Saturday Morning Gaming: Baldur’s Gate vs. Icewind Dale
Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to play D&D on the computer. The first game that almost pulled it off was Pool of Radiance (the first of the Gold Box games). They tried to do it by the book. Like, when you killed 3 goblins, you got 45XP, 6d4 copper pieces, 3 short swords, 3 bucklers, and 3 leather armors. Was there role-playing? Not particularly. There was a story and, dang it, you were going to be dragged through it kicking and screaming. The big moral choice, if I recall correctly, was “are you going to steal from merchants and are you going to kill the guards when you get caught?”.
D&D games went on like that for a while. It wasn’t really about role-playing a story but about doing a dungeon crawl and getting treasure and levelling your dudes. This shouldn’t necessarily be read as a criticism. There is a lot of joy to be found in getting loot and levelling your dudes! But the joy of D&D comes also from a real chewy story and, for years there, the story was there to provide an excuse for the treasure and levelling rather than the other way around.
This lasted about a decade until Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment came out. Previously, the idea was to make a party and then to run around with your party that you made and run on the treadmill, this time the idea was that you’d roll up your character and then you’d encounter other characters who would then join your party and then they would interact in the world in a much richer way than was possible with your six player-generated characters.
The Chaotic Good NPC could get into an argument with the Lawful Good NPC. The Neutral Evil NPC could make some seriously morbid jokes. The Lawful Neutral NPC could be a proverbial stick in the mud. And each of them could make statements about the world and ask a question that you would then have to answer in your character’s voice. Huh. Am I Lawful Good? Better pick that answer. Am I Chaotic Neutral? I can talk about the importance of money. That sort of thing.
Then Icewind Dale came out a year later and brought back the paradigm of making a party of six people from scratch and playing through like that.
Seriously, 1998, 1999, and 2000 were *AWESOME* years for D&D games and really explored the different theories of how to play.
Do I want to make a single player and accumulate NPCs to fill up my roster and spend time with the story?
Do I want to micromanage everything and create synergies between my Cleric and Ranger and Thief and Wizard and Monk and Paladin?
Two different theories of why you’re playing the game and what you’re hoping to get from a single-player D&D session on the computer.
(I admit: my personal preference is more Icewind Daley.)
That said, it’s going the Baldur’s Gate path. You roll up your guy (probably a Cleric if you’re playing for the first time) and then you get dragged into Kenebres on a stretcher and the first question is “Hey, what do you think you’re doing here, pal?”
And you can answer “I’m here to fight demons but then I got jumped” or “I’m here to make my fortune but then I got jumped” or “none of your friggin business” and after role-playing with your dialog choices for a little bit, you’re given a whirlwind tour of how to interact with your environment before the story kicks in and you jump headfirst into the Worldwound Incursion proper. Now, I kinda miss the whole thing where I am in charge of who gets which skill in the party but… well, I am willing to give up a little bit of my micromanagement for the sake of a good story and this story is very good indeed. There are a bunch of fun NPCs, some amazing worldbuilding, and, yes, dungeon crawling galore.
If you’ve been missing Baldur’s Gate, you need to pick this one up.
So… what are you playing?