Black Isle Studios was on a roll in the late ‘90s early ‘00s. Between 1998 and 2004 they released two different Baldur’s Gate games, two expansions, Icewind Dale I and II and Planescape: Torment. All of these games were based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. Now Beamdog brings Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II to the Switch. Keep in mind that these are the games that originally released on PC, not the console versions that came to the PS2 back in the day.
Baldur’s Gate is set in the Forgotten Realms. Introduced to the mage Gorion, you are an orphan and his ward. Living in the library fortress of Candlekeep, your lives are peaceful until Gorion urgently asks you to leave with him. Without much explanation, you reluctantly agree and say your goodbyes to your friends. One the way out of town you and Gorion are ambushed by an armored figure looking for you. Gorion tells you to run and is then killed, barely buying enough time for your escape. The next morning your trusted friend Emoen finds you wandering the woods where Gorion was killed. Once the two meet up they set out away from Candlekeep, as it is no longer safe there.
While exploring the realm, it is revealed that there is an iron shortage. What’s worse is that items made from iron are rusting and rotting. You and your friends decide to try and figure out the reason behind this odd occurrence and thus begins your adventure.
Baldur’s Gate has twenty-five playable characters that can join your party, but only five can join at a time. Each character is unique and has different personalities, classes, and traits. Emoen is a Rogue; someone good at hiding in shadows, finding traps, and opening locked doors and chests. Early on, a Mage and a Cleric can join the party, but only if you let them. Be wary of assassins and plots to kill you, as obviously someone wants you dead.
Baldur’s Gate II: The Shadows of Amnis is also set in the Forgotten Realms. This game takes place in the country of Amn. It is a direct continuation of the first game, so you should definitely play them in order. Shortly after the events of the first game, the party is captured and a wizard experiments on the main character. His compound is attacked by the thieves’ guild and during the distraction Emoen manages to free you and the party fights its way through an underground complex to freedom. Once out, Emoen sees the wizard and attacks him using spells. Unfortunately this is forbidden and both he and the wizard are locked up for using magic.
After Emoen is arrested the party starts to look for ways to get her back. Two different organizations offer to help you rescue her, but the offer is very expensive. Both groups have different approaches to things, and it is up to the player to decide which guild to use.
Baldur’s Gate I and II are both played with an asymmetrical view, from the top down. Everything is pre-rendered, from the gorgeous maps to the player and monster sprites. The games do show their age for being 15-20 years old, but the developers did a nice job making sure that it was faithfully updated. Animations on spells look good, except the ones that feature lasting effects. The biggest example of this is the Entangle spell, which causes vines to grow and trap people in a radius. Many vines are animated out of the ground, but only five or six different animations occur, making it look very dated.
Speaking of spells, be careful of what, when, and where you cast. Large area spells will hit and hurt your party if they are in range. I have died several times from friendly fire. It is also difficult to bring people back when they are knocked unconscious, and in harder difficulties of the game, characters can permanently die. Newcomers will probably want to dial back the difficulty.
The music for the game fits well, as does the ambient noise. Entering taverns and inns the music changes to a lively tune with flutes and violins, where as outside in the town it’s a little slower and more mood setting. Battle music starts as soon as enemies are seen on the field, and by default the game will pause to let you know enemies are around. This is very helpful as the player can zoom in and out using the d-pad and if they are zoomed in too far enemies might not be seen until too late. This also allows the player to strategize if they want to use special abilities or spells to deal with the ruffians.
The controls can be a bit of a hassle especially until players get used to selecting multiple characters with the ZL button. Using the L and R buttons lets players cycle through each individual character allowing them to select their special abilities, but then will need to select all party members to move the party around again. Fights are fast paced, and the game can be paused at any time to issue orders for all party members either at the same time or individually. The ZR button is used to open menus like inventory and spell management, as well as options for the game.
The text of the game is quite small, especially on a TV. Handheld mode is a lot easier on the eyes for reading the mountains of text the game throws at you. There is an option to increase the text size in the game, but I didn’t find it as helpful as it could be. This game is fun when the switch is docked and even better when it is in handheld mode.
Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Editions is a fun, albeit super challenging addition to the Switch library. Veterans of AD&D will find familiar ground, while newcomers should find the story and setting fun. The steep skill curve of the game can cause frustration, even in normal mode. If players get past that, there are great games here.
Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Editions Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 9/109/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
If you’re up to the challenge, Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Editions are great experiences on the Switch. There is easily over 100 hours of entertainment here and although both look a bit dated, I found playing them on the handheld to be a great deal of fun.