- Release Date (NA): October 6, 2020
- Publisher: Larian Studios
- Developer: Larian Studios
- Genres: Adventure RPG
- ESRB Rating: Mature
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Look, I’m gonna be honest. I’ve reached the point where I treat “likes Dungeons & Dragons” as a personality trait. I act as dungeon master for a weekly campaign, I roll up and design characters just for fun, I read and re-read the rulebooks and modules regularly, and I talk so much about all the cool stuff I want to put into my campaign that frankly I’m surprised my wife hasn’t divorced me yet. It’s beyond a hobby, it’s gotten to the point of an obsession, and I’m completely okay with that. So naturally, I’m a big fan of the “tie-in” games set in the Forgotten Realms, such as Icewind Dale, Neverwinter, Neverwinter Nights, Dark Alliance… but my favorite by a wide margin are the original Baldur’s Gate RPGs. So, naturally, I’ve been heavily anticipating the continuation of those legendary games in Baldur’s Gate 3. Sure, they might not be continuing the Bhaalspawn saga, but the idea of a successor that lives up to the foundation set by the classics while updating the game for modern audiences, and takes inspiration from D&D 5th edition’s ruleset, got me really excited. It might only be in early access at the moment, but that’s enough to give a good idea of where the final product is going! And while there’s things I like, and as a whole I’m excited for the perceived direction of the final game, there’s sadly enough to still remind you constantly that what we’re playing is an early access game, shoddy imperfections and all.
So let’s start off with some story. Baldur’s Gate 3 throws you right into the action in the form of a cinematic cutscene, showing an Illithid (or Mind Flayer) invasion of the titular city, Baldur’s Gate. People are abducted by the Mind Flayer’s flying ship, stuffed into pods, and have tadpoles implanted inside their heads that will slowly begin to transform their hosts into new Mind Flayers. The invasion is put to a stop by reinforcements in the form of the Githyanki—a plane-hopping warrior race, in this particular instance riding fire-breathing red dragons. The dragons and Githyanki riders do immense damage to the Mind Flayer ship, and send it spiraling through a portal to Avernus, the first layer of D&D Hell. This awakens your character who, along with a Githyanki who was abducted and trapped in her own pod, work to escape Avernus and return to the material plane. Before long you’re back on the continent of Faerûn, amassing your party, and setting off on an adventure to try and remove this Illithid parasite before it’s too late. One thing I really like about this world is that so much backstory is hidden in the world around you. Little clues and tidbits can be picked up by a successful perception check, reading books, and talking to your party members at specific locations. It really helps make the world feel like it’s living and breathing, which is a huge plus when only a quarter of the game or so is available at the moment.
One of the core mechanics at play throughout the game is dice rolls, a staple of the franchise. Things like the overworld perception checks, insight checks while talking to NPCs via cutscenes, and even your chance to hit and damage done in battle are all decided via the outcome of the roll in true D&D fashion, with each character having different modifiers that get added to every check made. Essentially all of these rolls are done via automated, behind the scenes computer simulation much like the original games, but certain rolls will call for you to simulate the roll of a d20 (the famous twenty-sided die synonymous with D&D) via mouse click. It’s a nice addition that sets Baldur’s Gate 3 apart from the entirely automated rolls of the first two games that adds a bit of immersion to the experience, but ultimately it is just another random number generator simulating a die roll, so I doubt having the player simulate that changes anything functionally.
As was made known and expected, the early access release of the game greatly limits what races and classes you have available in character creation, as well as the customization options for them. There are nine races available to choose, ranging from fantasy staples such as humans, elves, half-elves, halflings and dwarves, to D&D specific races the drow, half-drow, githyanki, and tieflings. When it comes to customizing these characters, you have the obvious option of choosing male or female, as well as a handful of options for hair styles, face designs, and skin and color tones for each race. And… that’s about it. No feature sliders or pinpoint customization here, just a small selection of pre-generated options. Compared to some other modern RPGs on the market the character creation is limited to say the least, but I have hopes for it to be expanded with more iconic D&D races and customization options as the game continues development. For now, it at least gets the job done.
In terms of classes, there’s six available in early access: cleric, fighter, ranger, rogue, warlock, and wizard. Each class gets two subclass options as of this moment, allowing a little bit of customization to the play style for both your personal player character, and the pre-generated party members that the game gives you control of. For your specific player character, your class also determines your default stat loadout, though you have the option to reallocate stat points as you see fit regardless of class. Anyone familiar with D&D will likely notice some pretty major staple classes missing: bard, sorcerer, monk, barbarian, druid, and my personal favorite, paladin. This is one of the most disappointing early access limitations in my mind, as choosing your class and subclass is one of the biggest sources of customization in the tabletop game, so cutting half the classes and limiting to just two subclasses for now really makes things feel constricted. That said, on your stat loadout screen some of these cut classes are mentioned in their description. This says, to me, that some of these are planned to be added as development continues.
This sort of leads to another complaint I have about the game--your personal character just, really, isn’t that interesting. The limited customization options are paired with emotionless facial animations to give off the impression that you’re not really playing a character, but more of a blank avatar for you to experience the game through. Backstory is another problem here too, in the case that you have none. Compare that to the original games, which gave you an interesting and unique backstory that allowed you to still shape your character to your desires, and this just oozes disappointment. Instead of being the ward of a powerful wizard and the bastard son of a dead god, you’re just… a guy who got abducted by aliens and has some vaguely defined character traits. Now this is D&D, so I took the opportunity to craft my own backstory for my character based on the background and class I chose which helped me get a bit more immersed in the game. But for an RPG video game, especially a continuation of the Baldur’s Gate franchise, I hoped there’d at least be a bit of a backstory to tie into the overall plot of the final game. Hell, I found myself more interested in the NPC party members you can recruit and use, who all have distinct backstories and defined personalities. I spent a lot of time getting to know my party members and trying to craft a really solid team, which is a good sign. What’s not a good sign is when a role-playing game makes me care about every character except my own. I can only hope, like I do with all of these issues, that further updates to the game fixes this and adds some semblance of a backstory to help connect and invest my character in this world.
This only gets worse in cutscenes, which feature fully animated scenes and conversations with NPCs, and dynamic camera angles swapping between which character is speaking with you choosing which dialogue option you want. It feels like something straight out of Mass Effect, another favorite RPG of mine. I like the idea of this addition, but despite having multiple voice options there is no voice acting for your character at all. The camera cuts to you, you choose your option, and it immediately cuts back to the NPC and continues the conversation. This even happens when you initiate dialogue controlling an NPC party member, where the dialogue choices just get skipped over despite them having dedicated voice actors. Combining this issue with the stiff and emotionless animations makes dialogue seem really awkward in parts, and just emphasizes my complaint about the player character being a boring, emotionless doll that serves as nothing more than a temporary link for you to explore the Sword Coast.
Prior to release, I saw a bit of worry about the combat side of gameplay. Some were lamenting the loss of the real-time combat of the original Baldur’s Gate games, with the ability to pause and plan out your moves. Instead, Baldur’s Gate 3 goes for much more traditional turn based combat. However, combat was one of my favorite parts of the game in its current state. It takes inspiration from its source material in the best way, splitting up each character’s turn into three major sections; actions, bonus actions, and movement. Actions include making a melee or ranged weapon attack, casting cantrips and spells, and utility options such as helping up a downed ally. Bonus actions are shorter actions you can take like drinking a potion or casting certain spells. Movement is, obviously, how much your character is allowed to move in a turn. Each action you take has a percentage chance to hit or miss that’s affected by different factors like your character's ability modifiers, environmental barriers, and buffs or debuffs that support classes for both allies and opponents. The game gives you your percentage chance to execute your action before you finalize it, giving you plenty of opportunity to redirect your course and weigh your different options. In my mind, this combat system takes the best parts of D&D 5e, streamlines and adjusts some things to work in the context of a video game that needs a more balanced action economy, and just gives an incredible experience for tactical combat. It could be a bit more polished for sure, but it’s easily my favorite part of early access, and I’m excited to see how it evolves.
On the multiplayer front, there’s a couple of options. You can bring a friend in to play during your existing single player game, in which case the guest will take control of one of the pre-generated party members you recruit. If you want to start a new game with friends, though, you’ll all be prompted to create new characters and launch a new game together. D&D is best played with friends (and technically impossible to play without), so this is an addition that I’m glad exists. And beyond some launch day growing pains, it seems to be running stable enough. However, a feature that’s missing that I’d like to see is matchmaking. In its current state, you can only play Baldur’s Gate 3 with your friends via personal invite. There’s no open servers or matchmaking to put together a merry band of misfit strangers to take on the Sword Coast together. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but I feel like adding matchmaking would give it some extra D&D flair that could help to separate this game from its tabletop counterpart.
As an early access game, it’s well known that there’s going to be bugs, glitches, and crashes. It’s inevitable, and Larian Studios has been very upfront about it. In terms of my personal experience, I was lucky to experience minimal game crashing or world breaking bugs. One of the last times it crashed on me, I was greeted with a crash report form that I could fill out and send to Larian, which I was happy to do so it can help the development going forward. The majority of my experience with issues ended up being graphical problems, such as cinematics not rendering properly, conversation camera angles glitching out, and characters not moving their mouths while speaking in cutscenes. In combat, I also found a lot of delayed reactions on the side of the AI opponents, where the game would spend anywhere from a minute to five minutes planning a single movement. And after the move takes place, another delay while the AI plots the action. In a way, this glitch captures the spirit of one of the biggest annoyances in traditional D&D, as you wait for a player who wasn’t paying attention to finally decide what they want to do on their turn. It’s an annoyance on the tabletop, and it’s an annoyance here. But nothing I experienced, save for a couple of crashes, was game breaking.
And here we get to the ultimate disappointment in my view. For a game that’s still so clearly far from being finished, Larian Studios wants to charge a full $59.99. To their credit, the game IS a lot farther along than I thought it would be, with a reported nearly 25 hours of content in this first quarter of the game. But to pay $60 for a buggy, unpolished quarter of a game is just insane to me. I think early access definitely has its place, and it’s a great idea to bring the intended playerbase into the fold early so that the game can, ultimately, be molded into an experience that has the best chance at being what those players want to experience. But to pay full retail for the privilege just rubs me the wrong way. In fairness, and as is expected, early adopters will get access to the full and finished game (barring any potential paid DLC) at no extra cost when it’s complete, so it’s not like the studio is asking you to pay an outrageous amount for the final product. But $60 is a lot to ask for an unfinished quarter of a game with no guarantees on when you’ll have a complete experience.
None of this is to say I don’t like the game. On the contrary actually, I’ve had a ton of fun playing, and I’ve been impressed with Larian Studios’ updates and commitment to have a transparent early access period. But when a game has this many issues, is only a quarter of the way “finished” with no sure timeframe for when it’ll be done, and what is finished is absolutely unpolished, yet still costs full retail, I take major issue. By all accounts, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a game I’ve been anticipating for a long time, and I’m happy it’s finally here. I’m looking forward to the completion of the game, and hope that it continues on a positive trajectory to create a great game. But as it currently exists, I’m left disappointing and wanting, anxiously awaiting every update to actually finish the game.
|What We Liked . . . Fantastic gameplay and combat that's both familiar to D&D veterans, and easily accessible for newcomers The limited sliver of the world manages to feel truly alive Interesting and unique party members Patches and updates seem to be happening regularly, creating a truly evolving game||What We Didn't Like . . . $60 for an early access game is far too much Limited character customization options at present Many issues remind and emphasize the "early access" nature of the game|
To the game's credit, when things aren't glitching out it really does look great. The graphics look beyond what I'd expect for something in early access, the music fits the tone of each area beautifully, and the world feels alive while you're exploring it. It's just a damn shame that every time I initiate a conversation with an NPC, any immersion is immediately shattered.
Gameplay is the highlight for me for sure. The "point and click adventure" style of the original Baldur's Gate games is present here, but updated to fit a 3D world for modern audiences. The turn based combat is excellent, and captures the spirit of traditional D&D in the best way.
As with most RPGs, you really will get out what you put in here. You can plow through the main story and stay along the "direct path" if you want, or you can explore the world and discover new secrets and equipment. Given the inherent randomness of dice rolls, no two play throughs will ever be identical. And with 25 hours of content available right now, even in early access there's enough to keep players busy.
out of 10
(not an average)
“A mixed bag” really is the best way to describe Baldur’s Gate 3. On the whole, I really like what the game gets right, and the direction that the final product is going. But there’s still enough here that it bothers me to see Larian Studios charging full price for what amounts to, simply, an unfinished game. Throwing “early access” on the title doesn’t excuse that. I have hope for the future of the game, and I’ll definitely be closely following the development period. But for now, I’m just disappointed.