At long last I have reached the end of Baldur's Gate. Many challenges faced me and countless enemies sought my end, but I overcame them all to reach Sarevok's subterranean lair and end his threat once and for all (maybe). And just in time too, because the release of Baldur's Gate 2: Enhanced Edition is just around the corner (as in less than a day away). So now seemed an opportune time to offer my account of the story's final hours as well as the summation of my thoughts on the game more generally.
Before heading for a final confrontation with my half-brother, I chose to level my team up a bit more. To do so, I embarked on a quest to discover the fate of the lost explorer Balduran, an enterprise which proved far more challenging than I expected. Shipwrecked briefly on an island inhabited by lycanthropes it was several weeks in-game before I was able to return to the Sword Coast, though the difficulties of our return did achieve my main goal of increasing my party's experience level. By the time I returned to Baldur's Gate my own character had hit the game's XP cap and although the rest of my party hadn't, they were at least higher level than they had been when I set out.
Upon my return I selected a final group from my many-membered fellowship. For story purposes, considering their apparent importance to the narrative and connection with my foster father Gorion, I brought along Jaheira and Khalid. For similar reasons as well as the fact that I expected to encounter many traps in the labyrinth guarding Sarevok's sanctum I recruited Imoen as well. For the final two party members I selected Viconia and Neera, partially out of a fondness for both as well as to garner some additional magical firepower. Once my party was selected I stocked up on potions, wands, and other supplies before departing into the Undercity.
As it turned out, I may not have been as well-prepared as I expected. My first attempt to take down Sarevok ended with swift brutality, as he and his companions cleaved through me and mine with alarming ease. After trying my hand at the battle a few more times I realized that I was underarmed and trudged my way back to the surface to dispense with more of my income. Picking up some tips from online I bought several more wands, along with a few spells and potions, until my wealth had been expired. With no more coin to spend I returned to Sarevok's lair, hoping that I had enough firepower to end him.
This time, instead of engaging him directly as I had before, I sent Imoen with a wand of fireballs off towards the corner of the room and had her spam fireballs in the direction of my half-brother's companions, carefully to avoid hitting him and thereby provoking his automated response. After spending the wand entirely and whittling down the health of his allies, I then had Jaheira cast entanglement on the area immediately surrounding his position, buffed my party considerably with my own spells and Viconia's, and then had Imoen use a wand of summoning to conjure a party of gnolls to aid me. Then I quick-saved and approached Sarevok on my own.
After exchanging some words with me (mostly about his impending deification) my half-brother attacked, bringing with him his party. Fortunately, I was prepared this time and launched a few more fireball strikes from Imoen and Neera to bring down his companions for good. Sarevok was himself largely uninjured, so I sent my gnoll servitors against him to distract him while I rallied my party, replenishing them every so often with another blast of Imoen's wand.
After that, it was mostly a matter of keeping my party's health above 0 and waiting until Sarevok finally hit the ground. One thing that is really remarkable about these old-school RPGs (for I've observed it in Fallout and Planescape: Torment as well) is how much of a difference a proper plan makes in a battle. The difference between total slaughter and complete (if hard-won) victory wasn't increased level or a different party, but instead the way in which I approached the fight. Of course, the way I approached the fight was essentially to fight dirty and exploit some idiosyncrasies of the game's AI in order to pummel Sarevok's party ahead of time but as they say, all's fair in love and war.
After defeating Sarevok a brief cutscene played, obviously hinting at events to come in a very ominous manner and then the game was finished; I'd beaten Baldur's Gate.
So what did I think?
Well, as I've alluded to in my previous posts, I've been surprised by how much I've enjoyed it. My previous foray into the game a few years ago did not yield nearly as positive an experience, for which I've identified several possible (and mutually compatible) reasons. First of all, I think playing Planescape: Torment and Fallout ahead of time, helped acculturate me to the style of older RPGs. Secondly, I think the changes made by Beamdog - improving the user interface, rebalancing the game's mechanics, adding more detailed and developed characters, etc. - really do add a lot to the game. Lastly, if I'm being wholly honest, I think the fact that a lot of friends of mine are fond of the series gave me the incentive to push through any initial frustrations I had and give the game a chance to prove itself. Which it eventually did.
There's definitely some things that other games do better, even if we are limiting ourselves solely to the period from which it comes. Fallout and Planescape: Torment both provide (in my opinion) a more interesting setting. Fallout is more inventive, gameplay-wise, and there's nothing quite as ingenious in Baldur's Gate as using a radio to divert enemy soldiers from a base or talking the final boss into killing himself. Planescape: Torment has a more interesting story. But although it may not triumph over its competitors in any of those individual fields, Baldur's Gate remains a very good game that may not excel in any one particular area but which provides a broadly engaging experience in several.
If the game had one singularly great quality it's probably how detailed it is. Every area - even random spots of wilderness - is filled with quest hooks, characters to engage with, and monsters to fight. I never found myself without something to do, at least not until the very last hours of the game's main story, at which point I'd already hit a level cap. My greatest peeve, on the other hand, is probably the slow rate at which you level and in particular the fact that XP isn't shared with party members you've (temporarily) left behind, meaning that most of my party was somewhat underleveled as the game's end. I also sort of wish that Beamdog had done more to flesh out the game's existing characters, besides just adding some more of their own, but I respect that this may have come close to treading on the series' canon, as it were.
Overall, I'm glad I played Baldur's Gate and I am genuinely looking forward to trying out the enhanced edition of its sequel when the game is released tomorrow. Sure, it has its problems and it's aged a bit, but it's easy now to see now why it's the standard against which BioWare's later games have always been compared.