Overhaul Games and Beamdog's attempt to improve a timeless classic both fails and succeeds in somewhat equal measure.
Baldur's Gate, like most PC RPGs released during the hobby's 1996-2002 golden era, is an RPG still celebrated by newcomer and genre sage alike. Whether torn apart and heavily modded or "let's played" into near endless oblivion, Baldur's Gate is one of those games that has simply never gotten old. Though graphics have improved and storyline complexity has given us more non-linearity within the genre, there is something about Baldur's Gate that remains unique and special. A uniqueness that I refuse to blame on nostalgia alone.
Beamdog and their subdivision Overhaul Games sought out to prove this last year by releasing a so-called "enhanced edition" of Baldur's Gate. A re-mastered and supposedly bugfixed version of the game that would iron out its rough edges and make it more palatable for gamers not accustomed to its rather archaic interface. While it seemed an admirable quest to undertake, many such as myself were not happy about it.
What could they possibly add or fix that the BGTuTu mod or the Pocket Plane Group hadn't already accomplished with it? Fans had already added several NPCs, fixed the Beregost crash bug, implemented widescreen support and even improved the graphics by way of running the game in the superior Baldur's Gate 2 version of the infinity engine...so what else was there to be done?
In reality, not much. You could, and probably should if you're new to the series, download the cheaper version of this game off of GOG's website and play that with a full accompaniment of mods attached to it. Running the original vanilla game then applying BGTuTu as well as the widescreen mod and a few choice quest/npc add-ons will give you a just as good if not better experience than what you'll find in this enhanced edition.
Still, there are reasons you might still want to take Beamdog up on their offer.
For me it was simply wanting to move away from the 8GB install of Baldur's Gate 1 that BGTuTu required of me. With the de-greenifer installed for the water as well as several usability and GUI mods I found the install size to be a bit too much for me and the remaining 10% of my hard drive's free space to handle. I wanted to clean up my PC and one of the biggest hogs for space I had happened to be BGTuTu. The sub 2GB install of the enhanced edition made it too tempting to pass up. Not to mention the fact that BGTuTu never worked well with the Steam chat overlay and was always giving me weird sound playback bugs.
Of course, if hard drive space and Steam Overlay flickering doesn't bother you, is it still worth the money to switch over to this new version?
First of all, the new GUI enhancements are a mixed bag. While I thought the new version did a better job at retaining aspect ratio and filling out my widescreen 1080p monitor than the fan-made Widescreen mod ever did, I was not entirely sold on the rest of the interface changes. In fact very little had actually changed other than the THAC0 and damage calculations getting their own window on your character sheet. The ability to remap the hotkey bar that Icewind Dale 2 introduced doesn't show up nor does the option to see a numerical hitpoint display on each character's mini portrait. The latter of the two may be changeable in a configuration file somehow but I wasn't bothered by it enough to test that theory.
What should have been done is alter the paperdoll inventory in such a way that finally makes it possible for dual wielders to more effortlessly switch to ranged weapons and vice-versa. Long desired in the modding community, this option would have gone a tremendously long way to endearing old grognards like me to the new version.
Further complicating my opinion of the enhanced edition are the new cinema scenes, none of which are anything more than non-moving static illustrations drawn to resemble the animated CG videos that the original contained. Though they've grown horribly outdated in the fifteen years since their creation, they still look better than the fan-art level cutscenes the new edition uses.
It also doesn't help that the game was incredibly buggy upon its release and took several months worth of patching until it even approached anything remotely resembling a playable state. Though it's mostly fixed now, some small kinks still need to be ironed out. I still ran into oddities such as one flaming fist mercenary having the dialog and voice of a merchant NPC and Laurel the small quest giver west of Nashkel refusing to give me her mission during my second trip through the game. Though minor, these little slip-ups don't do much to help the game's image in the minds of your typically cranky CRPG hobbyist.
While I have done a good job pointing out the new version's missteps, there is actually quite a bit Beamdog and Overhaul have done right as well.
Most notable amongst these silver linings would be the addition of the four (Yes four, since the drow mage arena pitmaster is also a joinable NPC) new characters and their extra banter as well as their loot-filled side quests. Though Neera is pretty much a bust due to her unpredictable magic, the Blackguard and his insane ability more than make up for that. The Monk suffers from the usual harshness of low level D&D upon his class but clever equipment usage can make him quite the beast during the late game areas. Overall, the new equipment and new NPCs are surprisingly well done and on par with what you'd find in the modding community. Perhaps a bit more so, since 90% of infinity engine modding is wasted on the sequel while the first game in the series has been mostly ignored. Due to that I'd actually say that the very best NPC you can find for this game, whether fan made or here in Beamdog's version, is Dorn the Blackguard.
Another pleasant surprise is the new enemy re-spawning behavior. Enemies seem to re-spawn far quicker than they ever did before and tend to come back in larger groups than I've seen while playing BGTuTu. This does mean that you'll have quite a few annoying instances of getting your progress stopped halfway through a previously cleared out map by a re-spawn, but it also helps keep you on your toes and doles out a bit more experience than I remember ever getting before.
For old Baldur's Gate veterans the worth of this game depends squarely on how passionate you are about the mods you've installed and how willing you are to start fresh just to get some interesting NPCs and a few new magic items. If you still prefer the content you've added to your original BG installation then there is really no reason to buy this remake. However, if you are open to starting over and going through the game alongside of the new NPCs (And I honestly think you should, since Dorn is a wonderful Anti-Minsc) then you might want to set aside some time for a play-through and see for yourself.
For gamers who have never played Baldur's Gate before I would rather them purchase the game off of GOG and play the vanilla version with blind, untainted eyes. While the enhanced edition is nice to play for veterans who've beaten the game over a dozen times, it prevents new players from seeing the purity and windows 95-era roughness that Baldur's Gate has always represented.