It’s a different approach, but it works pretty well thematically with the idea of hunting Caelar Argent’s army. And you’re rewarded for exploring. Having replayed Baldur’s Gate, there’s a stark difference in density between the original game and Siege of Dragonspear. There’s a lot of empty space in the old maps, areas with maybe one important building (the Temple map) or person. Siege of Dragonspear has fewer maps but they feel better designed, more colorful, more lively.
That’s also, in part, because Siege of Dragonspear does things that simply weren’t possible in 1998. The largest enemy encounters in Baldur’s Gate were typically six-on-six, and most of the time you were facing clones of the same enemy. A particularly crazy battle might be six-on-ten. Now take a look at this screenshot:
This isn’t a rarity in Siege of Dragonspear. There are at least two major battles in the expansion, each encompassing groups of maybe thirty NPCs per side. It’s hectic, to the point where there’s a new graphics toggle to highlight your own characters and make them stand out from the fray a bit better.
And there are actual crowd scenes. And dozens of in-engine cutscenes. It’s a level of polish and spectacle that, as I said, simply wasn’t possible when the original game was built—but since it’s built out using the same engine and assets, it blends (mostly) seamlessly with Baldur’s Gate proper. If anything, it’s one of those “Siege of Dragonspear looks like you remember the original game looking” scenarios.
Oh, and in regards to the larger encounters: They can be hard as hell, at least if you’re playing on the original “Core Rules” setting. Way more difficult than normal encounters in Baldur’s Gate. And again, I say that having literally just played through the entirety of both back-to-back.
You can duck the difficulty though, and those who just want to see what Baldur’s Gate is all about now have access to “Story Mode,” which maxes out all your stats and turns off permadeath. Then you don’t even need to worry about THAC0. Other hacked-in improvements include the Bag of Holding, Potion Bags, and Ammo Belts to make inventory management a bit easier. And in case you couldn’t tell from the screenshots: The entire UI received a facelift.
New journey, old friends. I don’t know what possessed Beamdog to make Siege of Dragonspear an expansion to the original game, nor do I know what devil’s pact coerced them into making it thirty-odd hours long. It’s insanity.
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