I grew up around games, but since I didn't use an OS that got many games, I didn't play many. But ever since it came out, I've heard about Baldur's Gate. It's a much-loved game that adhered firmly to the D&D rulebook, and now it's often referred to as an important step in the development of video games. And yet for a long time, I hadn't actually played it myself.
So when Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition came out for Linux, I jumped at the chance to get it and finally play the thing.
I'll admit it: my first impression of the game was that it was unexpectedly hard. Seriously, this is not one of those times you look back at history and smile quaintly. This is one of those times you look back and shudder at the brutality and coarseness of the Old World.
Most notably, the combat system is very difficult. I think I am secure in saying that I prefer the modern tradition of turn-based combat. The fact that everyone (even the game's own tutorial) says to "pause often or you will lose" tells me that Baldur's Gate meant to have a turn-based combat system, but just hadn't figured out how yet.
The problem with real-time RPG combat is that there is no clear attack, so you end up clicking on every character and then clicking on the target 30 times in a sort of "kill kill kill!" frenzy. Are your characters attacking? are they attacking as much as they could be? Are they attacking and missing? why? can I re-position them?
Re-positioning, or fleeing, is another problem. Sometimes a character gets low on health, so I pull them from the fray. Or I try to, at least. I click the character, I move them away. They start moving, but the enemy follows. Well now I have my character running away, the enemy running after her, and the rest of my team running after the enemy. And since most of them move at pretty much the same speed (unless one has a speed potion), they all have the same luck in catching one another. It makes the ability to flee pointless, and it makes defense meaningless.
On some characters, there appears to be a guard function, but I couldn't get a character to guard anything, and it seems like moving my characters between the enemy and my injured party member pointless, because the enemy just finds a path around my party.
So is all this realistic? I don't know, maybe it is and maybe it isn't, but realism in a point-and-click interface does beg some adjustment. Yes, it is more realistic that combat happens in real time, and it's more realistic that I cannot necessarily hedge in an enemy when there is an open field all around us. But then again, my characters can't hop over a waist-high fence. Nor can they circumvent an enemy as the last flourish of an elaborate distraction tactic that I have devised. So it seems a little unfair that the enemy can circumvent anything, even four or five armed people surrounding him. I don't remember enough about 2e D&D to recall whether there were Attacks of Opportunity, but I don't feel that they're in Baldur's Gate, and anyway the fact that I don't know whether they exist in Baldur's Gate demonstrates why real-time combat doesn't work. If the player isn't aware of what's happening within the time of a turn, then the turn is essentially meaningless, and if a turn is meaningless then much of the D&D mechanics go out the window.
Modern RPGs tend to have the computer act like a computer. In Baldur's Gate, the computer is basically just the DM.
For example, if your fighter finishes off an enemy, and an orc is two feet away hacking away at your wizard, your computer does not move the fighter to attack the orc. He just stands there, watching the party get slaughtered until you tell the fighter to attack somebody new.
That's just not done in modern games. The computer assumes that while in combat mode, every party member should be attacking someone.