Twenty years ago, on this day, Baldur’s Gate was released for the first time. It was an immediate success and the first in a series of roleplaying games that made BioWare one of the biggest success stories in videogames for the next 15 years.
One saturday in the summer of 1999, I was absolutely, soul-crushingly bored. In my apathetic desperation, I got out my then small stack of game magazines to look for anything that looked halfway promising and that would get me through the weekend. The magazines all had one full page list of all the reviews from the past 12 months, listed by rating. And they all had this game called Baldur’s Gate near the very top. I had one of the issues that was referenced and so for the first time I didn’t flip past the section that was labed “Rollenspiele”. At first, I was quite doubtful.
Up to that point, fantasy didn’t really exist in my life. I had encountered a good number of childrens’ stories that could reasonably be called fantasy, and I had read The Lord of the Rings a few years before. I thought it was neat, but it didn’t really stick with me after having finished it. My world consisted of Star Trek and Star Wars – which at that point I still considered science fiction becuase space – and my collection of games was mostly made up of space combat and strategy games, and just recently Half-Life. Fantasy held no interest to me and even though the game magazines at the time always had a dedicated section for it, I didn’t even know what an RPG is.
However, at the end of the review was a little box giving the game something like an 89% or 93%, which was what had first gotten my attention. And next to it were little one- or two-sentence statements from the two reviewers who praised the game as the most amazing thing ever. That was enough to make me read the whole 5 page review (which for such magazines was huge), and the more I read the more I got intrigued. So I grabbed my money, got on my bike, and went off to the department store in town where I always bought my games.
And the game really didn’t disappoint. I was hooked right from the start and since then I never wanted anything else. From there on, fantasy was it! I got lots of other fantasy games over the following years, read piles of books, and got into tabletop games a year later. Baldur’s Gate was without any doubt the most important game in my entire life. At 15, I was probably highly susceptible to it, but there was more than that. I had already been getting into shoters and RTSs, but those never became a big part of my life. And I had been quite into science fiction, but that also faded away soon after.
But fantasy, that stayed with me. I can’t even imagine what person I would be today without my love for the fantastic. What would I be doing with all my creative energies? So I think it’s safe to say that encountering Baldur’s Gate was one of the most important events in my whole life. It was a turning point that set me on a completely different path from anything else I could have imagined.
Something I often wonder is whether this game is actually still that great? Of course it is for me, and always will be. But I have not played it in ages, and getting it running again these days can run into infuriating difficulties. And for anyone who doesn’t already love it, would it really be as fun as it was for us those decades ago? I don’t know. To anyone who has been wondering if the game is worth giving a try, I fully recommend doing so. But would I recommend it to people who aren’t already interested in it? Probably not.
But I am determined to give this game one more go. Quite possibly the last one. If it goes well, expect a proper any lengthy review of the game some point in the future. But don’t hold your breath, it’s a really long game.