Since releasing Baldur’s Gate way back in 1998, Canadian developer BioWare has – wait. Wait, we can’t just rush blithely past Baldur’s Gate like that. Sure, Black Isle’s 1997 post-apocalyptic wasteland romper Fallout might have precipitated it all, but it was Baldur’s Gate that really dredged RPGs out of the muck and mire of two decades of SSI‘s genre abuse, and reinvested high fantasy with some much-needed credibility.
Diligently side-stepping any cliché-rotted narrative deadfall involving stupid dragons, stupid dragon’s treasure, other stupid dragon stuff, or any conceivable combination of these, Baldur’s Gate offered players a starring part in an authentically grand adventure brimming with intrigue, murder, and more literary stuffing than you could shake a miniature giant space hamster at.
The game was phenomenally successful, promptly spawning an expansion, a sequel, a bunch of sequel expansions, several spin-off series including Dark Alliance and Neverwinter Nights, and a grudging retrospective tolerance for those dice-toting nerds everyone used to tease at school. Perhaps most importantly, without Baldur’s Gate’s daring combination of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and cool, there’d likely never have been Black Isle’s magnificent Planescape: Torment – a truly wretched vision of the world that might have been.
Having staked a pretty imperious claim of genre authority, BioWare subsequently chucked all that running-about-in-forests-with-swords stuff for running-about-in-the-Orient/galaxy far far away/future-with-swords-and-guns stuff in Jade Empire, Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect. Now, over a decade on from its first mighty foray into the Forgotten Realms, the company is finally taking the forests and swords out of mothballs and buffing them up for a bit of what Baldur’s Gate lead designer and BioWare CEO Ray Muzyka is calling, “dark, heroic fantasy”.
“We are trying to establish a landmark fantasy event. To aspire to anything as massive as The Lord of the Rings is pretty presumptuous. But maybe it’s the game version of that. It’s our reappearance on the fantasy role-playing game scene,” elaborates BioWare and Origins co-executive producer Greg Zeschuk, in a recent interview. “Also, we want to establish a different genre within fantasy. We describe what we’re doing as dark heroic fantasy. It’s not the high fantasy of Tolkien or the low-fantasy of George R.R. Martin’s works that are brutal and gritty. We are in the middle of those things. We are creating a world that turns the usual assumptions of fantasy on its head. It will use all of the great technology that we have, and have great characters and storylines. We want to create something that any fantasy fan anywhere wants to play.”