The Switch has seen some excellent RPG action in recent months, with Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin 2 to name just two of the heavy hitters landing on the eShop in quick succession. Nintendo’s portable platform certainly feels like a perfect home for these epic adventures, with players able to dip in and out of huge quests whenever they feel like it in handheld mode – and now it’s the turn of the inspiration behind Pillars and Divinity to take centre stage as the Baldur’s Gate saga arrives in its enhanced edition form, all tarted up and ready to take players on one hell of a ride.
First things first, there’s an absolutely huge amount of content packed into Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Editions, with the two base games sat alongside Siege of Dragonspear, Throne of Bhaal and The Black Pits 1 and 2. We’re easily talking hundreds of hours of old-school isometric RPG goodness to hack your way through; a whole world full of adventures. But do these golden oldies actually still hold up, and how do Beamdog's enhanced editions perform on Nintendo’s console?
Beamdog originally updated and refreshed Baldur's Gate and its sequel for PC back in 2012 and 2013 respectively, and it's these editions that you're more-or-less getting your hands on here, with a couple of notable differences. All the content here is running on the updated Baldur’s Gate 2 version of the Infinity Engine and includes a host of quality of life changes, a bunch of new bug fixes, new characters, new difficulty levels (including a very fashionable story mode) and a user interface which has been cleaned up and is much more in-line with what you’ll find in more modern RPG titles. The keyboard and mouse-friendly menu systems of old have been replaced with lovely little radial menus which work perfectly on Switch; a click of R2 gives you instant access to your inventory, spell books, journal, maps and rest function while L2 allows you to order and group your party as you see fit. Cycling through your party members is now as simple as pressing R or L, whilst pressing both together sees you all regroup.
Of course, the big change for these console versions is the addition of analogue controls for moving your party around, and we've been hugely impressed with what Beamdog has achieved here. Using the left thumbstick to move your party about, tilting further to move faster, and controlling your camera with the right stick is a breeze and feels comfortable and totally natural. You can still switch to clicking on areas of the screen with a pointer for finer precision in battles – now known as 'tactics mode' – which is something that's especially helpful when casting spells, but we found ourselves sticking with these new controls for the most part as they just feel great and take so much of the expected work out of getting to grips with Baldur's Gate. They also do much to fix an age-old problem these games have with finicky path-finding. Taking direct control over your group does away with this problem entirely; no more watching your team members knock into their surroundings like they've had one too many pints of Tanagyr's Stout down the Splurging Sturgeon.
There's also newly improved highlighting of objects of interest around levels which – when combined with how the camera now snaps to important elements such as characters, chests and doors – means that overall, these old games feel as intuitive to play on Nintendo's console as they do on a PC. Some may decry the lack of touchscreen controls – which were added for the iPad and Android versions – but really, it's a decision which makes perfect sense given how fluidly everything works here, and shouldn't in any way adversely impact your enjoyment of these enormous old games.
And they really are old games; there’s absolutely no doubting that Baldur’s Gate is showing its age in many ways these days. You have the option to zoom in on proceedings in these enhanced editions, to get right up close and personal with your party of adventurers, but trust us, you don’t need to get too close to the blurry little sprite-based characters here. That’s not to say these games don’t still look good – the backdrops and scenery are packed with detail and are beautifully atmospheric – but your party (as well the enemies and NPCs you meet along the way) are certainly looking a little long-in-the-tooth.
Combat can feel tough and awkward to the uninitiated; the pausable real-time Advanced Dungeons & Dragons system at work here – with its often mind-bending, sometimes soul-destroying dice-rolling antics – can be baffling, especially in the early parts of the first game. You’ll find yourself dying at the hands of the weakest of enemies in the opening handful of areas, your low-level party prone to waving their weapons around uselessly at fresh air as they take a beating from a handful of imps, or get ravaged by a bunch of tiny rats.
The magic system, although a brilliantly in-depth thing full of opportunities for complicated strategizing in seasoned hands, is also hugely convoluted by today’s standards and it certainly takes a good long while to get your head around if you’re new to all this. You’ll need to pay close attention in early tutorials and become well-versed in the contents of your various spell books as magic – especially in the second game – becomes an absolutely crucial element in staying alive and keeping your party on the right side of death. Battles require that you know exactly when to pull out just the right spell in order to swing things in your favour and keep your party marching along. Indeed, across the board with regards to combat, these are games that very much require you take your time, know your skills and talents inside out and use them when the time is right; certainly much more so than the vast majority of modern RPGs, and even then, the old-fangled rules working away in the background will see you fail from time to time.
But let's not be too negative! These games are from a bygone era; their inherent challenges are to be expected and, if you can make peace with the archaic quality of some of the systems here – or if you’ve simply stuck things on 'story mode' – you’ll be handsomely rewarded with a truly epic adventure stuffed to bursting point with brilliant side quests and characters brought to life by writing and voice-acting that is still easily some of the very best you’ll encounter in any RPG. Creating your player character and taking them from the initial safety of your home in Candlekeep, through the Iron Mines of Nashkel and onwards into the bridging events of Dragonspear and the epic battles and face-offs of Baldur's Gate 2 really is still one of the great RPG experiences. These are games where your choices really do matter; Bioware’s now trademark morality and romance systems were born right here, and decisions affect conversations and encounters in a multitude of ways. Your actions have real consequences and even the simplest of side quests can, and will, turn into long and winding escapades.
This is a series built to luxuriate in and it feels perfectly suited to the portable nature of Switch, with the ability to sit back, relax and take your time over things; the early hours of your foray into the world of Baldur’s Gate should absolutely be taken slowly. Newcomers especially should make sure to concentrate during that first tutorial, talk to all of the monks around Candlekeep (who are there to teach you the ins and outs of the game and its systems), wander every inch of those early open world areas, hoover up every side quest you can find in the opening area and its surrounding forests, get your party members levelled up as much as you can before hitting your first proper test in the Iron Mines of Nashkel – and even after all that, prepare to save plenty and restart battles often.
While the first Baldur’s Gate title allows you to roam its open-world areas at your leisure and gives you relative free reign to choose where to head off to next, the sequel tends to funnel you through its events with much more focus. New areas open up following NPC encounters as and when it's required in terms of the story, and it's a much more intense experience for it. From its extended (and pretty tough) opening in the dungeons and underground tunnels of Jon Irenicus’ complex to your emergence into the city of Athkatla and the events of Spellhold and Suldanessellar, this is a sequel which plays out at a much more modern pace and is filled with many more epic encounters than its predecessor. The combat, too, has found a better rhythm at this stage, and you’ll no doubt have more success with your levelled-up group of warriors, with much less slapping the air in front of enemies as you take them on. This is a sequel that builds on and improves every aspect of the first game and remains an absolutely essential RPG to this day.
On top of the two main games in this enhanced edition, you also get 2016’s Beamdog-developed Siege of Dragonspear, which bridges the gap between the two main entries and explains the events which lead to you finding yourself locked in Irenicus’ dungeons at the start of Baldur’s Gate 2. While it may not be of the exact same pedigree as Bioware’s games, it’s still a fun and lengthy addition with plenty of great quests, top-quality writing and excellent voice acting. Thrones of Bhaal – which is set immediately after the events of Baldur’s Gate 2 – is also top-notch stuff, offering up another thirty-to-forty hours’ worth of Baldur’s Gate goodness. The package is rounded out by both Black Pit games; side adventures also created by Beamdog which see you make your way through increasingly difficult arena battles. They’re a great way to brush up your combat skills; your character can even be levelled-up in here and then exported out to the main game, and they’ve actually got a surprising amount of really decent plot to sink your teeth into.
As far as the multiplayer aspect of this bundle goes, so far there's nothing to report beyond the fact the main menu has a "multiplayer coming soon" placeholder. Beamdog says its hard at work on that element of these enhanced editions, so we're sure it'll turn up soon, but it's still something of a shame this hasn't been implemented for launch here.
Of course, it's also worth mentioning that these enhanced editions come at a pretty hefty price tag on Switch compared to their older PC or portable counterparts. However, we feel that the work done here to make these classics control so fluidly on console – alongside the host of new bug fixes, graphics on-par with the enhanced PC versions and a rock-solid framerate – makes a pretty convincing case for jumping in. If you’ve already played these versions in the intervening years, you’ll know whether you feel it’s worth paying the price of admission again. If you haven’t jumped in since the late nineties or have yet to experience any of the magic of Baldur’s Gate, we reckon the Switch’s control set-up, combined with the console’s portable nature, makes this bundle the definitive version of some of the finest old-school RPG action you’re ever likely to play.
Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Editions aren't magical ground-up reworkings or spectacular remasters; these are games that are showing their age in many ways and there’s no doubt that some of the more recent tributes to the glory days of the Infinity Engine – games such as Divinity: Original Sin or Pillars of Eternity – are, in many ways, more readily accessible and appealing to modern audiences. However, these are still classics of the genre that are absolutely worth persisting with. Once you get to grips with some of their more antiquated ways you’ll be handsomely rewarded with some of the deepest combat, best writing, voice-acting and characters you’re likely to find in the genre. The Switch really is turning into an RPG-lover’s dream machine.