Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3

A new high-water mark for CRPGs with satisfying combat and excellent writing

A new high-water mark for CRPGs with satisfying combat and excellent writing

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Review game Baldur’s Gate 3, A new high-water mark for CRPGs with satisfying combat and excellent writing

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Every so often, a game emerges that is so vivid, thrilling, original, and well-written that it establishes a new benchmark for the genre as a whole. The tabletop roleplaying, swords, and sorcery adventure genre that its BioWare-produced CRPG predecessors helped popularize decades ago is greatly enhanced by Baldur’s Gate 3. This section of the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms has been transformed by Larian Studios into a stunning, intricate world filled with too many fully realized, compellingly written, and expertly voiced characters to count. Heartbreaking decisions must be made, alliances must be formed, bears must be courted, and a wide range of engaging, difficult turn-based combat encounters await. I didn’t just enjoy the more than 130 hours I spent traveling. I experienced love.

One problem that video games frequently encounter when attempting to replicate the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons experience is the near impossibility of achieving the freedom and imagination that arise from solving puzzles with real-world reasoning. In other role-playing games, it’s hilarious to have a spell that can send an ogre flying, but it can’t defeat the power of a wooden gate. And although it’s unlikely that any game will ever match that degree of adaptability, Baldur’s Gate 3 represents a significant improvement over previous titles like Skyrim and Dragon Age. A determined warlock will not be deterred by those gates.

Any object that appears combustible can most likely be ignited using a fire spell. With a large enough axe, most doors can be forced open without the need for lockpicks. By climbing and jumping, you can access many hidden areas that other games would have closed off with invisible walls. By forcing a terrifying zombie guy to a drinking competition and, with a high enough Constitution score, provoking him to drink himself to death while I was still roaring for more, I managed to avoid a major boss fight. It’s rare in this world to say “no” when you ask whether something is possible.

There are not many people in this world who will say “no.”

In co-op, you can even play on the couch or online with up to three friends and their own unique characters. I was impressed by how easy it was to join or leave a session, regardless of where your friends are in the campaign. I also didn’t experience any major online hiccups or connection problems, though I have definitely seen reports from other people that they have. That’s impressive, considering the complexity of Baldur’s Gate 3. The situation becomes even more hilarious when you learn that you can have one person converse with a guard to divert their attention while the other discreetly takes anything that isn’t secured behind their back.

There’s also a great deal of freedom in this world in terms of who you can be. Featuring 29 distinct subraces, each with their own special models and abilities (if you count all the different colors of dragonborn, that is), this character creator is one of the best I have seen outside of MMOs in a long time. There are three distinct play styles available for each of the twelve classes’ specializations, and wizards and clerics have even more options. Furthermore, I adore the way every enemy, humanoid, and even clothing has been artfully directed. I’ve rarely been happier than just gazing at the stunning, flame-haired elven ranger I created for Final Fantasy XIV. Nor is it limited to the static model. For a game of this kind, people can create an astonishing number of expressive, high-fidelity, performance-captured faces instead of focusing on a small core cast that can be directed like actors in a live-action film like The Last of Us. Not a trace of awkward lip-syncing is visible.

The range of expressive, high-fidelity, performance-captured faces is surprisingly good.

Larian’s amazing attention to detail is also evident in the writing and design of the space. The city of Baldur’s Gate itself serves as an example of this; despite the fact that it took me ninety hours to get there, this vibrant, action-packed hub never ceased to amaze me. You’ll find that almost every resident there has an opinion on the events taking place, and exploring with curiosity always yields new quests, treasures, and lore. Larian has packed so much voice acting into these streets, and almost all of it is really excellent. It’s truly amazing. Numerous unrelated gossipers on street corners are portrayed with the same enthusiasm and skill as the main cast, and they hardly ever sound the same. Unlike in some parts of Skyrim, I can’t tell just by listening, so I assume that many of the actors involved are responsible for multiple bit parts.

Let’s have fun!

Your companions, a colorful group of complex, intriguingly flawed characters who sometimes advance and occasionally regress throughout the campaign, are the first members of this delightful cast. Karlach, the happy-go-lucky tiefling with an almost demonic bomb for a heart, quickly became my best friend. Among other creatures, I had affairs with the stoic Halsin, who can transform into a grizzly bear, the conceited wizard Gale, and the stern cleric Shadowheart. There are a ton more like them out there, and they can all develop and evolve considerably with rich backstories. The main antagonists, which I will try not to reveal too much about, are equally well-written, possessing unique brands of vileness and nuanced motivations that introduce even more dangerous elements into the final third of this epic adventure.

Larian’s romantic approach was likewise quite appealing to me. It’s nearly impossible to make 3D video game sex that’s actually, well, sexy, as years’ worth of Mass Effect memes have demonstrated, and Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t change the rules in that regard. As a society, we’re just not there yet. Rather than attempting that and failing miserably, they incorporate much of the magic into sensual wordplay, and the majority of the carnal encounters you can have are either extremely humorous (I mean, who hasn’t seen the bear scene? ), or more broadly, they serve to reveal new insights about your partner, their values, and their worldview, rather than just exposing their innermost selves. That’s far more entertaining than two nude elves stumbling along to some inadvertently funny mood music, pretending to be Dark Helmet kissing his action figures.

The way that combat is designed makes me want to yell, “You bastard!” at the dungeon master.

The level of care and consideration that went into designing the encounter that would torment me in Baldur’s Gate 3 never ceased to astound me when it came time to don our battle gear and roll for initiative. Every one of them seems to have been meticulously designed to make me want to yell, “You bastard!” at the dungeon master. I mean that in the most positive manner imaginable. During one battle, my party members were teleported by imp creatures who would thrash them and take them to different places, making it impossible for them to cast spells and leaving them to survive on their own. I have to figure out a way to win without moving because the next match might be against some terrifying insectoids that literally petrify everyone with fear. Particularly when playing on the highest level of tactician difficulty, the AI can be crafty and vicious. I have never been able to revert to a monotonous, grinding routine. Either you think quickly or you die and load your most recent quick save.

Instruments of the Trade

A clear and readable user interface that allows you to press T to view more information when hovering over any creature, object, or important phrase in a tooltip helps ease the learning curve to some extent. However, it’s not helped by a very poor set of tutorials that assume a great deal of D&D knowledge. Though Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t go into great detail, I can definitely see how others would completely miss some important concepts, such as how saving throws tied to specific attributes work. I know 5th Edition well enough that it didn’t really trip me up. Even with the easier difficulties, you can manage without some of this knowledge, but you won’t be able to master combat without it. Although it would be beneficial for you to read the 5E Player’s Handbook before you begin, Larian shouldn’t anticipate that from you.

Wonders of the World

The story is divided into three acts, each of which took me about forty hours to finish. I tried to play the role of an obsessive completionist and accomplish as many side goals as I could. With the help of a lively and evocative soundtrack, each has a very distinct look and feel. Act 2 is the eerie portion; Act 3 offers us dense urban exploration; and Act 1 is primarily beautiful wilderness. At times, it seems a little slow because I had to follow multiple leads in the first act to solve the same issue, and Act 2 leaves more questions unanswered until the very end, when there are confrontations. I never lost motivation, though, thanks to the consistently enjoyable combat encounters, the discovery of fascinating new areas, and well-written side quests.

I want to play it through again because there are so many small stories and variations in the ending.

There are a few minor to moderate bugs here and there—nothing that stopped me in my tracks, but enough to warrant a warning. Act 3 also had performance issues that forced me to lower my settings—even with an RTX 3080. But with the four hotfixes that have been released since launch, many of the worst offenders have already been fixed, and what’s left feels almost insignificant in comparison to everything else. There will inevitably be bugs in a game this complicated, especially in the beginning, but what I encountered was more than worth it.





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