Very few computer games based upon Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the most influential role-playing game system of them all, have been released over the past several years, and those that did make it to retail shelves have been ill-conceived, substandard products. In that context, it’s hardly surprising that Baldur’s Gate, which many gamers suspected would finally bring AD&D back to the forefront of computer gaming, has been one of the most anxiously anticipated role-playing games ever. Less expected, however, has been the extent to which non-hard-core role-playing gamers have expressed interest in Baldur’s Gate, perhaps lured by promises of features atypical of RPGs, such as detailed 32-bit graphics, 3D sound, and multiplayer support. Now that the game has finally been released, perhaps the biggest surprise is that Baldur’s Gate, with its thoroughly addictive gameplay and meticulous attention to detail, largely manages to meet, and even surpass, gamers’ high expectations for this ambitious game.
Many role-playing gamers openly expressed their disappointment when developer BioWare Corporation announced that it was adapting AD&D’s turn-based gameplay to its proprietary real-time engine. Stats-loving, rule-abiding, Gnoll-stomping AD&D fans obstinately asserted that AD&D just couldn’t be successfully adapted into a real-time game engine. Fortunately, BioWare stuck to its game designing instincts, because no computer game has ever done a better job at simulating AD&D. Character creation and development is steadfastly accurate to AD&D second-edition rules, allowing gamers to create characters from six different races, eight core character classes, and eight specialty mage classes and to advance in experience points and character levels as tasks are accomplished and beasties are slain. Multiclassed and dual-classed characters are permitted, subject to the applicable AD&D rules governing such characters. Many aspects of AD&D that have never been emulated in a computer game, at least in any meaningful manner, are featured prominently in Baldur’s Gate, such as the significance of a party leader’s charisma, character morale, the speed factors of weapons and spells, the special abilities of thief characters and the tensions between characters of differing alignments.