Whenever you see a group of aging PC gamers gathered in a corner and whispering to each other, there is a good chance that at some point you’d overhear them talking about either Diablo or Wing Commander or Baldur’s Gate. I’ve never actually seen this happen, but it must be a relatively common occurrence because someone keeps recording these hushed whispers and uploading them to the internet.
Over the years, I’ve heard Baldur’s Gate spoken of with the highest regard. It’s only natural that I would want to explore a game that is so thoroughly beloved. Occasionally, I’ve installed the game on my computer and wandered around the village of Candlekeep. Every time I start the game, I get excited to embark on a quest that so many people have enjoyed over the years. With each attempt, I make it a little further, but it always ends up the same. It’s inevitable. I get lost in the countryside and give up.
This isn’t a new story for me. As much as I love having the freedom to explore an expansive world, a narrative is always served best by clear objectives. The subtle draw away from the critical path is an ever-present force in Baldur’s Gate, which I must assume is a major part of why this game is so well regarded. This pull toward exploration and discovery is striking because it feels so organic and because the curious player is always rewarded.
However, just because the world seems to encourage you to explore doesn’t mean that you should. The desire to explore every corner of the Faerûn is a siren song that will pull you overboard. And once you’ve been pulled overboard, the ship will float on without you—figuratively speaking. Your party members will, understandably, grow increasingly frustrated by the fact that you wandering the countryside instead of addressing the important matters at hand.
During one of my attempted playthroughs, I was carefully exploring the Nashkel Mines when Minsc decided that I was taking too long to progress, so he attacked me. I ended up having to kill one of my most powerful team members. The game seemed to be actively hostile toward me, and I found myself giving up on Baldur’s Gate yet again.
Baldur’s Gate being a bit unfriendly is only a problem if you don’t properly manage your expectations. Especially in a post-Skyrim world, it’s easy to assume that any adventure will unfurl itself before you and bend to your will. This is simply not the case with Baldur’s Gate. You must learn to bend to its will: to derive objectives from conversation, to manage an obtuse ruleset, to carefully order your battle strategy. Baldur’s Gate is a product of its time, and my inability to follow instruction is more of a personal problem.
In the end, I had to seek external guidance (thanks gamefaqs.com!) in order to complete the Baldur’s Gate. I wish I could have learned the game’s idiosyncrasies from the game itself, rather than a text document… because learning the game was one of the most satisfying parts of my experience with the game. When I finally came to terms with my tacit admission of defeat, I quite enjoyed the last half of the game. I am beginning to see why those aforementioned corner-gatherers spend so much time remembering this game.
Hopefully, I can redeem myself by making it through Baldur’s Gate II without walkthrough.
Side note: Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is the definitive version of the game. The hardworking people at Beamdog have lovingly updated the game, fixing a number of bugs that were present in the original. The best part is that its now runs beautifully on modern, high-resolution devices (including mobile phones and tablets). If you still haven’t played this game—or even if you have—this is best way to do enjoy this classic.