OK, so I know that this may sound a bit controversial but hear me out.
I love the idea of slow, low level questing in D&D – killing rats, doing menial jobs, getting in random but not world-changing adventures. I tried getting into BG1 for a few years now and I always put a few hours into it before quitting.
My biggest complaint is the fact that the world is simply too empty. There's not much going on in the wilderness and you can spend hours traveling back and forth, uncovering all parts of map without actually getting any rewards, be it in the form of unique items or just interesting stories. My imagination had to run wild and I had to make conscious effort to dream up reasoning behind my party's loitering. The cities aren't that much better – while the Baldur's Gate itself is impressive, especially for its time, there's too many places that aren't worth visiting: rooms without any loot, squares without quests or people to talk to.
I fully understand the idea behind it all: vast wilderness and buildings you can enter are there to create a sense of space and again, it's something I should actually love. Many of my many favourite pieces of media are slow and meandering, but they always stimulate your brain in some way, be it by the themes they convey or are just pleasant to look at.
I hate when in modern games everything is packed with content and each 30 seconds something HAS to happen, or the hyper-reactive crowd will quit, but on the other hand the problem with exploration in BG is that it's mind-numbingly boring. For your reference, my golden standard for exploration will always be Deus Ex, VTMB and New Vegas as they managed to strike a balance between those two extremes, having worlds that are dense (but not past belief) and reactive to players actions. What pains me is that the Forgotten Realms universe can be interesting as I found out by reading Baldur's Gate Manual (this was one of my attempts when I was trying to immerse myself a bit more), but it's not relayed to you in an interesting way whatsoever.
The other thing that disappointed me was lack of companion interactions (I felt they had a few, not especially deep, lines of dialogue and that was it) and the fact that the writing in general was very brief. Again, some games may get a bit too wordy (looking at you, Pillars of Eternity), but I need a good writing in order to engage with the world you are attempting to create.
Few days ago I said fuck it, watched the great BG retrospective by Chris Davis and jumped straight into Siege of Dragonspear as I heard it's been designed with more modern sensibilities in mind.
I won't say that I was blown away, but this time something clicked and I spent 25+ hours completing this expansion pack and having lots of fun, as most of my complaints were either addressed or recontextualized in some way.
The story and world? While not the most ambitious, they were definitely interesting. All the maps in SoD are dense but give you a nice sense of progression when you march towards the Dragonspear. The structure of the expansion is simple: you are on the road, you take stops, explore the close proximity of your encampment, do quests, find new allies, move forward – it's up to you if you want to take detours, but you always have a clear goal in mind. On top of that, your companions actually react to what's happening around them and, finally, aren't just an extension of your inventory. Whether those interactions are good or a bad is something that we could discuss at a different time, but I certainly wasn't bored!
The post is getting a bit long now, so one just one more thing: if you had issues with the lack of modern QoL features found in modern cRPGs, SoD definitely helped in easing me into how things worked back then. For example: in PoE2 when you find a locked chest, you click it and the party member with the highest lockpicking skill opens it automatically. Simple, right? Well, in BG you have to know which character is good at lock picking, select them, click the lock picking icon and then, finally, click the locked chest. As you can see, there are a couple of extra steps that you need to take and, at first, I felt that it was just too much of a work to bother with. The same procedure applies to using items in specific places and other parts of the interface and gameplay. While SoD does not change those, thanks to its modern pacing I was able to overlook that and, at some point, I facepalmed myself real hard and realised it's similar to point-and-click games, where I use items on items to get new items. Nothing more, nothing less, but thanks to that (and few other) mind-blowing revelation I was able to stomach stuff like that.
I'm moving on to BG2 and now, with better understanding of the core systems, I hope the transition back in time won't be that jarring. I know that the writing may be a bit different, but as long as the exploration and quests are good I think I'll have a wonderful time.
TL;DR: If you want to get into Baldur's Gate but find it exceptionally boring, watch a story recap and start with Siege of Dragonspear as it feels much more modern without actually losing what made BG special back in the day – the sense of adventure!
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