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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