Two legendary games, one great package – at least, that's the idea for Beamdog's collection of the seminal BioWare-developed Baldur's Gate titles. Unfortunately, the reality of playing these titles some two decades on from their original release, on platforms they were never intended for, undermines the quality of the games themselves.
This console port brings together both the complete first game, originally released for PC in the misty days of yore known as 1998, its 2000 sequel, Shadows of Amn, and all DLC for both games – including the new Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear adventure, created by Beamdog in 2016 to bridge the gap between the two. That's quite the timeline, complicated further by the fact that the Enhanced Edition versions came to PC back in 2012, and it's those versions that serve as basis for the Xbox One, PS4, and Switch releases.
The fact that these are ports of a port of an upgrade is the core of all its problems. These aren't remasters or remakes as the average console player may understand them – while text has been updated to be legible on high definition screens, the visuals still betray their 20 years, as does the top-down, isometric display. While newcomers might expect the 2016 expansion to look a bit more polished, it instead caters more to purists, still looking jagged and blurry when zoomed in.
The biggest problem though is that these games – indeed, these types of game – just aren't suited for console play. While Beamdog has done an admirable effort in converting the intuitive point and click controls of a mouse and keyboard to the intricate layout of any of the consoles' controllers, with radial dials allowing quicker access to inventory, journal logs, and stat screens, it's still far too fiddly. Even walking around the world feels unnecessarily complex once you have a party, the slightest slip of a finger swapping you between moving the whole group to just one character, or from moving characters to moving just a cursor to interact with items.
The problems follow through to combat or using particular skills, where a mix of pause-screen tactical selections blurs confusingly with real-time altercations. The game never quite makes clear who's doing what, where, to whom, or why, and if you're not a returning player from the originals, you'll soon tune out.
Baldur's Gate remains, at its core, one of the greatest stories ever told in a game, elevating you from nobody to hero, then in its sequel from hero to god. The freedom it provides in how you get there, both narratively and in how the repurcussions of your actions pan out in the games, still feels groundbreaking. However, anyone who has the capacity to play them on PC should do so – the console releases are a poor substitute for the real thing