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My Favourite Art Style: Baldur's Gate

Grand, old and deadly...

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RPS has sealed itself inside a chocolate egg for the duration of the UK’s long holiday weekend, to emerge only when the reign of Mr Hops The Doom Rabbit has run its dread course. While we slumber, enjoy these fine words previously published as part of our Supporter program. More to come.

I will never shut up about Baldur’s Gate.

I’ll still be talking about the series when (if) I’m eighty. I don’t know why RPS offered me money to write about it, because I would do so for free at any time, constantly and forever, if given enough opportunity.

The series did a number of very special things for me, including firing my imagination and inspiring much of my creative output during a very stale period of my life. Frequently lauded for their design and their ambition, the games were also beautiful to me in how they sounded and how they looked. Nobody had made a world like this before. With Baldur’s Gate, high fantasy had truly come to life.

And it was romantic, certainly in the academic sense of the phrase, with beautifully rendered landscapes lush with colour, the verdant wilderness hiding forgotten ruins as full of danger as they were treasure. Adventure was as much about the the lure of the beaten track as it was defeating evil. Its pastoral, Constable-like hamlets were twee havens amongst the sprawling plains or suffocating forests. It was a game that knew how to represent a world that was grand, old and deadly.

I never learned about art from formal education, but I came to love the work of Caspar David Friedrich and it’s easy for me to now see those themes echoed. There’s the same jagged coastlines, thick forests, and brooding ruins, as well the feeling of being so tiny and lonely against the might of nature.

Baldur’s Gate 2 brought a different palette. Its russet-coloured cities were as crowded as many classic cityscapes, but these neighbourhoods were as worn as its aging, cynical cast. While other locations grew increasingly mysterious or fantastic, the earthly realm was pale and muted. It was my first example of a game whose art direction reflected its themes.

It’s not hard for me to see why so many fans missed the Infinity Engine RPGs and hurled millions at Pillars of Eternity. The things I saw in these games, half a lifetime ago, remain with me. They resurface all the time. Just the day before I sat down to write this, I found myself suddenly in a passionate discussion about Baldur’s Gate at a party. All those images came back to me. The way they always will.

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Paul Dean

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