Larian Studios is one of my favorite developers out right now. They truly “get it” when it comes to fantasy RPGs, and their previous three major titles – all entries in the Divinity: Original Sin series – are a testament to that fact.
Having said that, it should come as no surprise to anybody that I was flat-out floored when I heard that Larian was inheriting the Baldur’s Gate franchise, and I was even more excited when I had a chance to sit in on a live demo of Baldur’s Gate 3 at PAX East earlier this year.
Months later, Baldur’s Gate 3 is here (in Early Access), and I’ve now had just over 20 of hands-on time with the game. Here are my impressions so far.
Same Setup, Different Beach
Unlike your classic D&D starting point of a musty old tavern, Baldur’s Gate 3 starts with a super intense opening sequence. Your hero is desperately trying to escape a flying ship on the verge of plummeting from the sky, all while its being ripped apart by dragons and demons. At the end of this, you wake up on a beach – desperate for allies and direction.
If this sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably played the first few hours of Divinity: Original Sin II. The setup may be similar, but what happens next is uniquely Baldur’s Gate, and is all fueled by Larian’s adherence to Dungeons & Dragons’ 5th Edition RPG system, which provides the foundation for everything from character creation, to combat, to conversation.
Speaking of character creation, I’m almost positive that a significant chunk of my hours logged in BG3 so far have been spent at the character creation screen. Larian’s effort to bring the Sword Coast’s races and classes to life have not gone unnoticed, as Twitter is basically exploding with players gushing about how much time they’ve spent fine-tuning their characters’ appearance. (By the way, if you want to have a generic-ish Human character that looks like you, that’s fine).
D20s Without Training Wheels
As soon as you dust yourself off from the crash and make your way into the world – you’ll be immediately faced with one glaring fact: Baldur’s Gate 3 is challenging. In a world where every game has aim assist, hand-holding tutorials, and shallow mechanics – BG3 stands out as an unforgiving experience that dares you to think outside the box in order to succeed.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with Dungeons & Dragons, you’re probably still familiar with the iconic “D20” or 20-sided die that is used to decide the outcome of most “checks” (or attempts to do something like attack, dodge, or persuade) in both games. The D20 is ever-present in BG3, as it appears in and out of combat and conversation. It’s a cool visual touch that adds a ton of excitement to every encounter, without being too heavy-handed in reminding you that you’re playing the digital version of a tabletop game.
The despair of rolling a “Nat 1” and pure ecstasy of rolling a Crit (a perfect 20) is infamous in D&D, and ever-present in Baldur’s Gate 3. I can’t help but think that this visual component was implemented with streamers and their viewers in mind. With or without the dice on your screen, though, players will be often reminded about how critical every roll is once they dig into the game’s combat.
You can’t just hack and slash your way through everything in Baldur’s Gate, as enemies will use elevated terrains, environmental hazards (like oil, fire, grease, and even shadows), and intelligent team tactics to make short work of you and your party. You’ll need to be smart about buffing your team, positioning yourself strategically, and attacking with purpose to survive.
All of this gives each successful encounter (even if its just a handful of goblins) an electrifying sense of accomplishment, but definitely can make tougher encounters soul-crushingly frustrating in comparison. I’ve reloaded saves dozens of times to raid a particular goblin camp, wiping my party out almost every time. When I successfully found a way to get through it, however, I jumped out of my chair so fast that I almost passed out.
…With A Little Help From Your Friends
Of course, no fantasy story (or roleplaying game) is complete without a diverse, entertaining cast of characters – and Baldur’s Gate 3 is no different.
Right from the initial ship crash, you’ll find yourself allied with other survivors who share a common goal with your character (no spoilers here). You’ll (mostly) decide to band together for survival, and venture forth into a world where everybody wants something from you. This ain’t exactly a band of merry men, either – many of your party members’ ideals will be in direct conflict with another’s, and it’ll be up to you to sort things out if conflicts arise.
All of this is tied together with an “approval” system, which tracks how each of your party members feel about you. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but almost every member of my party is “indifferent” towards me right now. I don’t think there’s been any change in dialogue (yet), but I’m anxious to see how my standing with my comrades affects the composition of my party moving forward.
Right from the jump, you’ll have the opportunity to recruit a Cleric, Wizard, Fighter, Warlock, and Rogue into your party (a classically balanced D&D party), so you shouldn’t feel pressured to roll a specific class in order to succeed. You also have control over how your party levels up, so you can tinker with their skills, feats, and spells to suit your party’s needs. Baldur’s Gate 3 gives you all the raw materials, but you’ll have to mold them wisely to succeed.
An Adventure In Progress
As it currently stands, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a phenomenal RPG experience, that will only get better with time.
Larian Studios claims to be committed to working directly with theplayers during development to makes the game better, and there has been no shortage of feedback online in that regard. There are some bugs, odd animation clippings, and crashing issues that are still being sorted out as we speak, but more polish, fixes, and features will come with time.
Baldur’s Gate 3’s “Act 1” is currently available on Steam and GOG, and will run you $59.99. This price will not increase or change, and players will have full access to Acts 2 and 3 when version 1.0 launches – a date that has not yet been announced. Larian is promising more classes, races, and features in the full game – but there’s nothing that I think should prevent players from getting their hands on it now.
If you’re looking for a unique, challenging RPG experience that’s guaranteed to get better over time – you owe it to yourself to check out Baldur’s Gate 3.
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