Thursday, July 15, 2010

Top 50 Games - 13. Baldur's Gate / Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn

Baldur's Gate was the one that got me into gaming. Yes, if there is the one for me, Baldur's Gate is it. When I was maybe seven years old I watched my dad play through the AD&D-based BioWare RPG on his Mac (before this past decade's savvy marketing blitz saw the Apple brand become truly popular on the East Coast). I had learned Magic: The Gathering maybe half a year earlier, and was fascinated with swords & sorcery, especially the kind that came in game form. While the isometric Infinity Engine isn't much to look at now, back then it came close to blowing my mind. I remember the opening hours clear as day, even though it's been years since I last played Baldur's Gate. There was the conversation with the innkeeper who called you an arse (further into the game my dad had to explain what a prostitute is), an item hidden in the haystack, the mentally volatile Chaotic Evil character you met on the road who could join your party for a while, your starting quarter-staff... This is easily one of the most powerfully nostalgic games I've committed to memory. My dad and I made our player-character a Good ranger named Vinsor. To this day, Vinsor is the name I use for a game series in my head that may one day become reality. I remember the random roadside ambushes, the ale-soaked taverns where plenty of interesting conversation was had, warrior Minsc's pet mouse Boo, moving through the black "fog of war," and so much more. One of the coolest memories I have of Baldur's Gate is the epic final confrontation with Sarevok: it was a difficult battle (or at least looked like it; my dad was still playing) forcing you to fight against Sarevok's magic-spamming advisors before taking on the main target himself. The floor was decorated with a booby-trapped version of the skull on the game's front cover that forced you to consider your movements if you hadn't already disarmed the traps. Every moment of that glorious battle is permanently impressed into my brain, and I'm glad for it. I know I've spoken exclusively of the original Baldur's Gate so far: it is, like I said, the game that got me into gaming, but Shadows of Amn is tied with it simply because it's a better game. BG2 reunited me with my old teammates, presented a much more aesthetically interesting world, and was so goddamn deep I don't think I even scratched the surface in my playtime. Unlike the original, I played Baldur's Gate II on my own, and the experience was revelatory. The deeply tactical spacebar-centric combat, party options, customization, sidequests, NPCs... It was overwhelming and all of the highest quality. I know nostalgia may greatly inform my opinion, but with or without it I might go so far as to say that Baldur's Gate is the best Western RPG series ever created. Who says Macs aren't good for gaming? *nervous laugh*