Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition for iPad review - it's THAC0 time

Old-school role-playing game fans will have noticed Baldur’s Gate launching on iPad last week. The Dungeons & Dragons classic has suffered a few delays, which isn’t entirely unexpected when porting an older PC game to an entirely new operating system.

Baldur’s Gate follows the story of an orphan who is rushed out from his home by his caretaker, who is promptly killed outside the city by a mysterious armored figure and a band of mercenaries. Your character has to then start piecing together the mystery of his murder by enlisting the aid of fellow adventurers along the road. Before long, you’re looking into a strange iron shortage which is plaguing the region and ultimately tied to your guardian’s death. The game also includes The Black Pits, which follows a group that has been abducted to fight in an underworld gladiatorial arena.

The classic RPG mechanics are all here; go on quests, kill monsters, earn loot, get experience points, level up, unlock new abilities, rinse, repeat. The controls are mostly well-adapted from the PC version, though I have experienced a few hiccups. It’s clear that the precision of a mouse is sometimes needed to accurately tap on entrances to new areas or corpses to loot. Often, I’ve had to pinch to zoom in a few times to get close enough to tap accurately. There are also a few performance hiccups, such as the keyboard summoning when you tap into the Journal section, and parts of the UI temporarily disappearing when you switch between apps. On the plus side, there’s multi-player available through good ol’ direct IP, with plans for a more streamlined cross-platform multiplayer experience soon.

The “Enhanced” part of this version of Baldur’s Gate seems to primarily mean fresh cutscenes peppered throughout the game, though putting them at the beginning every time you load up is a bit excessive. The developer also squashed over 400 bugs from the original game, and added in classes and races that were previously only available in Baldur’s Gate 2.

There are plenty of dialog options throughout the game which have very real consequences in how events pan out. If you’re particularly snarky to some stranger on the road, they may decide to attack you. If you manage to bribe an assassin, they may provide some information on who hired them to kill you. The winding storyline is as solid as ever, and a hallmark of the game’s original creator, BioWare. There are a lot of interesting paths to take on the dialog front, but the real action is in combat.

Encounters with bad guys are fast and furious, often requiring players to pause, line up actions for each character, unpause, see how they resolve, and designate another set of actions. This can feel a little clunky for many, but adds a ton of depth to combat.I don’t know if games were harder when I was younger, or if I’ve gone soft in my old age, but Baldur’s Gate can be really, really difficult. If your character dies at any point, you have to re-load from your last save point. Characters can be killed very easily if you don’t take your time and carefully plan out attacks and are amply prepared with potions and characters with healing classes.

The game’s graphics are a mixed bag. Character portraits are still gorgeous and plentiful, but the animation and actual character sprites are a little chunky, especially when zoomed in. It would have been great to see at least character assets re-rendered in 3D, but that might have looked out of place with the rest of the world. The audio is still fantastic, particularly the voice acting. Every character has a ton of personality, though certain canned responses get a touch repetitive. The background music is also great, and easily makes up for the scenery’s lack of fidelity.

Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition costs $9.99, which is a little on the steep side, plus they’re trying to sell portrait packs, voice packs, and new characters for $2.99. Those that succumb to nostalgia probably won’t bat an eyelash at spending over fifteen bucks for Baldur’s Gate and the extras, but anyone else won’t be so easily persuaded.

The good

  • Superb voice acting and writing
  • Classic, challenging RPG action

The bad

  • Dated graphics
  • Controls could use a bit more touch optimization
  • Relatively high pricetag

The bottom line

Though some of Baldur’s Gate’s relics sort of get in the way of gameplay, such as obscure D&D mechanics, mouse-optimized controls, and dated graphics, the spirit of the game still holds a ton of appeal. Rich character portraits and top-notch voice acting deliver convincing personalities, whileintense background music and steep difficulty curve can create truly gripping combat experiences. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is a fine example of bringing classic franchises back to life on mobile; I just can’t wait until Baldur’s Gate 2 comes out for iOS.

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Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.