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Critiquing The EEs: A Pure Story Perspective 5/6

Welcome to Part 5 of a critical look at Beamdog's creative contributions to Baldur's Gate. We're going to analyze and discuss the Enhanced Edition characters and their storylines, their strengths and weaknesses, etc.

This is not the place for statements of blind support or blind hatred of Beamdog. If that's all you have to contribute to the conversation, please take your comments elsewhere.

Having covered all four primary Enhanced Edition characters - the half-orc blackguard Dorn il-Khan, the vampire thief Hexxat, the Sun Soul monk Rasaad yn Bashir and the half-elf wild mage Neera, today we'll be talking about:

Baeloth Barrityll and Wilson

When we talk about easter egg NPCs, we have to accept certain things as given. These are not characters designed to be full-fledged party members. They're not selling points. They have no quests, no relationships with other NPCs, no real storyline to speak of, and no deep characterization. However, they're still worth analysis in the overall context of Beamdog's contributions to BG, and in terms of what they suggest about the creative choices that went into the Enhanced Editions.

Let's start with Baeloth. Originally introduced as the antagonist of "The Black Pits", Baeloth the Entertainer is a mad drow sorcerer who forces the party into a series of gladiatorial battles. Again, I'm not really interested in discussing BP at length, but there are two points of interest here: first, Baeloth's nickname is an apt one - he does entertain. His use of alliteration, his snarky comments, and Mark Meer channeling Mark Hamill's Joker to absolute perfection make him instantly endearing as a grand, showboating villain.

Second, Baeloth's appearance in the main storyline is set after the events of "The Black Pits": patch 1.0.2012 added a cutscene that triggered if you went to the broken tower in Larswood (a curiosity that always seemed to hint at some greater purpose). Baeloth materializes out of thin air, depowered and alone; he rants for a bit before noticing the player and explaining his circumstances; and he offers his services in exchange for the player's protection.

When discussing Neera, I mentioned that Beamdog's assumption that all players would be interested in the Black Pits content led them to make some structural mistakes in BG2:EE, such as shoehorning Mercy Whitedove into Dorn's epilogue or failing to connect the dots between Szass Tam, Dennaton and Aznar Thrul in Neera's ToB quest. But the scene in which Baeloth is recruited is done in such a way that you don't need BP to understand what's going on - he provides that information himself, and in that respect, he's no different from any other character involved in a larger story you're not privy to (Dynaheir, Xan, Safana, etc.)

Taking Baeloth through BG:EE will result in a handful of amusing comments when you enter new areas; as befitting an Evil NPC, he's extremely powerful and edges out Edwin as the best spellcaster in the game by virtue of his drow magic resistance. In fact, he's such a fun character, and Meer does such spectacular work with his lines, that I can't help wishing for more. Have Baeloth "peace out" and teleport away just as you enter the Temple of Bhaal! Why should he play fair and act like a typical adventurer, he's Baeloth! A bit more unpredictability would have gone a long way.

As an aside, it's also rather disappointing that Baeloth doesn't turn up in any capacity in BG2:EE, given that his role in "Gladiators of Thay" isn't nearly as involved as it should have been (up to and including a triumphant reveal that is not, in any way, earned). But BG2:EE has its own easter egg NPC, and... well, he's something else entirely.

Before we get to talking about Wilson himself, though, I have to point out that his introduction is rather badly botched. Wilson is positioned in the lower region of the Twofold Temple map, which means that to reach him, you have to have Rasaad in your party and play his storyline until the Temple is revealed. And while you can free and recruit Wilson on your own, the actual quest to do so comes from Zaviak - who you'll only meet if you have Neera in your party and play her storyline until the Hidden Refuge is revealed.

It's a very odd choice to tie Wilson into two other BG2:EE characters, given that Baeloth had no such requirement. In fact, if the intention was to compel players through EE content in order to recruit Wilson, I'd have expected to find identical copies in Resurrection Gorge, the Shou Lung Tomb or the Wild Forest. Why make Wilson a Rasaad-exclusive character, especially when Rasaad is arguably the character who needs the least gimmickry?

Still, it's an interesting conceit to have a grizzly bear in your team. He can't speak, of course, so all his exchanges with the player are one-sided (and, as a result, rather funny). However, again unlike Baeloth, Wilson is a very, very difficult party member to use effectively. The closest class I can compare him to is a kensai, in that he can't use any equipment at all, but I think the devs may have gone a bit too far with the restrictions. At the very least, allowing Wilson to wear rings or an amulet would afford some minimal kind of customization and protection.

The larger point of concern, though, is one that's come up before: just as with Hexxat and Valen, there's a precedent to having a bear companion in a D&D game. Quite frankly, comparing Wilson to Okku from "Mask of the Betrayer" seems inevitable to me, with the downside of making Wilson's addition not quite as "new" as it should have been. (And really, if that comparison is going to be made anyway, Beamdog might as well go all-out and have Wilson offer a prayer to Okku before facing Irenicus, or something of the sort. Explicit references and shout-outs are always preferable to the impression that you're being unoriginal.) Still, he draws some interesting reactions (take him to see Volo in Saradush, you'll see), and even has his own epilogue, so that's certainly an impetus to take him through to the end.

Despite their differences, though, Baeloth and Wilson share common ground both with each other and with the other EE characters, in that they're clearly and visibly different. Baeloth is BG's first sorcerer NPC; Wilson is - to reiterate - a bear. While it might have been interesting to see how they might have fared as fully fleshed-out party members, I can't deny that in their current functions, they can both be considered successes.

Next time: what conclusions can we draw from these analyses?

KaigenArdulNonnahswriterchickenhedtypo_tillyElrandir

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