics, in terms of the map backgrounds, have always been a pleasure to look at.  The extra zoom on the iPad is a nicely up-to-date feature.  With BG I always got the sense that I was exploring a whole world - you can literally wander anywhere -within plot limits- of course, you may also die, but hey, you choose to stray...  The character graphics will be a disappointment to new players, but there is customisation there with armour and weapons which amongst the whole party which you didn't really see in older games like Diablo and is one of the reasons that Dungeon Siege blew me away (Neverwinter series aside).  What you're left with is the story and game system.

The story is pretty slow -location triggered mainly- and since I didn't finish BG first time around and got diverted by the expansions I can't say whether or not the story arc is a selling feature - but what I can say is that many of the sub-quests and purse holding patrons connect with the background of the main plot, always reminding you  of bigger politics.  It isn't just a series of meaningless dungeon and forest locations.  However, random encounters when trudging across different areas (oh yes, you walk, no-one rides horses in old Faerun) can feel a bit "samey" - but they fit into the action more than in, say, Fighting Fantasy (I'm playing FFIII on the iPad atm and random encounters really are just a grind for XP).

The main point I wanted to make here was about the game mechanic/system.  I think that many of us who choose to play solo D&D  PC games because we are armed with, quite literally, tomes of rule knowledge, and we experience pleasure when we strategise regarding strengths and weakens based on our knowledge of weapons, spells, class abilities, and monster stats.   It's a fetish!  The love of rules, exercised as a fetish! ;)  Your character casts a spell in an allotted round and the hobgoblin fails the save - you even see the results of the die-rolls.

Manuals and reference cards.
If you already own these from
the original game, they might help.
There is even a part of me that really enjoys the fact that first level characters can barely load a crossbow without tripping over and dying in a ditch of rats.  I'm going to go as far as saying that if you don't think you like D&D (in the very specific sense, my WoW friends, I'm looking at you) then Baldur's Gate is not for you.  The controls, actions and equipment and spell choices are about as intuitive as string theory.  However, as with the PC version, the D&D player in you forgives the fact that the game drags itself along like overweight sea-lion in a desert, D&D players are a patient and cautious lot.  Unfortunately the D&D player in me is tuned to AD&D and D&D B/X, not 2nd edition AD&D - where class rules do differ.

About this time last year I finally bought (and had bought for me) copies of the core rulebooks for AD&D2e.  So this time around playing BG, I am armed with the knowledge!  Therefore I'm flicking through the Player's Handbook, only to find that I can't find anything yet about Monks (or is that new character one of the "enhancements"?).  Then I remember, AD&D2e was a huge tree of supplements and add-ons, naturally better organized that AD&D (with it's bolted-on Unearthed Arcana etc.).  Oops.  Oh well, at least I have the basics.  You really don't need AD&D2 to play BG, but understanding any of the early flavours of D&D can go a long way I reckon.

Edit: Oh, you fool, Billiam, Rassad the Monk is one of the new characters in the Enhanced version. At this rate you'll find that there are no Monks in AD&D 2e.

Map from
Tales of the Sword Coast
-a BG Expansion-
because you really
needed more CD-Roms
Never mention "Durlag's Tower"
to me, I get very upset.
In fact, the original BG game manual and the pamphlets in Tales of the Sword Coast give you a boiled down version of D&D, with strange extras, like by having a Lawful-Good character with high charisma, the prices in all shops become reduced, plus or minus some "party renown" points (if I remember right).

The Help  button on the iPad version brings up some context specific symbol definitions, but it still makes you work.  So tonight I'm going to be reading the BG manual and prepping myself with the old reference cards.  Maybe it would help if I visited the website as well?  Again, perhaps it's just like real D&D, when you find yourself reading-up rules between sessions. ;)

Edit: There are tutorials for each class, but I'm an impatient player... Maybe I should try playing through the tutorials...

On the iPad the stylised font text is tiny.  Bear this in mind when you're thinking about trying to run it on a lower resolution iPad.   The picture symbols for the spells and actions can be hard to make out - even if you know what they mean in advance.  Maybe this is like the old days, when learning to type INGLISH (TM) in The Hobbit computer game, finding out what all of the icons do is part of the charm?  Selecting items and walking through doors has it's own learning curve as well. There's a knack and your brain will eventually rewire itself, hopefully.

I believe that this is a nostalgia game in the sense that a majority of the customers will have played the game before, or wanted to - and so far (apart from changes in cut-scenes) it's incredibly loyal to the original game, right down to the overly clunky interface, except this time you don't have any keyboard short-cuts.  No keyboard short-cuts?  It's a tablet.  Oh crap.  The quest log seems easier to follow than on the PC - but maybe that's because I'm still in the infant stage of the campaign and my parchment rolodex isn't very full.  And now, of course, you don't have to insert different discs when you go to a new map area.  Bonus.

If you're new to Baldur's Gate, the only advice I have to give is take a careful look at the "Auto-Pause" settings - and read the text at the bottom of the screen- otherwise you quite literally won't know what hit you in combat.   Maybe, avoid robbing every shopkeeper you meet, but that's an alignment choice, I guess.

Baldur's Gate is also available on other tablets - site link

You must gather your party before venturing forth ...

No comments:

Post a Comment