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Tuesday 24 May 2016

In Defense of Dragonspear

So, it's been a couple years, but I'm back to post again!

Recently, the crew over at Beamdog finally released their first full, original adventure for the Baldur's Gate Games (that wasn't an arena-bash): Siege of Dragonspear. Taking the Baldur's Gate setting into the modern age is a daunting endeavor, and I believe they accomplished it hands-down.

Giving Safana a voice, and introducing several new, interesting characters breathed a breath of fresh air into a game that was otherwise beginning to grow a little stale. One can only play through the Bhaalspawn Saga so many times before growing sort of bored with it. To top it off, they also introduced a new class, and several new Cleric specialties. The new class, called the Shaman, is essentially a Druid with spontaneous casting and replacing it's largely useless wildshape with the ability to summon uncontrolled spirits (as well as use axes, which will be wonderful for good aligned Shamans in BG2!)

The new UI is much easier to navigate in a lot of ways, though the quest Journal Entries do leave a lot to be desired. Beyond that, however, I would have to say this is a well-crafted, and wonderfully fun adventure and a solid addition to the Baldur's Gate canon.

And I stand by that, despite all the stupid controversy surrounding a side-character with almost no impact on the story what-so-ever. Mizhena, somehow "infamous" for being a transgendered character in the Baldur's Gate world, who reveals as much if you engage her in conversation. Cries of "SJW agenda" and "Oversharing!" have followed, but this leaves aside the fact that pretty much every side NPC with a conversation tree that you meet overshares their background if you talk to them.

Are there better ways that Beamdog could have introduced Mizhena to the game? Maybe. They could have made Mizhena a full party member. Or maybe you would have to have several conversations with Mizhena to find anything out.

While the first option is great, it would have meant leaving out Glint, and that would have been a shame. The second option also misses the fact that most conversations people are going to have with Mizhena open with "Can I get healing?" and directly going to "Good bye" after the needed healing has been administered. Mizhena's conversation is there for those curious enough to ask questions, and little else. If that really bothers you so much, then perhaps the Baldur's Gate games are not right for you. Go pick up Ice Wind Dale, or better yet, boot up a game of Diablo. That might be more your speed.

Sunday 30 November 2014

Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Bioware's Return to Greatness

Hey everyone! I'm back again, with a review of Dragon Age: Inquisition to hurl in yo' faces!

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third instalment of the Edmonton-Based game studio, Bioware. In it, you play the Inquisitor/Herald of Andraste, and fight against a world gone mad after a conclave meant to bring the Templar-Mage war to a halt was destroyed in a magical explosion, tearing a hole between the world of mortals and the world of demons. You have a mysterious mark that allows you to close these tears in the veil that have opened in the wake of the Breach, and this lands you as a key member of the reborn Inquisition.

But before we can discuss the story, lets get the technical shizwa outta the way. Inquisition is built on a new engine for Bioware. Before, they typically used the Unreal engine, but for their latest game they've switched over to the much more powerful Frostbite engine, and it shows. Animation is much smoother, and the physics are much more visceral and engaging. So many times, I've had my warrior smash apart a cart just because it happened to be behind an enemy I was slamming through it, and my hits really feel like they connect. The gameplay is somewhere between the Action-based RPG of Dragon Age II, and the more tactical combat of Dragon Age: Origins. However, unlike both games, it's managed to succeed surprisingly well at both. The tactical camera mode has an option to allow you to advance time only a short distance, allowing more tactically focused players greater control. The decent computer AI allows players who prefer more action-based combat to let their party members make generally decent decisions while the PC focuses on hack-and-slash. Combat also makes tactical positioning and combat more varied and emphasizes its importance. While in the previous instalments, things like flanking and positioning were important, the gameplay never really emphasized this except with the melee-built rogue in Origins, who received a backstab bonus and . However, in Inquisition the bonuses for flanking are much more obvious, as some enemies are extremely difficult to fight head-on due to their defenses.

But the game is far from perfect. There are a number of conversational glitches, such as with many of the scenes involving two spoilery-characters. They'll often stop talking in the middle of the cut scene, and not resume talking unless you skip through the scene, causing you to miss a lot of details of what's going on. This only seems to happen with cut-scene conversations, however, and the contextual conversations work very well. There's also some issues in cut scenes and even the main game with clipping, such as a dual-wielding dwarf rogue wearing the Inquisitor's Hat, as your daggers stick up through the brim of the hat. It looks hilarious but it can take you out of the game a bit.

No more murder-knife in Inquisition as well. Your character will use your equipped weapons in cut scenes (with one exception, but it's story based), rather than some mysterious super-knife like in Dragon Age II, or some sword your warden picked up off the ground as in the final scene of Origins.

The characters, however, are where Inquisition really shines. Where in the previous two games, relationships often felt a bit forced or like something you just needed to earn enough points in to win some sort of prize, in Inquisition the relationships feel much more organic. This is helped by the lack of an “approval” bar somewhere. You're still informed whether or not someone approves or disapproves of your actions, but there's no numbers attached. This also helps the romances a great deal. Unlike in previous games where, once approval was high enough or you flirted enough or whatever the characters would throw themselves at you and you'd unlock a sex scene, romances in Inquisition are much more involved, frequently requiring side quests and your character going out of his or her way to win their companion's affections. One of the romances even involves a duel! It makes them feel much more realistic and organic, and above all earned than in previous games. Also, you can't be stealth romanced in this game. You'll know right away if you're getting involved, and you have multiple opportunities to abandon a romance. There's a reason this game's version of the Paramour achievement is for “Committing to a romance.”

Inquisition is a massive, sprawling game with easily 80 or 90 hours of gameplay for the most dedicated of players, and no two playthroughs are ever going to be exactly the same. There are no “right” or “wrong” decisions in this game, and there's no perfect playthrough like in previous Bioware games. Above all, it feels like a return to Bioware's standards of excellence that we saw with Origins and even Baldur's Gate 2. If Bioware keeps this up, there will be only good things ahead for the studio.

Thursday 13 November 2014

The Last of Us Remastered, by Naughty Dog Productions

Hello, readers. Been a long time, hasn't it? Yeah, that's my fault. I got caught up with school, work, and a bunch of other stuff. I simply haven't had the time to watch the movies I wanted or to play the video games I've wanted. But that's done, now! And today, I come at you with a new review!

June 2014 marked the release of a game by Naughty Dog Productions, the makers of Uncharted. The Last of Us was a tonal departure from the more light-hearted, adventure oriented series the studio had made it's name on, but still focused on adventure and story telling with a smattering of action. Violent, gory, and dark, The Last of Us earned it's name not for it's unique take on zombies or the few survival-horror elements it put in (which are indeed few and far between, surprising for a zombie apocalypse game) but for it's two lead characters: Joel and Ellie, played by voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. Both delivered powerful performances, bringing the two leads to life.

But before we talk more about Joel and Ellie and what I think about the story, let's talk a little bit about gameplay. The gameplay in The Last of Us is very similar to Uncharted 3 (I have not played the other two instalments, but I imagine it's fairly similar) combining quick time events with a party-assisted puzzle solving and exploration, something I very much enjoyed in Uncharted 3 and found equally immersive and entertaining in The Last of Us. Combat is a combination of stealth and cover-based, with different zombie enemies having unique mechanics surrounding how to take them down. While many scenarios allow you to sneak by without engaging opponents, I found many of them also forced you into conflict. However, the stealth sections of the game are particularly exciting and surprisingly well executed, with Joel's ability (and in the few sections where you control Ellie, her ability) to focus his hearing to detect the position of enemies so he can either evade them or take them down from stealth.

The gameplay is fast moving and entertaining, and whenever I did mess up, I always felt like it was my fault and not the fault of the controls, but there are some issues with the Party AI. Rather famously, Ellie and other party members that might be following you don't seem to be bound by the same rules of stealth that you are, which can be immersion breaking if you're trying to sneak through a room full of Clickers—zombies who use echolocation to spot you—and Ellie is busily running back-and-forth right in front of one. However, I was playing the remastered version and only saw this happen on my second playthrough, as for the most part despite being followed by Ellie and others they generally hang back off screen during stealth scenarios. During Combat, Ellie and others will help you take down enemies, and sometimes require your aid when locked in melee grapples, though it's during puzzles that your party members become most involved. Sometimes, you give them boosts to reach higher locations so they can help you up, or they might hold a heavy sliding door open for you while you crawl underneath. You may need to help Ellie across bodies of water because she doesn't know how to swim, or she might help you find a board or ladder as a form of in-narrative hint if you're taking too long to solve a puzzle.

The puzzles are usually simple and the game is good about moving you along if you're taking to long to solve them, so even at their most frustrating they never serve as the roadblocks that they did in older generation video games.

Graphically, The Last of Us Remastered is complete eye-candy. The skin in particular looks fantastic, moving far away from that past-over-wireframe look of games on the PS3, and definitely using the PS4's improved hardware to the fullest. And that brings up one of the major technical problems I do have with this game. As this was the first game I owned on my PS4, I honestly thought something might have been defective with my console, as the fan would run extremely loudly while playing The Last of Us. However, upon doing some research I was surprised to discover that this is actually a common problem with copies of this game. The game is so intensive, it really pushes the graphics and processing cards, causing them to heat up more than usual and as a result the fan runs faster and louder than it would on, say, Zen Pinball. That said, it's a minor annoyance at worst, and the console itself doesn't seem to be getting dangerously hot. In fact, I've had laptops that run hotter than my PS4 does, meaning that the fans are loud simply because they're doing their work well—cooling the console.

Finally, that brings me to the part of the game that I am honestly most torn about. The story.

As I mentioned, The Last of Us follows Joel and Ellie. Or, rather more appropriately, it starts out by following Joel and make no mistake that this game is Joel's story. Ellie is an important character in Joel's story, but it is his story.

Joel is a grizzled, angry white man with brown hair. He's a character we've seen time and time again. He has a personal tragedy when the world ends, and he can't quite get over it making him into an angry, bitter old man. There's a brief prologue where we follow him through his tragic backstory from the point of view of his daughter, at least until his daughter breaks her leg, then we're controlling Joel as he carries her to safety. The game starts in earnest 20 years later, as we're introduced into the militaristic society of the Quarantine Zones, and after some shenanigans, Joel is tasked with escorting Ellie, a fourteen year old girl who happens to be immune to the mutant fungus that turns people into zombies.

Ellie, as a character, is fantastically written, fresh, and a unique take on the character in her role. Normally, younger female characters like her when cast alongside our obligatory grizzled angry white guy are passive, ideal daughters who will break through that crusty exterior and give him something to live for again. Ellie subverts this by being a crass, violent teenager who can handle her own. In many ways, it's hard to focus on Joel's story because quite frankly Ellie's story is just so much more interesting, but this is NOT Ellie's story. This is Joel's story, and thus Ellie exists narratively to highlight something about Joel. Namely, despite being crass and violent, she exists to break through Joel's crusty exterior and give him something to live for. Now, I personally feel this is actually quite subverted and turned into a dark twisted reflection of itself at the end, but you'll have to play through the game to find out why.

That said, the game sometimes falls to hard on the Big Tough White Guy saves the Princess archetype too quickly. For instance, after we see Ellie slash a guy's brains out with a machete, Joel rushes in and pulls her off his dead corpse and she breaks down sobbing in his big tough-guy arms. Now, given other facets of the game and it's DLC in particular, I don't think it was their intention to further the stereotype of the “sobbing survivor” of female characters (an archetype brought to the fore in the latest instalment of Tomb Raider), rather I think their intention was to highlight the loss of innocence being suffered by a child in a world where she has to, yanno, slash a guy's skull open with a machete. The only problem is them introducing this scenario so late, as before she was managing just fine stabbing guys in the jugular vein with her pocket knife. It worked better when Joel and Tess killed the guards that Ellie thought they were simply going to disable when she stabbed one of them in the calf, or when Ellie saves Joel by shooting a man in the head. It simply comes too late in the story, and if it had come earlier the theme of Loss of Innocence, rather than simply sobbing survivor who just needs a big strong man to make her feel better would have been delivered more strongly.

In the end, I think the story would have been better if it had been Ellie's story, rather than Joel's. There is a silver lining here, and something that makes me thing Naughty Dog was just afraid to take too much of a risk too quickly. This is first seen in the character of Bill.

Bill is a xenophobic scavenger who lives by himself in a little town outside of the Boston Quarantine Zone. He likes to set traps, is good with a shotgun and a bow and arrow, and is extremely resourceful. He lost his partner, someone he cared a lot for, after an argument about whether or not they should leave the town. Bill didn't want to. His partner did.

His partner was his partner. As in, the man he lived with. What I'm saying is that Bill is gay. It's surprisingly well handled, as it's never really made a big issue of. Bill is gay, it's just a part of who he is. His sexuality has no bearing on the story—aside from the back story, but even that's delivered mostly through implications by Bill and small notes written to Bill by his partner. It's a small part of the game, but it's something that Naughty Dog did a fantastic job handling. But handled even better was Ellie's sexuality. See, Bill isn't the only not-strictly-heterosexual character in the game. Ellie is, too.

This is revealed in the DLC Left Behind, where we see what Ellie was up to while Joel was unconscious after having a piece of rebar shoved through his guts, as well as being delivered through flash backs the events surrounding Ellie being bitten. According to Naughty Dog, the DLC was meant to be a romance story, and quite frankly they delivered it fantastically. The flash-back story surrounds Ellie with her friend Riley, as Riley is fraught with indecision over whether or not she should leave to join a resistance group in another city. The story displays an intimacy between the two characters without coming straight out and describing what their relationship is (or was). During this, we also see Ellie as she goes through a different mall, trying to find first aid supplies to help Joel. The story is told exceptionally well, and is proof positive to me that the main game should have been about Ellie the entire time. Her story is simply more interesting than Joel's.

Joel's story was better handled in Tell Tale Game's The Walking Dead Season 1, which follows a lone survivor trying to hang onto the last rays of hope in a world gone mad. He, like Joel, finds himself taking care of a young girl who gives him the hope he needs to hang on and survive. But the story is handled in a much more intimate and unique way than The Last of Us handles Joel, who suffers the fate of being a type we've seen done time and time again, in everything from Metal Gear Solid to Dead Space, or even Resident Evil if you make him slightly more effeminate looking. Joel doesn't really bring us anything new to the gamepad, but Ellie brings more than her fair share.

Over all, The Last of Us is a landmark game if only because of it's DLC, which is the first Triple A release in which you the player control an openly non-heterosexual character (I'm not entirely convinced Ellie is fully gay). The gameplay, graphics, and for the most part story telling come together to create an entertaining expierence, and it's certainly worth checking out.

Friday 9 May 2014


Hey everyone! I know you love my blog posts with my movies reviews and everything. Well, I love making them. But unfortunately, I don't make a lot of money so watching all the newest movies that come out can be a bit difficult. Luckily, there's this cool little thing out there called Patreon! With Patreon, you my loyal followers, can help to support my terrible habit by funding my blog posts! You can choose to give me a certain amount per blog post, and even set a limit per month in case I'm posting too many blog posts. Please, if you love my blog, check me out by clicking either the link to the right, or the logo above!

Saturday 3 May 2014

I'm Back... And So Is Disney!

I'm not going to declare a Disney Renaissance just yet. One movie just isn't enough. But! Disney's Frozen is a step in the right direction at last. I'll try to stay spoiler free in this review, but I can't make any promises. It's an incredible film that's deserving of all the praise its received so far, and this is coming from someone who saw the trailers and said “Oh. Disney's doing a Christmas movie.”

Frozen is a love story, but it's not a love story about a princess and a prince. It's the tragic love story of a sister suffering from oppressive fear and anxiety and her younger sister desperately trying to reach out to her to comfort her and help her through her illness. The movie builds this up in a number of striking images. The opening sequence during the parents funeral, where Elsa has hidden herself away in her room demonstrates a character afraid to face the world outside her room. The mantra that becomes a bit of a motif in the first two acts of the movie “conceal, don't feel” is a concept any sufferer from anxiety or depression, myself included, would be familiar with. The idea of hiding your emotions, bottling up what you're feeling so that other people aren't worried, is clearly something Elsa builds up for herself as a defence against the destructive potential of magical powers. This is aided by the connection between her magic and her emotions. When she's happy or feeling strong positive emotions, her magic is creative and even beautiful, as seen in the very famous “Let it Go” scene where she builds her ice palace, and the scene in the very beginning of the film where Elsa and Ana are playing, as well as in the very last scene, where Elsa builds an impromptu skating rink complete with beautiful ice sculptures in the fountains, in contrast to the wicked and twisted fountain she creates when she's first outed as a sorceress.

The movie plays a lot with typical Disney conventions, but never once feels hateful or disparaging of Disney in the way that Shrek did, and also manages to continue feeling like a Disney film. Although I have heard at least one reviewer criticize the animation, saying at times the main female characters felt too “doll-like” for him, I have to say that the animation in this film is incredible. The faces of Ana and Elsa are extremely expressive and engrossing. The men have less expressive faces, but as the main focus of the action is on Ana and Elsa I rarely noticed. The expressiveness of the two main character's faces really helps you to feel for the characters and helps you feel their ups and downs. In particular, Elsa's expressions demonstrate pain and fear extremely well, allowing for subtlety that's so rare in animated films. I also have to commend the animators on the way fabric and hair moves in this film. The dresses and capes let the movie feel dynamic and lively, and they flow realistically. In particular, the image where Elsa is feeling across the swiftly freezing fjord is striking and gorgeous, aiding in the over all epic feel of the film.

A large part of this emotional draw however comes from the cast. Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, is a character I thought I was going to loathe but never quite gets to a point where he's annoying and instead manages to actually serve a purpose in the movie. Rather than using screaming and over-the-top wonky-bonkers comedy, he uses a quiet voice for his best lines. Kristen Bell brings an energy and a youthfulness to Ana, while still being a loveable and relatable character, a beautiful contrast to Idina Menzel's reserved, regal, and suffering Elsa. Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff who is another alumni of Glee, does a good job as Kristoff, and has excellent comedic timing and plays off of Kristen Bell well.

That said, the film is by no means perfect. The first moment that I really disliked was the song “Fixer Upper” sung by the trolls. Unlike most of the songs, it does little to movie the story forward and feels largely like filler. While the scene itself serves some purpose, the role of the trolls feels like it either really needed to be condensed or expanded. For the most part they serve as McGuffin's to explain how Elsa's magic works, and the song felt pretty useless except for a few lines that could have also been delivered well in simple dialogue. This marks the beginning of what is largely a weak third act. There is one twist in this scene that I felt was pretty ridiculous and unearned. At this point, if you don't want spoilers, please turn away now.

Are the “no spoilers, plz” people gone? Good.

Prince Hans, it turns out, is evil. Not necessarily a bad thing, as it becomes necessary as part of the set up for the second big twist, but at the same time it felt unearned. The third act desperately tries to set up its climax, and that's where most of the weakness comes from. To quote Eudora Welty “The hardest thing ... is getting people in and out of rooms.” In this case, instead of getting people in and out of rooms, its getting them all onto the frozen fjord. But the pay off makes it all worth it, and the climax contains easily one of the most powerful images I have ever seen in an animated film, and a striking testament to the strength of love. Not romantic love, but the love of family and of siblings.

Frozen is a powerful movie, with gorgeous imagery, a strong moral that everyone can agree on that still manages to be delivered in a powerful way. 

Friday 13 December 2013

Random Aside: Stats for Xan made in Fate Core

Hey everyone, today's blog post is not a review. Instead, I'm going to try something fun with two things I did reviews for, Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition and Fate Core. I'm going to take my favourite companion NPC from Baldur's Gate and make him a character using the Fate Core rules.

First things first: What defines Xan enough to be his High Concept? Well, what we know is that Xan is an elf from Evereska sent to Nashkell to investigate the happenings at the mines. He's a rather dour, sarcastic and pessimistic fellow, doesn't get along well with Eldoth the bard and often wishes him ill (even showing a brief moment of happiness should Eldoth fall in battle), nor does he get along with Ajantis whom he sees as having an over-simplified worldview. Xan also has a powerful Moonblade, and is a Greycloak (a sort of magical law enforcement agent) of Evereska. Additionally, Xan was chosen by the Moonblade to be it's wielder--this hints that he's probably going to be someone important later on.

Most importantly, however, Xan is a Lost Greycloak of Evereska.  That tells us how he fits into the game universe.

For his trouble, I'm going to take a quote directly from his voice set. Our Quest is Vain. Or perhaps We're All Doomed might be more fitting. Our Quest is Vain has a little more zazz and proactiveness to it, so I'm going to go with that one.

Xan's Moonblade is a pretty powerful item, as well as something indicative of him having an important role later not (never happens in BG or BG2, but if the BG:EE guys are reading this... Baldur's Gate 3? Maybe Xan should become someone important!) and something that defines his position in Evereska, so for his background aspect, rather than going with his capture by Mulahey, I think his Moonblade should get its own aspect. Chosen by the Moonblade has a lot of clout to it, especially once you realize the importance of the Moonblade beyond being an awesome item for a mage to haul around.

Xan having as many lines as he does for Ajantis and Eldoth makes him stand out in Baldur's Gate, so I think we can assume those would make good aspects as well. Ajantis Lives in a Black and White World is a pretty catching aspect, I think, and really establishes his relationship with the paladin squire.

As much as I try to stick to his dialogue for these aspects, he doesn't have a really snappy line that defines his thoughts on Eldoth, so I'm going to have to make something up. We know he doesn't like Eldoth because he views him as crude, unnerving, and just plain mean-spirited, so lets say Eldoth Should be Locked Up, as I think that pretty much sums up why he can't stand the guy. Aside from Eldoth being evil, he's also quite unashamedly criminal, and Xan is a law enforcement officer.

That covers Xan's 5 aspects. Next, we're going to cover his skills.

As Xan is an enchanter, Lore is quite obviously going to be his peak skill at +4. Xan is also an investigator, so Investigation and Empathy should fit nicely at +3. I think he'd be pretty good at telling when people are lieing, and he is an enchanter. Next down we have Will, Contacts, and Rapport at +2. As pessimistic as he is, he's also the only person who can keep Ajantis from just randomly attacking evil party members. Finally, I think Notice, Fight, Athletics, and Resources. He can use that Moonblade if he has to (I mean, sure he's a D&D mage, but I'm not going to let the mechanics trump story here), and he's pretty good at keeping out of trouble. If he were back home in Evereska, I think he'd have more resources at his disposal than he does here on the Sword Coast. As an investigator, he's kept his eyes trained, but that's not his main method of investigation.

As for Stunts, I'm going to give him the stunt Arcane Enchanter. This lets him use Lore to Create an Advantage by casting mind-affecting spells such as Sleep or Charm. If I were trying to translate him as a D&D mage, I'd also let his magic attack, but I always used him purely for Crowd Control. I mean, he is  an enchantment specialist, and he's darned good at it, so I think this is a fairly simple stunt for him to have handy.

Next I'll give him the Practiced Investigator stunt, which gives him a +2 to Overcome aspects meant to hide a criminal's trail of clues.

For his third stunt, I think something concerning the Moonblade would be appropriate so, I'll give him a stunt Chosen by the Moonblade, which grants him a +2 when using Fight to attack in melee with the Moonblade. Some might think this gives him a +2 all the time, but then they forget that something as simple as having the "Unarmed" aspect put on him by a foe, or the GM being mean and compelling his "Chosen of the Moonblade" aspect to mean he left his moonblade at home will deprive him of this +2.

So, to recap:

Lost Greycloak of Evereska
Trouble: Our Quest is Vain

Other Aspects:
Chosen of the Moonblade
Ajantis Lives in a Black and White World
Eldoth Should be Locked Up

Lore +4
Investigation, Empathy +3
Will, Contacts, Rapport +2
Fight, Notice, Resources, Athletics +1

Chosen by the Moonblade (+2 when attacking melee with Fight if wielding the Moonblade)
Practice Investigator (+2 when using Investigate to Overcome advantages intended to conceal a criminal's trail)
Arcane Enchanter  (Can use Lore to create an advantage by casting a mind affecting spell such as a sleep spell or a charm spell. This can be defended against by Will.)

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition

13 years ago, I began a journey. This journey was abandoned for a good 10 years, but yesterday I accomplished something. I beat Baldur's Gate. In this case, it was Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, meaning I had available to me class kits that weren't introduced until Baldur's Gate 2. I used an Inquisitor Paladin, but I didn't use any of the new party members introduced in the Enhanced Edition.

What a blast! This game is a tactical RPG of the highest degree. Through playing, I've earned a new respect for Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition, and a realization that I'm a lot smarter now than I was when I was 12.

After battling my way through dungeons, investigating corrupt merchant houses, fighting devious mages and making friends along the way, I discovered my true calling and defeated my most wretched of foes: The nefarious Sarevok.

And I beat him.

By a fluke.

The hilarious voice acting, and the uninteresting companions aside, I only have one beef with this game. That beef is with the Sarevok fight. Nothing prior to that fight prepares you for it. Prior to the Sarevok fight, no mages had any pre-cast defensive spells on them. At Sarevok, the mage hasn't just cast them on himself, he's cast them on the archer as well. And there are traps everywhere, and they're almost impossible to find as well. It is an absolutely brutal fight. I turned the difficulty down to Novice, and I still didn't beat it... fairly, anyways.

No, what I did was set my mages to drop fireballs and skull traps on them while they were still off screen, and then I sicked Minsc on them in Berserker fury. That still  wasn't quite enough.

I kept my main character hiding in the back, and what finally killed Sarevok was the fact neither he nor Tazok could see my main character hiding in the back corner, so they stopped chasing me.

And stood in a cloudkill spell instead.

That's  how I beat the game. By the main bad guy standing in a deadly spell and killing himself when he couldn't see me.

That said, Baldur's Gate is still insanely fun, and it's a tent-pole classic. It and its sequel Baldur's Gate 2 are the godfathers of the Western RPG, and the reason why Bioware has the ridiculous standards put on them that they have. Both games have great writing, interesting characters (even if the NPC companions don't banter as much in the first game), and Baldur's Gate 2 introduced the ability to romance your party members. The games took risks that few games would have dared, and created the modern RPG.

They're available on Steam, and the iPad store and well worth picking up.