Back in the 90s there was an engine that pretty much defined RPGs as we know them now – the Infinity Engine. And the first big game on that engine was Baldur’s Gate, followed by Baldur’s Gate 2, Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment and more. In short, times were amazing for RPG enthusiasts. GOG.com released BG1 and BG2 DRM-free a few years ago, and modders built a set of tools to enhance BG1 to run on BG2’s updated engine, enabling the game(s) to be played on latest hardware and widescreen monitors.
Not so long ago, Beamdog announced Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition for PC, Mac, iOS and Android, and it has finally arrived on the iPad. But is it still an excellent game? Has its core gameplay survived the port to the iPad? Is it still the amazing game it used to be?
An involving story
BG: EE revolves around an impressively deep story and mysteries. Why do people try to kill you? Why won’t your foster father trust you with what is going on? Why do you have to leave Candlekeep? Why are all the iron tools in the region suddenly crumbling and disintegrating? The story begins at quite some speed, forcing you out of your home, making you find allies, form parties, take on quests and sidequests (though sometimes you don’t know which is which, which is quite nice). Unlike other recent RPGs (e.g. Skyrim) you can’t just wander off and explore the lands to your heart’s content…
Instead, the game will guide you through a number of main and side quests up to the final conclusion. Everyone you encounter will have something to say or ask you to do, sometimes on-liners, sometimes some really creative and colourful writing, banter, comments and pieces of lore, encouraging you to go on and explore so much more than just the main quest of Baldur’s Gate.
A visual masterpiece?
The game world, intricate and layered though it may be, seems far richer than it is. In any given zone there may only be a few dozen things to do, but the sumptuous hand-painted background art suggests a far more complete and lived-in space. Every bit of the game’s geography is worth exploring just for its intrinsic charm. Compared to the PC version of the Enhanced Edition, the iPad’s background textures are sadly blurred somewhat by texture compression. Nevertheless the world is visually captivating. Let the gorgeous orchestral soundtrack set the mood while you march about prodding the world with your sword, camping under its stars, slaying its disagreeable denizens and gawking at its sprawling cities.
Brilliant sound and music
If you played Baldur’s Gate then you’ll remember the voice overs, the soundtrack and some (for the time) brilliant voice-overs. Thankfully this has all been ported successfully to the iPad and at some stages even improved, especially during the new cinematics and added bits.
Let’s fight! The combat in BG:EE
The Infinity Engine handled combat very well, and since fights can occur suddenly it is sensible to pause to issue orders and then let your characters get into the fray. Just as you’d expect from the AD&D 2nd edition traditional tactics work well: archers and mages in the back, fighters in the frontline, make sure you survive and the enemies die. That, together with many mid-combat decisions as to healing, spells and repositioning, leads to a fast-paced, immersive experience. Expect to die a lot though: unlike recent games a dead NPC remains dead and as such the game will require constant quick-saving and reloading, or dragging the corpse back to a temple for an exorbitant resurrection fee. In addition, if your main character is the one killed, the game ends instantly.
But how does it feel on an iPad?
Baldur’s Gate has always used a traditional mouse and keyboard system, so how does a game like that work on an iPad? Surprisingly well! Using your finger you give orders, move characters, go through the menus and select answers. Using pinch gestures you can zoom in or out, swipe around the interface and get through the world of Baldur’s Gate. It takes a little time to get used to (in particular having to keep an item pressed for a little while to see more information), but it just feels and plays right! If you played the original recently then you’ll experience how much more detailed, crisper and easier the interface has become.
In the real world though, things could be a lot easier. Without the benefit of hovering your mouse over things it will take a bit of time to get used to pressing the “reveal” button (which as a left-handed person requires me to readjust the grip of the other hand that was holding the iPad while playing the game) – if it even highlights everything! This function doesn’t highlight doors, most of the loot or chests, which is really annoying. Sadly that means that you will miss quite a few things across the game. On many occasions I managed to get stuck or had to walk back and forth to pick loot up or even walk to the end of a map to transition to the next map – issues I sincerely hope are going to be fixed in an update soon.
Improvements, The Black Pits & DLC
In essence, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is exactly that – a massive improvement in terms of … well, everything! An updated interface, over 400 fixes and improvements, new cinematics and the improved sub-race and class system from BG2 (as well as BG2’s engine!) have all been added. And on top, multiplayer has improved massively, too! According to them you can play together on iPad, Android, Mac AND PC! I haven’t been able to test this out yet, but sound impressive!
The Black Pits is essentially a mini-game that can be accessed from the main screen and allows you to send your party against sheer endless waves of enemies of increasing difficulty. While the combat element of BG:EE is pretty good, it does get boring quite quickly as you have to constantly pause, adjust your tactics and un-pause.
In terms of DLC, you are greeted with a few in-app purchases such as new characters and portraits. You don’t have to rely on these though and can still complete the game without too much trouble.
Not entirely bug-free
Aside from the “reveal” button and the occasional empty quest journal, some random (and inconsistent) frame-rate drops everything seems to be working fine. I’m hoping that the controls get a bit of love still, as that would certainly improve the user experience a lot.
+ Amazing graphics
+ Brilliant soundtrack
+ Great number of improvements to the time-less classic
+ Great port to iPad, proves that many Infinity Engine games can be ported to tablets
+ Multiplayer across platforms
– “Reveal all” funciton isn’t working very well in many instances, especially in early chapters
– Combat is still as clunky as it used to be, made more difficult by touch controls
– Navigational issues towards map transitions and tapping on loot
Bladur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is an amazing game that recreates the original feeling of Baldur’s Gate faithfully. Character progression, landscapes and story unfold beautifully and make it a joy to explore. Visually the game is stunning and the soundtrack is fantastic. However, combat is still a bit of a gamble and controls could be improved a bit to make the experience truly brilliant. For £6.99 you can’t really go wrong either way. I sincerely hope that Beamdog releases more Infinity Engine games soon, and please make Planescape Torment your next project.