30 Day Challenge Day Twelve: Favourite video game (or video game series)?

If you’re interested in participating in the Geek Out Challenge, read this post here! Each day I will be posting a question for that day for the next 30 days. Follow along each day with your own post or feel free to wait until the entire challenge has been released and take it on when you like! Be sure to link back to the master post at the end or link back to each post for each day.

Day Twelve: Favourite video game (or video game series)?

In the winter of 2001, as I celebrated my 18th birthday and the expectant wash of emotion during the transition into adulthood passed over me, I remember vividly standing in the Virgin Megastore in the Trocadero centre in London staring in wonderment at the vast range of games and media available for my newly received Blueberry iMac. A gift from my parents, it opened up a new found world of gaming and digital media, previously a fairly constrained prospect for those who were championing Apple products long before they became the must have item. Even during this fledgling period, there were still a number of ports coming over for a desperate audience, and on that cold night in central London I came upon the game that would have a profound impact.

On a small, dedicated shelf, in their typical large cardboard boxes a celebrated game was finally available for the Mac OS X, that of course was Baldur’s Gate 2 from a relatively modest publisher called BioWare who were yet to make the impact on the Role Playing Game genre they would become synonymous for. It was a gamble on my part, having never played the first chapter in this series I was buying into the unknown. And whilst there were a number of ports coming over onto Apple’s blossoming desktop hardware, they were certainly restricted and at a higher price than equivalent software on the Windows OS. With broadband a relatively scarce commodity at that period of time removing the availability of cheap and quick disposable titles and a distinct lack of full games on release, I picked up that box like Charlie and his Wonka Bar and made my purchase.

To date, and I’ll accept whatever judgement comes my way its single handedly the game I’ve purchased the most times across a variety of formats to be able to access and play it on whatever platform I have at my disposal. Beyond the original purchase on my somewhat dated but working iMac, when I moved onto Windows I picked up the disc based copy although being a fairly substantial release this came on multiple discs with different areas requiring swap outs. When this became tiresome and impractical I made the decision to purchase the digital release on Steam, removing the need to keep ejecting and carrying the discs around with me whenever I wanted to experience this magnum opus on a whim. And finally, out of sheer wonderment I picked up the mobile version to experience this behemoth game reduced to the size of a mobile screen.

In the digital world it’s hard to grasp for those who didn’t live before broadband allowed you to download and discard at a whim the burden of these large games on fragile CD-Roms, before them, floppy discs. The fear of ejecting and removing them carefully without damaging the lense and reducing your treasured game to coasters. The digital world fundamentally changed the release of PC, and Apple, gaming, removing the necessity perhaps of physical copies and by default, physical stores, however for those that lived during a period where your only option beyond an expensive catalogue or telephone ordering system was to travel to dedicated stores far from home to buy a new game, believe me the trade off has been worth while.

Baldur’s Gate 2 remains to this day in my top 3 games of all time, an exemplary definition of a deep and rich role playing game using the Dungeons and Dragons mythology and lore. Every area is nuanced in detail, from the rain soaked docks to the deep forests, using the 4x perspective, whilst the character models and animations are somewhat rudimentary by today’s standards, its incredible to be able to load up this game and still be enthralled at the attention to detail that went into this release. Having retrospectively gone back to play Baldur’s Gate, the evolution between games was immense, this really was a seminal and ground breaking release that challenged those around to raise their standards and set precedent going forward.

In contrast to large open world games like Breakpoint which have rotten NPC dialogue options and terribly written cut scenes and voice acting, each encounter in Baldur’s Gate 2 was a spectacle to observe and witness. Even after all these years I can wax lyrically about certain party members and their hopes and fears such as Aerie, a member of the Avariel who you encounter early on and journey with as she regains her confidence and strength, even the NPCs you meet on your travels left a lasting impression. Going back recently and playing this game again it was such a stark reminder of what a game written and created by a passionate dedicated team can achieve as an outcome in contrast to a watered down generic open world mess.

Perhaps its somewhat unfair to hold other games and open worlds to this standard but Baldur’s Gate 2 was the benchmark that established itself for me and unfortunately nothing to date has come close to capturing that emotive feeling of belonging and wanting I experienced when I first started exploring the streets of Amn. It’s hard to describe what is so captivating, perhaps its the imperfect and unclean worlds, maps designed as you might imagine them to exist not clean and orderly facsimiles. There’s no real copy and paste, each city and area is unique and distinct, from the look and tone to the audio and general sounds, wherever you go you feel you’ve travelled to a new destination to explore, it’s as close to a perfect game as I can recommend to anyone.

Is it without flaws? of course not. The character animations are crude and certainly of their time. Combat can be punishing in a 4X way, equally as best as it can to explain the premise behind the game you are effectively dumped into the world of Baldur’s Gate and left to work out what has happened and what your purpose is. However, within short order the world becomes what you make it, quests and challenges are yours to follow or discard depending on who travels beside you. And for me, the best testament for this game, I brought into the unknown in 2001 on the iMac as a gaming hardware choice to my N64. In 2019 this same game was just released in the enhanced format on the PS4. And you know what, it looks like a tempting purchase for me.

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