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As mentioned before, Baldur's Gate follows strict AD&D rules, so a big part of your success lies in creating a good character. You get to pick gender (which doesn't affect your attributes at all - how PC), race (human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, etc.), class (fighter, thief, bard, druid, etc.), as well as all the special attributes of your particular race/class combo. With so many combinations to choose from, I probably spent the better part of an hour just creating my character, although we should mention it can be done in under five minutes. While it does help to know the attributes and strengths of each race or class (the manual describes these nuances), you don't really have to know to get started. As someone who only played paper and pencil D&D a few times in his life, I was able to start up my game without reading the manual. However, you will definitely want to refer to it time and again while you play the game, so keep it handy.
My favorite feature:
It was obvious that Bioware, the developers of Baldur's Gate, spared no expense in their attention to detail. For instance, the game has a day/night cycle, which you can see by the little clock in the bottom left hand corner. It wasn't apparent to me that monsters changed or got more ferocious depending on the time of day but I did notice that shops sometimes close up, and many townspeople are unavailable during the dead of night. Since time is an important factor, you have to be sure to rest your characters every 24 game hours or so. The creators also included weather effects in the game, including rain, snow, wind, and fog. I understand the weather affects combat situations as well. Another cool detail is the infravision that certain races have. Many non human races can use their infravision to see warm blooded creatures at night or in low light. The creatures show up in a red glow on the screen, making it easier to spot potential bad guys.
You can tell this mage is
carrying a special sword
The world of Baldur's Gate is broken into squarish areas. You can freely explore these areas but either going outside a border or entering a building/cave will force you to load up a new screen. The loading time can be annoying if you have a slow CD ROM so watch out. I also wouldn't recommend trying to skimp on the hard drive space that BG asks for during the installation. When you're moving from town to town or going into and out of houses you'll learn to appreciate a good sized hard drive cache. What's interesting about moving from area to area is that a chunk of game time will pass (several hours or even a couple of days) as you "travel." Thus it's not advisable to go back and forth from area to area too much because some of your party members can get angry or impatient when it seems like you're wasting time. Also, it's possible to get ambushed while in the process of moving from one area to another.