The payoff is one of the most wonderfully "alive" RPG settings ever created. Baldur's Gate may pale next to its sequel, Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, but it's still an expansive world, gorgeously hand-painted and packed with dungeons, ruins, thriving settlements and engaging, well-realized NPCs who are more than just a cookie-cutter cast. They'll argue with you and amongst themselves, and if they don't like the decisions you make they'll drop you like a bad habit. The three NPCs added to the Enhanced Edition milieu, fully voiced and complete with their own mini-adventures, blend in perfectly, and if you didn't know they weren't part of the original game, you'd never be able to tell.
It's a testament to the effort Beamdog put into upgrading the game without altering the core experience, but it's also symptomatic of its biggest problem. Baldur's Gate is a relic of a different era, when mages entered combat with three spells, a housecoat and a sharp stick, and a one-shot death at the hands of some jerk waiting for you behind a door was just how things went. The ugly truth is that the AD&D ruleset is complex, cumbersome and unbalanced, and while it may have been the gold standard of the day, that day was in the 1990s. Gamers expecting anything even remotely as refined and accessible as Dragon Age, or even Neverwinter Nights, are in for a rough surprise.
It's technically solid, although there are a few technical issues. The new journal will occasionally snap back to the top while being dragged and the inability to use the scroll wheel to control more than one column on multi-column screens, such as when dealing with merchants, is annoying. And while the new content fits in flawlessly with the old, it feels unnecessary. The Black Pits arena is handy for honing your combat chops but little else, and with something in the neighborhood of 25 NPCs in the original release, the addition of three more, regardless of how well they're done, isn't especially meaningful.
There's no question that Beamdog nailed it: The Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition is the definitive version of a great RPG classic. Yet as great as it is, it's not quite timeless, and while die-hard fans of the franchise should embrace it wholeheartedly, gamers accustomed to more contemporary RPGs would be wise to approach with caution. It's gorgeous, deep, eminently playable and gloriously faithful to old-school D&D; it's also obtuse, demanding, unforgiving and at times frustrating as hell. Which is at it should be, really - after all, it's Baldur's Gate.
Bottom Line: The Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition is a loving tune-up of BioWare's groundbreaking RPG, with visual enhancements, bug fixes and new content, but the game itself is the same as it ever was, wonderful and punishing in equal measures. It's a great second chance for RPG lovers who missed out on the original, but gamers after a more casual or relaxed diversion may find it more frustrating than fun.
Recommendation: No serious RPG fan should miss Baldur's Gate, and if you're going to play it, this is definitely the version to play.
Game: Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition
Developer: Overhaul Games
Platform(s): PC, Mac OS, iOS