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Published by:
Interplay Productions

Game Genre:
Racing Simulation

Game Cheats:
Not Available

Requirements:
Pentium 166, 32 Megs RAM, 4X CD-ROM,
16-bit Sound Board, Mouse, DirectX 5.

Retail Price:
$19.95
Our Ratings:
Features

Graphics

Sound FX

Gameplay

Overall

Screenshots:
Baldur's Gate: Tales of Sword Coast


Game Review - by Jeremiah Pratt
When Baldur's Gate was released back in the final weeks of December 1998, it was met with high acclaim from both gamers and reviewers alike. Initial lack of supply left many rabid fans out in the cold for the first few weeks. Eventually though, everyone got their piece of the action and Bioware, Black Isle, and Interplay all got the successes they deserved out of the game. BG brought back memories of classic AD&D games of the past as well as adding its own 90's elements of tactics, character management, and graphical flares. Still, it wasn't without its faults and critics. Many point to it as no more than hack and slash, lacking much depth, and having a clumsy interface. Four months later, the highly anticipated add-on entitled "Tales of the Sword Coast" figures to answer the critics while still giving fans more of what they loved from the original.

Storyline:
If you have already completed the original game, you will start adventuring with your last save game file. (and party) in the town of "Ugloth's Beard", having traveled there from the city of Baldur's Gate. The new adventure areas can be accessed through Ulgoth's Beard. You may return to Baldur's Gate (or adventure in any other areas of the original game) at any time, but be warned: the game state remains set at just PRIOR to the final big battle in the original game. What this means is that if you return to Baldur's Gate you find that there is someone waiting for you…

Features:
If your system is able to handle Baldur's Gate, there's no reason why it can't handle Tales of the Sword Coast. Installation went smoothly, as I was prepared to give up a couple hundred more megabytes of hard disk space for it. If you chose, as I did, to install everything in BG, and want to install everything from TOSC, then the total amount of hard drive space will round out to about a chunky 2.5 Gigs!

After installation, be prepared to go through that "Do you want to register?" stuff that Interplay puts you through. Figuring I'm already drowning in enough SPAM as it is, I decided to "forfeit" registration and just play. Other than that, I haven't heard too many people having trouble with installing the add-on, but if you do, swing on by to the Interplay website and I'm sure someone on the message board can help. Another thing you might want to consider is to copy your saved games to another location in case you want to go back to the original. Running TOSC on your saved games will convert it over.

Gameplay:
As most of you remember, Baldur's Gate had a problem with path finding. Very often, I found myself having to "baby-sit" members of my party because they'd get lost behind houses or fences when moving a long distance at a time. There's now an option to raise the number of path finding nodes from 2000 all the way up to 32000. If you have a fast computer, you should see no slowdowns from raising it all the way up. Unfortunately, I didn't see much difference anyway, as my characters still acted like dunces sometimes when walking as a group.

Those gamers that claimed to have initially found out BG was real-time and was immediately turned off to the point of returning the game, I got one thing to say: Wake up and RTFM! Right there in the manual as well as the gameplay options, you can set the game to automatically pause at different points in combat. Add to that the fact that you can simply use the spacebar to pause the game anytime, and it's essentially turned into turn based. Still, some people don't like the inventory screen turning off the pause.

The way around that is to play the game in multi-player mode. As far as I can tell, the game remains paused this way. Now with TOSC, there's an additional feature of being able to automatically pause when an enemy is encountered.

That all adds up to what I think is the strongest technical aspect of BG. It would have been the perfect tactical engine if the spacebar were used to switch to pure turn based rather than just a pause. I strongly encourage Ray and the gang to consider this as an option for future sequels, because games like "Might and Magic 7" and "Sword and Sorcery" are said to be going in that direction, and I think it's a brilliant method. One thing that RPG gamers hate is a spoiler, so I'll try not to give too much away.

Tales of the Sword Coast is made up primarily of two big quests. One is to trace through the mystery behind what happened to Balduran, the guy the towne is named after (duh!). The other major quest is a deep exploration through "Durlag's Tower". What dangers and sinister delight might you behold in your coming adventurers (*I'm covering my mouth in playful glee*)? What you'll notice right away is, this add-on is hard. No really, it's plain difficult.

If you're the type to rush into battles to slice up the enemies with reckless abandon, you're in for a rude awakening. I found some battles nearly impossible to win without reloading a few times, which is a nice challenge, but brings into question the game balance. I had to change my tactics and really think in order to fight against some of the groups of bad-asses I encountered. Many of the creatures now are quick as hell and will dice through you in a matter of seconds, even with your 8th and 9th level characters. Don't think you can rampage through anymore with 6 characters holding ranged weapon.

Good solid tactics must be used like slowdown type spells, narrow corridors, and immunity spells coupled with an offensive spell of the same element. An example would be to stand behind a door with your melee fighters in the front, cast a web spell in the area in front of the door, cast immunity to fire on those fighters, and blast away with fireballs and exploding arrows. Then again, you'll still probably die a few times anyway.

That's when the cheating comes in and I do have to be critical of the game mechanics for this. Similar to BG, if you don't want to fight the entire group of your enemies simply lures one out at a time. This limitation in BG's fog of war system is painfully unrealistic, and it's unfortunate that we sometimes have to rely on it to win battles.

Another one is, enemies don't know how to use doors and stairs. If you find you need to get away from the battle for a moment, run out of the room. Besides the tougher battles, those who thought BG was a hack fest may want to see what's in store with TOSC.

There are some really difficult puzzles that you will have to face if you want to complete the quests. No, these aren't ridiculous Myst-like puzzles that make absolutely no sense and add nothing to the game. The puzzles in TOSC reward players, who are prepared, pay attention, are thorough, and do a little thinking. It's a nice change of pace from constant fighting.

Finally, there are a couple more things just in case you're wondering. When you're done with the quests in TOSC or even if you're not done, you can pick right up with the main plot of BG and go for the end. This time though, you'll be in for a little surprise even with your now beefier party.

Graphics:
Expect the same quality of graphics in Tales of the Sword Coast as with the original BG. That is, gorgeous but hardly alive backgrounds, true color depth, and (aw come on!) 640x480 resolution. Since the background is so vivid in BG and now TOSC, the characters tend to blend into the background, and artistically this breaks a rule of proper compositioning. On a more practical level, characters that stand out from the background would have pleased everyone:)

Sound FX:
The sound is also on the same level in TOSC as with BG, so things like sounds of swords clashing and rain surrounding your party all make for an immerse experience. There is one problem that a few others and I have picked up but the developers initially missed. That is, when you reload a game, the sound gets REALLY LOUD AND ANNOYING! Some of us would only have to wait a minute or so and the level goes back down to normal. Other ways to remedy this is to do a quick save (pressing 'Q'), or going into the sound settings and adjusting the level. These are merely work-around and not fixes. For me, doing a quick save sometimes overcompensates and reduces the sounds down to an almost inaudible level. As far as what cards get affected, I've heard sound cards ranging from a Diamond MX300 to an SB PCI 128 to an SB 16. So keep your eyes peeled for a real fix and not a work-around.

Overall:
Baldur's Gate. A game most awaited at the time, and one that did not leave the audience disappointed. Slight woes darkened the joy, with the most important one being the experience cap that limited an aspiring mage, fighter or whatever else one played with to 89,000 points. One usually reached the XP limit about halfway or three quarters of the way into the game, and thereafter, it was just plain frustrating. Not to mention Cloud Kill, a level 4 spell that could only be learned if a mage were to raise a level that lied just beyond the magic 89,000 numbers.

Tales of the Sword Coast is an add-on to the famed Baldur's Gate, set in TSR's AD&D universe. It brings in four new areas, claims Bioware. Durlag's Tower, which is arguably the most intriguing area in the add-on, is humungous in size. It is not just big - it's literally huge.


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