Friday, January 27, 2012

The Baldur's Gate Series's Add-Ons

Bioware's awfully fond of add-ons for their games. Dragon Age and Mass Effect are practically swimming in downloadable content. Sometimes they're good (most of Mass Effect's), sometimes they're bad (most of Dragon Age's). But what I didn't know until recently, when I finally played the Baldur's Gate games, is that Bioware was playing this game even over a decade ago, with their expansions for Baldur's Gate 1 and 2. And I figure, hey, I do a rant on add-ons for all the current games I play with them, so why not take a look at some from the good old days.* I mean, I'm sure there's something worthwhile to be gleaned from such analysis. It's certainly not just that I'm trying to do an easy rant to buy myself time until I can think of something actually worth discussing.

Certainly not.

Tales of the Sword Coast: This is the expansion for Baldur's Gate 1. It's...well, it's alright, I guess. Most of it's just not terribly interesting. It basically adds a half dozen or so locations to the game, It's basically just a collection of slightly longer-than-usual sidequests. Most if it's just not terribly interesting or relevant. The investigation of Baldur's final voyage is not nearly as interesting as it should be, and the song-and-dance with the ice dungeon is rather pointless. The expansion does do well with Durlag's Tower, though. It's pleasantly challenging, but more important than that, it has a pretty cool story to it that's told very well. I'll give Bioware credit for that; their story-telling prowess is in full swing as the player explores Durlag's Tower.

So is it a good add-on? Well, it's hard to say. First of all, I don't know how much it cost back when it was released--any copy of Baldur's Gate 1 purchased nowadays is going to include the expansion in there anyway, so I can't really gauge how good of a deal it was monetarily. It's also hard to judge because the expansion is pretty much representative of BG1--some good story-telling is there, but a lot of it is methodical sidequest filler. So it's questionable how much can be held against the expansion pack, when its flaw is perhaps just being too accurate an extension of the game. Nonetheless...I just can't say that Tales of the Sword Coast is worthwhile, if not in regards to money, then at least in regards to time. Most of it just isn't particularly compelling. As I said, Durlag's Tower is really good, but that's only one part of the expansion. I wish Bioware could have made the whole thing with the narrative care they put into Durlag's Tower.

Of course, whether or not you should get it is entirely irrelevant nowadays, since, as I mentioned, the expansion will come with the game anyway. But that's gonna eventually be true of any add-ons I talk about for RPGs, so I'll still just put it out there.

Throne of Bhaal: The Throne of Bhaal expansion for Baldur's Gate 2 is...odd. It's less an extension of BG2 as it is a second story taking place after the events of BG2. The odd part of this is that Throne of Bhaal's story is really...kind of more relevant and important than the story of BG2 was. BG2's plot is kind of irrelevant to the overall story of the Bhaalspawn, which is what Baldur's Gate is supposed to be focused on, while Throne of Bhaal resumes focus on the Bhaalspawn and follows that story to its conclusion. It's like the Throne of Bhaal expansion is the true story of BG2, and the game proper was just a long side story.

It's kind of hard to gauge as a result. I mean, it's basically re-opening the overlying plot of the series, exploring it briefly, and then concluding it. What could have been a game's worth of plot is condensed into a sizable but ultimately too short period of time. Things are very rushed with this expansion, like it's an abridged version of what should it should have been. At the same time, though, I don't feel like it's fair to hold that against the expansion too much. There was never a Baldur's Gate 3, so Throne of Bhaal was likely the only opportunity the developers were going to have to bring closure to the series, so at least we GOT that closure.

Additionally, regardless of what it could have been, Throne of Bhaal IS an expansion, not its own game, and as an add-on, it has many good qualities. Even if it's rushed, the plot is decent. It re-introduces BG1's villain, Sarevok, as a party member, and gives him the character development he sorely lacked in the original game. It also gives a bit more character development to the rest of the cast through a few of their interactions, and it picks up from where BG2's romance ended and further develops that, as well. While Aerie and Anomen's romances still weren't terribly interesting to me, I found Throne of Bhaal further developed Jaheira's romance well enough, and it really did a great job in renewing Viconia's romance and developing both the relationship and her character through the course of the expansion. Throne of Bhaal also attempts to develop the protagonist somewhat through the inner trials he/she must face, although this is not really accomplished effectively--it's just hard to properly develop a character so completely open-ended. Still, it gets props for making the attempt. And finally, Throne of Bhaal provides a fairly satisfying conclusion, giving the player a finale that truly marks the end of the Baldur's Gate series.

So overall, I'd say this is a very solid, engaging expansion. Again, it's been long enough that any copy of BG2 you buy is going to include it anyway, so I can't really guess as to what cost it was, but I'd say it was probably the money back in the day, and it's a definite step up from BG1's expansion. Good stuff.

Well, that was fun. Overall, I think the Baldur's Gate series did alright for its add-ons. BG1's wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible, either, I suppose, and BG2's more than made up for it. The overall experience was certainly more rewarding than the add-on experience for Dragon Age 1 and, so far, the main DLC packages for Dragon Age 2.

* Note: "Good old days" not actually all that long ago, nor significantly better than current times.

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