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Game On: Nostalgia can get in the way of a good time

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 11, 2021

Baldur’s Gate III is a Dungeons & Dragons-based RPG available in part via early access on Mac and Windows PC via Steam and Good Old Games, as well as streaming service Google Stadia.  (Larian Studios)
Baldur’s Gate III is a Dungeons & Dragons-based RPG available in part via early access on Mac and Windows PC via Steam and Good Old Games, as well as streaming service Google Stadia. (Larian Studios)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

I’ve played a lot of good video games lately, but it’s been almost a year since I played one that truly wowed me. Some of that can be attributed to the slow trickle of new games in 2021 due to the pandemic forcing studios to transition to working from home in 2020, which led to a plethora of game delays – but there’s also the issue that entire genres have been practically ruined by already having played what feels like the perfect game.

For me, the worst offender is Baldur’s Gate, a Dungeons & Dragons-based saga released from 1998-2001. In the years that followed, there have been dozens of role-playing games lauded as near-perfect products by critics and consumers alike – the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, the Witcher, Dragon Age and so on. I’ve dipped my toes into these and many more, and I’ve always grown disinterested.

That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed other RPGs – I love Darkest Dungeon, Shining Force and the Legend of Dragoon. But for me, all of them fall flat against Baldur’s Gate. I find the character development, world-building and seamless transition from exploration to combat to be unrivaled to this day – all trademarks of a good RPG.

While I’m happy to return to a great game time and again, I also wish I could get into the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or the Witcher III the same way millions of gamers do. I would never tell anyone those are weak or unworthy games – they just don’t click with me and, unfortunately, I can’t shake the feeling that my potential enjoyment is hampered by Baldur’s Gate.

Nostalgia surely plays a factor since I grew up playing the series from a very young age. I had lower expectations of video games, access to far fewer titles, and my taste profile was still developing. Today, a lot of fantasy RPGs feel remarkably similar to me and don’t hold my interest the way Baldur’s Gate always has.

So, when Baldur’s Gate III was announced in 2019, you can probably imagine my excitement. Throne of Bhaal, the final chapter of Baldur’s Gate, was released in 2001, and the series has been dormant ever since. Not for lack of demand – Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn holds a score of 95/100 on Metacritic from 30 critic reviews.

It’s in the top 50 highest-rated video games of all time. So why the hiatus? Black Isle Studios began work on Baldur’s Gate III: The Black Hound in 2002, but it was silently canceled in 2003.

The intellectual property belongs to Wizards of the Coast, the subsidiary of Hasbro that owns Dungeons & Dragons, and the publisher seems to understand the saga’s legendary status since it turned down inXile Entertainment, Obsidian Entertainment and even Beamdog despite allowing them to create the expansion Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear in 2016.

Wizards of the Coast finally offered the rights to Larian Studios after seeing the success of Divinity: Original Sin and its sequel, which are isometric fantasy RPGs that draw clear inspiration from Baldur’s Gate. Unfortunately, I’d argue Baldur’s Gate III is also inspired by, but not exactly, Baldur’s Gate.

In the nearly two decades that have passed between entries, technology and taste have changed substantially – walls of silent, text-based dialogue are not typically well-received, and the “real time with pause” mechanic central to the original saga’s gameplay has gone out of vogue. The third entry will be turn-based with fully voiced dialogue.

The spoiled brat in me wants another game just like my favorite childhood RPG, but then again, Siege of Dragonspear endeavored to be just that, and it didn’t pan out. While there’s no denying that Baldur’s Gate III will be very different from its predecessors, many of the changes might actually be for the better.

The game is in early access on Mac and Windows PC via Steam and Good Old Games, but I’ll be waiting to play the finished product upon release in 2022. I’ll try to keep an open mind when I do – maybe then it’ll wow me.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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