The Witchfinder plays and investigates the controversial add-on, ‘Siege of Dragonspear’, released at the end of March 2016 for well-loved classic roleplaying game Baldur’s Gate. Your author is horrified to discover appalling racism in the troubled product written by so-called ‘progressive’ Amber Scott, from Beamdog Studios. The game has been reviewed in accordance with the MHN Game Review Guidelines.
Conservative and neutral writers often satirise the darkly amusing far-left trait of not wanting to socialise with the ‘oppressed’ minority groups they purport to defend. Professor Thomas Sowell, an American of African descent and well respected Conservative academic, describes the recipients of this patronising support as ‘mascots’. ‘Right on’ hard left wingers are often shown to have condescending attitudes, patronising when they intend to help – help they offer whether or not it is wanted. These traits are more than evident in Siege of Dragonspear.
Beamdog’s business up until now has been republishing polished and updated versions of classic games. Two of their major product releases were ‘enhanced’ editions of late 90’s classic Baldur’s Gate and its sequel Baldur’s Gate II. Siege of Dragonspear is the first piece of major new content released by Beamdog and it has proved extremely controversial. Rather than accept second hand information your author decided to play through Amber Scott’s so called masterpiece himself.
Starting the game offers the opportunity to import an old character file. I happened to have a character file from the original game all the way back in 1998 and I fired it up. Sadly, my Lawful Good wizard Hendral would not import. The import process stopped without explanation. Worse, looking through the game forums this is a bug with the base game, BG:EE and has been known about since 2012.
Another bug quickly became apparent. On both occasions I installed BG:EE on a Windows 7 desktop and the first Windows shutdown after installation hung and stuck on the shutdown screen. Subsequent shutdowns worked correctly.
As poor old Hendral was not going anywhere, I decided to create a fresh character, Belhana Goldenheart. Goldenheart is a chaotic evil female cleric in service to the evil goddess Beshaba, the “Maid of Misrule”. Beshaba is a Forgotten Realms deity not supported by BG:EE (although she is supported by later games like NWN), so Belhana was created as a generic cleric. I thought playing an evil female character would help to test the game’s alleged commitment to ‘diversity’.
Goldenheart is beautiful and inspires trust, but unfortunately she is evil, murderous and has poor impulse control. Belhana’s goddess, Beshaba, is running the divine equivalent of a protection racket. Beshaba is the goddess of misfortune and much of her worship involves placating her to stave off catastrophic ill-luck.
“Hello there”, a Beshaban cleric might greet a peasant farmer, “this is an awfully nice farm you have here. It would be a shame if something … unlucky … were to happen to it.”
Belhana began the game in a dungeon set just after the original game. At this point the player has just killed Sarevok, the original game’s main villain. The DLC picks up with the player chasing down Sarevok’s servant Korlasz in company with Imoen and a squad of Flaming Fist soldiers. (The Flaming Fist is the police and military force of the city of Baldur’s Gate).
A sound bug soon became apparent. The original game has sounds on selection of characters and on giving orders, as well as sound effects on other actions like spell-casting. During my review playthrough, these invariably shut-off within moments of entering an area. Changing area sometimes turned them back on briefly – usually for less than a minute. Searching the forums reveals this bug has been known for at least two years (archive here). Your author tried the suggested workaround to no avail.
During the review, I tested out some of the new graphic settings, but found them crude. Fortunately it is possible to turn off the new features and use the older graphical style. Comparison screenshots below –
Nearly as soon as Belhana entered this … dungeon of equality … I soon encountered a woman wearing thigh high split skirts who seemed to serve almost no function at all (see below). The NPC, Ammon, set Belhana a quest to find some cobalt moss.
The rest of the dungeon is eminently forgettable. There are some fights with various kinds of humanoids, undead, rats and beetles. A number of humanoid NPCs surrender rather than fight – including Sarevok’s supporter Korlasz herself. Belhana could not find the moss so on the way out she and her party turned on Ammon without warning, killed her, and looted her corpse. Imoen and the nearby police officers appeared to do nothing about this senseless murder.
The original game does have a policing mechanic for player character crimes. Where a character is seen murdering innocent people their reputation drops, good characters leave the party and those remaining are hunted by the Flaming Fist. However in Siege of Dragonspear this mechanic did not seem to activate.
After the dungeon, the action moves on to the city of Baldur’s Gate, where the player’s entire party is discarded. The entire team that have stayed with you through thick and thin, through all of Baldur’s Gate and Tales of the Sword Coast – all gone. Although it is possible to gather some of them up again, including Minsc, Viconia and Safana the change of party is a significant continuity break.
The section in Baldur’s Gate is largely forgettable. The original backdrops graphics are used but cut into tiny squares for key locations. There is very little new content. After an attack by assassins, the player character has to gather a new party and recover their stolen gold.
Overt racism soon becomes visible. Many games portray racism in characters – this is no more than gritty realism. However, at times the issue is with the game narrative. For example, if you visit the Iron Throne merchant company it has been converted to house refugees. There is little to do in the building and if the player character tries to go upstairs they are stopped with the following message (first picture in this article) –
“The upper levels are packed with refugees, and the odor of unwashed bodies keeps you on the main floor.”
It should be remembered that the player character by this time has adventured through a variety of frankly rank locations, most obviously the sewers of Baldur’s Gate – so the idea that they are physically prevented from entering an area by the smell implies an epic level stench. Why not, “this area is closed to visitors”? Regardless of the intent this unfortunate text message is capable of extremely racist interpretations, particularly in light of current real world events.
Whilst your author does think there needs to be greater control on, and reduction of, refugee entry to Europe, hate speech is not the way to achieve this.
Later in the Baldur’s Gate section, new character Schael Corwin, your guide (who later becomes a full party member) expresses her dismay that Viconia, a black skinned female elf has been allowed to join the quest. “I argued against their kind joining us”. Viconia is a well loved character from the original Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II and this treatment is regrettable.
Corwin is a member of the Flaming Fist – essentially a police officer. She is apparently romanceable by female characters – although she has not approached Belhana. It is shameful that Beamdog stereotype a female police officer as a racist lesbian, bringing to mind overtones of the anti-police hatred that has become all too fashionable in ‘progressive’ and ‘Social Justice Warrior’ circles.
The game progresses in this vein. Instead of the sprawling open world of Baldur’s Gate and its original sequels, the player is led by the hand from one small cluster of areas to another.
As an example, after completing the simple tasks in the city of Baldur’s Gate the party heads out with the expedition to Dragonspear keep. The next area, a camp along the journey, introduces Mizhena. Mizhena is a cleric of the God Tempus who provides healing magic – basically a healer shop.
Mizhena has proven controversial because if questioned they almost immediately admit to being a male-to-female transsexual in an extremely clumsy and strange way. This has led to forum complaints by offended real-world transsexuals (archive here). One said –
“The trans character is not on the same level as every other character, who can ‘take’ abuse from you. The trans character has to be protected from this because they’re different. The way the trans character is implemented doesn’t make me feel like “I’m just like everyone else” as I imagine the writer intended, it just makes me feel more like a freak or novelty. It’s unrealistic.”
Another transgender player said –
“I hate being used as a political football”
Belhana is of course both chaotic and evil, and quite likely to say something unkind to Mizhena. For reasons which are unclear, whilst it is ok for Corwin to be racist about Viconia, and for the game itself to announce that refugees smell, the player is not presented with any option to say something nasty to Mizhena. They can however beat them to death with complete impunity.
Whilst there are several Flaming Fist officers nearby, they do nothing when the player character brutally murders Mizhena – they do not even comment on it. What is this intended to convey, exactly? Transphobic violence is better than transphobic slurs?
A further controversy arises because a well loved character called Minsc makes a snide remark about “ethics in heroic adventuring”, which is perceived as a swipe at free speech movement #GamerGate. As I did not have Minsc in the party (because Minsc is a good character, unlike Belhana) I did not observe this.
Siege of Dragonspear goes on. An on. And on. With every linearly presented area one expects an array of clumsy stereotypes and leaden writing. Some dwarves are in a nearby cave. They are unable to deal with an infestation of undead themselves so the player character has to do it for them. We meet a hill giant called Semahl. A ‘gentle giant’, remarks Viconia, with uncharacteristic kindness. By uncharacteristic, your author means that Viconia is an evil drow cleric of Shar!
The author has said enough – on to the review scores –
Graphics – 21 / 25
Many of the assets may be taken from the original game, but Baldur’s gate is still beautiful and the new expansion does not change that. The new areas are well drawn and animated.
Sound – 6 / 25
A long standing but unresolved bug with the enhanced edition plagued the reviewer throughout the game leaving the sound experience considerably worse than the original.
Gameplay – 11 / 25
Siege of Dragonspear uses the beautiful and beloved Infinity Engine with Baldur’s Gate graphics to tell a mediocre and frequently offensive story.
Ease of Use / Glitches – 5 / 25
The sound effect bug brings the game down into the ‘well below acceptable quality’ category. This impression is fortified by the character import bug and other glitches.
Adjustment – -10
The final step in the MHN Game Review Guidelines is the reviewer’s adjustment. In this case your author gives -10 for making such a disappointing, unnecessarily politicised, botch of expanding a well loved game.
Overall – 33%
“I’m Trent Oster, CEO of Beamdog.
First off, everyone here is ecstatic to have shipped Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear. Siege represents years of hard work by a dedicated team that we grew from a combination of home grown talent, original Baldur’s Gate modders and former Bioware developers. Siege of Dragonspear represents more than 25 hours of new Baldur’s Gate gameplay, and more than 500,000 words of writing. I’m proud of our team for launching this great expansion.
We’ve received feedback around Mizhena, a supporting character who reveals she is transgender. In retrospect, it would have been better served if we had introduced a transgender character with more development. This is a lesson we will be carrying forward in our development as creators and we will be improving this character in a future update.
The last few days have showed us how passionately many of our fans care for our games. We’ve had a lot of great feedback from players who love the expansion and are having a great time experiencing the first new Baldur’s Gate story in 15 years.
While we appreciate all feedback we receive from our fans, both positive as well as negative, some of the negative feedback has focused not on Siege of Dragonspear but on individual developers at Beamdog — to the point of online threats and harassment.
I just want to make it crystal clear that Beamdog does not condone this behavior, and moreover that it will not have the desired effect as we stand behind all our developers 100%. We created the game as a group, and moving forward we’ll work on the game’s issues as a group, which I believe is exactly as it should be.
We’ve received valuable feedback around some bugs we failed to catch for ship. We’re hard at work right now patching up the issues that slipped through and we’re striving to ship fixes and improvements quickly. We will provide a complete list of the issues we plan to address in our next update. Issues of note we are addressing are:
Multiplayer – We are acting on reports of multiplayer issues and hope to have this fixed in the next update.
Minsc – Minsc has a line which generated controversy. Looking back on the line, we agree with the feedback from our community, it has nothing to do with his character and we will be removing the line.
We hope all our players continue to enjoy Siege of Dragonspear and we look forward to providing an update in the near future.
To this reviewer Beamdog’s statement is too little too late. They need to go further. A start would be to bring on board a more conservative writer for balance. I recommend @VoxDay. A petition for this would perhaps help Beamdog find their way to a better commercial place.