Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition Review

  08:20:00 pm, by Damon   , 858 words  
Viewed 8148 times since 02/15/14
Categories: Games

I've heard from many, many people about how bloody amazing Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II are, and for the last many years (since around 2011, I believe) I've still not gotten around to playing it or giving it much thought until around November of 2013 when I started watching SorcererDave doing his Baldur's Gate Let's Play, which he had started over the summer during my internet hiatus. Then, two weeks and a few days ago, I finally decided I had seen enough, and I gave it a shot, buying it off the Mac App Store with an iTunes card I had laying around. So, here's my thoughts on Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition.

I have a personal blog that I post to sporadically, and I use my own set of criteria and opinions on my blog reviews, which can be found here, for anyone who wants to read it.

Also, as I've never played the original game, this post will not cover differences between the game, how good of an update it is, etc, since I don't know.

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition

  • Platform: Windows, iOS, Mac
  • Developer: Overhaul Games
  • Release Date: 18 Nov, 2012 (Win), 7 Dec, 2012 (iOS), 22 Feb, 2012 (OS X)
  • Price: $19.99 (Mac App Store)

Plot (9/10)

The story of Baldur's Gate is centred around the ward of Gorion, a mage residing within Candlekeep. At the beginning of the game, the Sword Coast has entered a difficult time: iron production has virtually halted, metal already produced quickly 'rots', tools and weapons break easily, and bandits scour the countryside seeking iron over any other treasure. There are mercenaries with designs on the main character's life, beginning inside the once-secure walls of Candlekeep.

When Gorion and the PC leave the safety of Candlekeep, they are ambushed by mysterious armoured figures who demand the PC be handed over to them. Gorion refuses and a fight ensues with Gorion losing his life to buy the player time to escape. Armed with only what the PC has acquired within Candlekeep, knowledge that two friends of Gorion are in the nearby Friendly Arm Inn, and the aid of childhood friend Imoen, the PC sets out to investigate the troubles plaguing the Sword Coast and learn how they relate to it all.

I found this story to be remarkably well-written. Being a game of text, rather than dialogue, it's got many engaging and suspensful moments that really make you think about what's happening, though I am reluctant to share and provide unnecessary spoilers in case there is someone like me who hasn't played the game before and wants an opinion of the game, but as spoiler-free as possible.

In addition to the central story, there are numerous side quests given by many NPCs throughout the region, though there are no joinable factions like in The Elder Scrolls. Not that that's a bad thing. I rather like how the side quests don't detract from the main story like TES games can, though that's a blog posting for another time.

Graphics (9/10)

I am truly at a loss what to say. I'm inclined to think it looks good, though I have no comparison to give for HD remakes of 90s era games. It doesn't look bad, let's leave it at that. The game is presented in an isometric perspective, similar to the Black Isle Fallout games, and zoomed out, the game presents a nice clear image, while still maintaining a classic look, which not many games can achieve.

Controls (8/10)

The game is controlled by clicking and dragging to lasso your characters (or click the Select All sidebar button), then you click on screen to designate where you want your party to move to on the map. That's very straight forward. There are no complaints as far as I care.

The hotkeys present a slight problem to me, though it's just nitpicking really. While most of the controls are in places that make sense ("I" opens the inventory, "R" opens the Character Records, etc), there are a few hotkeys that aren't in a place that feels natural to me, and I am frequently slowed down by the need to click on pages through the sidebars, as I can't remember what the specific hotkeys are when I want them.

Voice Acting (N/A)

This section is not applicable, for as I stated, save for a few battle cries, the game's communication is done via text rather than dialogue, though characters unique to the Enhanced Edition, such as Neera, have voiced dialogue, in addition to the text. However, a small handful of new characters with alright dialogue doesn't justify a rating for V.A. as a whole.

Replay Value (10/10)

The game is based on the Dungeons and Dragons rule set, meaning the characters each have the nine different D&D alignments to choose from, and you can play the game according to each different alignment, based on what you choose for the player to have, given the player different reactions from the world and NPCs. A remarkable amount for such an old game. This game can definitely get many replays from it, and in the last two weeks I've tried numerous different character types to look at different responses they get.

Overall Score: 9/10

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Now That the NDA is Over...

  12:29:00 pm, by AKB   , 1525 words  
Viewed 3974 times since 02/15/14
Categories: Elder Scrolls

I liked it. Quite a bit, actually. Alright, I don't think I can get away with such a brief statement on the game, so please allow me to expand on that thought some.

Poorly Organized Thoughts That I Had No Expectation That I Was Going to Write Today, but Suddenly Had to

The ESO beta was somehow the least buggy Elder Scrolls experience I have ever had. It is not a secret that Elder Scrolls games are buggy, hell Daggerfall could not even be beaten at release due to bugs, so that is quite the prestigious claim since what we have seen so far are not release candidates as far as I am aware. That is not to say the beta did not suffer from a ton of problems. Constant crashes, non-finished assets, and complete shut outs were not uncommon. That is not to say that I didn't expect all of that, it is still a beta after all, but it still somehow played just better than the single player games. I've personally had to spend weeks sorting through possible bugs just to get past the title screen in the main series before, so having a more stable client was definitely a unique perk to the beta. Still, there is a lot that needs to be tweaked to make the experience truly stable. The good news is that one of the main purposes of these beta tests is stress testing their servers so they may remain stable at launch. However, the pandemonium created from a poor launch will be quite catastrophic, if these issues are not worked out now. As ES games have been mainly single player (Battlespire had multiplayer, but who cared about Battlespire), not being able to play the games due to server load capacities will surely trigger virtual riots. I know I didn't appreciate just being told I could not play the beta at the moment because I was in a waiting list an hour long, but once people have paid for the game, the reaction to this error will be terrible to see. I'm having trouble thinking up a good analogy to this, so please go read on about the Diablo III or the Sim City game outages, you'll eventually find a good one in the comments.

As for the gameplay itself, I had some mixed experiences with it. The actual game itself was fun, the combat was well put together, the interactions with NPCs were interesting, and the quests were varied enough to hold my interest. While I didn't get to experience much of crafting due to game crashing issues and my own time limitations, it did seem to be a nice way to play the game more passively. But for all the fun I personally had, there were a ton of gripes experienced alongside this. Here's a tip to anyone who is new to MMOs and is only getting into this for the attached franchise, as soon as you start the game you will want to change your chat tab to ignore all those players around you. Unless you specifically want something from them, you'll just get annoyed that your flower picking is getting interrupted by a bunch of amazingly literate goat creatures trying to work out how to ram people through that strange screen device they are in front of. That's not unique to any multiplayer game, but it will be quite irritating to the many people who are more interested in the RPG part of MMORPG.

Combat was probably one of the better parts of the game. It happily mixes some of the best parts of Elder Scrolls combat with the gleeful convenience of hotkey MMOs. The result is surprisingly well done. While I kind of dislike the clear warning every NPC gives you for their attacks (highlighted by giant red hit boxes to indicate any kind of special move so you know to block or dodge), it was still fun beating on the wildlife. I imagine that the player versus player combat is even better, although I did not get that far in. 

Now that I've brought it up, let's talk about the RPG mechanics built into the game. In most ways, it performed better than I would have expected. From the very start, the character creator is leagues ahead of what Bethesda has been putting in their recent games. You have a more options for manipulating your character's appearance than ever before, from name (Akba), to race (I chose Argonian), to class (I was a Nightblade as I imagined that would be the class most likely to secretly be Batman), to gender, (I played female) height (absolute minimum for me), to weight (eating disorder), to hair style (horns), to eye poutiness (EXTREMELY), to appreciation for local businesses (would say she would support them, but never truly found the time to spend her hard earned gold at them. She's a working girl, after all. Once a long day is behind her, she just can't run to a dozen different shops, she needs that little bit of convenience that large chain stores bring in her life). I was honestly impressed with the variety of character appearances possible, and that's coming from the kind of ES veteran who knows how to easily mess with the game to produce the kind of monstrosities that makes my family deeply worried for my mental health.

However, I nor anyone else played with the character creator enough I fear. There seemed to have been some kind of setting for "Fear of Water" I missed. See, by default it seems to be stuck on "Will enter water, but not dunk head". I would imagine the slider would go between "Hydrophobic" and "I don't know why I would be afraid of going underwater, I have gills", but I failed to find it to confirm this. So for my experiences, my naturally water-breathing lizard never actually did that. While I'm sure they'll add in underwater exploration at a later date, this was actually the first thing I tested out, and my first disappointment with the game. 

After my tweaks to my avatar were completed, my actual experiences with the game was... very linear. Character creation and stat choices was just about all I got to do. After the initial tutorial area in Molag Bal's Coldharbour, you move onto another tutorial area in Tamriel. The problem I experienced is that I never got out of the part of the game I'd call a tutorial. In most ES games, the distinction between tutorial and the actual game is obvious. Once you can ignore your main quest from the start of the game and walk a fairly huge distance in the other direction, the tutorial section is over. This did not happen here. The game seems to hold you hostage, with the world never opening up as much as one would expect from an Elder Scrolls game. Maybe I didn't get far enough, but after about ten hours of play and still not being able to just leave whatever was going on behind, I began to lose hope. By the time I stopped playing, I finally reached a section that felt like the game part of the game, but I was too disheartened and short on time at that point. From a role playing perspective, I was playing someone who just really didn't care about all the faffing about with the Alliance Wars and just wanted to fix her issue with not having a soul, but I never got to any section of the game where I felt like I was moving forward with the main quest.

I do want to acknowledge the quality of the Alliance Wars that I did play through. What could have been just a tacked on player versus player feature was woven into the story to an impressive degree. I was worried it'd be a lot more like the dreadful experience brought on by the Civil War and Skyrim, but they did put some serious effort into making it good.As someone who went in not caring, I cared much more afterwords. To talk more of its good qualities, the voice work in the game so far was, for the most part, above the average for the series. Additionally, while the graphical quality isn't superb at the moment, it is a truly pretty game. While I could easily pick at something for every good thing I found in the game, ESO is shaping up to be a very excellent experience.

Would I buy it? Well, I probably am going to have to get a copy, considering my position on this site. But truthfully, if you have any doubts about the game now, you have good reason to have them. While there is a lot to like here, it is still a flawed game. If you think you'd like it from what you've seen so far, the previews we've seen from it are not inaccurate, so I would honestly just suggest follow your instincts when choosing to buy this game. If you have any doubts in your head, waiting is probably your safest bet for now.

Damon's New Blog Post (Can't think of a creative title)

  08:35:00 pm, by Damon   , 314 words  
Viewed 3573 times since 02/14/14
Categories: Misc

While playing Baldur's Gate, I was contemplating what the revival of a character meant for roleplaying purposes, and I started to think a little broader than just the game. This has lead me to come up with several questions:

If we possessed arcane abilities and were capable of resurrecting a recently deceased person, should we? Does a spirit, for lack of a better term, remember their death and circumstances related to it upon being reunited with their body? Have we just agonised them with the simple act of using such arcane power to force their spirit from whatever afterlife exists in order to make it bind with its corpse again?

Honestly, it can be argued either way, and this comes across as being one of those many deep, controversial debates regarding ethics and morals. I, at least, feel like the ability to cheat death shouldn't be taken lightly, and is in essence no different than necromantic magic, no matter how honourable the intent is. 

While it could be argued that a cleric restoring life to the deceased to live their life as they wish is different than a sorcerer reviving the deceased to serve as their servant, looking at the processes, it's fundamentally the same. Without giving specifics on the process, since there is no way at all that man in its current state could know or possess such ability, what's the difference? A person or creature's spirit has been separated from their body, and willingly or unwillingly, depending on how such a process works, would be rejoined with a corpse that the performer has selected, typically their own in the case of a holy cleric, for example.

We are also looking at the cheapening of the experience of life. Why would life be experienced to the fullest and treated as the special thing it is when you can redo whatever you failed at?

Rating Pilots: Doing TV Execs Jobs for Them

  05:52:00 pm, by Jeancey   , 540 words  
Viewed 4199 times since 02/12/14
Categories: TV/Movies, Web

Amazon Studios, which is the studio half of Amazon Instant Video, released 10 new pilots last week for everyone to watch, rate, and choose from. This is part of their new strategy to replace TV, but more importantly, replace Netflix as the hub of all original internet TV programming.  What makes Amazon's strategy different is that instead of having executives decide what the consumer wants, Amazon is letting the consumers decide for themselves. There are many issues solved by this, but also several problems raised as well.

The first issue solved by creating TV shows this way is that it is much, much more cost effective.  Instead of finding out that the show you spent millions of dollars creating is terrible and no one likes it as soon as it is released, Amazon can find out that no one likes the concept for just tens of thousand dollars, the cost of a single episode. Likewise, once it finds a show that people like, they can be assured that the show will then do well, as everyone has already commented on it. This will allow them to produce more popular shows than Netflix or any of the traditional TV studios.

The second issue solved by doing this is that it allows for more variety for the consumer to choose from. Because the cost of a single episode is so low, Amazon can produce many pilots when Netflix can only produce one or two full new shows in a given year. This means that if the consumer doesn't like one of Netflix's new shows, they are out of luck, but if they don't like one of Amazon's pilots, they have another nine to choose from. This variety could also allow for shows that traditionally haven't done well in prime time to find a place to come into their own and thrive. Genres like steampunk could find a home here. Also (and why this is somewhat relevant to the blog) video game based TV shows could be created, whereas in the mainstream TV world, they would never get passed the pitch table.

One of the problems that is newly created by this format would be actor availability. Let's say you shoot a pilot with Actor A.  That shooting takes place, a month later the pilot is released to the public, two months of ratings and commentings and then the pilot is greenlit as a full show.  In the three months since Actor A shot the pilot, he has now been cast in a large movie production and your star actor from the pilot is no longer available to shoot a full TV season. This can be mitigated somewhat by drafting a preliminary contract for the actor before shooting the pilot, but that would defeat one of the purposes of the pilot to the people format, being able to quickly and cheaply cut shows which don't do well without spending large amounts of money on them.

While these aren't the only issues solved by this format, nor is this problem the only one raised by it, Amazon Studios has certainly found an extremely unique way of getting its product to the masses.  You can read a review of several of the new TV pilots here.

Blog Update

  06:03:00 pm, by Daveh   , 175 words  
Viewed 5915 times since 01/30/14
Categories: News

As you may have noticed the blog has been given a minor, and long overdue, update:

  • Upgraded b2evolution from 2.x to 5.x
  • Minor changes to the default skin to make it match the UESP theme
  • Some setting tweaks

One thing I must say is that despite jumping 3 major versions of the blog software the update was the easiest and most straightfoward process of anything web-related application I've done...hats off of the b2evolution development team. Editing the skin was similarly trivial. I usually loathe upgrades as it seems even trivial ones can break terribly and leave you hunting forums in the depths of the web for the one person who experienced the same error as you. MediaWiki in particular is bad with upgrades turning something which should take no more than 30 minutes into a week long adventure.

Everything appears to be working but it anything is broken or there's more apps/widgets that should be installed let me know. The skin can be similarly commented on (I can give access to edit if anyone is particularly interested).