From the get-go, you have more options when creating your character. All of the races, classes, and kits that were added later in the series (Baldur’s Gate II, Throne of Bhaal) are now available for use in the original Baldur’s Gate, as well a new addition to the Paladin kits, the Blackguard. Having all of the classes available from the start is a welcome feature, as it gives even veteran players a new way to experience an old game, but it strikes me as more of a mod — and it’s entirely possible that there’s one out there that does this, as there are dozens for the original Baldur’s Gate — than really a brand-new addition.
A far more substantial addition is that of three new NPCs that can join your party, including Neera the Wild Mage, Dorn the Blackguard, and Rasaad the monk. Each of them have their own backstories and intriguing sidequests to offer (and even new romance options!), which take you to new areas and extend the play time of the game a decent amount, though perhaps not quite as much as Overhaul advertised.
The distributor claimed that each of the new characters’ content added four hours of gameplay, but I found this to be a generous estimate. Neera and Rasaad’s quests took me no more than an hour and half apiece, and that was with very, very thorough playthroughs in which I explored all of the new areas in their entirety. The longest sidequest was Dorn’s, which involved me chasing down more than one of his past partners that betrayed him and subsequently took about two hours to complete.
That isn’t to say that the new character quests weren’t of high quality, though. And while they were all fantastic, Rasaad’s was easily my favorite. His quest brings you to a brand-new area call the Cloud Peaks, a snow-covered mountain range that is inhabited by trolls, wolves, and the very thing that brings you there, a group of evil monks. The environment looks beautiful, it’s fun to explore, and the quest’s final battle taking place on a snowy mountain top is suitably epic.
In addition to the new characters, there’s also the Black Pits, which is a glorified arena mode. It’s a completely separate mode from the rest of the game, so this isn’t like the Watcher’s Keep challenge tower in the Baldur’s Gate II Throne of Bhaal expansion, which could be visited and enjoyed at any time during a playthrough. This is handled completely separately, with its own characters and save games. That also means that none of the items, gold, or XP earned here carry over to your single player campaign.
There’s a little bit of exposition, but nothing all that engaging; the gist of it is that you and your party are a bunch of unwilling gladiators that have been captured and are being forced to fight in rounds against increasingly difficult enemies in the Black Pits arena. In between rounds, you’re given gold to purchase better equipment and supplies before moving onto your next fight. Every few fights, you move up a “tier” and, to match the increasing difficulty of the fights, the merchants that you can purchase items from upgrade their wares. It’s pretty straightforward and honestly nothing new; it’s basically just a way to enjoy the game’s combat in a void. If anything, it’s probably best enjoyed as a sort of tutorial/practice mode for new players that aren’t as familiar with the game’s combat system.
That’s about it for the “major” enhancements, though I’d be hard-pressed to call the Black Pits significant, given that it’s not even part of the main game. Some of the other improvements and additions are a little more minor, like UI tweaks, some new music and voice work (not just for the three new characters, but for some other NPCs as well), new art for character portraits, and hand-drawn visuals to replace the cinematics. They’re not quite animated, but rather they’re more like still pictures with moving elements; it sounds kind of odd but it’s certainly preferable to cutscenes that I can assure you don’t hold up all that well these days.
On the whole, there isn’t a ton of new content, at least that you can see (there are some 400-plus “improvements” and fixes, but more on that later). It can be a little disappointing to someone like me, who has turned the original game inside out at this point and is starved for any and all new Baldur’s Gate content, but what is new is extremely enjoyable.