I recently decided to download and play the enhanced edition of Baldur’s Gate: a game I’ve put hundreds of hours into, across multiple playthroughs, without ever beating. This time over the course of one focused day of play I got further than I have ever before, but I ended up realizing something: this game is just not that fun. The game is driven primarily by acquisitiveness–collect more magic, get more experience, uncover all the maps–and once you get past that, there’s really not much to the game. Even on the harder difficulties, it doesn’t require much skill or strategy to progress.
Ultimately, this is true of MOST electronic role playing games. When you’re a kid you tell yourself you’re experiencing some kind of narrative, but even then you know that this story, is weaker than even the paltriest of the terrible fantasy novels you’ve read. In the end the game is just a grind. It’s an exercise in how far you can stretch suspense. Can you really make someone click buttons, rather mechanically, for a hundred hours by using prefabricated plot tokens that even your player isn’t interested in or surprised by? The answer is yes, I suppose. And you can make millions of dollars doing itNow on my Facebook a game designer friend chimed in to say that BG2 is much better than one. And that’s certainly true. BG2 is much better, though ultimately it suffers from the same flaws. The good thing about BG2 is that it has WAY better map design. People forget that BG1 is full of mostly-empty maps where you have to hack through three dozen kobolds to see anything interesting.
BG2 isn’t like that. It has an order of magnitude fewer screens, but each one is unique and interesting and full of encounters. It’s a completely different approach, which is exemplified by the start of each fame. In BG1 you start in the woods and you don’t get to go to Baldur’s gate until well after the midpoint of the game. Whereas in BG2 you’re tossed right into Athkatla.
However, I think BG2 ultimately has many of the same flaws. I realized this while exploring Durlag’s Tower, which is a dungeon added to BG1 by the expansion. By the time they made the expansion I suppose they’d gotten a hang of level design, and the environment was varied, with fewer, but more tactically interesting, encounters. But I was still bored. At that point I realized that it really wasn’t ever going to get better.