SIDE A: Requiem for a Ragefast
A pet peeve of mine is the long running, frequently delayed project that wastes a lot of time apologizing after each delay but since it's been such a long delay and I was updating so regularly that I want to address it.
Where haven't I been? Actually, the answer is pretty simple. In October, I needed to get ready for the live show, which, despite being the highlight of my year, is a tremendous amount of work. After that, I had to catch up on all the pod and school work I put off to do the live show and then bam, Duckstream. I put off a bunch of pod and homework for Duckstream too. So, a difficult term with two special Duckfeed events on top of my normal busy schedule conspired to keep me radio silent.
I also admit that I'm a little eager to move on to another game. My affection for Baldur's Gate has only grown with this blog but many of the technical limitations are starting to wear on me a lil bit. That said, the end is in sight! This week and next (I have two entries written at the time of this posting) puts us butting against the endgame. It'll be a brief sojourn into the DLC before finally tackling Saverok once and for all.
So, what am I covering in this entry? The remainder of the Baldur's Gate proper side quests and miscellany. There's a bit of a caveat, however, in that I didn't do every single sidequest, instead focusing on the most interesting. There is also some broken scripting around a temple that is the focal point for three quest lines, so I had to brute force my way through it and closed off the other quests. Without further ado, let's get started:
The Company I Keep
Baldur's Gate doesn't really have companion quests, at least not like the sequel or later Bioware. I think I'm not alone in thinking that these tend to be Bioware's greatest strength. Though I ended up sort of conflicted on the Dragon Age series (haven't played Inquisition yet, really want to), the side characters were the highlight. Though the NPCs in Baldur's Gate are well sketched, they're not well developed. So when an opportunity to explore of these characters comes up via the quest structure, I'm pretty excited.
While wandering around the North Eastern section of the city, I ran into Brielbara, mother of a cursed child. This is par for the course in Baldur's Gate and I'm fully expecting to go and fetch the cure. However, the twist is that Brielbara had a tryst with my very own Coran. Coran, the cross eyed archer who looks like he's checking his iSword, is a rapscallion. And apparently, he knocked up Brielbara before escaping into the woods. The interesting part is if you check his biography, it mentions her helping him escape but nothing about their doing the dirty. Most of the in game biography stuff is pure window dressing and doesn't have a greater connection to the game. This was a nice aversion.
Coran acts appropriately cagey about this but, given that he's ultimately a solid bro, decides he needs to cure his daughter of her curse and he'll do it whether we help or not. Of course, I decide to help, I want to see where this is going.
Daughters of Entropy
So, Coran's daughter has been cursed by a mage named Yago and I need to get his spell book. He's hanging out in a floating tavern called the Low Lantern. Inside, there's a very odd encounter. A woman named Desreta walks up to me out of the blue and starts espousing the virtues of entropy, what it means to feel the embrace of nothing, etc. At the end of her sermon, she asks if I'm curious about the pleasures of entropy. Because I had recently quicksaved, I decided to play this as a consummate horndog and say something about discovering the pleasures of entropy back in her chambers, which is a stone cold classic pickup line. Seriously, consider what that could be a euphemism for.
Because this isn't Volo Presents... Penthouse Letters Vol VII, Desreta and her companion Vay-ya attack me and they're among the hardest opponents I've fought yet. Seriously, this took me about ten tries. Mostly it's the cramped quarters that favor their part of two casters over my mixed bag of muscley bros. I don't think there's further significance to these ladies, I just liked them as background flavor.
Ultimately, I had to kill Yago to get his spellbook. There might be a way to talk him out of it but I couldn't find it. I don't mind though because he was so clearly a shitheel. There's no resolution with Coran either. No option to pay child support or anything, he just says that he's a free spirit, man, and has to go where the wind takes him. But that's OK, it's an interesting quest regardless.
The Merry Fools
Not so much a quest as a background detail, you can run into another adventuring party in a bar, one known as the Merry Fools run by someone named Gorpel Hind. Whenever I see a name like that, I assume it's a joke I don't get or one of the developers but it seems unlikely in this case. Gorpel Hind is just kicking back, having a drink, and unlike other adventuring parties, is friendly to me. He just wants to exchange tales of adventuring and I have the opportunity to tell him all about my time in the Cloakwood Mines.
Unfortunately, this moment is interrupted by a bunch of jabronies called The Maulers of Undermountain. This is a nasty adventuring party who put up a super tough fight. At this point in the game, my ability to fight well seems more gated by the environment than anything else. If I can bring my full force to bear, not much stands in my way. Otherwise, I'm in trouble. But, because of our sharing a a drink, the Merry Band of Fools joins me in a bar wide rumble. This was a chaotic melee with causualties everywhere. The bartender got it hit by a fireball and died! I summoned like a billion skeletons! Waitresses running everywhere, presumably dropping mutton like it is hot, or at least warm. When the dust died down, my party had survived and Farluck, Elik and Turpin did too but Gorpel, the titular fool, did not. His companions shuffled out, ruing the day they met me.
At first this felt like a scripting error since I would never, never harm a hair on Gorpel Hind's head. But instead, I choose to view it as increased veracity. They were confused in the fight, like anyone would be. When 16 combatants are joined by 8 skeletons in a tiny bar, who can say who murdered who? That sounds like a badass story problem from an alternate dimension.
The final quest I'm talking about today is that of Ragefast's Nymph. You run into this Lady Hannah character who talks about how the whole town knows this mage Ragefast has imprisoned a nymph and how it's wrong that he's essentially holding her in sex slavery. What's this? A character in a fantasy setting being socially conscious?
When I eventually headed to Ragefast, you're presented with an extremely interesting encounter. The idea of a mage holding a Nymph as a sex slave is almost a fantasy trope at this point but Baldur's Gate treats all parties involved with some sympathy. Ragefast is ensorceled but believes that the love he feels is real. He didn't go seeking out a forever bride, he's just confused. When you try to talk him out of it, you have to be extremely careful what you say because traditional dialogue tactics like shame or guilt, don't work. He truly believes he's doing what's best for her, protecting her. You have to actually present an argument that she is suffering, which is difficult to do. I biffed it and had to kill him.
The nymph then expresses pity. She says that people who are unused to her nature often have this reaction. The story, which in another context could be sort of, for lack of a better word, rapey, is instead treated a bit more delicately. It's a side of the succubus trope that's almost never explored: what does it look like when one of these admittedly problematic mythical creatures actually make someone fall in love instead of just give them a boner trance?
That's not everything you can do in the city, by a long shot, but it's all I'm going to cover. The city remains a joy, despite it's infuriating bifurcation that makes navigation a chore. I'll be coming back here eventually but for now, I will see you next week.
SIDE B: Dark Alliance
I originally wanted to do a fully review/retrospective on Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance here but sadly haven't completed it yet. I've played it before, in my youth and I'm about half way through now so while I can offer some thoughts on it, I can't be as thorough as I'd like.
Let's start with the obvious. How weird is it that there is a spinoff console game for Baldur's Gate? Long before PC came to its current dominance, there was a feeling, or at least I had a feeling, of PC gaming being the odd man out. Yes, the late 90s/early 2000s were a golden time for the platform but it's hard to think of any of the properties that enjoyed such popularity then actually having a spin off. This is the opposite of rose tinted glasses, I suppose, and no matter how hard it is to imagine now I realize that we once lived in a world where games like Baldur's Gate and Fallout were big enough hits to allow for things like this. What's next? Deus Ex Cart Racers? Half Life Tactics? Thief: Deadly Golf? This was the sort of thing reserved for Nintendo franchises, mostly.
I'm glad this an exception. Dark Alliance may not be a very Baldur's Gate-y game but it's a fine game in its own right, a console Diablo light with above average production values. I'm on the record as having a weakness for these types of games, ie your X-Men Legends and Ultimate Alliances, which is all the more strange when I think about how luke warm I am on Diablo. I think part of it is just scaling back the amount of items/loot. There is loot in BG:DA but it's hardly the point. Instead, you have your choice of three classes (Archer, Fighter and Mage) and most of the fun is in creating a build from those templates.
The fights tend to be button mashy affairs where the main tactical consideration is keeping an eye on your health and making sure you hit the potion button in time. I can't really hold this against the game given that this sort of thing is more or less the standard for the genre. There are elements of a richer combat system in a block button and your ability to jump but it's undermined by the enemy AI which is on loan from the Left 4 Dead collection. Enemies either rush you or shoot things at you in this game, which, admittedly, is sort of a bummer.
The boss fights, however, are an exception and feel a little like the boss fights in Isaac. The act one boss is a beholder, which, not only looks great and is voiced by Tony Jay, but is also a really enjoyable fight. The beholder uses only a fraction of his powers but that works here (it wouldn't be fun to be charmed). Mostly, he shoots beams with different shapes and properties and you have to juke him while getting in hits while you can. It's challenging in an old school way, learning the patterns and figuring out when it's safe to hit.
What's less strong is the fact that this game, despite its namesake, is not very Baldur's Gatey at all. You start out relegated to a small portion of the city with one tiny shop and after act one, you're off into the wilderness. The story, which concerns a sinister thieves guild, has none of the gravitas that the canon games have. And while the music is good and evokes the mainline series, the character models suffer from some unfortunate cheesecake.
All in all, this is a good example of what, if hardpressed, I'd call my guilty pleasure genre. It's fun to kill stuff in games, sometimes, and watch numbers go up. With Dark Alliance, I yearn for more complexity but luckily, the whole experience is pretty short. And it's better than Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel which, big sigh, I will eventually end up playing for the blog.
Join me next week for a return to Candlekeep. If you like the blog, tell people about it!