For a game with the sheer girth of Baldur’s Gate 2, I remember a lot of things that happened. I remember the battles, too numerous to count. I especially remember the ones with Mind Flayers, the ones where party members died, the ones I had to try a dozen times to get everything exactly right. I remember the plot twists, the occasional acts of railroading. The sort of things video games, even video games from over half a dozen years ago, do frequently. I remember my party members, those men and women good and true, who fought alongside me, the offspring of Bhaal, the god of destruction, in spite of my heritage. Who believed in my propensity for good, instead of my capacity for evil.
But there’s one moment, one character who far and away captured my heart. One character who showed me how much more video games could do, and, really, the things we are missing.
I speak, of course, of Keldorn.
In practical, gameplay terms, Keldorn is possibly the most important party member. You see, you get the best weapon in the game, the Holy Avenger, after about 20 hours. It takes until the very final dungeon, after about 80 more hours, to find a weapon even half its equal. It provides you not only a weapon that can combat all the various monsters in the game immune to most weapons, but also one that gives its wielder a laundry list of immunities. Basically, it is a min/maxer’s wet dream. The problem is, it’s paladin only. Which means that, unless your main character is a paladin, Keldorn is your only option for it. And my main character, despite a good streak a mile wide, was a thief. But I knew there’d be a hole in my party for a tank, and I’d planned, since the beginning of the game, to put Keldorn in my party, for precisely this reason.
Keldorn joined my party, and participated in many of my most memorable encounters. Mainly, the first encounter with mind flayers in Baldur’s Gate occurs right after he appears. Word about Mind Flayers: I can take everything else. Mind Flayers stun you every two seconds, then eat your character’s brains. This kills them instantly. Bad combination. Keldorn, with his paladinic resistances, dealt with them easiest. He hit frequently, and hit hard.
Basically, he was a badass.
And I had to let him go.
Here’s the story: Keldorn is dedicated. He’s a noble, and he maintains an estate in the rich district of town. He has a wife, and daughters, but he doesn’t see them, even though he lives in the same city, because he is so dedicated to his work. When your party goes to the rich district (something almost guaranteed to happen), he invites the party to his estate. When you get there, his wife confronts him about his behavior. He doesn’t understand. She says she’s having an affair with an old neighbor of theirs, because Keldorn is never there.
The party takes Keldorn to confront the other man, and my character, a good person in all ways, talks him down from killing the paramour, who is actually quite a noble gentleman who only did the things Keldorn was not there to do. He was more father than lover. Keldorn goes back to his wife, who takes him back. Keldorn asks to stay with her.
This, by the way, is a moral choice. There is no benefit from doing good besides a warm fuzzy feeling of helping a man and his family live happily ever after. In fact, you suffer: you lose access to the most overpowered weapon in the game, and one of the best characters in terms of statistics and abilities. Your only reward for doing good is a moral superiority. And, of course, if you are evil, then you can hold Keldorn to his vow to assist you, and have an easier time of the game. A game that is, by the way, by no means easy.
Of course, if you’re playing as a good person, there’s no choice to make. Yes, you’re saving the world, but does a slightly higher chance of saving the world justify tearing this man’s life apart? It’s not a good or evil quandry with a life or death outcome. When I told him to stay with his family, even though it hurt my chances, it was obviously the right choice.
It’s moments like this that the modern megabucks RPG is lacking: that moment of humanity. There are two choices: the insignificant choice that effects the lives of boring, unimportant commoners and doesn’t harm you in any way either way, and then there are massive, life or death choices that effect entire worlds. It’s a moment that Baldur’s Gate really hits well: almost every character has a side quest where they go off and deal with things not related to the party. It’s like Mass Effect 2’s loyalty missions, except these have immediate, far reaching effect. All of Mass Effect 2’s loyalty missions played out the same way: go in, kill some dudes, person becomes loyal to you. Baldur’s Gate 2 offered real consequences: people could leave the narrative forever. They could be reduced to gibbering husks who tried to kill other party members. And these aren’t difficult scenarios to realize. Real, massive change is the possibility of every quest, and these teeth are what makes Baldur’s so exhilarating. Sure, there’s a lot of death and mayhem, but it’s in the small moments where the child of Bhaal can truly shine.
As for Keldorn, it wasn’t death for him. He and his family lived happily ever after, in a world I saved. He was replaced in my party by Mazzy, a halfing who became one of my favorite, and most powerful, characters. They say good things happen to those who do good, and this is one case where they’re definitely right.