Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast
(IDG) -- Interplay's Black Isle division scored a runaway hit with Baldur's Gate in late 1998. It swept the best RPG category in the majority of Web sites and magazines, garnered almost universal praise, and resurrected Advanced Dungeons & Dragons computer gaming. Now, a mere six months later, BI's released Tales of the Sword Coast, the first Baldur's Gate add-on.
But it isn't exactly an add-on in the conventional sense, nor is it a prequel or sequel. It's best described as a module, like those found for the AD&D pen-and-paper game. You see, Tales gives the existing gameworld a handful of new areas to explore--it interrupts the original story, rather than continuing it. And that's perhaps the only real complaint I can levy here: that the effect of playing TSC after Baldur's Gate is a bit jarring.
Why? Because the game pretends that the final battle with the evil Sarevok never happened. You can continue from a save-point prior to the final battle, playing your original group, or you can play from a handy save-point provided by Black Isle (and play their characters instead). When you find Sarevok again, you'll have to kill him again, but you and he will be much more powerful by then.
The new areas do have a lot to offer: the experience-point cap has been removed (9th-level characters are now possible, giving Priests and Mages access to 5th-level spells!), and a small handful of new beasties appear. If anything, this is a bonus to players who haven't finished BG yet, those who haven't played the game at all, or anyone who just wants to play the game some more.
TSC's gameplay is the same as Baldur's Gate's, but with more areas to explore. Nothing much is changed: Black Isle claims the pathfinding is better this time out, but I found it just as frustrating as before. Oddly, if you use the pre-made party, you get an additional formation in which all characters follow the leader of the group, which works fairly well. Unfortunately, you won't find this option if you use your existing group.
The new areas are fairly intimidating difficulty-wise, and once again a thief is absolutely necessary for navigating the trap-ridden dungeons. Expect to deal with more enemy adventurers as well, given that the new monsters are simply variations on pre-existing ones. This add-on really needs something truly new--a dragon or something. I got sick of fighting greater doppelgangers the first time around!
But we still have the familiar isometric perspective, the handy pause key, and the almost pinpoint-accurate AD&D rules system to play with. I thought that BG sported the best RPG interface in existence, and I still believe that now.
The visuals are still gorgeous most of the time, though they're still somewhat grainy, too. Still no 3D acceleration, but the magic effects have been improved: for example, the web spell now works less like an explosion and more like a sticky mass.
The same music as last time, and no voice-overs for the story sequences whatsoever. Your party still says the same things, as do the monsters.
Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10
Sword Coast is Baldur's Gate through and through, offering the same gameplay value, but with 20 to 30 more hours of play. Best of all, if you want to start the game over, now is the time to do it: all the new areas are accessible to you once you feel powerful enough to tackle them.
The best AD&D RPG just got a little bigger, though not necessarily better. Suffice it to say, if you're a BG fan, you'll want this addition.
I recommend performing the new quests in this order: Begin with the unavoidable quest found in Ulgoth's Beard (your starting location), then explore the Baldurian Isles, then tackle Durlag's Tower. This sequence provides a nice difficulty curve.
Create your own portraits and sound files if you don't like the ones included with the game. It can get annoying hearing those sound bits over and over again.
Assign everyone a missile weapon and then, as the enemy approaches, give the brawny guys their big weapons. Softening up your foes before melee.
Baiting/ambush tactics work well. Take a fleet-of-foot character and use him to explore the map, drawing powerful creatures into a nice spell ambush.
Episode I Racer feels rushed-to-market
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