Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition isn't the first Overhaul Games re-release to grace this column. That accolade belongs to MDK2 HD. As the name suggests, the 2000 BioWare game underwent a visual facelift in the care of the appropriately named Overhaul.
Despite Baldur's Gate being even older than MDK2, and Overhaul likely doing even more work underneath its hood, the developer's name doesn't sit as right with Enhanced Edition. An overhaul implies, at least to me, the taking apart of something, messing around with its innards until it looks and feels like something very new. That's not what this is.
BG:EE's tune-ups, additions, and even its graphical tweaks aren't there to dazzle, but simply to enhance. If Baldur's Gate is the seminal face of BioWare's RPG beginnings, then Enhanced Edition is its graceful make-up, and Overhaul the doting stylist straining to make sure it all blends in. This delicate approach is admirable, but en vogue it definitely ain't.
What's new this time around? In the main campaign, the biggest addition is the trio of non-player characters, along with their associated new areas and quests. The wild mage Neera, monk Rasaad yn Bashir, and blackguard Dorn II-Khan are easy enough to find and recruit. Each one can join your party, or you can ignore them, even if that defeats the point.
What's most impressive about the new characters and their writing is how they fit. If you'd have told me Neera was there all along and I'd simply forgotten her presence, I'd have believed you. To its credit, Enhanced Edition resists making a huge song and dance about the additions, even at the risk of losing them among the many other recruitable NPCs.
The graphical and user interface tweaks are subtle, outside of support for widescreen and high resolution displays. It still looks like a game that's around a decade old, but as with the understated addition of the NPCs, this is the point. Another good example is the new cinematics, which are detailed enough to feel modern, and yet low key (and low budget) enough to feel authentic.
Outside of the main campaign are the tutorial and The Black Pits campaign. The former is a neat enough introduction to the basics, but unsurprisingly for a game so faithful to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rule-set, it only scratches the surface. The Black Pits, meanwhile, is pitched at the opposite end of the spectrum, tasking well versed players with applying their skills in a series of 15 arena-based battles of increasing difficulty.
How does it hold up? My history with Western RPGs can be traced back to BioWare's beginnings. I'd never even so much as picked up a Dungeons & Dragons book, and yet I sunk summers into, in particular, Baldur's Gate 2 and Neverwinter Nights. I stuck with BioWare too, through to the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say the Canadian developer is the reason I play Western RPGs today.
There actually aren't that many BioWare games between Mass Effect 3 and Baldur's Gate - not even 20. Coming back to Baldur's Gate after over a decade, it may as well be 200. If there's ever a studio to exemplify the industry's shift in the new millennium, it's BioWare, and returning to Baldur's Gate solidified that for me.
But after I pushed through, eventually adjusted, and finally accepted, I once again sunk many an hour into Enhanced Edition. It may be more frivolous and rough than modern BioWare fare, but the writing in Baldur's Gate still swept me along my character's journey, wanting to find out where it led. Moreover, Baldur's Gate is arguably truer to the freedom associated with D&D than anything else BioWare made. As with modern Bethesda RPGs, once you leave the opening area, the world of Baldur's Gate is yours to explore and get lost in (well, to a point), and that is an appeal that carries through to today.
At its price of $19.99 (on PC), there's an argument that Enhanced Edition doesn't do enough to justify it over a purchase of the original game (which can be had for half that price elsewhere). Overhaul could've completely redone Baldur's Gate, taking its story and its characters and wrapping them in snazzy visuals and accessible mechanics. But would it really be Baldur's Gate?
Falsity is not something you can accuse Enhanced Edition of. It is, for better or worse, a love letter to its source.
This review is based on a download of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, provided by Overhaul Games.