Wot I Think: Baldur’s Gate: Siege Of Dragonspear

Sixteen years ago, BioWare bridged the gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate 2 with, more or less, “And then some other stuff happened.” Now Beamdog has gone back, filling in the gaps with Siege of Dragonspear [official site]. Is it worth putting the band back together for one more trip to the Sword Coast? Here’s Wot I Think.

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. It persuades us that what we want is what we once had, but all too often deflects what that actually was. It’s not the Saturday morning cartoon, it’s the wistful innocence and youthful excitement where magically mutated hamsters with nunchucks could be the coolest thing ever. It’s not the old game for its lingering quality, but the lingering memory of the new, the exciting, the changing. Very rarely, things hold up exactly as we remember, and are great. More often, picking at the past is at best the ironic pleasure of picking at a scab; a burst of fondness tinged with awkwardness.

I’m not saying that Baldur’s Gate counts as that, though secretly, I was never as fond of BioWare’s first offering as most. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, but in matters of pacing, specific decisions, and a lot of the writing, it was one that wore its inexperience on its sleeve. The opening ambush at the Friendly Arms Inn, almost impossible for some classes to survive. Unpausing the game in the inventory screen. A spectacularly poorly paced story. Often little attention paid to proper player direction.

None of this is an attempt to try and tear Baldur’s Gate down – far from it – and the fact that Baldur’s Gate 2 learned so well from its mistakes is the big reason that it became one of my favourite RPGs. I’m just saying that to look back on the original game as a golden nugget of role-playing bliss is to not so much look back with rose-tinted glasses as Cyclops of the X-Men’s ruby-quartz lens. Siege of Dragonspear has problems, definitely, but the least we owe it is to be fair, not to pit it against some image of idealised perfection that never actually was.

Onto Dragonspear then. This is just as much Beamdog’s game as it is BioWare’s series. Despite using the same (albeit upgraded) engine, mechanics, characters and basic design philosophies, it never quite fits as a ‘lost’ part of the series. That’s not necessarily because it does things wrong. Often, it’s simply that it’s taken lessons from later games as far as scripting and narrative flow goes, or takes advantage of being able to fill the city with townspeople instead of just a handful. It’s a much more modern experience out the gate. Elsewhere, some differences are just a matter of focus. Baldur’s Gate, for instance, regularly allowed snarky responses, but the new script is Discovery’s Snark Week 90% of the time, give or take a few options to be modest in ways that nobody quite believes from the Hero of Baldur’s Gate.

Despite all of this, it’s still very much Baldur’s Gate in every way that matters, and does a great job of narratively linking the first two games. The action kicks off where the first game ended, hunting down your brother Sarevok’s last few minions in a decent-sized starter dungeon. You can import your character from BG:EE or start afresh with a suitably aligned party, but soon enough business is finished and everyone goes their own ways. Shortly afterwards a new threat rises, the Shining Lady Caelar Argent, leading a crusade that once again threatens the Sword Coast, and it’s time to track down anyone willing to help and go on the warpath to her seat of power, Dragonspear Castle.

Structurally, that’s another example of this new adventure feeling different – rather than being dropped into a world and more or less making your own way, you’re set on a controlled, linear path. Once you’ve moved onto a new chapter and the army has advanced, there’s no heading back to previous areas to finish up any odd jobs.

I’m mixed on how much I like this structure, though not for the obvious reason that it’s too linear. Within each area you get at least a couple of major locations, with lots of hidden caves, treasure, quests and other things to do, as well as choices about how things should progress, so there’s plenty to do. While fighting is often essential, Beamdog also doubles-down on allowing roleplaying encounters, with new options based on whether for instance you meet some drow with Viconia in tow, what your race and class are, and ways to talk your way out of trouble, including going undercover under a Crusade camp and getting past a couple of monsters by retelling your life story as if it was the actions of a brave sahuagin.

There’s a lot of good stuff here. Beamdog brought back as many of the original voice actors as they could (a few sounding different after so long, and Jaheira’s actress MIA leaving her oddly mute) and there’s a fair whack of party banter and enemies voicing at least their critical lines. It’s also a more cinematic experience, to the extent that the Infinity Engine can be, with scenes like departing Baldur’s Gate in-engine, surrounded by cheering citizens, assorted visits from a certain Hooded Man played by David Warner (really not a spoiler, he appears at the start), and various more linear adventurey bits for going undercover or unleashing in-engine cut-scene hell on enemies.

The character levels also feel just right for a roleplaying game. Baldur’s Gate left most classes underpowered until right at the end, while Baldur’s Gate 2 quite quickly became a game-breaking assault by gods. Here, the whole team can cut loose with satisfyingly powerful attacks and options, but don’t quickly get so crazily over-powered that the army backing you up feels like it’s just there to carry your gear.

Going up against crowds also switches the tactics up a little, making crowd-control particularly important. Not all the characters from the original show up, and some who do aren’t party members any more (Skie for instance has been demoted to NPC), but you can quickly build up a good, mixed team capable of taking on everything. And then also recruit Edwin, because obviously. One little touch I really liked is that at least one of the characters you can approach in Baldur’s Gate who refuses to come on the quest later shows up having changed their mind – a nice little reminder that these people have their own lives outside the Child of Bhaal’s quest and aren’t simply handy conscriptees.

There’s already been a lot of talk online about certain elements of the writing, so let’s address that before moving on to the bigger picture. One of the members of the camp is a transgender woman, Mizhena, who has exactly one short dialogue entry on the subject when asked, followed by the player character going “Okay,” and changing the subject. The controversy around this character isn’t a mountain out of a molehill, but a mountain out of an empty prairie. The rest of the game also includes female characters like Corwin, a single mother who serves as an archer and regrets duty keeping her away from her daughter. It also adds Voghiln, a skirt-chasing skald who cheerfully hits on every female member of the cast.

Like most RPGs, Siege of Dragonspear is a game that celebrates diversity because whatever else it means and whatever the author’s reason for specific inclusions, it means more interesting games. There are no long lectures here, no pointed quests about the subject (unlike, say, Dragon Age Inquisition’s very on-the-nose stuff with Dorian). Siege of Dragonspear makes no more particular fuss about anything than any other RPG that features quests where you do things like, say, try and understand complex issues before acting violently, bring together groups separated by ignorance or mistake, stand up for the weak… y’know, the horrible ‘SJW agenda’ which used to simply be called ‘being a fucking hero’. Oh, and also the kind of thing that’s been a stock part of the RPG genre since Ultima VI took on racism back in 1990.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t actual issues with the writing. Mostly, it’s fine. Good even. I particularly like the ending sequence for how it factors in prior decisions and directly bridges the two games, and the villain, Caelor, for not just being another power-hungry Child of Bhaal or similar. An early scene showing her taking time to write letters to the families of her fallen men sets an interesting level for someone threatening the Sword Coast, and encounters with her men generally show them to be devout followers for a good reason, rather than just another horde of nasties. But there are definite head-thump moments too, especially casual villains who talk like they’re cartoon baddies in a PSA once exposed to the main character’s righteousness (“We needed what we took, but that doesn’t excuse what we did. We’ll turn ourselves in. Farewell, hero.”)

Elsewhere, quite few of the minor characters end up sounding more trite than anything else, unfortunately including Mizhena – though that’s to do with a line about collecting syllables from various languages to make her name rather than anything gender-related. The running problem tends to be less the individual lines though as the general conversation flow that undercuts the main bit. Another in the main warcamp for instance is the quartermaster, who spends most of his lines telling you that he doesn’t trust you, only to cap it off with a cheery “If you need anything, come find me and I’ll see what I can do.” In both cases, the ‘big’ thing about the character is left isolated, and the attempts to make them stand out ironically end up making them feel more like a cardboard cutout than if there’d been nothing about them worth remembering.

I could point to other specific bits here and there, but it’s largely pointless. In a game with this much text, you’ll always find a few duff lines. Perhaps most notably of the returning cast, Jaheira’s dialogue very obviously comes from a different author. Honestly, I never liked her much so I don’t particularly care, but fans and anyone with her face tattooed onto their flesh might want to look away when she speaks. I’d add that the head-thumps mostly faded as the game went on – very much as if the opening chapters were the writers bedding in and getting comfortable with the world and story. Dragonspear is never Planescape Torment, but it’s no Eragon either.

On a wider level, the story is also well linked to the central themes of the series without simply rehashing them, and while the ending leaves a fairly major story element incomplete (unless I’m forgetting a plot point in Baldur’s Gate 2, which is possible!) it’s a very effective way of linking between games while still feeling like its own unique thing. It’s a new game, not just an expansion pack. Well, technically it is an expansion pack, but… wait, we’ll get to that. In spirit, it’s a fully standalone chapter.

Despite some of the qualities that do work, many of the big scenes don’t quite come off as planned. Part of the draw of Siege of Dragonspear was Beamdog getting to play with NPC counts that BioWare could only dream of back in the day, and while yes, there are more on offer here, in practice you can see the exact point where excited game design decisions like “We’ll have ARMIES!” hits engineering reality.

The titular Siege is a pretty pathetic affair that almost desperately backs down in favour of clearing most of the opposition via a one-on-one duel instead, with the few scenes of lots of characters going at it driving my Intel i7 PC with 8GB of RAM down to about 11-15 frames a second every time someone cast a magic spell. I was hoping for a really dramatic, extended encounter here – stages, tactics, sabotage, spies, etc, and while you certainly do get most of those options in some form, they’re all pretty trivial. There’s also a truly terrible scene where Caelor basically promises to stand down entirely if the Child of Bhaal goes with her peacefully. Free RPG design tip here, folks: if you’re going to offer that kind of option, be sure to have a far better response to the player saying “Okay” than simply “LALALA YOU SAID NO YOU SAID NO!”

The switch to a war campaign too often jars with the existing mechanics – not usually in a particularly egregious fashion, but in several little ways. Having to pay for room and board for instance, with tents having master bedrooms apparently. Still not being able to split up teams like Minsc and Dynaheir. It’s one thing to expect one to leave the party entirely, but can’t I at least borrow Minsc to go and scout that cave over there while Dynaheir puts her feet up for a few minutes? Nope. Nor can you expect any real freebies, with the quartermaster pointedly acting as a shop because you’re not a soldier. Even by in-game shopkeeper dickery standards, that’s pushing it. Not that you really need anything of course, since every enemy is a walking wardrobe of gear and gold to hoover up.

Other smaller details are a real pain, including bugs and poor quest direction. Several times the game stopped because an enemy had called in the cavalry and was left just standing there as nobody showed up. In one chapter, where I was sent to check out a Crusade camp, the game simply came to a stop when a key character vanished from the base and neither the quest log nor running around offered any idea of what to do next. I ended up having to switch to the Story Mode for the duration to clear it out personally, at which point the army that was meant to have been backing me up in the fight finally warped in and thankfully the plot moved on. Grrr.

That was the biggest issue, but the problems kept coming. At one point I received the achievement “ACH_DARK_PLACES”. Weather effects would tend to fire for a second or two and then think better of it. And quite a few of the quests needed just a little more attention. When someone asks me to go beat up some half-orcs for no better reason than racism and I say ‘no’, for example, I really don’t want to see the pop-up “New Quest: I’m to pick a fight with half-orc mercenaries in this area.” Though even that’s better than some of the others which simply wouldn’t update even after a stage.

None of these were game-breakers for me, thankfully, but some more patching certainly wouldn’t hurt. And Beamdog say that patches are indeed on the way. The UI however never stopped being a pain, or the graphics tough on the eyes. At my monitor’s native 1920×1200 on standard zoom, everything is tiny and characterless. Zooming in though, the backgrounds become little more than a blur and the characters messy sprites that either get lost in the scenery or have ugly black lines drawn around them.

This seems fair enough for the original Baldur’s Gate graphics, which are what they are, but also seems like something that could have been at least tweaked a bit for better performance in the brand new stuff here. Similarly, a little more oomph wouldn’t have gone amiss. Individual areas of Siege of Dragonspear look decent – especially the last major zone that you visit, which I can’t name because it would be a spoiler. There’s little of real note to see though, and that was disappointing. A couple of semi-hidden areas aside, it’s stock landscapes, caves and city stuff as far as the eye can see. All fine, just nothing that showed any particular artistic zing or fantastical creativity.

The interface is a constant fiddly pain too. I hate the UI, which only has two scale settings – normal, where it’s hard to make out the icons on character portraits down the side, and scaled, where everything is far too big – you can’t give a percentage, never mind scale everything individually. It also took me half the game swearing at the terrible pop-up boxes full of loot after killing enemies, before I realised that the anonymous red gem on the task bar is an ‘auto loot’ button that nicely sorts and categorises everything you’re nearby, and makes it far easier to grab the unique stuff. It’s still clumsy though, as are most of the interactions. Polished up a bit by the Enhanced Edition or not, the Infinity Engine seriously creaks these days.

Speaking of the Enhanced Edition – it’s essential. For reasons that I’m assuming are licensing related rather than a silly artistic choice, Siege of Dragonspear is an expansion for it rather than a standalone game. That’s unfortunate, because if you don’t have it, you’re looking at £30 for Siege of Dragonspear instead of the far more reasonable £15. It’s a full game’s worth of content, at around 30-40 hours, and Beamdog hasn’t skimped on quests, dialogue, voices, optional objectives and all that good stuff. Being an interquel though, and based on such an out of date game and engine, £30 is a big ask unless you’re in a particular mood to start from the very beginning of the saga again. Also, if there are any mods you want to use for this or the main game, be sure to check them for EE compatibility first.

For previous users of the Enhanced Edition, I found its additional characters Dorn and Rasaad in my game pretty quickly, but never bumped into Neera (she’s apparently in there somewhere). Not having been a fan of any of their stories when I played that, I generally stuck to the old guard and new addition Corwin, even if the game did seem to think I’d made overtures to her at some point that I clearly hadn’t intended to. The writing and new characters here are a big step up from Beamdog’s previous attempts to add to the universe, I think in part because they’re connected to the main story, rather than being shoe-horned in in a way that smacked more of the team playing around and indulging in a little fan-fiction on the side of a creatively uninteresting technical upgrade job.

With Siege of Dragonspear, Beamdog has come on a long way. It’s not perfect, either at matching the style or being a great new RPG in its own right, and future games will need some heavy QA loving. But, as the company’s first big attempt to both follow in BioWare’s wake (the presence of former BioWare people notwithstanding), it’s a good start and at least a good first step to one day giving us that Baldur’s Gate 3 we’ve been waiting so long for – another nostalgia trip, but with a slightly more practiced eye on the future.

Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear is available now.

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  1. Anthile says:

    “Baldur’s Gate, for instance, regularly allowed snarky responses, but the new script is Discovery’s Snark Week 90% of the time, give or take a few options to be modest in ways that nobody quite believes from the Hero of Baldur’s Gate.”

    Is it as egregious as Age of Ultron?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I’d have to be able to remember anything about Age of Ultron to answer that, except for their speedster not being anything like as good as X-Men: Days Of Future Past’s speedster.

      • Anthile says:

        Well, my main problem with Age of Ultron was the near constant quipping. It never knew when to stop so the tone shifted from light-hearted to farcical.

        But while you’re here:

        1. Is there anything substantial you can import into the Baldur’s Gate campaign? Is there any other overpowered gear, the kind expansions tend to introduce (I’m looking at you, Dragon Age)?

        2. What’s with the black outline on the sprites? is that new? It makes it look weirdly like Ultima.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Not a lot of stuff, AFAIK. Some people data-mined the main game to see what made it across, and it’s not a long list and doesn’t include the best new weapon I found near the end.

          It’s to help see them better. You can turn the lines around sprites off in the control panel, but the sprites tend to merge with the backgrounds especially at the ‘zoom lock’ resolution.

  2. BooleanBob says:

    It’s been a while since I played a BG, but I remember really liking how Jaheira was written, especially in the second game. She was tough when she needed to be, warm when she wanted to be, and had some of the best one-liners in the game, especially when dealing with Haer-dalis’ arch silliness.

    • Hobbes says:

      You won’t like what Beamdog did to her in Dragonspear. They’ve utterly demolished Jaheira and Safana, both of whom were uniformly excellent in Bioware terms, they’re not here.

  3. PostieDoc says:

    The Enhanced Editions are heavily discounted on GOG at the moment. It is 85% off if you own the original versions of BG, BG2 and IWD (£2.09) and I think 75% off if you don’t.

    • Sakkura says:

      Showing 60% off for me.

      • Archangel says:

        On the store page, yes, but the further discount will apply during checkout.

    • SaintAn says:

      Any one know if the game saves will carry over if I own BG1 on Steam and BG2 on GOG? Thinking of getting BG2 from GOG.

      • amateurviking says:

        You might need to move them around but probably they should just work normally. I think the EE all use a folder in your documents so should be version agnostic.

  4. amateurviking says:

    Gotta say that the EE version of the infinity engine has come a long way since they released BGEE. Lots of wee quality of life tweaks like being able to have a bow in a weapon quickslot whilst also having a shield or weapon in the off hand, map tweaks, scripting etc. I went back to it in preparation for SoD and have been really impressed. There’s definitely still some shonk but they’ve done a lot of good work and it’s a world away from the ‘basically the community mods baked in’ state of the original EE releases.

  5. TheWhippetLord says:

    Aside from the stuff mentioned there was one thing that I really didn’t like, involving the PC doing A Really Naughty Thing with, as far as I can tell, no way to avoid it. I don’t mind being made to choose the lesser of two evils (eg The Shadow Thieves over Bodhi in BG2) but I think some player agency is essential if you’re throwing truly monstrous acts around – the Mass Effect 2 DLC that gave you no choice about killing the Batarians left me feeling the same way (and perhaps as unreasonably.)
    On the other hand I am perhaps still far too invested in the Baldur’s Gate series to be entirely reasonable about it, and while I found that scene jarring it didn’t make me angry for more than an hour or so.
    I’d certainly endorse SoD to anyone who still has any love for BG, with the caveat that you have to go in knowing that you’re pretty much playing a game run by a railroad DM who is very much in love with the story they want to tell. It’s a good story, but it might not entirely be *your* story.

    • Morte66 says:

      “you have to go in knowing that you’re pretty much playing a game run by a railroad DM who is very much in love with the story they want to tell. It’s a good story, but it might not entirely be *your* story”

      Thanks, that is a very useful comment.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Yes I have problems with that too, which is why I tend to stick to the RPGs that give you maximum player agency. It took me about a year to actually play the ToB expansion to BG II. I couldn’t get past the opening “We’ve grabbed you, stuffed you in a demi-plane and if you want to get out, you’ll have to [do something repugnant].” “No.” “Ok, guess you’re stuck here forever, then.” [ok, exits game, fumes at the designers] I had to wait until I was ready to replay the whole series as a character who would say yes to that question.

        In this instance I guess I’ll be waiting until the content has been fully patched and Steam throws a generous sale. No reason to part with £45 for the series when the polished, modded, integrated original BG1 + TotSC + BG2 + ToB still run very well. Hopefully by then a lot of the mods broken by EE 2.0 will be working too. Then I can have the best of both worlds – the new Beamdog content and all the best mod content in the same game.

      • pullthewires says:

        Having played the game, I think this is one of the best descriptions of the plot I’ve read.

    • TheWhippetLord says:

      Might have to declare an oopsie on my first point. Turns out to be possible to accidentally click through a rather illuminating cutscene which puts a rather differnt spin on things. Also it may be unwise to ignore the in-game journal. Thought I’d better correct myself in case I’d put anyone off.

  6. daphne says:

    The thing I heard said about the character Mizhena was that she more or less introduced herself as a transgender without much of a prompting by the player. I even read some feedback from transgender players about how this was anathema to the way they tried to live their lives — striving to blend in rather than stand out like that.

    This is not an issue I place great importance on, but could you comment on this? I agree that increased diversity in games is preferable, but when done like this, it can leave a bad, patronizing taste.

    • Merlin the tuna says:

      It’s two optional dialogs deep, along the lines of “what’s your deal” and then “weird name, tell me about it.” It’s not something that’s just getting blurted out apropos of nothing.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      The full (optional) conversation is:

      “I am Mizhena, faithful of Tempus. Praise be to the Lord of Battles!”
      “Mizhena? That’s an unusual name. I don’t think I’ve heard it before.”
      “I created the name myself several years ago. My birth name proved unsuitable.”
      “What was wrong with your old name?”
      “When I was born, my parents thought me a boy and raised me as such. In time, we all came to understand I was truly a woman. I created my new name from syllables of different languages. All have special meaning to me; it is the truest reflection of who I am.”
      “Thank you for sharing your story with me. I have another question for you.” (back to dialogue root)

      I obviously can’t speak for people with first-hand experience and how they choose or feel or know they have to live, but I don’t personally have a problem with that in context. You ask the question, she answers it, and both characters get on with their lives. It never comes up again – most of her dialogue is about her god, Tempus, the Lord of Battles, and selling cleric services. It’s treated just as a matter-of-fact thing; she’s not ashamed of it, but she doesn’t make a big deal out of it either.

      (Also, contextually she’s not just talking to a random person off the street, but the respected and beloved Hero of Baldur’s Gate who she’s fighting alongside in a war. Maybe if someone else had asked, she’d just have said “Oh, I heard it while I was in Neverwinter.”)

      • Rack says:

        I can only speak from limited actual experience here, but that speech comes across as both condescending and unnaturally forced. The plans to extend her role do seem needed to make her response feel in any way natural, based on personality or a different mindset in a world that being transgender is used as a curse.

        Still though it’s just bad writing in a videogame, hardly something worthy of note.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          I don’t think it’s condescending. It says nothing about anyone except the speaker and their specific situation and isn’t the kind thing that would have people reaching for their splatbooks if it was, say, an orphan or an elf saying something similar about how they came up with their mix of vowels and consonants. I do think it’s a crap bit of writing, as said above. But that’s a different matter.

          • Hobbes says:

            It’s hamfisted and it makes Miz look like a checkbox. Do it right or don’t do it at all, seriously. Iron Bull has proved you can do sex positive characters effectively, so it amazes me that people are defending Miz when there’s plenty of much stronger examples about rather than this square peg to round hole effort.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            You seem to have mixed up ‘defending’ and saying ‘not worth controversy’. If you read the words, I said I thought the writing was crap. Also, sex positive typically refers to things involving the act and attitudes related to it; Miz has nothing to do with the Iron Bull. Krem on the other hand…

          • Hobbes says:

            Three parts to your response :

            1 ) People doesn’t mean you specifically, there is however no shortage of misguided nutters on both sides of the fence, who seem to have crawled out of the woodwork on this topic.

            2) It wouldn’t have generated even a fraction of the controversy it did had it not been for another developer from Beamdog dog whistling on twitter and using the “no true scotsman” fallacy to insult Baldur’s Gate fans, before stirring up the pot and tarring people as bigots regardless of where the criticism was aimed.

            3) Krem was still done a hell of a lot better than Miz, so the point stands.

        • Big Murray says:

          There also comes the issue of whether it’s not condescending just to be talking so much about the character just because the poor writing happens to be because she’s a transgender character. As Richard says in his review, the duff lines are hardly restricted to just this one character. Are we not treating the character very differently to how we otherwise would just because she happens to be transgender?

          • PancakeWizard says:

            I think condescending is in the eye of the beholder, although I think it’s hamfisted without question. “That’s an unusual name” seems like a ridiculous prompt considering the universe we’re in. Is it really unusual? With names like Elminster and Drizzt? It’s unquestionably forced.

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            gritz says:

            It’s an unusual name in that the followers of Tempus/Tempos are typically northlander barbarians from Icewind Dale with nordic-esque names and sensibilities.

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          Ericusson says:

          It’s a video game ? Did you expect an Oscar Wilde level answer ?
          Should we take umbrage from all the badly presented characters in video games ?

          Beside I don’t see anything noticeably evil oriented or condescending there so err… the Internet.

        • zerosociety says:

          As a trans woman, I get to have that exact conversation at least once a week. So, I’d say it’s pretty realistic.

      • Jane Doe says:

        Well, that’s pretty much “blaring it out” in RPG terms.

        How about “I don’t know you yet. Let’s become friends first before I share my past with you.”?

        Or “” (if the character lived with it for years, it probably has a few ready)

        Or “” (which could send lead to follow-up questions)

        Or “”.

        Or “Its just the name my mother gave me. How about yours?” (aka deflect the question with a counterquestion)

        Or “Why do you want to know?” (inquisitive, defensive)

        Any of these options would make more sense, both for characters trying to blend in and for roleplaying games in general.

        • Jane Doe says:

          Hm, seems like RPS didn’t like my symbols, and since there is no edit-option, let’s try again.

          1. elaborate lie (if the character lived with it for years, it probably has a few ready)
          2. obvious lie (which could lead to follow-up questions)
          3. tell a joke about it to save the question for later
          4. deflect/counterquestion
          5. inquisitive/defensive

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            Why does she have to lie at all? The fact that many would doesn’t mean that everyone has to, or worse, should.

            And no, a tertiary character putting something two levels deep when talking to a main character is not blaring anything out. Conversations and relationships in fiction are always compressed, otherwise nobody would get anywhere, and NPCs have been confiding their secrets since the dawn of the genre.

      • Daemoroth says:

        I dunno, in a world with a “Gender Switch” spell, which is permanent, it strikes me as extremely odd that ANYONE would ever have this problem.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          If you can afford it, and know a wizard who can cast it. And for all we know, she did. All she says is that she changed her name.

          • Daemoroth says:

            The whole concept of “transgender” wouldn’t exist at all if there’s a spell to change someone to their “natural” gender. And why is Mizhena a strange name when you’ve had names like Drizzt and Volothamp? She’s a woman now, the end.

            It’s just such a missed opportunity, let’s say he’s still “pre-spell”, you meet him and while he’s evasive, he asks a favour, but wants to build up a debt to you first before revealing that favour (Let’s say this only happens if you have a wizard in the party).

            You can choose (Being an RPG) to let him join you and build that debt (or not), and at some point after some arbitrary counter or interaction or some point is reached, he initiates a dialogue. Now that he’s gotten to know you, seen you operate and has helped you, he’s more comfortable talking about himself and his favour, and asks that you/your wizard cast ‘Gender Switch’ on him (No spell needed, just a [dialogue action]).

            And again, you can allow player choice. Help him, help him but for even more of a fee (arse), or chase him off (bastard).

            After all is said and done, as she ends the conversation (If you helped), player again is given a choice to call her back and ask her to continue adventuring together (Farewell/Hold up a second).

            As it was at launch (Since they’re changing it a bit) it just comes off as the writer holding up a sign to say “Look how cool and inclusive I am! I’m so awesome!”.

            ** Note: Just using ‘he’ as before the change, not meant as an attempt to offend.

            PS – Interesting opinions from trans-gender people:
            link to forums.beamdog.com
            link to reddit.com

          • Daemoroth says:

            Can’t seem to post my actual response. Any weird limitations I’m unaware of? Length or something like that?

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            Don’t know, but unspammed the latest. Probably the links.

            I don’t think anyone’s said the name is weird, just the description of how she decided on it being a weak bit of writing. (Syllables from many languages, etc.)

          • Daemoroth says:

            Thank you, assumed it was something with the links/quotation marks so tried different versions.

            I was pointing out the dialogue mentioning that her name was odd, resulting in the full story.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            Ah, fair enough.

          • SomeDuder says:

            and to think all this started with a simple review by a videogames journalist

  7. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    The black sprite outlining gives the characters a real Ultima Pagan look. I dig it.

  8. TheWhippetLord says:

    One massive bonus to SoD: David Warner didn’t just voice you-know-who, but also a new male PC ‘commanding’ soundset, which I liked a lot.
    Hopefully they’ll patch it in to BG2EE on the big update that I get the impression is on the way at some point.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      There’s a few bits of content I suspect will go with a future BG2EE patch, including the aftermath of a possible decision made near the end of the game, and that as-yet unresolved plot point that I mention. I hope so, anyway. It’d be strange not to.

    • .backslash says:

      I don’t have the games installed right now, so I can’t give detailed instructions, but you should be able to manually copy the .wav files of the voiceset from the “sounds” folder of BGEE/SoD and paste them into BGEE2’s which will port it over. I did it to have BGEE2’s “default” set be consistent across both games.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    Great review! Answered a lot of questions I had about it.

    Now I’ve just got to find the time to play it!

  10. Blastaz says:

    I am reading this review as this game is awesome but meh the engine is old. But then again I have those cyclops nostalgia goggles for BG2 so hard. I replayed bg2 relatively recently (for like the 10th time) after getting everything on gog but not even a decade ago could make myself replay bg1, I think I only played it once and never the sword coast expansion. I have so far managed to avoid the extended editions although I got bg1 in the 75% sale they had for the launch of this. I guess I will see how beamdog managed with that before considering this.

    That said my favourite bits where the times you fight armies in thrones of Baal, with the David Gaider mods that made the fire giant siege so epic. Looking at those crowds scenes is pretty exciting from that perspective.

    I sort of hope they get the funding to make BG3 but they compromise and make it in the pillars of eternity engine, just with proper 2nd edition D&D rules… That would probably be the dream game.

    • Someoldguy says:

      I found BG1 quite replayable with the mod that pulled it into the BG2 engine and integrated all the games into one.

  11. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Maybe this a hard question to answer, and not trying to be snarky – but if you took away its lineage as part of BG, is it worth playing as a RPG now with quality story and progression? Or is the UI so fiddly and creekiness of the old engine too glaring?

    I was a huge fan back in the day, but would hesitate to take 30-40 hours to play this if the only draw is to hear the old NPC gang again. When there’s stuff like Pillars or Wasteland 2 around.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Tricky, though I’d say it’s as much its lineage as an Infinity Engine game as Baldur’s Gate specifically. Within that, I’d rather play this than Pillars, but Pillars didn’t do a whole lot for me. It’s the middle part of the story, and if you’re not invested in that story, I wouldn’t play it just for itself. But I’d rather play Shadowrun: Dragonfall, or get my hands on the new Divinity or Numenara than play this one.

      The linearity of it doesn’t help. In BG2 you don’t have to care about what’s going on to enjoy things like the second chapter where you’re just free to roam and seek your fortune in the city, but in this one you’re very much locked to following the story beats as laid out and if you don’t care, well, you don’t care.

      • Blastaz says:

        That is looking at chapter 2 and 3 in isolation though. From there you really are on a very linear sprint to the end, it’s almost like a second game. One very traditional fantasy “open world” and then railroaded through constantly changing crazy settings (that 1 hour interlude in the lizard fish city for example!)

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Well, yes, which is why I’ve said before that they’re my favourite chapters. Though that’s really not so different to the first game once past Nashkel, and Throne of Bhaal is even more linear. And the fact that you are seeing lots of crazy stuff makes it a more interesting journey if you’re not hooked on the story.

          • Blastaz says:

            Just all the different ideas and settings smashed together was why BGII was the best most imaginative game. The sheer scale of the vignettes you encountered, first of all the pretend drow in their city. Then the whole illithid gladiator sub section. To be honest I think I preferred the chapters 4-6 more than 2&3…

    • SnowCrash says:

      Given the option if you are going into things with no nostalgia or previous buyin in any way, i would suggest Pillars over this.

      • Premium User Badge

        teije says:

        Thanks for replies. Think I’ll wait on this then. I’ve got DoS EE to finish, then Stellaris and then hopefully Torment will be out this year. Along with the usual backlog and distractions.

        I have to say that’s the one I’ve been looking forward to most over the last 2 years. Expectations too high probably.

      • stkaye says:

        This might come across as controversial, but I had a better time playing Siege of Dragonspear than I did playing Pillars of Eternity. And I really liked Pillars.

        I think it may have something to do with the joyful, comforting feeling of storming around the Baldur’s Gate version of the Forgotten Realms again – quite a lot of PoE’s setting is a bit more sober, a bit more monochrome, a bit more grown up. It’s arguably better-written than even the best bits of the BG franchise, but it is in the end *less fun*.

        That carries over to the main gameplay mechanic. BG’s version of realtime-with-pause combat is just a little bit more crunchy and engaging that PoE’s, even if, again, the latter may be more carefully considered and designed.

        In so many ways PoE is a victim of its own maturity.

  12. Rooksx says:

    What level do you reach at the end of SoD? I assume that you can import your endgame character into BG2EE, but won’t you then be over-levelled?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I *think* the level cap is 12, but don’t quote me.

    • TheWhippetLord says:

      The cap for SoD is 500,000XP, which translates to level 8 to 10 depending on your class, for single-class characters (this is AD&D second edition, so XP to level gets weird. Double or triple-classed characters mean getting good at maths.)
      As to how it works out in BG2EE, my guess is that you’ll feel a little overpowered in Irenicus’ Dungeon, but I’m pretty sure that most encounters in BG2 are scaled to player level anyway, so I doubt it’ll make much difference in the long run – the Throne of Bhall cap is 8 million after all.

      • TheWhippetLord says:

        Oooh – I tell lies apparently.
        Mages get to 11, druids, thieves and bards to 12, and everyone else to 9-10.
        I blame the decade old coffee-stain on the old printout from my shelf. That XP table is a nightmare to follow.

  13. Michael Fogg says:

    Richard, in the original BG the unsurvivable ambush, if you started playing as a mage, was in the barn next to the tavern in front of which you started, in Candlekeep (or maybe I was just a really dumb 12 year old).

    Sometimes when reading articles like this I feel like the only schmuck who played to the end with a team of Imoen, Khalid/Jaheira, Montaron/Xar. I had to kill a few random peasants so the last two wouldn’t go rogue from being too goody-goody. Edwin, who is that again?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Nah, I played as a mage and I trashed that guy :-) But that fight at the Friendly Arms wasn’t a fight, it was a coin flip. With about seven tails sides.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        Well, the guy on the stairs of Friendly Arm was a caster, so the strategy of pelting him with rocks and arrows had to work eventually, as with any. If he managed to fire off his level 5 magic missile it was an early grave, but I guess that’s how the game taught you the importance of the quick hand on the space bar.

        • Anthile says:

          Cheese mode: Every time he starts casting, walk into one of the shops. Repeat until he’s dry and you can take him out in a fist fight, as the gods intended.

          • amateurviking says:

            True fact, this is how I beat the first assassin in Nashkel with a penchant for casting hold person at my group as they’re clustered at the door to inn. Those first 2-3 levels with the various assassin encounters are absolutely brutal.

          • Michael Fogg says:

            I remember to this day, the one that waited on the street in Nashkel and said something about showing you a big black bird, for some reason.

      • Nick says:

        Using the old Baldur’s Gate trilogy mod, my friend imported his end game ToB mage into BG1 again, just so he could cast imprisonment on the friendly arm inn assassin. Well worth it I feel.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        I only ever found it hard when I forgot that Imoen has a wand of magic missile. That’s basically what decides the fight.

  14. cirdanx says:

    Just as a little clarification, the issues isn´t that one trans character, it´s that the writing overall is heavily influenced by the writers ideology. But enough of that.

    Overall the writing is pretty cringe worthy, it´s very linear and leaves hardly ever a choice, this rises a lot of issues if you want to play true to certain alignements and as a roleplayer it will make you faceplam yourself.

    The ending is also rushed and not well done. If you consider buying it, you may take a look at some let´s play videos first if this is your thing.

    Personally i don´t think that this lives up to Baldurs Gate in any aspect at all. I got mine refunded *shrug*

    At least, if you want to get it, you may want to wait for bug fixes first.

    • Samuel Erikson says:

      “Just as a little clarification, the issues isn´t that one trans character, it´s that the writing overall is heavily influenced by the writers ideology. But enough of that.”

      “Actually, it’s about ethics, etc etc”

      • theblazeuk says:

        I think Richard put it best.

        Being a fucking hero is pretty much canon.

      • SaintAn says:

        Great way to avoid actual discussion. The sites waging a propaganda war against the GG people have taught you well.

        Just yesterday on the Gaymer Reddit sub I had a fellow Gaymer attacking and cursing at me and everyone else that didn’t agree that this controversy was an attack on the LGBT community but that it was the media trying to spin this to whip people up in a mindless frenzy to fight so they can make some money off it. The writing is amateur, and the social justice bits do feel poorly done and forced from the parts I’ve read.

        • Samuel Erikson says:

          I’m well acquainted with GG’s bullshit, no need to attempt to spin more of it here.

        • Ashabel says:

          “Just as a little clarification, the issues isn´t that one trans character, it´s that the writing overall is heavily influenced by the writers ideology. But enough of that.” is a stupid and worthless complaint that doesn’t require discussion because absolutely all writing on this planet is influenced by the ideology of whoever has written it. Using it as an argument is like trying to drum up controversy around water being wet.

          Also it’s nice to know that in the wake of GG’s collective inability to cobble together a straw womanz, they decided to start production on straw minorities.

          • cirdanx says:

            Let me repeat:
            “If you can not keep your own biased beliefs out of a setting you write for and stay true to it, you are not worth the money they pay you as a “writer”.”

            Also, i couldn´t care less about your GG rambles, because it has nothing to do with it. It´s about the whole game and the quality of writing. Not worth discussing in an RPG right? I hardly doubt you could live up to it anyway.

          • Ashabel says:

            It’s not worth discussing with you because you don’t actually care about the game and the quality of its writing, otherwise you would have provided actual examples where the game fails instead of speaking in very broad generalizations. No, you only care that it features content that your bigoted brain finds offensive and attempt to use said generalizations to mask that.

            I repeat – absolutely all writing on this planet is influenced by the ideology of whoever has written it. If you cannot accept that a writer may have an ideology different from yours, then your maturity level isn’t high enough to discuss the quality of writing in anything.

    • Chicanery says:

      Literally all writing is influenced by the writer’s ideology. That’s a meaningless complaint.

      • cirdanx says:

        If you can not keep your own biased beliefs out of a setting you write for and stay true to it, you are not worth the money they pay you as a “writer”.

        • Michael Anson says:

          First, the setting includes a genderless god, belts of gender change, and a creator who has gone on record stating that trans characters would not be out of place.

          Second, every description of any sort is inherently colored by the view of the person describing it.

          Third, writing is inherently political. The best writing in the world has been on politics, and told stories related to politics.

          Fourth, just because something doesn’t align with your personal beliefs does not make it an invalid take.

          Fifth, the writing is bad on its own merits, not its political merits.

          Finally, if you would prefer a game without those kinds of topics being addressed, play that game, not this one. It’s not that hard.

          • CubeTruth says:

            Yeah, I don’t get the “setting” issue with the character at all, the original Baldurs Gate has a belt of gender changing dropped pretty much completely without comment in like the 3rd area of the game and Baldurs Gate 2 has an optional storyline about a character getting their gender changed by a magic spell.

          • pepperfez says:

            Not a genderless god but a transgender god: “Corellan is alternately male and female, both and neither.”

        • Premium User Badge

          cpt_freakout says:

          Please, do tell us proles what this ‘truth’ is.

        • GWOP says:

          I rate your comment 2/10 on the ethical scale; too much of your own biased beliefs, not enough objectivity.

      • Hobbes says:

        The level of logical and intellectual dishonesty on both sides of the fence is staggering, it really is, but this particular phrase is perhaps the most beautifully encapsulated piece of outright willful misunderstanding that has been adopted by the nutters on the supposedly “progressive” side of this insanity.

        Appeal to extremes, absurdity and obviousness -and- setting up a straw man as well as begging the question all in one phrase, it’s like a bingo of fallacies. It’s the same kind of thinking that justifies the CEO of Beamdog attempting to game the review system on the basis of “it’s okay because the other side does it”, no, that’s not acceptable behaviour from a company CEO, period. Let alone the lunacy that kicked off on twitter because of Dee espousing the “no true scotsman” fallacy because hey, we need that one too, but it’s alright! Because it’s on the side of right, and that makes every sin acceptable as long as it’s the side of right doing it!

        Seriously, everyone needs to take a long damned look at themselves in the mirror, then listen to TB’s “Funeral of Drama”, because this nonsense needs to end, on both sides of the fence. The nutcakes from GG need to just go back under the rocks and the people who keep promoting this tribal narrative nonsense need to -stop-. All it’s doing is promoting toxic thinking, and this thread, starting from the top posts, are perfect examples of exactly the kind of toxicity that the games media and the reaction TO the games media is enabling.

        Quit it. Humanity should be better than this *grumbles*

        • GWOP says:

          “listen to TB’s “Funeral of Drama”, because this nonsense needs to end”

          Why? Is it bereft of his ideologies?

          • Ashabel says:

            That video involves TotalBiscuit tossing out his past ideology of pandering to GamerGaters for the sake of adopting an ideology where he calls everyone poopyheads and pretends to be neutral in hopes that it will gain him more subscribers.

            So as long as “being embarrassingly intellectually dishonest for the sake of getting more views” counts as “being bereft of one’s ideologies” in your eyes, it is indeed that.

          • GWOP says:

            TB got so mad after being banned from the FemFreq Twitch stream that he teamed up with, of all people, the Amazing Atheist, to a run a fundraiser for “real feminism” just to spite Sarkeesian.

            He’s the queen of all drama queens with the pettiness of a child.

          • Ashabel says:

            I gingerly await the day when TB realizes that a lot of feminists actually are against Sarkeesian because she practices the radical branch of the movement, we just never invite him to our parties because we like him even less.

        • pepperfez says:

          This is such phenomenal wankery. Just splendid.

  15. SaintAn says:

    Makes me feel bad for David Gaider who left BioWare where he was writing for the DA series to go work for BeamDog and work on a new Baulder’s Gate that’s likely not going to happen now.

    • Aerothorn says:

      Er – why is it not going to happen? Is there news I missed?

      • Zelos says:

        Well, one would hope that beamdog wouldn’t be allowed to touch the franchise after this embarrassment.

        Who knows though, maybe the controversy will allow them to sell a decent number of copies. I hope not, but it’s a distinct possibility; they may have engineered it because they knew their terrible game would’ve never sold without it.

        • Asurmen says:

          Well, seeing as that’s opinion, and not one shared by Richard, and Aerothorn clearly wanted something substantial based on some evidence, I’m not sure what your point is.

  16. namad says:

    I just want to say that Richard Cobbett is the most biased writer RPS has ever had. I don’t much care for his writing. It doesn’t focus enough on facts. Although this article isn’t as bad as the blatantly incorrect 4x articles he’s written, so maybe this is his area of actual expertise.

  17. Aerothorn says:

    This is the review I wanted! Thanks so much, Richard.

    Don’t really have the time to go through BG again right now, but I’ve always known I’ll do one final runthrough in 2025 or so, and I’ll definitely stick this in there when I do. Though I am sad to heir about Jaheira, who I always thought was very above-the-grade in terms of Bioware NPCs.

    • Zelos says:

      Always beware hearing what you “want”. SoD is a legitimately terrible game.

      • Zekiel says:

        You’ve commented twice that this expansion is awful without saying why – could you expand please?

  18. nindustrial says:

    Wonderful review as always Richard. I did pick up the EE’s b/c they were on massive sale, already owning the “completes” or whatever they’re called; but held off on actual SoD until I could read actual reviews (rather than poorly-masked reactionary conservative agenda pushing on GOG). From the sounds of it I’ll pick it up, but it’s been so long since I’ve played through BG1, that I think I’ll wait to get through that before I do, giving them time to clean up some of the shortcomings.

    • dreadguacamole says:

      That’s hilarious, and something I’ve seen several times on RPGs before. Though maybe not as blatantly.

  19. Premium User Badge

    keefybabe says:

    I’ve started playing Baldurs gate in readiness for this (as I never finished) and even though last time I tried (a year or so back) was on the Enhanced Edition, the changes they’ve made in the last year to the engine are phenomenal and it makes it a much more pleasurable experience to play rather than the “really? you call this enhanced?” version that originally came out.

  20. PancakeWizard says:

    Can I just say: Thank you to RPS for side-stepping the ‘controversy’ and not leaping in with both feet like a lot of their peers? It’s good to see a (dun-dun-dun!) more objective article than most on this. (I realise it’s a review rather than an op-ed, but it’s still appreciated).

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      Even just saying “this shouldn’t be a controversy” is apparently enough to rile up a few idiots.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Ericusson says:

    What happened to the article about the story mode that was published then pulled out of the site by the way ?
    Too much opinionated for an article ?

  22. Zekiel says:

    BG and BG2 are possibly my two favourite games of all time… but I still don’t think I’ll buy this. My love for the originals is so anchored in the time I played them (1st year of university, formative time of life) that SoD can’t really help but disappoint, not matter how faithful it is. Heck, Baldur’s Gate was the first CRPG I ever played.

    Still, I wish the developers all success with it.

  23. Stellar Duck says:

    I think my history with BG is too long and deep for me to want to play this but all the best to Beam Dog!

    Also, Richard is objectively the best!