Thursday, June 24, 2010

Antagonists: Baldur's Gate

Next in my series of game antagonists, I'll discuss one of the great PC RPG classics: Baldur's Gate. Of course, spoiler warning for the game...

Baldur's Gate gives the player a fantastic antagonist. Right from the opening cinematic, the player sees the game's villain, Sarevok, though you don't find out his name until much later.  You do, however, encounter him as a mysterious armoured figure who cuts down your father figure in front of your eyes.  So running scared, you escape from this antagonist... certain you will have to face him before the end of the game.

Shiny, spiky armour... it's one way to attract attention.

But you flee, and start looking into the troubles within the region at the behest of some other travellers. As you progress through the game, you uncover a plot to poison the iron ore of local mines, which is part of a greater plot to control the trade of iron in the region.  Through your actions, you become known to those behind the plot, and they send assassins to kill you. You slowly make your way through the lower ranks of the conspiracy through various trials and difficulties, and eventually uncover that an organisation called the Iron Throne is the mastermind of the plan.

It turns out that this organisation is led by Sarevok's father Rieltar... thus it appears he is to blame. Yet Rieltar, his second in command are in your childhood home of Candlekeep. You can then either kill Rieltar and his offsiders or be framed for their murder... Sarevok will kill his father and company himself if you do not do it! You are both children of the (dead) God of Murder, and he means to kill you. It is soon revealed that Sarevok plans to plunge Baldur's Gate into war with the nation of Amn... and subsequently that he wishes to do so in order to have a war of sacrifice believing he can become the new deity of Murder.

As a player, you're very happy to defeat Sarevok in the final battle of the game. Not only did he kill your foster father, but he helped mastermind a crisis across the entire Sword Coast through his lackeys. You fought and defeated all of them along the way, and endured many attempts on your life at their hands.  However, Sarevok wasn't fully aware of all those attempts, so you didn't get the impression he didn't consider you a threat. He didn't really underestimate you until right at the end of the game, and even then, he pulled so many strings to get you out of the picture it made it really seem as though he was trying. After all, this is someone who came for you personally right at the start of the game.

This is what made Sarevok a great villain. So often the player's character is ignored as "an insignificant threat" by the main villain, and we must prove them wrong as they send a series of ineffectual lackeys, each slightly more powerful than the last until we finally possess the power to defeat the villain themselves. For starters, this is a cheap plot device. Secondly, if someone if making a nuisance of themselves to the villain's plan, they're not going to remain idle, they're going to ensure that person is stopped rather than letting them grow in power. When Sarevok finally heard of you again after the first encounter where you escaped, he pulled out all the stops to ensure you couldn't prevent his plans. Ultimately he failed, but he made you really want to defeat him. That is the hallmark of a good antagonist, and a significant part of what made Baldur's Gate such a great game.


  1. Sarevok was a good example of how you don't have to know the antagonist well to have a strong sense of wanting to beat him. Most times, its a well established hateable personality put in the villians chair, like bat man and joker etc.

  2. from wizard of thay.
    saravok was a good character, but paled beside jon irenicus, who was even more twisted and evil but the more compelling character.
    his downfall was caused by love.
    to a degree his punishment was cruel.
    his revenge was in some ways justified but the means he used even more evil.
    his care for his sister also added another facet.

  3. Patience, Wizard of Thay! I'll get to Irenicus!

  4. I like this series of blog posts, interesting reads. I hadn't played the first game you covered so that was good.

    Though I must admit I have a bit of a hard time with the BG antagonists. Now, they look imposing enough in the case of Sarevok and Irenicus was beautifully voiced. But I never liked that they felt so... I dunno, non-interactive I suppose? You can't really affect them in any way aside from fighting them.

    That said, one of my all-time favorite game villains was Shodan from System Shock 2 and she's completely non-interactive. I'd say that she was waaaay ahead of her time in how she was pulled off. I replayed the game last year and was amazed at how well it held up and how much work they must've put into her writing as well as audio design. It's masterful.

    I also loved the Master from Fallout 1 for this reason as well, and for the fact that you could convince him to basically commit suicide if you have A) high enough Speech skill and B) have researched his plans thoroughly so you can point out flaws in his plan. Always loved that.

    Looking forward to reading more of these.

  5. @Starwars

    Saren's situation was the same way, but honestly, I never did care about him much nor did I feel like I needed to talk him out of fighting and killing himself instead. Saren's background history was pretty much non-existent, so this might have contributed to this some.


    I never did finish BG1. Was never able to defeat the two Doom Knights in the bandit hideout. This post was definitely interesting and I look forward to others.

  6. Very true Anduraga. I did appreciate that you could talk to Saren like that but he was very bland otherwise and him being interactive didn't really save it.

  7. :) Thankyou for this post, it's rather uplifting to hear sentiments echoing my own on Sarevok Anchev. I played the game from the age of 8 to 17 and have never budged in my opinion that Sarevok was my favourite npc(i'm 17 btw ;)). Sure you could have more interation and what not but I felt this was superfluously compensated for by the stylish murder of a rival bhaalspawn at the opening cinematic.

    Just wish some of those fools in Atari/Bioware or whomever holds the rights to the series make another damn game, and keep the flavour haha.

    Oh and to the person who's comment I read describing an inability to overcome the doom knights. Well erm I assume you are either talking about doom guard or doomsayer(due to the plural I will assume doom guard), just explore for a while and build up a bit of money then go to a wizard somewhere and buy haste. After that you will be almost guaranteed to beat the doom guard.