Monday, 7 February 2011

Baldur's Gate

I have a sort of ambivalence to the idea of 100% completion in games. While I'm playing, I'll do my very best to find all the secrets I can, and I'll put off the final boss fight if I know that there are still weapon upgrades to collect or secret stars to find. I enjoy the fact that most games with any sort of open world understand and pander to this urge - even when the entire fate of the galaxy rests on you getting somewhere before someone else does and that person has no interest in mineral prospecting - with characters often helpfully highlighting the exact point of no return and hinting that 'you should make sure that you have everything you need before you head over to Ganon's Tower.'

However, there will come a point where it all gets too boring, or I'll find something else that I want to do with my life, and I'll make the plunge and go and finish the game. For me, completion is facing down the final boss and finishing the story, and once I have done so it's very rare that I'll come back and mess around with all the other bits that I missed before. Once I'm done, even though I'll feel a pang of annoyance if I haven't hit the bell at the top of the Test of Strength, it's rarely enough to make me go back and play through the whole game again - especially as there's precious few games where finding secrets rewards your gaming abilities, as opposed to, say, your wandering-around-aimlessly-pressing-all-of-the-buttons abilities.

So, yeah - I enjoy the automatic Pavlovian kickback I get for finding secrets, but I resent the way this is used to pad out the playing time of a lot of games even as I do so. I don't for one second believe that I am alone in feeling like this.
Baldur's Gate falls in to an odd place in this scheme of things, however. It is a great game anyway, and one of the first I got after getting a PC for the first time after moving from halls at university into a house share. (We always had cast-off Macs from my mum's work at home, and in halls there were suites of computers available 24/7 so getting my own didn't seem worthwhile.) This was my second year at university, but I was studying philosophy, so I thought I had a lot of spare time, and I spent a lot of that time playing Baldur's Gate.

The game is already massive, and I had the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion loaded as well, and I ploughed my way through until I'd seen pretty much every screen in the main game, eradicating the blackness of unexplored terrain with the intensity of Lady Macbeth's hand-care regime. This was great fun, and I was ploughing gamely on with the plot when I suddenly realised that I was at the final boss, and I hadn't played through the expansion yet. So I walked back out of the boss room and went and did that.

Now, my save regime is pretty badly thought out, and tend to just keep saving in the same file - I was a console gamer before I was ever a PC gamer, so that's what feels natural to me. I now know that this is not the way PC games work, or expect you to work either.

By the time I got back to the end of the game, ready to face the final boss once and for all, I'd racked up another maybe twenty hours or so of playtime on the file. What I didn't realise, is that by entering the boss room the first time I had already triggered the boss fight, and according to the game, I was still fighting it. I can't remember the exact details of the boss, but it's some kind of magician thing, and it summons various monsters and casts various spells at a fixed rate as part of its attack pattern - spells including a poison gas and monsters including some real hard-arse demon type things.
The game had made it cast these things, alone in its boss room, for twenty hours. That's probably about a month or something in-game, not including the ship journey you take as part of one of the add-on pack's quests. This time, as soon as I entered the room, even with a fully beefed up and protected party, everyone died within a second. And so, despite seeing almost all of the game, picking up a good chunk of the hidden items and generally doing as much as is possible on a single play-through (certain decisions you make change which quests, items and characters become available) I still have never, actually, fully completed the game.

I still feel that I won, though. A villain who spends months standing in a room casting poison gas spells at no-one rather than, you know, destroying the world, really isn't a villain worth worrying about in any serious manner.

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