Larian Studios has truly managed to strike gold with Baldur's Gate, managing to satisfy old trends and innovate with new ones. Baldur's Gate 3 may be the RPG with the most player freedom available on the market today, but all that choice does come at a cost.
Have you found yourself lamenting the current state of video games recently? Let slip a groan when the pre-order bonuses contain a battle pass and some content that is not available for another 6 months? Or, maybe you bought a game on release only to find it was barely playable? (That’s alright, you can always come back later.)
Well, Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t going to evoke that feeling. After spending the last 3 years in Early Access with a release date of “when it’s done”, we finally have our hands on the unexpected sequel to Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. “When it’s done” has arrived, and they certainly made sure it was done: the game is full to the brim with content, diverging paths, and hundreds of places you might never even see in a single playthrough. Somehow, Larian Studios created a sequel to one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, as well as a follow-up to one of the most talked about RPGs of the last 10 years, and pulled off the impossible: they did it well.
Baldur’s Gate 3 has taken the time to not just reuse, but improve almost every mechanic it relies on. Gone is cheesy video game dialogue, instead every line feels thought out and calculated. Reminiscent of a game like Disco Elysium rather than something like Fallout 4, where the dialogue is secondary to the action. Playing on Tactician difficulty forces players to consider every angle, including environmental ones, leading to combat more similar to XCOM than something like Divinity: Original Sin. No system feels like a second priority, and nothing feels especially neglected.
Dungeons & Dragons
Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons is used as the game’s foundation. This means the usual fare of Action, Bonus Action, and Reaction, allowing you to mix and match various options during each turn. Like any good dungeon master, Baldur’s Gate 3 includes many homebrew rules to make things more interesting. Surfaces are brought back from Divinity: Original Sin, allowing players to mix a Grease spell with a Fireball and carpet bomb a room. Melee fighters are also given a bounty of abilities to make sure they don’t simply end up as basic swing characters for the next 100 hours.
My personal favorite addition is the ability to shove an enemy as a bonus action. This allows you to create space and get an enemy out of position, or avoid attacks of opportunity, but most importantly, it allows you to push people into the abyss, never to be seen again. There are few things more satisfying in a game than seeing a high-health enemy slowly disappear into the distance, and seeing “+50 XP” pop up above your head.
Unfortunately, some of these homebrew changes are likely to irk a few tabletop veterans. Things like high ground advantages, or all classes able to freely use spell scrolls, are questionable to those with a less videogame-oriented view.
With the original Forgotten Realms RPGs almost all being playable cooperatively, as well as Divinity: Original Sin 1 & 2 having some of the best co-op the genre has to offer, Baldur’s Gate 3 could not skip this feature. Up to 4 players are able to play together, by creating characters from scratch, or even taking over as a companion in the middle of your single-player campaign if you’d like.
Playing with your friends offers a lot of the classic murder hobo experience that long-time Dungeons & Dragons players know and love. Realizing the person you were just having a nice conversation with is about to try to grind you into a fine paste because your party’s Rogue stole a tomato from his back pocket is always an interesting experience. With Initiative using D20 rolls, you can even end up with the same initiative as another player, having your turns simultaneously. You could use this to communicate and set up a real showcase of a turn, syncing surfaces with elemental effects, or chaining shoves to get someone somewhere they really don’t want to be. Alternatively, you could simply make sure to impede every move your ally tries to make, slowly driving them to madness as their targets repeatedly die just as they manage to reach them.
The massive focus on story and dialogue combined with the chaos of 1-3 other players does end up detrimental, unfortunately. All dialogue seems to be spoken from the perspective of the player character, causing situations where despite me never having spoken to this person before, they distinctly remember speaking to me.
In a move very reminiscent of Bioware’s more recent RPGs, your companions are a big focus. Each has their own goals, sometimes intersecting with the main plot, sometimes simply going to the same places as you. In the pool of ten companions, you have standouts such as the demon-hunting Warlock, bound to a succubus, and a Wizard that insists he will explode, levelling the entirety of Baldur’s Gate, unless you feed him magic artifacts.
The more boring aspect of companions is that they are almost all various shades of generally attractive human adjacent people. There are no Dwarves, Halflings, Gnomes, Dragonborn, or even Half Orcs available as companions. The closest we get is Lae’zel, a Githyanki Fighter, and Karlach, a Tiefling Barbarian with some visual quirks unavailable on character creation.
All of these companions are mortal as far as the story is concerned, unable to permanently die from combat, but very much able to die in cutscenes. In fact, at times the game is downright homicidal, throwing companions into the proverbial meat grinder after only one dialogue choice. Playing with other players can easily snowball this, leaving a mound of dead companions at camp.
To go with this, you can romance all of your companions. Half of them seem to entirely romance themselves at times. Gone are the narrated black screens of Divinity: Original Sin 2; now we have fully animated, motion-capture sex scenes that even warranted intimacy coordinators behind the scenes. My astonishment the first time an Elf sat on my character’s face was only surpassed by the sheer awkwardness of watching it with two friends.
Unlike some RPG romances, your choice of partner will almost certainly impact your potential future partners. Companions will get jealous of each other, sometimes even coming to blows back at your camp. That one-night stand you had may very well cause your favorite companion to decide they’re back on the market.
Despite taking place almost a full century after Baldur’s Gate 2, we even have some returning fan-favorite companions from the original two games. These are of course also romanceable, considering neither of their partners managed to reach the ripe young age of 100.
Performance & Presentation
Baldur’s Gate 3 can be an absolutely gorgeous game, letting you inspect every pore on characters. It can also be an ugly, blurry mess if you don’t have a machine capable of running it. The difference between low and high settings is staggering, but Baldur’s Gate 3 is a taxing game. Some people may find themselves opting to play at 30 FPS if it means higher settings, the game is turn-based after all.
With faces this detailed, Larian Studios decided what we need more than anything else is body horror involving eyes. There are at least two opportunities to lose an eye, though unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to lose both together. The game even begins with an intensely uncomfortable cinematic involving implanting alien tadpoles into eyes.
Upscaling via AMD FSR and Nvidia DLSS may be necessary for many players, but they are not entirely consistent with what you might expect. With my Nvidia card, I was able to squeeze better performance out of playing with AMD FSR on Vulkan, as opposed to DirectX and Nvidia DLSS. This came at the cost of some stability, and having to turn off bloom as all bloom became a black square.
On both DirectX and Vulkan I have experienced a handful of crashes, less than some notoriously unstable games like Fallout: New Vegas, but more than I would like. Luckily, the game has a Quick Save function that can be used at any time, including mid-dialogue. Each Quick Save is also saved as its own file, creating a long backlog of files you can revert back to if you ever really screw up.
CRPG interfaces are rarely perfect. There will always be something that just isn’t quite right. Unfortunately, I think this is Baldur’s Gate 3’s weakest point. The action bars are functional but cluttered, feeling sluggish when trying to drag shortcuts around.
The worst offender is without a doubt the inventory. Players have two versions of their inventory. The party version is toggled by pressing “Tab”, and shows the entire party’s inventories and equipment. Here you can drag and drop items between inventories, or onto equipment slots. Dragging an item from one character’s inventory to another will place it in the slot you put it in, and if there is an item there already, you will swap the two.
Unfortunately, the inventory only shows a 5 by 8 grid here, so you will have to scroll to the very bottom just to drop an item into another inventory. You can also click individual slots to show all the available options in your inventory for that slot. Right-clicking an item here will give you a context menu, with options such as reading books, or sending items to camp. This context menu comes with a slight delay, and when you find yourself needing to go through 10+ books at a time, that definitely adds up.
Pressing “I” will instead open the full inventory, showing you a single character’s equipment, character stats and features, and a bigger version of the inventory. From here you can automatically sort and filter your inventory into categories such as Value, Weight, and Latest. These sorting options are fantastic, and something you will need to do regularly to manage the obscene amount of items you will end up with. Unfortunately, with four different characters, you will need to go into each of their individual inventories just to sort them.
Containers such as backpacks are a valuable asset to maintain some semblance of order with your 50 variations of booze. The game even starts you with an Alchemy Pouch, a Camp Supply Sack, and a Keychain. These will automatically absorb the appropriate items into them, making the chaos a little bit easier to manage. However, these do not negate any weight, meaning you will very often have to dump your camp supplies into your camp chest. For things that do not go into these bags, you’re on your own when it comes to managing them, and if you do decide to store all your extra sellables in a bag, you will need to get them out of the bag before talking to the vendor.
Containers that are opened default to a 5 by 3 grid of items, able to be expanded into a 5 by 10 grid instead, and freely moved around the screen. For some reason, these settings are not remembered, and every time you open your camp chest you will need to reposition it and expand it to get a clearer view. Certain menus, like the inventory, will overlap containers, requiring you to move the container menu somewhere out of the way before opening your inventory.
Issues like these extend to the overworld too, leading to things like occasionally throwing a Firebolt at the ground in front of someone, or positioning the camera slightly wrong and having your character attempt to walk to the top of the world, wasting a turn. Hotkeys are also not presented appropriately. It took 15 hours before the game decided I was ready for the tutorial “Press Shift+C to Hide your party”. The game also seems to be heavily lacking in hotkeys. The ability to hotkey certain abilities, or to quickly mark items as “SELL ME”, would be massive time savers over the hours spent in a campaign.
While the game very much did not release until it was done, the massive scope and diverging paths can cause some issues. Some quests may end up stuck in your log, unable to progress because you accidentally sequence broke by going somewhere else first. These aren’t going to break your playthrough, but you might end up missing out on certain things because of it.
There are also some issues with who is in a fight and who is not. Certain dialogue options can cause NPCs to move but still be associated with their group. For my party, this meant that we had to wait for 7 Goblins to take their turns behind the fog of war on the other side of the map while we fought 3 on our side.
Rarely, things won’t load in the way they’re supposed to. Characters join cutscenes without arms, or your point of view is shifted underneath the terrain. These are rarely big enough issues to ruin anything, but watching a serious cutscene focusing on a man with no torso is an experience if nothing else.
Overall, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a fantastic game. There is so much to love here, even with a few hiccups along the way. The game has a daunting amount of replay value and fully intends to absorb your life for the foreseeable future. Things like the interface can be frustrating at times, but that isn’t enough to even put a dent in how good the game actually is to play. Larian Studios have outdone themselves to such a degree that I cannot even imagine how they will try to improve upon this in future games.
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Long time CRPG fan turned MMORPG gremlin. Handheld system aficionado and fan of playing dress up in every game that will let me.