After over 20 years since the last entry in the series and the pivot from Bioware to Larian Studios, a new Baldur’s Gate game has arrived with the release of Baldur’s Gate 3. Based on the world of the insanely popular Dungeons & Dragons IP, this game has been a very long coming with a long early access period, multiple delays and weighty fan expectations surrounding the game since it started development 6 years ago. So, was it worth the wait? Absolutely.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is an absolute masterclass in video games and one of the best, if not the best, games of 2023. Somehow, seemingly against all odds, this game manages to have its cake, eat it and then order out the entire bakery. From its mind-boggling amount of tangible, meaningful choices which overlap and compete with one another to its deep and complex combat system which will take you hundreds of hours to properly learn to its stellar world and sound design that perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of playing D&D with your buddies, Baldur’s Gate 3 feels almost impossible in the modern era. Without the baggage of other games, Larian has made something truly special here with Baldur’s Gate 3.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is an unmissable experience and has done the unfathomable by dethroning both The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Final Fantasy XVI as a game of the year frontrunner. It is truly a masterpiece and one everyone should play to experience the most authentic and brilliant rendition of Dungeons & Dragons at least once.
Story | A Grand Tale
Baldur’s Gate 3 takes place in the land of Faerun, a region of magic and mystery that any D&D fan will know well. After an unfortunate encounter with a Mind Flayer – psychic soulless squid people who eat brains to survive – you and your entire party are infested with Illithid tadpoles which, after a week, are set to transform you all into the creatures that captured you. Strangely, though, there’s something different about you and your brood: you can stave off the infection where others can’t and, going one step further, you can even use the Illithid’s psychic gifts to your advantage.
Armed with this knowledge, you and, whoever deigns to travel alongside you, will cross large swathes of Faerun hoping to reach the fabled Baldur’s Gate, a mighty town of industry, promise and corruption. With a cult dedicated to an eldritch, unknowable being called the Absolute spreading, you must figure out where you place in this world and what role you will have in its future: will you stand up against the Absolute and cleave a path of hope, or fall to temptation and give into darker desires which may plunge the realm into tragedy?
If you’re a fan of traditional D&D, then this sounds exactly like something plucked from one of the modules or sourcebooks. It expertly deploys and utilises some of Dungeons & Dragons’ best locations, mythos, monsters and more to weave a compelling tale that’s welcoming for new and old fans alike. No matter which part of the game you explore or what story you embroil yourself in, it is consistently excellent, well written and poignant.
The characters you spend time with on this journey are also excellent. Everyone from the thieving street urchins in the tense Druid Grove to the cruel, haunting undead abominations that stalk the Shadowlands has a place and a purpose in this world: no matter how outlandish, everyone fits in Faerun, everyone belongs in one way or another. Large parts of that are due to the superb voice work (which we’ll discuss in greater length later) but even more of the heavy lifting comes from just how well-written everything is. You can stop and talk to, quite literally, 90% of the characters you see in the street and, more often than not, they’ll have something interesting to say. Baldur’s Gate 3 wants you to dawdle and mosie along, chatting up whoever you can get to listen to you, and it’s all the better for it.
Your main cast of playable party members are the true standouts, though. They’re all compelling and interesting characters from all walks of life and it was to the point where I was immensely disappointed that I couldn’t walk around with a party of 8 people. After 100+ hours, it’s hard to think about going on this journey with anyone other than Astarion, Karlach and Shadowheart – the characters I used for 95% of the BG3’s total run time – but the great thing about this game is that I know that can be said about everyone in the main cast. It’s part of the reason why a potential second playthrough is so exciting: the possibility of new bonds forged, new relationships brewed and a whole new side of the game unearthed.
In terms of story, Baldur’s Gate 3 is in fierce competition with the likes of Final Fantasy XVI as the best title of the year. Every single quest gripped me and moved me, made me consider difficult choices and what my character would do in this situation. Speaking of my character, Baldur’s Gate 3’s narrative and expert worldbuilding allowed me to carve a place for my unique take on my hero – specifically, a character with the Dark Urge background – without it feeling out of place or artificial.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the most authentic and brilliant renditions of Dungeons & Dragons outside of the tabletop medium and the storytelling plays a large part in that success.
How Do You Want To Do This?
One of the most important pieces to Baldur’s Gate 3’s overwhelming triumph is how much choice the game offers the player.
You have almost full control of what you want to do in every aspect of the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re just chatting up the local barkeep for information or trying to defuse the turmoil between a broken-hearted acolyte and her God, you have an incredible amount of agency in every single situation. I mean, if you want to, you can genuinely go about the game killing every single main NPC – including party members – without consequence and still finish the game. There is just that much freedom.
With each of the game’s major possibilities, there are more than a handful of knock-on consequences and decisions from prior quests or choices: who did you align with in the past, did you do something to annoy a certain character, how does your class or backstory factor into the current situation and more. There was a particularly memorable moment for me where upon meeting a character for the first time, I got incredibly excited to see more of them… only for my character to kill them in cold blood, unconsciously, because of my choice of backstory. That choice and the consequences of my actions haunted me for the rest of the game and I loved every moment of it.
There are tough decisions to make in Baldur’s Gate 3 – choices that will turn your stomach and make you question what’s right or wrong – and there are choices made to define your version of these characters and how you want them to end up. It walks a near-perfect balance between tension, intrigue and power fantasy, letting you push all the right buttons to the point where you can, inadvertently, walk yourself into all sorts of trouble (or out of it, if you have enough Charisma).
For the most part, you are the creator of your own triumph and failure in Baldur’s Gate 3 and that agency is an intoxicating part of what makes it so brilliant.
Wait, Not Like That
However, this freedom is a double-edged sword. Every so often, the game will confront you with a particular choice or quest that completely halts your immersion in one way or another. The earliest example is during Act 1. I met with the leader of a group of Goblins who wanted to raid a nearby Druid Grove – a place I very much wanted to protect – and so, as a silver-tongued Charisma-focused Warlock, I hoped that I could deceive this leader and focus their attention elsewhere so they’d be an easier target to take down. To my delight, the game even offered me a Deception Check to do so.
Only for Baldur’s Gate 3 to slap my conniving hands away and say “No, you’re not playing the game right” when the leader just outright denied to follow my suggestion, even though I succeeded in the Check. The fact that the choice even exists in the first place shows that Larian knew it was a path people were going to take, yet it still leads to a dead end and railroads players down a completely different path. What’s worse is that a choice similar to the one I wanted to do is still present in the game: I just needed to jump through about 4 or 5 other, separate choices without any direction to do so.
There are a few points like this throughout the game, hard roadblocks to your immersion which remind you that you aren’t, in fact, playing actual D&D where an omniscient Dungeon Master can weave the game around you at will. Because of how many opportunities and consequences the rest of the game has, it makes these moments stand out all the more vibrantly. When they pop up, it can even slightly sour the events they’re built around: taking the Goblin Camp example once again, when my original idea didn’t pan out, I kind of just mosied on through the quest, half-focused, until a similar opportunity popped back up again.
These moments are fortunately few and far between, but they are the other side of the interactivity coin that Baldur’s Gate 3 puts forward. They won’t make or break your experience, but they’ll certainly cause you a stumble or two in your journey through Faerun.
Gameplay | Roll Initiative
Next, let’s discuss gameplay. There are two main sides of Baldur’s Gate 3: the narrative-drive and choice-heavy story game and the deep, complex web that is combat. They aren’t singular entities and they weave together to form this beautiful union which makes the game what it is. Seeing that we’ve already covered a lot of the story-based gameplay, this section will mainly discuss the combat portions of gameplay.
For lack of a better term, combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 is a leviathan. It is a wild, thrashing thing that you will spend the entire course of the game trying to (unsuccessfully) tame. That isn’t because combat is bad, by the way, but because it is so unending. Just like with the story, the amount of choice and decision-making which goes into a single fight is mind-boggling: the different ways that various mechanics overlap and bump up against each other are just outstanding. There were so many times during my playthrough where I went to do something, safe in the knowledge that I finally mastered how combat worked, only for Larian to rip up the book and then hand me another, bigger book with even more stuff to learn.
The amount of possible ways a single battle can go down is staggering. I can use the Grease spell to make the floor below enemies slippery, causing them to fall Prone before I use a Fire spell to ignite that Grease and cause a massive explosion. Or, if an enemy is near a cliff, I can push them off with a Thunderwave or with the brute force of my Barbarian. Maybe I can get the drop on enemies with my sneaky, stealthy Rogue and get a near-guaranteed kill on a target with Sneak Attack before the battle even begins. Or even…
I can go on and on and on about how much depth this combat system has. This isn’t even going into the different classes or their different subclasses and how team compositions completely change the dynamic of battle. If I bring a Barbarian as my frontline fighter, my Warlock can take less heat and fire Eldritch Blasts safely from the back of the map. Meanwhile, if I load up on ranged fighters like Sorcerers, Wizards or Rogues, I can take out every threat before it even reaches me.
And, what’s even better, is that you can change basically anything about how you approach combat at any time. For a measly fee, a Strength-heavy Fighter can become a lose-lipped Bard in an instance or vice versa, allowing you to completely change how you play whenever you want. You can even change the classes of your party members, letting you fine-tune combat without sidelining any of the characters you grow close to across your time in Baldur’s Gate 3.
A lot of this section has just been listing things but, honestly, that’s the beauty of Baldur’s Gate. Just like traditional tabletop RPGs, it embraces freedom and rewards creativity: within the constraints offered by the game’s systems, if you can think it you can likely do it.
Sound and Design | Ambient Tracks
One place where Baldur’s Gate 3 really shines in its sound and design, specifically how it compliments the strength of the storytelling and gameplay.
In terms of the world in Baldur’s Gate 3, Larian has created an immersive, attractive and authentic translation of what makes D&D so enjoyable. Everything from the eldritch terror of the Mind Flayers to the terrifying beauty of the Underdark is crafted with such care and attention that it feels ripped straight from a homebrew game. This truly feels like Larian’s take on the D&D mythos and they’ve done an exceptional job of making that world a place I constantly couldn’t wait to return to: even now, I yearn to stretch my feet and wander around the streets of Baldur’s Gate, to drift between the chaos of the Lower City and the debauchery of Wyrm’s Rock.
One thing which adds to this is the score. While never really the focus in the same way that something like Final Fantasy XVI’s soundtrack is, Baldur’s Gate 3’s music is the perfect encapsulation of an ambience playlist you turn on to set the mood at your table. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, the music always heightens your experience and draws you deeper into the moment with a soundtrack that wears its heart on its sleeve. Special mention has to go to the battle music which, 100 hours later, continues to be the same exhilarating, anxiety-building behemoth that it was in the early hours: whether I’m battling some lowly Goblin bandits or an ancient dragon, the battle music makes me feel like a true hero.
As mentioned earlier in the review, voice work across the board is outstanding. The variety of accents and dialects serve to make everyone you come across a memorable character, even detached from their more intimate, raw character beats. Whether they’re acting out a character’s most vulnerable moment or a bit of amusing downtime, voice acting is consistently superb. There isn’t a single poor performance in the entire game. The same goes for the sound effects, which all feel weighty and have power behind them. My personal favourite is the wet crackling of the Hunger of Hadar spell which always makes my skin crawl whenever I use it.
In the sound and design department, Baldur’s Gate 3 knocks it out of the park and deserves to proudly stand alongside the other heavy hitters from 2023.
Accessibility | Seat at the Table
Something often missed in discussions with games as broad and complex as Baldur’s Gate 3 is how accessible they are. With games as gargantuan as this one, there are bound to be players fearful of starting due to a perceived lack of knowledge or experience. Fortunately, Larian seems to have gone out of its way to try and make BG3 as welcoming as possible.
Alongside the normal difficulty mode, which promises challenge and power fantasy plenty, there’s the more difficult Tactician mode for those wanting to truly test the limits of combat or the far more chill Story mode for those who just want to focus on the narrative. There are also tons of different settings to tweak and fine-tune to your exact specifications, making sure everything works exactly how you want it to. You can examine any keyword in any toolbox at any time, you can quicksave and quick load whenever you please and you can check past dialogue whenever you want to constantly stay up to date.
One of the more controversial additions is that of the Karmic Dice. By turning this feature on, you will have a much more balanced experience with rolls – as in, you won’t have wild streaks of multiple low or high rolls – which makes it a far more approachable method of play for newer players who are less experienced with TTRPGs or other similar games. Personally, I enjoy letting the dice tell a story and watching how chaos unfolds in front of me, but the fact that this option even exists is excellent. Dice rolls are perhaps the only point where agency and decision-making leave your own hands and it is a great choice on Larian’s part to allow players to decide how much they want it to influence their playthrough.
At some points, especially at the start of your journey, Baldur’s Gate 3 is incredibly unwieldy and scarily overwhelming, even to someone with intimate knowledge of the source material. It is an impossibly large game and that scope can be scary for people to approach. Rest assured, though, that Larian Studios seems to have, somehow, figured out a way for everyone to enjoy Baldur’s Gate at their own pace.
Technical State | Difficult Terrain
Finally, let’s talk about Baldur’s Gate 3’s technical state which is the biggest shortcoming the game suffers. Currently, only the PC version of the game is officially released, with the PS5 version releasing in early September and the Xbox versions releasing in 2024, and Larian has promised that all patches and hotfixes to the current client will make their way to consoles. While this is superb, it doesn’t change the fact that, for as brilliant as Baldur’s Gate 3 is, it is absolutely infested with bugs.
In no particular order, here are just a few of the glitches, bugs or technical hitches I encountered during my 100 hours with Baldur’s Gate 3:
- Character faces would sometimes mime along to a different line of dialogue from the one being spoken.
- Party members in the inventory screen would slowly drift away and become tiny when standing on certain objects.
- Enemies would freak out and explode into a mess of elongated limbs and messed up textures upon death.
- NPCs would still have selectable dialogue options for things I had completed hours earlier: for example, I could ask one specific NPC about what he was going to do about his Vampire master hours after I had killed the said master.
- Sometimes, for no reason, the camera will completely desync and lag behind my actual button presses.
- When reviving an ally on certain surfaces, they would fall straight through the floor and immediately die again.
- Every time I loaded up the game I needed to wait about 5 minutes before doing any strenuous camera movements or it would lock up the entire thing.
- At one point, Shadowheart began permanently T-posing and gliding around the battlefield. When I reloaded the save, she stopped T-posing but continued gliding around like she was riding on invisible heelies until I completely closed the game.
Perhaps the worst set of bugs I encountered had to do with quests. There are at least 5 quests, maybe more, across the entire game that I couldn’t complete because they soft-locked in one way or another. In one instance, the main NPC related to the quest was accidentally killed by his own guards, leaving no one to talk to finish the quest. Another quest had me choose between two factions at the end and, after killing swathes of enemies to protect my chosen NPC, I left the area only for the quest to complete and tell me that I actually gave them up and let them suffer the justice from the group of people I just killed.
If I’m being honest, though, despite the veritable menagerie of glitches and technical issues, they never stood in the way of my enjoyment of Baldur’s Gate 3 for more than a moment. With a game so massive and full of so many consequences, choices and decisions, I’m surprised there aren’t more bugs. In a way, BG3 can be compared, quite favourable, to a Bethesda game: these titles are both riddled with bugs but, because of the heights that these games reach for and the lofty ambitions that they hold dear, players are willing to look past them.
Larian seems committed to smoothing out a lot of Baldur’s Gate 3’s technical shortcomings if the barrage of hotfixes and patches since the official release is to go by. I don’t think the bugs in this game are a reason not to play it – it’s too special of an experience to miss out on if you are even remotely interested in it – but they are severe enough that they warrant a warning to anyone going into the game with fresh eyes.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Game Code provide by icopartners.com.