I’ve always been a fan of modding communities. The ability to add onto and enhance the game in different ways can’t help but extend the life of that game. Communities like ZDoom, The Gibberlings Three and Hard-Light prove this. Some incredible mods have resulted from these communities, but I’ve often noticed a problem that when these mods come out, that only people within that particular community know about them. So I’ve decided to write showcases of some particularly well-designed mods that really add to the game in question.
One of the only very few things I didn’t like about Baldur’s Gate was how simplistic the AI could be, though don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my all-time favourite games. Most enemies ran up to you and tried to chop you up, attacking the first character they run across (usually your front-line fighter); mages and priests had generalized scripts and didn’t even have as many spells as they should have, and certainly didn’t use them well. With a little pre-battle preparation, most battles could be dealt with pretty easily.
This is where Sword Coast Stratagems by DavidW comes in. Recently, I’ve picked the original Baldur’s Gate back up (running the Tutu mod, which lets you run BG1 in BG2’s engine) running this mod, and I’m amazed as to how much trickier many encounters are. I even playtested this quite a while ago, but it’s been so long that I forgot how much more interesting it makes the game. In terms of general AI improvements, first, he gives most creatures the ability to alert nearby creatures, so you can no longer cheese and wipe out a group of hobgoblins one at a time. The entire group will bear down on you, at once. Second, their targeting is a lot better. Enemies in melee range will attack the most vulnerable target within range, and will only chase a short way before they switch to another target (so no playing merry-go-round, while you cut up the bad guy). Archers will shoot at your vulnerable mages, as well. Carrion Crawlers, after stunning one of your fighters, will start attacking another, to stun him as well. Finally, the game gives potions to quite a few humanoid enemies, like the groups of assassins you run into. They’ll drink healing potions when they’re low on health, thieves will drink invisibility potions and try to backstab you, fighters will drink potions of heroism and similar buffs. Many groups have some of the same capabilities and take advantage of the same things your party has.
Another major feature mostly applies to Baldur’s Gate 2 (yes, there’s a version of the mod for BG2 as well), but several monsters are reworked to better match pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons counterparts, and are given more abilities. Beholders, vampires, mind flayers and other creatures are enhanced and reworked so combat with them is even more dynamic and varied than it was before. For Baldur’s Gate 1, this is mostly an enhancement to a few particular areas. The Nashkel mines, for example, are now swarming with kobolds. Combined with their ability to call for help from nearby groups, be prepared to be bogged down with a few waves. Baldur’s Gate 2 has some enhanced areas, namely the de’Arnise Keep, for example. It also has enhancements to several end-chapter areas, if you find those to be too easy, with some added minions, or an added ability on a key boss, for example.
The greatest feature of Sword Coast Stratagems, however, is the Smarter Mage and Smarter Priest components. Once you figured out the generalized scripts in Baldur’s Gate 2, for example, they were very easy to interrupt and just wipe out without many problems. With smarter mages, be prepared to get your ass handed to you in a way that mages are supposed to hand it. There is a component added for enemies to detect spell effects active on the players, so they won’t bother flinging spells you’re immune to. Most mages are given spells the player himself would find quite useful, and many have more defensive options than you would think. They also have several spells from Baldur’s Gate 2, if you choose to add them in.
For example, the fight in the Firewine ruins underneath Gullykin, you face off against an Ogre Mage and a mage named Lendarn, with a decent group of ogrillons nearby. This fight is what encouraged me to write this showcase, because it took me ten tries to finally beat with Smarter Mages with Baldur’s Gate 2 spells. Right off the bat, they both cast Stoneskin and Mirror Image (both very standard that you would expect from anything). The ogre then casts Haste and wades into combat, while Lendarn casts Melf’s Minute Meteors and Minor Globe of Invulnerability. After exhausting those, he then pelts you with Lightning Bolts, which is quite capable of wiping out half your party. If you try to silence them, they both have Vocalize memorized (something that would be common sense to have, of course). On those occasions I brought the ogre down to low health, he fired a minor spell sequencer on himself with mirror image and invisibility. One time, I summoned a group of monsters on Lendarn to distract him, and he cast Teleport Field centered on himself (a rare spell that randomly teleports everyone every round in the 30-foot radius) so they couldn’t surround him. At one point, I got really lucky and interrupted Lendarn as he was casting Vocalize, after I silenced him, and he immediately fired a spell sequencer with a pair of Chromatic Orbs, petrifying and immediately killing one of my party members. I finally won the fight at one point when I got lucky and blinded him. He immediately cast invisibility and ran away to wait out the duration. I used the time to kill the ogre, retreat, rest and come back to finish him off, though when I came back, he had all of his spells again (as though he rested too).
Mages aren’t the only thing improved, either. Clerics and druids get smarter, too! When I fought Osmadi the druid, he constantly shifted between bear form and human form; bear form for combat, and human form whenever he tried to cast something. This made him much tougher than he would be in the unmodded game because he could take and deal more damage in melee than he could before, with an ability druids have already. Other prominent examples include Neira, the assassin in Nashkel’s inn, who makes an effort to stun your fighters with Hold Person before nuking with Unholy Blight and similar spells. The Smarter Mage and Smarter Priest components are by far the most fulfilling part of the mod. It doesn’t make them harder by giving them high health, immunities or other stats. It just gives them spells they really should have already, allows them to pick and choose targets more effectively, and lets them use abilities they already have. It’s as close as you can get to fighting another player, in this game.
As I’ve alluded to, as well, the mod is packaged into components that you can pick-and-choose from. You can install Smarter Priests, but not Smarter Mages; you could install Smarter Mages, but not allow Baldur’s Gate 2 spells or allow them to pre-cast protection spells. You could install the general AI enhancements and nothing else; you could install the component to improve the fights at the end of chapter 2 and chapter 3, but not chapter 4. You really can customize the mod how you want, to suit exactly how much more challenging you want the game to be.
I cannot recommend this mod enough, if you’re a fan of the Baldur’s Gate series. I’m one of those bizarre people who finds more difficult situations more fun, especially when you finally get the upper hand. It’s difficult but it is fair, and most of the difficulty is because of things that should be in the game anyway, and I haven’t even given the full list of features and fixes! You can find it on The Gibberlings Three, and here are the readmes for SCS 1 , and SCS 2 for more information.