Sunday, January 9, 2011

Baldur's Gate, part 7: end of the vanilla game

Return to Candlekeep

Returning to Candlekeep at this point in the game really felt like a homecoming to me, since it has in fact been almost a year since I first started the game. I didn't actually remember who some of the characters were until they spoke and made some reference to the quests I had completed back at the beginning of the game (such as the lady who lost her book).

The whole conceit of Candlekeep doesn't quite hold up to scrutiny in my eyes. You step outside the gates, and immediately you're not allowed back in unless you can donate a very rare book to their library? Even though you grew up there? It's hard to imagine how life would work there under those conditions.

Winthrop the innkeeper showed pretty clear signs of never having been out in the world, though, since his first words on my return was to call out to hidden assassins to fire crossbows at me -- as a joke. Considering the assassination attempts that happened within Candlekeep before I left, and the death of Gorion, and of course the fact that I was in a well-armed group, that probably wasn't wise. I might have fallen for it, too, if the NPC project hadn't inserted tearfully sentimental dialogue from Imoen between his words and my response choices.

My first indication that something was wrong came when I visited the priest's house where the first assassination attempt had taken place. The priest was surrounded by dead cats, and he was acting strangely, as if possessed. He left without revealing himself due to my answer, so I didn't find out exactly what was going on until I ran into another suspicious figure in the library. This time, I questioned him more strongly, and he revealed himself as a doppelganger and attacked. Shortly thereafter, I was approached by a suspicious cloaked figure who knew a little too much about the details of what had happened the night of Gorion's death, and who insisted I have a ring as a gift. I took it, but threw it away and didn't use it. Still don't know what it would have done, but I'm sure it was cursed.

After some intrigue and plot twists (and some amusing embarrassing stories about my character's childhood told by an elderly couple in the library), I ended up in a new dungeon under Candlekeep, and again, I was glad for it! It was a very interesting dungeon, which included some sinister and potentially chilling implications. In here, there were doppelgangers of just about every NPC I had met at the beginning of the game in Candlekeep. Were all of these characters now dead? Is it necessary for them to be dead for these doppelgangers to take their forms? Since the game never lets you go back to Candlekeep, I never got to find out, but it's possible they were not dead, since doppelgangers of Elminster and Gorion even showed up. Gorion died in a more conventional way, and there were no doppelgangers around at that time, and I strongly doubt they had actually killed Elminster, so perhaps these were all doppelgangers who were preparing to take over the real people in Candlekeep, and hadn't yet done it.

Alora disappearing during arrest

I happened across a post on the Bioware forums that warned me about this shortly before it happened to me -- some kind of bug that causes Alora to disappear if she's in your party. It happens when you confront Angelo of the Flaming Fist in Chapter 7. Just before you're thrown in prison, Alora will say "I'm too young to die! [Charname], we've got to do something!" and then the scene switches to jail, whereupon she's no longer in your party. I'm guessing something dialogue-related is supposed to happen between those two events, and it's not happening for some reason (perhaps an expected party member is not present.) I don't think this bug is being taken seriously, because people assume it's actually the intended occurence where Angelo will randomly select someone to be killed on the spot if you choose a hostile dialogue response to him. This is not the case here, because Alora disappears without notice regardless of which response you pick. Choosing the hostile answer shows a random party member being killed, with their belongings on the floor and a grey picture in the party portraits, and this happens in addition to Alora disappearing from the party entirely.

I'm guessing this might be mod-related or Tutu-related, and that, combined with not everyone having Alora in their party anyway, may lead to the bug's lack of exposure. The workaround I used was to remove Alora from my party just before confronting Angelo, and returning to pick her back up after getting out of jail.

Duchal Palace fight challenging, and buggy

I encountered another more game-stopping bug at the Duchal Palace battle. The first time I did it, everything went smoothly. I killed all the enemies with no party members lost and both dukes still standing. The trouble was, nothing happened after that. I went around and tried to talk to the dukes and Sarevok, and they had generic responses. I went upstairs and all around, and nothing was happening. So I reloaded, didn't do quite as well that time (one of the dukes died), and this time the surviving duke (Duke Belt) initiated a conversation that progressed the plot once the battle was done. Well, that wasn't very ideal.

I played that battle several more times, to varying degrees of success, but any time both dukes lived, the game would get stuck. Only when Duke Belt was the only survivor did things progress as they should. He informed me of the fleeing Sarevok's destination (the ruins of the older city of Baldur's Gate, on top of which the current city is built), and I declined his offer to teleport me there, since I wasn't done looting the palace yet.

I'm a sorcerer priest

From what I understand, evil characters (below a certain reputation level) receive destructive abilities at the beginning of each chapter, while good characters receive healing ones. Up until chapter 7, I had only gotten Heal Minor Wounds and Slow Poison, but now that I've gotten Call Upon Holy Might, the "holy" part finally made me realise that these were all priest spells. The question is, do all gods control the healing and holy type spells? Even the Lord of Murder? So in D&D, it doesn't matter which god you're a priest of; as long as you're a priest, you get to use healing spells and have all the other specialties and restrictions of priests. How very...egalitarian of these gods.

Thieves' Guild Maze

The traps in the maze were spread so far apart, you might be lulled into carelessness, but I steadfastly had Imoen find and disarm all the traps down these long corridors. There were markings on the walls that I noticed next to the first set of traps, and saw them again when I got to the next set, but they were so conspicuously placed that I didn't trust them to be anything more than a more subtle 2nd-level trap to beat those who didn't get careless from the long distances between trap placement. Did Sarevok reset these traps when he passed through? Or did he somehow evade them without setting them off?

Anyway, the skeleton warriors and doom guards were pretty tough here, even one at a time, and I had to rest frequently. The maze, alas, was featureless and tedious.

When I got to Winky Pennyrate lying on the floor deep in the maze, his dialogue indicated that I was heading into the final showdown, and it occurred to me to wonder if I was missing anything by plowing on ahead, so I checked with the Dudleyville guide, and it advised me to delay the final battle until after I'd gone through the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion content. It seemed pretty narrative-breaking to go off and visit other locations just like that, since Sarevok was on the run and all, but the Tales of the Sword Coast manual explains that beating Sarevok ends the game, and if you want to play the expansion content even though you've already beaten him (without just loading up a save from before you fought him), it resets the final battle so that it hasn't happened yet. So one way or another, I'm leaving him down there to stew in his own stink until I've finished my tour of the expansion.

Expansion content

Several days have passed now, and I have completed the game. For the purpose of chronology, since I hadn't yet posted this or my notes about Tales of the Sword Coast, I've decided to describe my experience with Sarevok here, and deal with the expansion content afterwards.

Final battle with Sarevok

This was a very tough, challenging battle on Core Rules difficulty. I've heard it's made tougher if you have the expansion installed (which I do), and it's also tougher with Tutu, because Tutu limits the number of monster and skeleton summons you can have.

I think I attempted this battle almost 10 times before finally succeeding. It was mainly due to Angelo's explosive arrows, and it had be be cheating how often he was able to shoot them. I just kept seeing these rapidfire explosions, boom, boom, BOOM and dying over and over. I can't shoot arrows that fast! Sarevok resisted every single attempt I threw at him to paralyse him, make him sleep, or capture him in a web or a Resilient Sphere, even with his saving throws lowered with Greater Malaison, and he just kept chopping through my summons (and then Minsc and my other party members) faster than I could summon more while everyone else was getting creamed with fireballs (and I didn't have any fire resistance potions on hand, and didn't want to go all the way through that maze twice more to get some down there).

So, after reading up on some suggested strategies on the old forum, I finally beat it with this approach. I snuck up there just out of view, and threw a Dispel Magic up there. It said it worked, with all the names of the enemies showing "Dispel effects", but it didn't actually seem to make any difference at all. Two of them still had their cylinder and sphere shields, and Sarevok still ran around like Sonic the Hedgehog until I dispelled them again during the battle with Alora's magic-dispelling arrows (slower, since I had to do them one at a time, and sometimes she missed, but it was worth it not to dispel the beneficial buffs on my party).

Anyway, they didn't react to the dispel, so I just snuck Imoen up there stealthed until Sarevok spoke. His henchmen teleported down to the rest of my party as usual, but Sarevok didn't move since he didn't see anyone, so I was free to focus on the three stooges Tazok, Semaj, and Angelo. I had skeletons and 7 summoned monsters down there waiting for them (wands of monster summoning seem to be exempt from the summon limits), which kept them all busy, along with Minsc acting as a decoy protected by Otiluke's Resilient Sphere (which he sometimes resists, to my annoyance -- apparently that's another one of the changes caused by Tutu) and allowed everyone else to stand out of the way and let Alora shoot the dispels at them and let me and Edwin DPS them down and refresh the summons as they kept blowing themselves up shooting those detonation arrows at Minsc and the monsters standing right next to them. Imoen was hit by one of their confusion spells, though, so she was standing within range of the blast. I managed to draw her down with Viconia as a side effect of going up there to heal her. Confused Imoen started trying to attack her, so I had her chase Viconia out of range of the explosions, threw a heal on her and got out of her way (she didn't follow further to continue attacking).

For once, I got those three killed without losing a party member. In previous attempts, I had tried to win even after losing members, since Viconia could raise the dead using scrolls I'd been collecting for the purpose, but healing potions just don't heal enough at this level, and it takes too long to drink as many as you need while there's a battle going on. I'd like to see more than one "strength" of healing potion in this game, like in other games. You know I had to be desperate to beat this battle when I still tried plowing ahead even though Imoen died a permanent death in one of those earlier attempts.

So anyway, with just Sarevok left to fight, I was actually able to rest to relearn my spells and rebuff everyone, since I'm using a mod that lets you rest in most interiors as long as you're not in battle and enemies aren't within the field of view. It's possible I may have been able to win without resting, since I had plenty of healing potions on hand, but I really wanted to finish this game before school started again.

First, I softened him up by sending Edwin up there to throw fireballs, Alora to toss a potion of explosions (and ready her arrows of dispel and detonation), and Minsc to throw an oil of fiery burning. I myself started by casting a web, hoping to catch him in it so I could have Edwin cast Cloudkill, but as I mentioned before, he just strode right through the web. So everyone ran back down to the bottom of the screen (always avoiding the big trapped circle area in the centre that can't be disarmed) where I had more monsters and skeletons waiting for him. This time, Minsc stood out of the way, since he had resisted Otiluke's Resilient Sphere this time, and I just had Alora shoot arrows of biting at him, Viconia cast Firestrike from scrolls and the Wand of the Heavens, and Edwin and I shot magic missiles at him and refreshed the summons as Sarevok kept mowing them down, and finally it was all over.

I was treated to a final movie and credits for both vanilla and expansion Baldur's Gate, and then the title screen. I thought I would get a spoken epilogue like in the chapter breaks, or maybe a screen of text congratulating me, but no such luck. The ending movie was fine, but I really think a little textual or spoken story ending should have been in there.

I went and found some videos of the end of the game in the original (non-Tutu) engine, and I see that it was supposed to tell me something like "Sarevok has fallen. The battle is won!" (which isn't really much better of an ending) and then tell me about the final save. It did not tell me this, in fact, nor did it award me the XP I saw it award the player in the video. Perhaps that's what was supposed to be happening when it kept auto-pausing and saying "target gone". Not sure if this happens with Tutu all the time, or if it's a bug. After the Duchal Palace bug, Alora disappearing, this, and the bug I'll describe later from the expansion content, I believe I have the global variable bug I've read about, though I thought I had installed all the patches.

Ah well. It's done, and Baldur's Gate 2 awaits!

Final thoughts

What an incredibly long game! I first mentioned plans to review BG at the beginning of May 2010, but my earliest screenshots are dated from early January 2010, and here we are in January of 2011. The game saves themselves attest that it's been 346 days since I started the game. Admittedly, I took my time getting into it, with all the other games that also occupied my time (as well as school and other non-leisure concerns), so as a rough estimate, I'd guess I spent about 4 months playing this game, if I exclude the time spent playing other games. And it was a very fun ride. I really enjoyed the challenge and difficulty in the fights that I had to attempt multiple times trying different strategies.

Baldur's Gate 1 and its expansion had a very clear major theme of doppelgangers, both in the merchant's league questline and in Candlekeep, and the expansion continued that theme. It is a horrific and tragic thing to happen, and it was used effectively here, but I hope it doesn't continue into BG2, because any more of it and it'll get old.

It's interesting how much my perspective has changed over these years in regard to these games. As much as I may complain about modern RPGs now, now that I recognise most them as sickly shadows of their ancestors, I do have to thank them for introducing me, with training wheels, to a genre that I had shunned until recently. Perhaps as little as 3 or 4 years ago, whenever I saw images or video of a game in isometric view, with little coloured circles under the feet of the characters, I immediately lost interest. Modern "streamlined" RPGs serve their purpose as a sort of child's "My First RPG" to people like me who never got into them when they were really good, and they eased me into the genre painlessly. It's much like going to see a movie before reading the book it was based on. If you watch the movie first, you'll be more likely to enjoy it than if you read the book first, because the book is always better.

I saw people lamenting the passing of Troika at the time, but I never understood what had been lost. Now I do, and all I can hope is that enough independent developers rise to the occasion, to fill the niche that is being ignored by the larger companies, before I run out of good games from the past that I haven't played yet.

Next post, I'll talk about my impressions of the expansion.


  1. I recall Dungeon Siege being a little like this game, you could control a party of characters, pause the game, have a pack mule (which I loved) and very long ways before reaching safety and vendors. I just don't recall if the story was good or not, it was on my first years playing computer games RPGs, I had no idea what to kill first and which character to add or not to my party.

    What about Neverwinter Nights? I TRIED, but playability felt bad to me and I gave up very early. Now its cheap in all expansion packs and I wonder how it would feel today.

  2. I still have Dungeon Siege on my wish list, but I can wait. ^_^

    I also tried Neverwinter Nights, and I know it has a very large community of fans that have created thousands of new adventures for it, and improved the graphics.

    One of its more popular functions is the ability to have a mod where an actual human is acting as game master, setting up events and quests for your group as would be done in a pen and paper session. You play with a group of others online. So basically like an MMO, but with the quests handled by a person, and more role-playing involved.

    Anyway, it has to be better than the original campaign, because I played through the beginning part set in the Academy, and it was so incredibly dull and boring, in addition to being awkward to control.

    I might give it another chance after I've played my stack of games that I *know* are enjoyable. :)

  3. Some Morrowind mod news and the new Elder Scrolls game: