Beamdog Tagged Articles RSS Feed | Beamdog RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Enough With the Enhanced Editions Already Beamdog! Just Stop! Wed, 05 Apr 2017 12:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

I maintain to this day that Planescape: Torment is still, bar none, the best RPG to have ever been released.

It's certainly the best written, with the most interesting characters and story this side of the multiverse. More modern quasi-RPGs like Skyrim don't even hold a candle to Black Isle's crowning achievement.

A succubus who runs a brothel where only intellectual lusts are sated, a suit of armor animated through unwavering belief in the force of law, a psychotic wizard who tried to burn down a city and was punished by becoming a human lamp for a dingy bar: Torment always had something unique up its sleeve that made you keep playing hour after hour.

RPGs now, RPGs then, nostalgia gogglesKudos to the particularly on-point memeologist who put this together...

Considering my borderline-worshipful level of adoration for Torment and overall love for the Planescape setting in general, you'd think I'd be stoked about a whole new version of the game arriving... right? Well, maybe not, because we've got to consider who is doing the releasing and just what exactly was changed.

Enhancing or Repackaging?

Torment isn't Beamdog's first enhancement rodeo, having released updated versions of nearly all the Infinity Engine games now, to varying results. The Baldur's Gate saga for instance got some tweaks that actually improved on an aging engine like allowing more arrows to be stacked together than in the original, updating certain AD&D rules to be more clear and less frustrating, and adding new companions.

Not all the changes were welcome, however. Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition swapped out the opening cutscene of Sarevok throwing a fellow Bhaalspawn off a roof, with something that actually looked worse than a 20 year old cinematic (and THAT takes effort).

Many new bugs were added into the engine as well, with a lot more crashes, and the changes overall weren't much better than the huge number of fan mods released throughout the years.

Offering even fewer changes and upgrades this time around than ever before, Torment is is the most blatantly half-baked Enhanced Edition yet with such a minimum of effort applied that it's sort of appalling Beamdog is actually charging money for the end result.

The main difference on display is a suite of visual "enhancements," which if you've played the other Enhanced Editions, you'll know won't actually be upgrades. The entirely unnecessary zoom feature -- rather than allowing for screen resolution changes in the options -- results in a visual experience that's somehow even lower quality than the original 18 year old game.

You'll be endlessly zooming in and out to find the right setting for any given map, when the original areas managed to look just fine without this distracting feature. The black pixels added around sprites further manage to make characters look even more jagged than they did originally.

The new quick looting feature is neat however -- especially when dealing with lots of corpses on the ground all in a small area -- and some of the UI is a little less cluttered, but on the whole there's nothing here that hasn't been done already by fan modders, with the possible exception of now having Torment available on your Android device.

A Startling Lack Of Content

What's truly baffling is what isn't included in this new edition: like the fan-made Unfinished Business mod that restored missing quest lines and re-implemented cut dialog. If you're going to give us a new edition of the game with reams of text re-edited by Chris Avellone, why not add in things we haven't seen or read before?

Nothing legitimately new was included on the character, item, dialog, map, or story fronts. The lack of added content while charging more for the game than normal is difficult to justify, with images like the one below making the rounds across the various gaming forums:

 It's hard to argue with this...

On the other hand, it may actually be better that they didn't add anything new. We weren't exactly thrilled here at Gameskinny with Beamdog's original content in the SIege Of Dragonspear offering, and it seems like the rest of the gaming world wasn't having any of it either.

While nostalgia was on tap by the bucketful and there was fun to be had for Baldur's Gate fanatics, the writing just wasn't up to par. Simply put, Siege Of Dragonspear offered the mechanics of Baldur's Gate without the soul, and it seems unlikely this team could have given us characters or stories up to snuff that would match the oddity and style of Torment.

A Declining IP

The lazy Enhanced Editions, much like the sub-par PC ports of classic Final Fantasy games, is only one symptom of a franchise that feels like it's on its last legs.

A disturbing lack of effort has been a recurring problem of late with Dungeons and Dragons branded games. Frankly, it feels like Wizard of the Coast has just given up and has no interest in creating compelling stories or captivating games anymore, instead giving us shallow drek like Sword Coast Legends and an endless stream of re-releases.

Of particular concern is that these new Enhanced Editions are now replacing the originals rather than being an available option. Seriously, navigate over to Steam or GOG and search for Baldur's Gate. Guess what? You can't buy the superior original versions anymore -- only the Enhanced Editions are up for sale.

Unless you bought the original editions previously on digital platforms or have the discs from way back when, it's now becoming next to impossible to experience the games as they were released.

Neverwinter nights complete, posterSomehow it's been 11 years since the last legitimately worthwhile D&D game!

Time For Something New

Having now artlessly vivisected the corpses of several truly classic games, and having even released an Infinity Engine expansion set between Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II, the question has to be asked: why not create an entirely new game?

Siege Of Dragonspear may not have been well received, but lessons can be learned there to improve on future releases, so why keep making minor tweaks to existing games as a business model rather than actually creating content?

There's gamers out there who want old school titles, and they are willing to pay for them. Plenty of developers are keeping the lights on solely by releasing new material in classic cRPG style and without just making small changes to existing games. Underrail immediately springs to mind, having resurrected the original Fallout style to critical acclaim and with a small indie team on a limited budget.

      If a game that looks like this can make money in 2017, there's really no excuse for always riding on an another developer's coat tails...

Age Of Decadence is as retro as they come and is consistently covered in praise. Divinity: Original Sin met wild success utilizing an exclusively old-school formula. I Am Setsuna was essentially an updated SNES RPG and it was among the most anticipated games of 2016.

Obsidian and inXile figured out crowd funding could result in classic games being profitable, with Pillars Of Eternity and Tyranny directly mimicking the Infinity Engine style and Wasteland 2 updating a 25 year old classic into a modern setting. The Torment name and style itself was resurrected with the recently-released Tides Of Numenera.

With Beamdog running out of Infinity Engine games to mildly mod and re-release, where else is there to go besides trying something original?

Sound off below -- do you feel the Enhanced Edition of Torment is worth $19.99, and have you been satisfied with Beamdog's re-packaging of classic Infinity Engine games?

For me, it's a hard pass on re-buying a game I already own with worse aesthetics and a handful of free mods pre-installed.

Beamdog President pleads with players to leave positive reviews for Baldur's Gate expansion amid "social justice" controversy Mon, 04 Apr 2016 07:34:05 -0400 Scott Simpson

Trent Oster, President of game studio Beamdog, has taken to the company forums to ask players of Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear a "favour", to leave positive reviews to try and cancel out the negative feedback left on Steam, GOG and Metacritic. He hopes fans of the expansion for the enhanced edition of the original Baldur's Gate will help to "balance out the loud minority which is currently painting a dark picture for new players", who he claims are giving the expansion bad scores as the result of "having a transgendered cleric and a joke line by Minsc [which] has greatly offended the sensibilities of some people."

Is that the real reason for the game's poor user reviews though? They say there's two sides to every story, and taking a closer look at this negative feedback paints a different picture.

While there certainly are cases of users of the aforementioned digital distribution platforms posting reviews purely out of malice, especially on Metacritic it seems, the majority of critical feedback appears to be concerned with a number of bugs in the game, broken multiplayer, issues with the UI and visuals, poor writing, and the game's linearity, among other things.

When it comes to the issues specificially mentioned by Oster, players seem to have a lot more valid criticisms than he proposes. Many explicitly explain that their issue is not with having a transgender character, but with the ham-fisted approach with which they are introduced to the game, and the stereotypical way in which they and other characters are depicted.

Others point out that the purpose of playing a game in a medieval fantasy setting is to escape the realities of the modern world, not be beaten over the head by gender politics and 4th wall breaking jokes.

Accusations of unnecessarily shoe-horning in political ideologies aren't really helped when the game's writer, Amber Scott, can herself can be quoted as saying:

"I consciously add as much diversity as I can to my writing and I don't care if people think that's "forced" or fake. I find choosing to write from a straight default just as artificial. I'm happy to be an SJW and I hope to write many Social Justice Games in the future."

In addition, some recurring characters from Baldur's Gate have had their personalities altered to appear less "sexist", or, as Scott puts it in an interview with Kotaku, have been given "a way better personality upgrade", going on to add, "...if people don’t like that, then too bad". It's not hard to see why this would draw considerable ire from fans of the original game.

The whole situation raises questions about Beamdog. Even if there is an active campaign to try and tarnish Siege of Dragonspear's review scores, is it really appropriate for a developer or publisher to plead with fans to actively go out and leave positive reviews for their games? Do they have the right to so freely alter established characters from a much loved game to fit with their own social ideologies? And are the company just trying to capitalize on the controversy by asking gamers to overlook the game's legitimate criticisms and give positive feedback under the guise of trying to balance things out?

What are your thoughts on the situation? Do you have sympathy with Beamdog? Or do you think the criticisms aimed against Siege of Dragonspear and the company's reaction to it are fair? Let us know your views in the comments below.

Baldur's Gate: Siege Of Dragonspear offers nostalgia and disappointment in even measure Thu, 31 Mar 2016 11:20:53 -0400 Ty Arthur

With the smash crowd funding success of retro resurgence titles like Pillars Of Eternity and Wasteland 2, it shouldn't come as much surprise that a developer would return directly to the sacred wellspring that is the Baldur's Gate series. Following enhanced editions of the main two games in the series, Beamdog / Overhaul Games now gives us a legitimately new Baldur's Gate entry.

Somewhere between an expansion and a full game, Siege Of Dragonspear bridges the gap between parts 1 and 2, letting us finally know what occurred between Sarevok's defeat and the Bhaal-spawn's capture by Irenicus.

Graphical Changes

Before getting into the story or gameplay updates, one element of the “enhanced edition” that needs to be addressed immediately for any potential player is the graphical overhaul, which unfortunately is less than ideal. You have essentially three options. You can zoom down to near where the original game camera was, in which case you get this horrifingly fugly monstrosity:

How did they manage to make the sprites look WORSE than they did 17 years ago?

Or you can zoom way, way, way, way out to avoid the blurry, pixelated mess, resulting in something that seems like a joke:

How the hell am I even supposed to play like this?

Or you can endlessly search for the perfect in-between zoom, which won't really lead to fully satisfying results on either the graphics or the gameplay side, but at least won't look completely horrendous.

It'll do.

I'm not sure what prompted the change in the graphics and the ability to zoom rather than selecting a screen resolution, but it wasn't necessary. Although very dated, Baldur's Gate and its sequel have an iconic style that didn't really need a revamp, especially for people going out of their way to buy an expansion for a game of this age.

Old And New Collide

Moving beyond that, let's dive into less unsatisfying aspects. Lots of familiar faces return and interact with one another in new ways, and in some cases even the original voice actors have been brought back on board. Get to ready to feel all kinds of nostalgic when you hear Minsc or Imoen's new lines.

As an in-between title, Siege Of Dragonspear offers some missing insight into what led to all the jarring changes in characters that occurred in Baldur's Gate 2, like watching Iomen's training as a mage. Beamdog actually managed to weave the RPG mechanics into the story here, with Imoen sitting out parts of the adventure (since she doesn't have full access to thief or mage abilities until her two classes line up in level due to the old AD&D dual classing rules).

Near the start of the story, your Bhaal-spawn hero also comes across someone who very much appears to be Irenicus and is very interested in your divine blood, laying the foundation for what is to come in the next game.

You don't fool us, "hooded man!"

It's a fun trip down memory lane (with the added bonus of being totally new content!) to see party members from previous iterations of the game interact with one another as you go around recruiting followers to join a new quest.

Not all of them will join you however, and many of them have thoughts of their own on how to tackles issues, which they aren't timid about sharing. The thief Safana for instance isn't fond of traversing the jail in the Flaming Fist headquarters, while Minsc retains his devotion to only travelling with Dynaheir.

Changes To The Formula

Plenty of changes to the Baldur's Gate UI you know and love have been added in with both the earlier enhanced edition and now with Siege Of Dragonspear.

Some of the updates are welcome: “current” and “new” columns make the archaic 2nd edition AD&D rules more clear for how equipment and spells will affect your armor class, for instance, and it is now much more obvious which magical protection effects stack and which don't.

That really should have been there from the beginning, Black Isle!

Another nice update is that a yellow highlight lets you know which characters can use an item or weapon you've selected. You now also have the ability to scribe notes you find, so you don't have to leave them in your inventory, while the quest screen has neatly been cleaned up and is more intuitive.

Other changes aren't going to go over as well for the purists who still replay the original regularly, however. The health bars above everyone really ruins the Baldur's Gate feel (although they can thankfully be toggled off).

Some obvious changes are also missing but feel like they should have been added in the updates to a new edition – like a radius to show you where an area effect spell like entangle or fireball will strike.

Health bars?

New Class And Companions

It's interesting to see a new class get added, since the game still uses a long out-of-print ruleset. In addition to all the classes and kits from the previous BG games, you can now roll up a shaman, which is essentially the sorcerer equivalent of a druid.

Where the class really diverges is in its main ability to summon spirit animal companions to fight for you every round, indefinitely – so long as you don't move or attack. It makes for a better back row class than front line fighter, but it does offer some very interesting tactical opportunities.

Trying out the Shaman class

Unlike with Baldur's Gate 2, which only played at non-human party members by pretending Aerie was an avariel who just happened to not have wings, here we actually get goblin and gnoll companions in addition to the old familiar party members.

Siege Of Dragonspear's Dialog

While I'm enjoying the new class and party member options, I'm much less enamored with the dialog in general, with a few exceptions. The writing overall isn't quite up to par with iconic Infinity Engine games (very much in keeping with Wizards Of The Coast video game style in the last decade or so, unfortunately).

There are mostly three response types in any situation:

  • I'm the roving altruist paladin who will do whatever is asked of me by any random stranger I come across
  • Something snarky or juvenile for comic relief to simulate the chaotic neutral mindset
  • An uncaring answer that expresses an unbridled desire for power, revenge, or immediate gratification

Of course, all three will typically lead to the same outcome, or if you take the third option, you'll just have to start the conversation over again to pick up the quest. You can't really join a plot to overthrow the dukes and take over the city for instance – you can only pretend to join and then alert the authorities.

One instance of actual choice does pop up when you finally leave Baldur's Gate, however, forcing you to decide whether to tell the crowd you are a Bhaalspawn like Sarevok or to reassure them with comforting lies. It's unclear yet if this will have any impact on the game's story, but I'm glad the choice was there at least.

A hero's departure or being run out by a booing mob? Choice is yours.

To be fair, some of the dialog made me smile and fondly remember playing the first game in my youth, and there were some interesting backstory elements added in, like meeting Corwin's daughter and grandfather. Several of the silly or tongue-in-cheek conversations had me realizing as an adult that I crave something more mature in my RPGs, though.

To be blunt, Skie is pretty actively annoying. Several of the voice actors also go for over-the-top British or French accents, which really took me out of the setting (Faerun isn't Europe guys).

The worst offender had to be Zoviak, who does a full-on Kenau Reeves “Woah” repeatedly, then talks like a totally tubular stoned surfer from the '90s. I get that they were trying for the classic Minsc comic relief, but for me it fell flat.

Just... no.

Continuing The Story

The expansion opens by having your hero and some old companions wrapping up the remains of Sarevok's followers by taking out his final wizard lieutenant in an old tomb.

After that introductory dungeon delve all returns to normal for a time... until assassin's strike at you again, forcing you to move on in an echo of the storyline of the first Baldur's Gate.

There will be time to explore various areas of the revamped city before joining the siege to stop the Shining Lady's crusade. One way in which Beamdog improved on the formula is that Baldur's Gate itself now feels much more alive, with many more NPCs on the screen going about their business. The areas in general tend to be much smaller this time around, however.

The city is bursting with refugees

Before triumphantly leaving the city to stop yet another Realms-shaking child of a god, there's Fedex quests galore, which seems like an odd choice for this entry in the series. Everyone you meet asks “the hero of Baldur's Gate” to go on menial fetch quests: get my pouch from upstairs, go ask the Fist to send me more men, take this delivery to the moneylender, etc.

That by-the-numbers approach extends to the quest resolutions as well. Expect lots of this scenario: “You did something super altruistic and went above and beyond? Here's this extra reward I had stashed that I didn't tell you about before. Man you are a real hero!” Thankfully, that does change a bit as you get further into the story.

The Bottom Line

Anyone who loved the original Baldur's Gate through Throne Of Bhaal should of course pick up Siege Of Dragonspear despite the flaws.

While there are disappointments (and I suppose there would have to be when dealing with more than a decade of waiting for a new game), this long-awaited expansion definitely has highlights as well, and it is growing on me the longer I play.

Unfortunately, it just doesn't manage to live up to the quality of the games that came before, and I can't see it ever really taking its place among the hallowed original Infinity Engine games.

Gather your party and venture forth!