RPG Club Plays Baldur’s Gate II: Week 1
We all knew this was going to happen eventually, right? I mean, how could any self-respecting RPG Club not have a Baldur’s Gate game on the syllabus? With the Enhanced Edition fresh out of the gate, we simply couldn’t resist this opportunity to sink our hooks into this canonical RPG while it’s still considered “vintage”; here at Pixels or Death we never pass up an opportunity to further cement our videogame hipster cred.
This week the gang plows steadfastly forward, contemplating questions on choices in videogames: how we make them, what motivates us, and whether it’s actually possible for anybody anywhere to say no to Minsc.
I have this theory that everyone has a natural character—the one character they will end up playing in just about every game (unless they actively work against it). This character may have nothing to do with the person in real life, it simply embodies everything that the player enjoys in a game and a play style. For example, my natural character is a chaotic good sneaky-snipey type – if a game lets me sit in the shadows and aim for headshots (be they with bullet or arrow), I’m all over it. It all boils down to the generic Robin Hood type—and that’s the type I find easiest and most fun to play.
Which is why, obviously, I rolled up a Neutral Evil Barbarian for my Baldur’s Gate II character.
Sometimes the usual gets boring, and sometimes I get tired of being clever and just want to charge in with a giant sword. Sometimes I want the challenge of playing a character I think is a douchey idiot. Sometimes it’s all three.
Rolling up a character that is completely at odds with my ‘natural character’ isn’t just an entertaining challenge; it’s the best way to show me a different side of Baldur’s Gate than I’ve seen before. Instead of the nice guys, I’ll party up with the self-involved bad guys who could care less about the hostages; instead of being kind and considerate in conversations, I’ll see what happens when you really piss people off.
I’ve already played against alignment once; I did something nice without even thinking about it. That’s the kind of behaviour I want to train my character Aerin out of—it’s not just about being rude in conversations, it’s leaving people in prison because there’s no reason to go out of your way to help. It’s seeing what happens if you do actually leave Minsc behind in the dungeon. This is where I need practice, not just for the fun challenge, but for the different side of the story.
I’ll let you know how that works out.
We love choices. Especially when we play games, we like being the ones who call the shots. The ironic thing is, when we sit down to play a game, we already agree to hand over control of the experience to the developers. We tell them, “show me what you want me to see.”
The good developers are the ones who can tell us a good, solid story; the great developers are the ones who can do it while letting us think we’re the ones making all the decisions.
Baldur’s Gate 2 begins, ostensibly, wide open. When your friend Imoen frees you from your cage, you could make any number of choices; you could find a way to free Jaheira and Minsc (and this is likely what most players will do), but you don’t have to; there’s nothing stopping you from walking the other way, leaving your would-be companions behind forever. Similarly, it’s entirely possible, upon meeting Yoshimo on the second floor of that same dungeon, to refuse his offer of help; you could go your separate ways and never encounter him again.
But of course, you’re not supposed to do that, and BioWare isn’t going to risk you forgoing all their dialogue and character development that easily. Are you really going to choose to brave your very first dungeon on your own, without the help of Minsc, the tanky damage dealer, or Jaheira, the healer? Do you really think that skipping over Yoshimo, a highly capable, ready-made thief is a good idea? Even if your character is spec’ed to one of those roles, you’ll still be missing them very soon; especially considering how long it is until you find a new party member!
So sure, you could make any choice you want regarding who you pick up and who you leave behind, but both you and BioWare know you’re not going to. They’re going to peel the curtain back just enough to remind you that, despite the “open world” and the “player agency,” they’re still the ones pulling the strings. And you know what? It’s better that way.