Android, and mobile gaming as a whole, has created an opportunity for games and game developers to cater to a new generation of gamers, some of which never had the pleasure of playing the most beloved titles of old. Yes, we're talking about ports, remakes, the whole shebang. Today, one of those classic titles has once again resurfaced to lure both old timers and fresh blood alike. Baldur's Gate, which saw itself remade in late 2012, is now officially and natively available on Android.
Once upon a time ...
Baldur's Gate has a notable pedigree and its legacy is no less impressive. It was one of the earliest games to bring Dungeons & Dragons, specifically a modified Advanced Dungeon & Dragons, to the computer. Yes, the very same D&D that spawned a whole subculture, stereotypes, and countless other games and their descendants. Baldur's Gate was also the first in a line of games that made use of the Infinity Engine, which would see other well-acclaimed D&D titles, including the Baldur's Gate II sequel and the well-loved Planescape: Torment.
Sure, Baldur's Gate, even in its enhanced and improved edition, is still basically an "old school" game, both in gameplay and content. That might not appeal to some of today's gamers that look for high-octane action, over the top visual effects, and button, or in this case, screen mashing controls. But BG, as its fans lovingly call it, has a timeless quality that can stand up on its own even against this current generation's top sellers. As far as story or spoilers go, you won't find any here in, as it is something that the whole Internet is filled with. But we invite you, if you have the time and resources, to take a vacation in the land of Faerun, and see for yourself how heroes are made. Preferably on your Android tablet or smartphone, of course.
A whole new world
Porting older games to newer platforms is no trivial matter, especially when you are trying to port what is innately a mouse and keyboard game to a device that has no buttons at all. As many gamers who straddle the worlds of PC, console, and mobile can attest to, such ports are a hit or miss. BGEE, short for Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition, isn't entirely perfect, but it's almost there, hitting just a few bumps along the way.
The primary consideration for porting the game to mobile devices is that everything has to be touch driven. Fortunately, the original game itself has very little use for a keyboard outside of the occasional text input, something easily solved by on-screen keyboards. Keyboard shortcuts to bring up menus and windows are, of course, no longer used and instead require tapping on icons. But instead of just aiming for a 1:1 functionality ratio, Beamdog, the developers who made the Enhanced Edition on all platforms possible, went the extra mile and put in some features you won't see on the PC and OS X versions.
While a simple tap will move your character or party to that spot, dragging your finger around will pan the camera around as well. But the mouse in the original game wasn't just used for navigation. It was also used for selecting party members and hovering over objects to see if they can be interacted with. Since those are rather difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish with a finger, BGEE adds to buttons found only in mobile versions of the game. The first one activates a mode where you can draw a rectangle only around the units you want to select, pretty much like in the PC version. The second button highlights all objects that can be opened, touched, viewed, or whatnot. This latter one almost feels like a cheat, but in the absence of some better mechanism, it's an acceptable compromise.
Making your own destiny
Gamers who haven't had the chance to play the RPG's of old might feel a bit lost in the sea of options they face when creating a new character. And we're not even speaking about visual appearances, which is actually where Baldur's Gate shows its age. Instead of that, you define almost everything else about your character like in most D&D games: gender, race, class or profession, stats, and even moral (or immoral) alignment. You can even write up your own backstory should you wish, though probably only more serious gamers would do so, especially when it's not exactly easy to hammer out a story on a touchscreen. Luckily for those entirely new to the game and D&D, there are pre-made characters you can choose from to start you on your way.
In terms of appearance, however, BG offers very little in way of customizations. You get to pick hair color, skin color, and two clothing colors. You do get to select from a collection of character portraits, which are also quite limited, as well as some voices, but those used to character creation eye candy will most likely be left dissatisfied. But if you let your imagination do much of the work, then the "role-playing" part of this RPG will truly shine through.
A trip to the past
BGEE might be a remake, but it is not one that tries to shove an old game inside a totally new and different game engine. In terms of graphics, Beamdog's goal was focused more on making things work on modern displays with higher and more varied resolutions, giving things a touch up here and there only when necessary. What you get is the same 2D graphics and the same feeling that it evoked nearly two decades ago, except now scalable to widescreen or HD displays. You can zoom in using that oh so familiar pinching gesture, which is quite useful during battles. But you probably won't want to look to close as the pixelated reality of this remake will quickly be staring back at you.
Battles are played out in real time, with an option to pause whenever you need to, a mechanic now popularly referred to as "Real Time with Pause" or RTwP. Given that you can control as much as 6 characters in a full party and face sometimes an equal number of opponents, that is probably the only way to stay sane. While paused, you can direct each and every member of your group to fight a specific enemy, move to a certain spot, cast a certain spell, etc., all of which are only executed the moment you resume the flow of time. It might sound easy, but it is definitely not. Each character has a wide range of abilities you can call upon, limited only by the sacred rules of AD&D.
Heroes do fall
BGEE on Android is a good mobile port of a PC game, but alas it is far from perfect. Some issues are probably not within the grasp of the developers, but some are definitely items that could be resolved with a patch or so. While BGEE introduced some convenient ways to emulate the functionality of a mouse, not all of them are self-evident, especially if you're new to the world of Baldur's Gate. In the PC world, right-clicking on an item will popup more detailed, educational, and sometimes entertaining information about an item. We are all familiar with how a long press is the practical equivalent of a mouse right-click on our devices, but the game does not make mention of that anywhere, even in the somewhat buggy tutorial. Considering how that functionality is essential to gameplay, that's a rather big chunk of missing information.
Not everything is also easy to touch, especially on smaller screens, making the Android BGEE port feel more designed for tablets and not even for something as big as a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Icons are placed too close to each other and, in some cases, text is too small. This makes it harder to accurately interact with such items, which could lead to wrong taps and unintended choices. There is talk of some way to enlarge the fonts being used via a configuration file, but the developers have yet to document how exactly to do that, at least on Android.
Lastly, just hours before the rather silent launch of the game, the beta version that we had access to was still quite buggy. It crashed or didn't start at all, In some cases, it even corrupted game files after an update that supposedly fixed those other issues. The developers, fortunately, were quite quick in pushing out fixes and there have so far been no reports of severe bugs since the launch. Still, it was cutting it too close.
The price to pay
You heard the bad part, and now for the worse part. The game is quite expensive, standing at $9.99. That, however, is still quite low compared to the PC version at $19.99. It is still one of the more expensive games on Google Play Store right now, which might not be a problem for more seasoned gamers seeking to relive their adventures on the mobile devices. It may, however, discourage new ones from even trying it out. People might also raise their eyebrows at the mention of in-app purchases, but rest assured, the game that you are getting for that price is, by no means crippled or incomplete. The add-ons are just that, either additional portraits or voices or some optional campaigns that do not change the game but do add a bit of flavor on top.
There is also a cost when it comes to storage, as this game is a huge download. The total game takes up 2.3 GB of your device's memory, though the download can, fortunately, be paused and resumed.
A lamp to guide your path
If you've gotten this far, you might be interested in buying and playing the game. But before you do, here are a few tips and tricks you might want to take note of for a more enjoyable experience:
- Don't forget "right-click" functionality. Viewing items stats and information is essential in games like this, so best to remember how to do it even when the game forgets to tell you to.
- If you're new, take the tutorial. But, at the moment, it's quite buggy and you might get stuck. The best way is to use one of the pre-made characters to go through the tutorial and just make your own character before you start the main campaign.
- Backup your save games and character files before you update, given how some updates are quite destructive. See the next note on where to look for them.
- If you have BGEE on Steam already, you can actually share your saves and characters between your devices. Simply go to Android/data/com.beamdog.baldursgateenhancededition/files/ and copy the files in there. On Windows 8, the location would be in Documents\Baldur's Gate - Enhanced Edition\
Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition for Android is more than just a nod to the past. It is a sincere and well-executed attempt to bring a classic and beloved game to a new generation of devices and, by extension, a new generation of gamers. It may not be easy on the pocket and it may not possess the luscious graphics of today's triple A titles, but it can definitely boast of a quality that many games today have lost or are missing. With the rise of indie games and the renaissance of names, titles, and genres you might have only heard from Wikipedia, BGEE is an almost perfect poster boy for that movement, at least for RPGs. And best of all, now you can pick it up, put it down, and pick it up again whenever and wherever you want. It is your story after all, and you get to choose when and where you tell it.
Download: Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition