Baldur’s Gate 3 comes with very high expectations among RPG fans. Taking six years of development time, Larian Studios have delivered a fine example of how to do a Dungeons & Dragons RPG right.
For those of you still reading after the opening paragraph, here is what makes Baldur’s Gate 3 truly special, along with a few thoughts on how it could be made even better. For the purposes of avoiding spoilers, I will not discuss specific story events beyond the very beginning of the game, as the more you can experience on your own, the better.
The game starts off with defining who you will be playing as. You can either select from a set of Origin characters with set attributes and backstories, or you can roll your own. The character creation process is both streamlined and detailed. You can quickly put a character together in just a few minutes, but you also have the ability to dive in and tweak your character’s stats, appearance, class, and background. I ended up spending my first thirty minutes with the game just doing this. While much of this isn’t new and has appeared in other games, doing it in a Dungeons & Dragons setting after so many years added something to the experience for me.
Once I had my character the way I wanted him, I was presented with a visually stunning opening cinematic, and then taken into the game itself. I woke up on an Illithid (Mindflayer) ship, and came to realize I’ve got an Illithid tadpole stuck in my eye. This was a bit disturbing to me, especially given I’m visually impaired and I really don’t want anything entering my already sensitive eyes that shouldn’t be there. That said, this tadpole did seem to have some advantages, as it helped me make contact with one of the Origin characters and recruit her into my party. It is made clear though, that some sort of solution needs to be found, or I will become an Illithid Thrall, a mindless soldier in their plans for conquest.
Not long after, I had a rather grim choice to make on how to deal with an Intellect Devourer, an Illithid minion. Right here is where you start to see the game’s nuanced narrative beginning to weave itself around you. You can make it clear to the Intellect Devourer that you’re not on its side, and use violence to get your point across, or you can not do so, and lead it to thinking you are going to help it by being nice and simply not mentioning your intentions at all. How you choose to play out situations like this will change how other characters see you, as well as what will happen going forward.
Mechanically, Baldur’s Gate 3 has a lot going on. Combat happens in rounds, which makes it a matter of keeping track of your Actions remaining and planning out what to attack, with whom, and from what position. The interface for all this is quite smooth, and has some nice little touches like, if you want to attack a specific enemy, you can either click on them on the game world, or click on their portrait at the top of the screen. The combat is simple to understand, but when you add in a character’s bonus actions and reactions, there’s a lot to balance. Yet, it never feels overwhelming. Since you’re not on a clock, you can just take your time and figure out what you want to do. I far prefer this approach to my RPGs.
While progressing through the game, you’ll need to perform skill checks to determine whether or not you succeed. This is done with a roll of a twenty-sided die. While I know it’s just a random number generator in the background, this visual representation adds a nice bit of authenticity to the game, and I really appreciate that. This also applies when your character is downed, as you will have to roll saving throws to see if you can continue or whether the character dies.
Exploring the world of the Forgotten Realms can be very dangerous. There will be environmental hazards to deal with, along with stealth sections to navigate. This is about the only part of the game that has rubbed me the wrong way thus far. The game has a set of Accessibility options to help make it easier for folks with disabilities to play the game, yet these hazards will always be in play. After seeing the extensive options the team at Naughty Dog added to The Last of Us, which go as far as disabling removing problematic gameplay elements in favor of letting people experience the narrative, it makes me wish Larian had gone further with the Accessibility options in Baldur’s Gate 3. For now, I just have to save every few steps and make sure I don’t blunder into anything I can’t see. I sincerely hope Larian will consider expanding on their Accessibility in the future.
Visually, the game is gorgeous, and even my terrible eyes can tell that! The level of detail is exquisite, and it is readily apparent that a lot of care, effort, and love was put into crafting the characters and world of Baldur’s Gate 3. The visuals are also backed by excellent sound design, voice acting, and a fantastic soundtrack. It is the total package, and I don’t throw that cliche around lightly.
With a game as massive as Baldur’s Gate 3 there are bound to be a few bugs to be ironed out. I’ve run into a very strange crash at startup that only ever happened once, and a very strange situation with the Vulkan rendered and Windows Screen Magnifier. I’ll mention it here, as it is an odd case that few people will run into. If you try to use the Vulkan renderer with Screen Magnifier running, the mouse pointer does not render in game. Using DX11 sorts this out. Since launch, Larian have released several patches, and no doubt they will continue to over the course of the coming months. Bugs happen. How a studio responds to them is what matters, and given how things have been going thus far, I have confidence the game will continue to get better.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a fantastic game. While playing it, I felt like I was playing a great tabletop campaign with a DM that knew how to make you see and feel what was going on. If you are looking for a layered and nuanced game you can sink your time into and not feel like you’ve wasted a second, this is it.