The story starts you off as a young character with a mysterious side, and as you develop this character (using the 2nd edition rules of Dungeons and Dragons), you meet many NPCs throughout your journey that teach you about yourself and your heritage. You're able to control up to 6 characters at one time, and you're able to control everything about the characters, including their class and the weapons and armor they have equipped. All these NPCs that you encounter have their own background and class, and you can choose either to support their cause or to leave them behind. Another mage doesn't really go with your party? Well, just leave him for another point and time in the game.
The story that Baldur's Gate and Tales of the Sword Coast tells will lead you and your companions on an enormous adventure exploring areas and maps that look both beautiful and serene. Through your travels of these beautiful landscapes, your self-created character and the companions that you pick up will become extremely knowledgeable warriors that will face tougher and tougher opponents and puzzles so the gameplay never gets dull. Think you're so powerful? Take a trip over to the Shadow Dragon's temple and see how you and your friends stack up against his ancient magic.
There are a multitude of quests available throughout Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, and whether you're clearing out crazy gnolls from ancient ruins or completing a quest one of your companions requested, you'll spend many hours crossing the lands of fields and forests. The gameplay is open-ended: each player may choose his own path, and is able to travel almost anywhere in the game from the very beginning. Because of this, the player must be cautious -- low level characters that venture into dangerous areas can get into tight spots if they aren't careful. The quests aren't all the same, either. You won't be dealt too many "mailman" quests (carrying items from point A to point B) throughout the game. Black Isle spent time crafting the story and the quests in a way that makes the gameplay seem fluid and smooth from the beginning to the end.
Moving through scenery created with pre-rendered backgrounds, you travel the length of the Sword coast from your hometown of Candlekeep to the enormous city of Baldur's Gate itself, step by step, map by map. As you travel through the Sword Coast of Faerun, you'll meet renowned characters such as Elminster and Drizzt Do'Urden and travel through many small towns and villages, not to mentioned abandoned ruins and temples. The real-time based combat can be paused anytime during battle, so that you can give instructions to your group members to make battles more fun. Controlling these six different characters can be a fun challenge in and of itself, as you have them rely on each other for spells of defense and potions leading up to the final conclusion.
The graphics, as you can guess, are not the best, since this game did come out in 1998, but that doesn't mean they're horrible. Actually, the isometric view presented in the game is what many RPGs of recent years have favored. The detail that went into the background artwork can be applauded for its richness in the outside scenes such as the Cloakwoods or the city of Nashkel. The Infinity Engine Bioware created for this game has definitely been put to good use over the following years in multiple games that people have come to love. The detail that was put into each pre-rendered background only shows how much time Black Isle spent with Baldur's Gate to give the player a realistic atmosphere during travels along the Sword Coast.
The sounds of the game are beautiful and help wrap you up in the adventure from the time that you pick up your weapon and put on your armor. Sometimes, while traversing the many maps in Baldur's Gate, you will feel so immersed in the detailed backgrounds and the atmospheric sounds of animals or city folk that you barely notice the music, but it's always there, adding to your overall experience.
Set in 1370 DR (Dale Reckoning), 12 years after the Time of Troubles, Baldur's Gate and its expansion are what every company looks for in a good game. It's almost crazy to believe what kind of fanbase this game has. The forums at Interplay were still buzzing with hundreds of posts per day leading up to their bankruptcy and closure of their site, and by this you can easily see how many people play this game multiple times and are willing to help others out in their own quests with up to the minute responses.
Bottom line: Beautiful, amazing, and epic are words that could describe the team effort of Black Isle and Bioware in their D&D game.
This review was originally published on PlastikSickness on December 12, 2003.