Like I alluded to in my preview of the game, playing Baldur’s Gate II was one of the defining moments for me as a gamer. It holds a special place in my gaming heart, and you’d be hard pressed to find an “all-time best of” list that doesn’t include this amazing game. Unfortunately, times they have a changed. RPGs have evolved and the way we play games has changed, so a straight port of this computer classic just doesn’t work for the iPad.
After you’ve made your character and you start up the game in earnest, you’re almost immediately hit on the head as to how clunky this game plays. Your very first interactions in the game are a series of lengthy conversations requiring you to make the right dialogue choices to get the ball rolling. Making the wrong choices, saying the wrong things and ticking off the wrong characters are commonplace, as the touch controls for choosing the dialogue options you want is a wonky affair.
I eventually figured out how to get around the imprecise selection process (I would basically roll my finger over all the options and then release it when I highlighted what I wanted), but even after that I still had problems from time to time. I eventually found myself saving the game before every important conversation, just to avoid any accidental pratfalls.
Aspyr did an amazing job porting Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to the iPad and came up with a rather elegant way of handling the dialogue, and I wish something like that was implemented here.
Aside from the dialogue, the biggest problem with Baldur’s Gate II is with the UI in general. It’s an inconvenient and graceless system to say the least, and that’s being generous. Identifying items in your inventory and spells in your spellbook requires you to hold down your finger on the item or spell and then release. This doesn’t always work and usually takes multiple attempts just to figure out what you’re carrying. Adding insult to injury, not doing this correctly in your spellbook can actually result in you erasing the spell from your memory.
Navigating the interface while in the game can be even more ponderous. The screen is literally surrounded by icons, and you have no idea what any of them do. Spells and special-abilities are marked by icons on the bottom of the page, but unless you have a photographic memory you’ll forget what they do. This is especially onerous with spellcasters, as some of them can have 15 or 20 spells memorized at any given time. There is a button to push (a big question mark) that will tell you what all of these icons do, but pushing that just opens up another screen that can sometimes require you to navigate to yet another screen. And even doing that doesn’t give you a description… all you get is the name of the icon, spell or ability.
It’s not all bad, however. Targeting things seems to be better than in the first one, so that’s a plus. I rarely ever missed my mark with spells or attacks or using special-abilities. But even this has its problems, as you’re not given any indication as to whether you’ve actually targeted correctly. You just tap on the item or creature and then hope for the best. And opening doors and walking up stairs can still result in an orgy of pixels mashing themselves into one another trying in vain to figure out where to go as it’s impossible to know where to tap to interact with the door or stairs.
While a decent number of the bugs from the beta version I previewed have been cleaned up, there are still a handful of glitches scattered throughout, and the now infamous Circus Tent insta-kill bug is still firmly in place. Again, like I said in the preview, the Circus bug isn’t a game-killer per-se (although it can be), but it is still rather astounding that such an egregious error has made it into the final release of the game.
Baldur’s Gate II is a game that desperately needed to be redone from the bottom up with the touchscreen in mind. An iPad isn’t a PC, and Baldur’s Gate II is, to its core, very much a PC game. Baldur’s Gate II is one of the greatest games ever made, but Baldur’s Gate II for iPad is not that game. I advise caution.