Review – Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Editions (Switch)

Nobody thought it could work. In theory it was a great idea, a chance to let more people experience what are considered some of the greatest RPGs ever made. Especially with Baldur’s Gate III finally on the way, now’s the perfect time to get the brand out there. The problem is Baldur’s Gate would never be playable on a console. The engine is too old, the UI too PC-oriented, systems too complex, combat too frantic, and a thousand other things people have said over the years. Yet, despite the certainty, Skybound and Beamdog did it anyway, and ended up achieving what was considered impossible. Baldur’s Gate & Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Editions is mechanically one of the most impressive ports I’ve ever seen, and proof that, even twenty years later, you shouldn’t doubt the flexibility of the Infinity Engine.

The PC version is still superior. It’s not a slight against this port by any means, but it needs to be said. It was designed first and foremost as a PC game, and that’s where it will always play most efficiently. However, the console version comes far closer than I thought possible, and is a perfectly legitimate way to play these classics. It manages to feel natural with a controller, in a way that similar ports such as Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition never managed.

BG The Real Game

Welcome to the real game.

Movement, party member switching, menu navigation, world interaction, everything just works like you need it too. There was no point where I felt constrained by the controls, or thought I something would be significantly easier with a KB+Mouse. I also got the hang of the controls much quicker than I did with Pillars‘. While there I was still feeling awkward hours in, with the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Editions I was ready to go by the time I finished Candlekeep. A ground up redesign of the UI, party member pathing improvements, including an instant teleport for anyone who gets stuck, area auto-looting (yes this is a new feature for this game), text size adjustments, everything that was needed for this game to work was done. There were no corners cut, and given just how old this engine is, it’s truly impressive what they were able to do with it.

BG Equip

Your Quick Weapons and Items will become your best friends from the start.

Still, combat was always going to be the real issue. The highly tactical real-time combat system would be an absolute chore with a controller. Even with a mouse, harder encounters and difficulties could be a nightmare to manage, a controller could make them legitimately impossible. Yet like so much else with this port, Skybound made the impossible reality. There’s two ways to control your party during combat, either through individualized AI you set up for each character or directly micromanaging everyone at once, and both work far better then they have any right too.

BG Party Select

This menu is 90% of the genius of this port. One button push opens up so much flexibility.

The Party AI system works much the same was as it does in Dragon Age and Pillars of Eternity, but it’s far meatier and way more customizable. Each class has its own set of AI settings, with the ability to choose between an aggressive, defensive, or passive option. There’s also a Custom option for you to tailor everything to your desire, but I have always found the base class options to work perfectly enough. You are free to assign any AI setting to any character regardless of actual class, so if you want your mage to behave like an Aggressive Fighter, feel free to. Your orders supersede the AI, so you are still free to give out orders during battle as normal. For characters you don’t want doing anything you don’t explicitly tell them too, there is a No AI option. Once your AI settings are set, you can easily turn them on and off globally through the Party Control menu.

BG Difficulty

I don’t know if I would try a Legacy Of Bhaal mode, but I’m sure it’s at least possible. It won’t be that much more annoying then it was anyway.

As useful as the AI is, you’re going to want direct control for the more important encounters in the game. This is where I expected the port to truly fall apart, but thanks to the new action bar and party grouping system, I actually saw it truly shine. The action bar has existed since the game originally released, but it was always more useful to go through the inventory to use items. There were only a handful of Quick Action icons, and you would quickly get more things then you could fit. Here though, the Action Bar is a lifesaver. Selecting potions, switching weapons, casting spells, all done through the action bar with no hassle or feeling of time lost.

BG Cutscene

The Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Editions switched from poorly CGI’d cinematics to much more aesthetically pleasing art animations.

The party grouping system is brand new and plays right into the RTS-lite style combat. Instead of trying to use a analog cursor to select specific units, you can create pre-made groups through the Party Control screen (mapped to left bumper for easy access). Map your frontliners, your range, your stealth units, whatever you want and easily switch between them at the push of a button. I actually wish something like this existed in the PC version, it’s such a natural fit that makes combat that much faster.

BG Foreshadow

Back then Bioware wasn’t afraid to be clever, witty, and shamelessly meta.

The end result is playable combat. You’re not just relying on an analog cursor for everything, you’re switching through pre-made groups for positioning and attack, casting spells and using items through the action bar, and there’s always the competent AI to fall back on so you don’t have to be bothered with the more mundane tasks. You aren’t menu hopping, fiddling with selection squares, or having to use an analog stick to micromanage a full party that’s just fighting a handful of kobolds.

BG Campaign Choice

As far as quick side adventures go, you can go a whole lot worse than this.

This port isn’t just impressive in quality, but also in content. Included is everything in the Baldur’s Gate aaga (for now at least….): Baldur’s Gate and its expansion Tales of the Sword Coast, which has you dealing with bandits, cults, and political intrigue, all set along an epic journey of self-discovery with a twist. Baldur’s Gate II continues the tale with you facing off against the mad wizard Jon Irenicus, voiced by David Warner and one of gaming’s most fascinating villains. Throne of Bhaal, the expansion to BGII, brings the story to a close with an epic confrontation between armies that decides the fate of a god. Siege of Dragonspear, the standalone expansion released by Beamdog in 2014, bridges the gap between the first and second games while secretly setting some things up for the future of the franchise. As if all that RPG greatness wasn’t enough, also included are The Black Pits I and II, that are arena combat-focused with some great encounter design and interesting stories unconnected from the Saga. All in all you’re looking at hundreds of hours of replayable content from Bioware at its peak. A steal for sure.

This was certainly not the review I was expecting to write. I was anticipating a bug-ridden unplayable mess that would do more to hurt the franchise than help. Instead this is a lovingly crafted port filled to the brim with content, with all the convenience of a controller. As someone who still has a physical copy of the original trilogy, and consider them to be among my favorite games of all time, this port was more than I ever dreamed it could be. Especially with Baldur’s Gate III on the way, now’s a perfect time to experience these great RPGs, and this port a great way to do so.

Graphics: 7.0

The hand drawn backgrounds are timeless and spell effects evocative, but the 3D models are stuck in the 90’s.

Gameplay: 10

The tactical yet flashy and fun combat, the deep character building, the wide variety of locales and enemy types, Baldur’s Gate has been endlessly imitated but never quite matched.

Sound: 10

The voice acting is of exceptionally high quality, especially for the time. The soundtrack is simply some of the best adventuring music ever put in a game.

Fun Factor: 10

Baldur’s Gate is one of the few series to truly capture the feeling of an epic journey, and Skybound managed to make it feel at home on a console.

Final Verdict: 9.5

Baldur’s Gate & Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Editions are available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.