You Have Been Waylaid By Space Ships And Must Defend Yourself!
Long, long, ago, a rare thing happened. I was hooked on a game series. Not hooked in a "This is fun, I really want to play the whole game" sense, but hooked, more in a "Withdrawal setting in...need my next fix...I'll go outside again in a few months" sort of way. The series was the classic Baldur's Gate series set in Forgotten Realms universe of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons world. The game provided the longest, deepest, most nuanced role-playing story environment seen. With its isometric pre-rendered gameplay, ridiculously complex skill trees and inventories, long dialogs and events it represented a new kind of computer role-playing game. With its colorful characters, personal involvement, sweeping environments, engrossing mysteries, dialogue interaction, and quirky but highly tactical gameplay it was sure to become a hardcore addiction for anyone with the patience to learn it. And the resolve to put up with its disturbing level of difficulty. By the end of the first game, the difficulty had become so complex for my poor little mage, I ended up having to hack the save games to give myself 200 fireball scrolls for the final battle with end boss Sarevok (surprisingly, not a Vulcan.) Even with that I had difficulty beating him.
This game however cemented Bioware as the premier role-playing designer, and brought the AD&D worlds into a renaissance on the PC. Using the Infinity engine, Black Isle Studios made a few of their own legendary titles in the vein of the Bioware classic. Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale II certainly picked up the torch, but failed to meet the RPG scope of the bastion title. Baldur's Gate II and its expansion Throne of Bhaal finished up the Time of Troubles storyline with a bang, making for an even bigger adventure with more dialog, more set pieces, and more detail. And then the Interplay controversy began. Ironically my two reigning personal favorite games of all time, Baldur's Gate II and Volition's Freespace 2 were the two victims. As Interplay lost stability it fell behind on royalty payments on these titles leading to a financial mess, and eventually the departure of Bioware from long-time partner Black Isle, and eventually the demise of Black Isle.
Bioware returned with its second legendary series, Knights of the Old Republic, set in the Star Wars universe, creating two models of RPGs each with loyalist fans. Their eventual return to fantasy role play resulted in a mixed bag. Neverwinter Nights was an entirely different game, and in many ways, a complete miss. The campaign was short, linear, and little more than a dungeon crawl. The new engine, though 3D, felt limited next to the classic Infinity engine, and the game was more of a DIY toolkit for RPG games than a full game. Still, it remains one of the best examples of a community driven MMORPG. The sequel, Neverwinter Nights 2, and its expansions were instead delegated to a new studio, Obsidian Entertainment who handled the Knights of the Old Republic sequel in a famously truncated endeavor. Despite engine flaws, Obsidian's efforts managed to trump Bioware's offering for the long-time fans. The return to a proper isometric camera angle, party system, dialog driven gameplay, complex inventory, and mysteries to solve was as close to the old Baldur's Gate that we'd been in a while. As it should: Obsidian was formed mainly by former Black Isle employees. Good as the Obsidian titles were, there was something about the classic Bioware formula that was missing.
After a few console-only releases, namely Jade Empire and Mass Effect, the spiritual successor to Knights of the Old Republic, the news we'd all been waiting for and thought impossible returned. The spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate was announced: Dragon Age. The sordid tale doesn't end here, however. After one delay already, the unthinkable happened: Bioware was purchased by EA Games. With the announcement of console ports being added to the mix, the release was delayed yet again...
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