Ever since I started to get involved with the world of gaming beyond just playing by myself, I’ve been interested in making it my job to write about them. When I was doing an extracurricular subject in high school revolving around making a magazine, I had decided to interview one of the editors of a different magazine that I’d gotten to know. Ultimately this, of course, led to the question: “what’s your favourite game of all time?” to which he replied: “Baldur’s Gate”. At that point I wasn’t even aware of the existence of Dungeons and Dragons itself, but the name really spoke to me. Now it is about 6 years later, and I’m a D&D obsessed Dice Goblin, and Baldur’s Gate 3 has been out for a few months. To say that it has occupied my mind a lot in that time would be an understatement.
The development on Baldur’s Gate 3 had started before the idea of the aforementioned magazine was even entertained. Larian Studios started the work in 2016, and the many years of work have absolutely paid off. The Early Access gave a great taste of what was to come, but I elected to wait for the full experience.
Tinkering with the toolbox
Baldur’s Gate 3 makes use of Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons ruleset, specifically Fifth Edition. It’s an expansive system, but still one of the more approachable and streamlined TTRPG’s out there. The rules and mechanics of 5E have been expertly converted to work in a context that requires no theatre-of-the-mind at all, while also making some very welcome changes. For example, throwing potions at allies to support them, or the way long rests work. The latter might not work as well in the TTRPG, as keeping track of every ration you have and calculating what you need to eat to get all of the rest’s benefits would bog down the pacing greatly, but it adds something to the experience in Baldur’s Gate 3.
Issues concerning balancing in D&D have been around for a while now, with the general consensus being that classes with Spellcasting and magic options tend to overshadow our beloved knights in shining armour and prowling rogues. Baldur’s Gate 3 combats this in a few different ways. Case in point: your character will not be increasing in strength after level 12.
While D&D goes up to level 20, Larian probably decided to cap off your progression at this specific point because it limits the spell-selection. Your Wizard might not be casting any 7th-level spells, but there are plenty of other options to feel powerful. The game is filled to the brim with magical items that have a lot of impact on your party’s strengths and weaknesses. Magical swords that set enemies on fire, cowboy hats that somehow make the bard’s serenades even more inspiring or simply some gauntlets that make you a bit more durable: it’s all here for you to experiment with.
Control the chaos… we dare you!
A large part of the fun in Dungeons and Dragons is that a simple dice roll can have all sorts of consequences. In Baldur’s Gate 3 there are many instances where you’ll also be rolling these dice. Some happen behind the curtain, like your attack and damage rolls in combat, which will determine whether you hit or miss a target. But when talking to the Sword Coast’s denizens (and potential conquerors) or exploring its many locations you might very well see a 20 sided die pop up on the screen. The results of these rolls can either be in your favour, or screw you over horribly. If you’re not satisfied with the way events unfold you could always reload your last save, though I preferred to just go with whatever results I got. Failure is fun as well! It’s not completely unforgiving either, with multiple sources of modifiers available that could nudge you towards a more desirable outcome.
While chance is a big aspect of Baldur’s Gate 3, what’s even more impressive is how much agency you have, and how the world reacts to your actions. The NPCs and your party members react to what you’re doing and build an opinion on you based on those actions. Hell, the experience will differ based on the kind of character you make. Whether you choose an Origin character, create your own or decide on a more sinister playthrough with the Dark Urge, it all impacts the future of Faerûn and its massive city. You might not notice it immediately, but I can almost guarantee that your second playthrough will feel different from the first.
Exploration is extremely helpful in the game. You’ll find more magic items like the ones I mentioned before, but also people. Your enemies might not always get along, or they have prisoners and slaves that would gladly lend you their steel. Along with that, there are a lot of little stories being told all throughout the world, which only adds to the immersion. Putting the numbers together and realising that two events are connected is very satisfying. Just in general the atmosphere of the game is incredible, down to its environments and I can’t not mention the music. From battles to just relaxing in the camp, I imagine that Baldur’s Gate 3’s score will be showing up in a lot of people’s home-D&D games.
The stares of judgment will crawl on your back
Other than being a great game to play, Baldur’s Gate 3 also offers an incredible adventure for you to experience. The overall premise is pretty simple. You were captured by mind flayers, who placed a tadpole in your eye. The initial goal is to get this little stowaway out of there, but soon enough you get wrapped up in a plot that threatens the entire Sword Coast, with Baldur’s Gate itself in the epicentre of the chaos. It’s a reasonably simple plot, but also the perfect backdrop for you to get to know the characters and see them develop. To me that’s the best aspect of the game. There is a lot of depth and nuance to the characters which makes it so much fun to see how they react to certain situations.
The world is filled with little secrets and depending on who you have in your party, they might have a reaction to what’s going on. After more major story-beats though, all the companions in your party and camp will have something to say. When it’s part of their arc, you’ll likely have a longer conversation, or a complete cutscene with the consequences. Certain choices in Baldur’s Gate 3 will have an impact on how your party members view you, so if you’re looking to get close to certain characters you’d do best not piss them off too much. I also want to mention that the style of writing is often surprisingly modern. It’s not jarring at all, but if you’re expecting a lot of ’thee’ and ’thou’, you might be surprised (though Withers still has your back).
Your relationships with non-companions won’t go as in-depth, but appealing to them still unlocks new quests, items and even help in some cases. There might be some disconnect in a character’s mood on a moment to moment basis, but with how much is going on at all times, and how often your past actions seem to be taken into account, these minor hiccups are acceptable, though it’s a little jarring to be met with a very cold greeting, only to then hear that same character tell you how they wish to spend their life with you forever out of unbreakable respect. Especially when you decide to romance a character, it might seem like they lose a bit of agency in how they’ll view you. But after all, it’s fantasy.
Play again, with advantage
Once Baldur’s Gate 3 came to a close, I had a party full of people that I helped overcome their own personal battles. It makes the story about rejecting control and forging your own path so much more meaningful when it’s the culmination of all these arcs. To be honest, the ending felt incredibly abrupt. There are a few quick scenes with your companions, and the credits will roll. After a hundred hours, I’d hoped to have a more celebratory ending with these characters that I’ve grown so fond of.
However, this was on my (reasonably) goody-two-shoes with a slight hint of mischief-run. The amount of options in dialogue could’ve easily led to a wholly different experience, as could choosing a different character to play with. My current Dark Urge run is already so much different in terms of tone and vibe, that it makes me think I’ve not even seen half of what Baldur’s Gate 3 has to offer.
In a year already filled to the brim with exciting releases like Tears of the Kingdom, Spider-Man 2 and Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Larian Studios has managed to offer up a game that’s so rich with detail in every aspect, from combat to exploration, characters to locations, that it truly stands on its own as one of the most compelling and unique experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of diving into. From its stellar conversion of the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset to the emotional and entertaining heights of its story, Baldur’s Gate 3 is the best game I’ve played this year, and might even break into the my top 10 favourite games of all time.
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