I played Siege of Dragonspear via the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition on the Nintendo Switch. Where relevant, I will mention any issues specific to that version, but for the most part, this review is for Siege of Dragonspear as a whole, regardless of version.
If somebody approached me on the street and offered me a sequel to Baldur’s Gate and a prequel to Shadows of Ahm, I would scoff at them and move on. I mean, it has been 20 years since Baldur’s Gate graced us with its Dungeons and Dragons magic after all. Turns out Beamdog is that strange, trenchcoat-wearing anecdote and Siege of Dragonspear is their passion project.
Siege takes place a few months after the questionably successful conclusion of Baldur’s Gate. You figured out you were a Bhaal Spawn, you krumped your murderous half-brother and became the Hero of Baldur’s Gate. Things start getting somewhat spiced rather quickly, however. Instead of everlasting peace, rumours of your divine heritage start to crop up, and a crusading horde of waffle magnets are on the march lead by another potentially Bhaal-ified sibling.
Being the de facto Hero of the story, a couple assassins come to..well…assassinate you. They fail, shank Imoen instead and you are off to the races. Despite a nostalgia-filled introduction in Baldur’s Gate, clear incentive to go do the hero stuff and the reintroduction of many familiar faces, Siege’s story mostly falls flat. After it’s wonderful prologue things just plod along. You spend the vast majority of the time chasing some glowing hell tart called Caelar Argent whose motivation for doing the obviously evil nonsense she is doing is questionable at best, and by the end of it, turns out to be downright bloody stupid.
Baldur’s Gate had an incredibly slow-burning story. You were mostly directionless for the first 30 hours of the experience but made up for it by having a large world to explore and plenty of adventuring to be done. Siege’s story, on the other hand, is very in your face, and mostly constant. This puts the story front and centre for the entirety of the 20-hour experience, and it simply doesn’t hold up. Thankfully, it is only 20 hours – bite-sized compared to its prequel and sequel.
Where Siege shines, however, is with its characters and their development. The original had one-dimensional class variations with funny voices. Siege of Dragonspear fully fleshes out every character in your party, including the returning cast. Characters like Dynaheir who was mostly silent in the original, is now a major player, as is Minsc and practically all of the returning cast. Siege also introduces a few new faces. For the most part, these newcomers are welcome additions. Heck, I would go as far as saying characters like Glint, M’Khiin and Baeloth make the game thanks to their fantastic voice acting and general worldly interactions.
Your character, the Bhaal Spawn/Hero of Baldur’s Gate, gets a bunch of development too. Whilst you remain mostly silent, you are constantly visited by a mysterious Hooded Man. This chap will offer sage advice and ridicule you in equal measure. Within the dreamscapes you find him, he will further push you to accept your divine heritage. Considering you are the child of the God of Murder, this is a tough pill to swallow (potentially). You are no longer an adventurer. You are a hero. By the end of Siege, you might very well be on the way to becoming more than that. As you develop, people around you start to change their tune when talking to you, and it is quite the trip. You aren’t a defenceless orphan anymore.
There is a downside to Siege’s insistence that your companions need the development of course. This comes in the guise of constant interruptions. It is not uncommon for you to be wandering the wilderness bopping bears on the bonce, and then Glint will suddenly chime in and lock you into a string of dialogue options. As good as the chatter may be, as the game goes on, it does get a little bit annoying. Not all dialogue is done via time-stopping chatterboxes, and you do get a few real-time interactions kicking off between your companions, which is certainly welcome.
One of the weakest and simultaneously strongest aspects of Baldur’s Gate was its combat. It had buckets of depth but failed to utilise it enough resulting in a lot of auto-piloting. Siege of Dragonspear fixes that from the get-go. Siege assumes you have played the original, and probably Shadows of Amn, so pulls no punches. One of the first locations you can visit when you leave the prologue is an undead-filled, lich-controlled mine loaded with traps and enemies immune to conventional weaponry. This is a long dungeon filled to the brim with party-killing encounters. Auto-pilot will result in an auto-death, that’s for sure. This elevates Siege’s combat to a whole new level, and it remains supremely satisfying from start to finish.
That combat is complemented by the sheer variety of enemies, encounters and most importantly, dungeons. I can’t remember a single dungeon in Baldur’s Gate. At all. Siege of Dragonspear has burned every dungeon – every map – into my brain. These are sprawling, varied and visually stunning locations that are begging to be explored. They aren’t just large either, they are dense. These things are loaded with quests, treasure, enemies and secrets. You will not go far without stumbling into something worth your attention. The areas you are exploring may not be as large as Baldur’s Gate, but that game was mostly empty space. Siege is almost overflowing by comparison.
It’s a shame then, that the game is incredibly linear. Whilst there are plenty of side quests, if you advance the plot too far, you can’t complete them. As a completionist, this meant I was compelled to do everything, no matter how minor. This slowed down the game, and, considering you are supposed to be chasing an army terrorising the land, gives the plot a bit of a slap. You are told how important it is to march ahead, but spend days on end rubbing rocks and whatnot. It’s quite the spoonful of ludonarrative dissonance.
When you finally get to the titular siege, things sort of fall apart as well. Whilst visually stunning and thematically excellent, actually playing it is a chore. There are far too many enemies and, considering you have an army helping you, you don’t actually need to do much. In fact, leading the charge will probably get you murdered, so hanging back is probably for the best. The weight of numbers also kills the combat in these sections, since all your sneaky buffs and debuffs are worthless. Massively damaging AoE spells are the way to go. In short, it ended up being boring.
Whilst still using the same engine as the original games, Siege of Dragonspear blows them both out of the water in terms of visuals. The game is still set near Baldur’s Gate, so the game is chock-full of woodland areas, but these are very pretty trees filled with visually distinct landmarks. I’ve already touched on the dungeon quality, but I will do so again – they look gorgeous. Character models are as spritey as they have ever been, but thanks to some items plundered from Baldur’s Gate 2, you have a few new variations when it comes to customisation and armour. Of course, I can’t talk about visuals and not mention those retro spells. Sure the animations are dated, but those glowy-explodey-whooshy spell effects tickle me in just the right way.
Despite looking fabulous, the visuals are nothing compared to the sound quality – specifically the voice acting. Many of the voice actors who featured in Baldur’s Gate and Shadows of Amn make a return and nail their performances. Gone are the scratchy nineties recordings – Siege is a modern game and packs crystal clear vocals. New cast members also knock their lines out of the park. Glint is so damn good and so fricken likeable, I accidentally started a homosexual human/gnome relationship with him. No regrets there. Don’t even get me started on the sexy lines emanating from the Hooded Man. As is to be expected with this series, the music is fantasy gold and the ambient sound effects sell whatever it is you are doing. This is seriously impressive stuff.
Whilst you can play Siege as a standalone game and make a new character using the overwhelmingly powerful creation tools the series is known for, this is not how the game was intended to be played. If you have finished Baldur’s Gate, then you will automatically be thrust into Siege of Dragonspear – gear and party members intact. Alternatively, you can import a character into Siege and have a similar experience. Either of these options is the best way to play. Don’t play Siege first. You will be overwhelmed by the combat, the story will mean nothing.
Siege of Dragonspear is an excellent addition to the Baldur’s Gate series. Whilst its overarching story is fairly weak, the characters that exist within that story are top-notch. The amount of attention given to new and returning party members is staggering. In some cases, it makes Shadows of Amn’s introduction significantly more powerful – a tough feat to pull off. Combat and locational variety is universally improved, making this an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoyed the first. I would absolutely advise anybody to play this game before Baldur’s Gate 2, real-life chronology be damned.
If you liked this review, then check out my review of Baldur’s Gate. Keep an eye out for my Baldur’s Gate 2 review, as well as Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment – all of which are coming soon.
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7 thoughts on “Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear – The Sequel/Prequel I Didn’t Know I Wanted”
I was looking forward to your review! In general I agree with many points you make, although my take is a bit more focused on the negatives than the positives.
The premise of a holy crusade against the demons is interesting and lore relevant in the Realms, but you can see there is little nuance involved. It is hard to sympathise with Caelar when you can smell a mile away she is being played by smarter actors. The twist on who the real big bad is makes for a cute continuity nod with other Bioware Infinity Engine CRPG games, but a bit fanservicey for my taste.
(Side thought: it doesn’t help you can have a gazillion of stat enhancing drugs…er, potions to buff your characters to infinity and beyond without a sad dispel magic being thrown at you, at least with Core Rules difficulty.)
The extra content about your party is a blessing in disguise. Production values are amazing, and so many of the beloved voice actors reprising their roles is a bit of a miracle. At the same time, the 20ish hour length means they are robbing your ear every few minutes to give your their 0.02$ or telling you about what they should get as a gift to their wives or whatnot. For people that were so sober in BG1 they grew incredibly chatty! 🙂 Of course this works better than all the party members added by Beamdog in BGEE which stuck like a sore thumb having the dialogues with a BG2 style, but I can’t think of an elegant way to deal with it while moving on with the series.
I guess part of the problem is that SoD tries to bring all the ideas of BG2 while keeping consistency with BG1 and is a balancing act hard to follow. For me it falls flat in that regard, but I suppose it’s a matter of taste. Although for the sake of fairness, the ludonarrative dissonance can’t be more jarring than opening the world in BG2 in Chapter 2 and being stuck there doing side quests for months while your companion waits for you.
The autopilot fighting style in BG1 is a fair complaint which I direct mostly to the level you are capped at: when your highest achievable level is 9-10 (for bards and thieves) and you face mostly physical threats, there is little a well aimed arrow can’t fix. You only need to change strategies when you face other projectile users, spellcasters or enemies with some sort of immunity. Of course, since SoD takes after BG2, it also takes advantage of the revamped magic system, which makes for more interesting fights now enemies can cast more than magic missile or fireball.
Regarding the visuals, they are indeed a triumph. The game looks beautiful considering the assets it is inspired by which are over/close to 20 years old. You can see Beamdog has thrown lots of money at this love letter to the Bhaalspawn saga. One thing I have to say, however, is that our experiences of “memorable” dungeons are vastly different. I can hardly remember anything of SoD’s dungeons and I played it last year: however, I can remember lots of the layout of the Nashkell Mines in BG1. Then again, I am unashamedly in love with the game, I first played it in my RPG (both in real life and computer) formative years and it has stuck in my head since then.
Overall, my feeling is that SoD was a valiant effort with lots of love but couldn’t find a way of showing it to the world as much as Beamdog wanted. Like a child that tries to copy what their parents do for work, it has charm and their heart is in the right place, but doesn’t fully grasp why it worked in the first place. Seeing the polished production values one can only imagine what a game like Tyranny (have you played it, Toasty?) would have achieved with more money/a longer development cycle. It feels much more like BG without being BG neither in tone nor in approach.
Sorry, I wasn’t intending to write such a long post. Peace out!
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I found the idea of Caelar to be interesting. Her heritage, her devotion to a seemingly good cause. It falls flat, like you said, when it becomes obvious she is being manipulated. It is even worse when you realise her actual motivation, which, imo, is just stupid.
The chatting was welcome, but disruptive. I liked all my characters, especially Glint, Dynaheir and Minsc. The latter 2 made the intro to BG2 heart breaking. Heck, meeting Khalid and seeing how he had grown, was also heart breaking. If anything, the character given to those 3 characters (4 with Jaheira) made 2’s intro hit so much harder. I adventured with these guys for 70 hours to boot!
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I am currently being overwhelmed by Chapter 2 quests in BG2. I don’t know what I should skip! Most of them have been so good. I can hop on a ship if I wanted now, but I have spent at least 15 hours in town and haven’t even touched the outdoor quests! Imoen is probably dead by now.
As BG1 goes on, it’s combat gets better. It doesn’t prepare you for it though, which is arguably a problem. I loved that SoD immediately introduced interesting encounters. Very cool.
I was blown away with the visuals. In terms of dungeons, the dungeon UNDER dragonspear is varied and fricken beautiful. It has been burned into my mind. Nashkel from 1 is memorable as well, but I think my issue with 1 is that the first 2 main dungeons are mines. It is a bit of a letdown, despite it being plot relevant.
I’ve never played Tyranny. I was hoping it had a console port. If I manage to fight off burnout, I’m moving onto Divinity and Pillars of Eternity after I finish up Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment and Neverwinter Nights.
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I would recommend to pace yourself. Too much CRPG can burn you out quickly! Epic Store got an amazing “download games for free” spree during the Xmas season. The mad men got Tyranny and Pillars of Eternity out for free in the same day! Sadly my laptop doesn’t have enough memory for Pillars (need to do something about that), but Tyranny is fairly short yet encourage multiple playthroughs. Plus the magic system is nuts, in the best sense.
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I’ll have to upgrade my work laptop and get something gaming worthy!
Believe it or not, I am playing Stardew Valley to break it up. 85 hours of Baldur’s Gate stuff has been followed by 30hours of Stardew! Certainly a change of pace hahaha
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