“A classic RPG that’s been tarnished by time and a troubled port, no question, but you can’t hide the gleam of gold beneath.”£6.99
Baldur’s Gate is an isometric, real-time roleplaying game in the kind of high fantasy milieu where humans can perch on a barstool beside elves and half-orcs, supping ale and snubbing the halflings. It made a name for BioWare in 1998, licensing the official rules of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to underpin its involved combat system and drawing creatures from the canon bestiary of the AD&D Monster Manual.
This long-awaited, Retina-supporting conversion has drawn much criticism for its bugs and crashes (so save frequently), but the loudest complaints cite the fiddly, unfriendly interface. Occasionally it takes a few taps for your input to register, underlining a lack of feedback, only to ignore your commands. An ‘eyeglass’ button highlights all interactive spots on the screen, but criminally omits a few vital doors and switches. How many problems will be addressed by an imminent update remains to be seen.
It’s also more than a cosmetic gripe when you can’t distinguish your characters, because they all resemble pixelated brown lumps. We recommend colour-coding your party members using the inventory, but the tiny status icons on their portraits still take some squinting.
So let’s remind ourselves why so many players were eager to see this on iPad. For starters, the gameworld is huge. You’re mostly free to explore as you wish – aiding heroically, stealing selfishly or killing wantonly – without being forced along a narrative path, although there’s always a clear direction of advancement and your Reputation score to consider. The characters are interesting and neatly scripted, such that your party can become a bickering clash of egos. And just when you think you’ve conquered the unforgiving wilderness, you reach the city: a festering metropolis of thieves and nobles, of guild rivalries and corruption. It’s the kind of game you play evening after evening, nurturing your party and following up every sub-plot, and makes a perfect antidote to the App Store’s quick-burst casual fare. The setting might be hoary old cliché, with a cartoon supervillain and a whole legbone of pure ham, but BG’s pleasing and humorous moments of incidental dialogue created a template for subsequent Dragon Age and Mass Effect titles. Minsc and Boo, how we’ve missed you.
As you learn more, seemingly invincible foes submit to a change of tactics as if you’d solved a knotty puzzle. Routefinding and AI remain awful as ever, so intervene with Pause to micromanage. An archer trap is still a good way to tackle tough enemy groups: take a headcount with a hidden scout and peel them off one by one, luring them into a barrage of missiles, traps and spells, with a meatshield fighter at the front to engage in mêlée and protect your artillery.
Extra content for this Enhanced Edition includes recruitable new party members and character class specialisations. The Black Pits is a gladiatorial arena, a mini-scenario that stands apart from the main game. As value for money, estimates claim 50-80 hours but if you’re like us then you’ll exceed that. Every monster is a walking bag of experience points; every citizen a pickpocket’s mark; every locked chest, an insufferable affront. Heck, if you’re truly like us then (a) you’ll spend an age on character creation and (b) you need to tidy your room, it’s a mess.
Baldur’s Gate remains the complex and engrossing RPG of fifteen years ago. Some elements haven’t aged gracefully, and only rabid fans can pretend this release was handled well. But here it is at last, on portable and accessible tablet; and many will endure such woes to be transported to the Sword Coast, concerned only with its perils and intrigues and promises of ever greater treasures.