Baldur's Gate 3 is the third mainline title in the popular role-playing game saga, one that has been itching for a continuation since 2001's Throne of Bhaal expansion. I played it rigorously during the early access period, seeing how stories, mechanics, and systems further developed. And, now, its full release is upon us.
To be frank, I can confidently say that Baldur's Gate 3 is epic in size, scale, and scope. Developer Larian Studios managed to harness its expertise from crafting the Divinity series, while pivoting to the Dungeons and Dragons franchise that's beloved by millions. Still, there were a few minor concerns that I noticed during my playthrough.
A robust character creation system
Right from the get-go, Baldur's Gate 3 offers a plethora of options when creating your character. Should you pick a Human, Half-Elf, Drow, Githyanki, Dragonborn, or others for your race? What about the sub-race? You also need to pick an Origin, a system that lets you start with a custom character, various storyline companions, or the bloodthirsty Dark Urge (more on this in a while).
The beginning portion allows you to select a class and, for some, even their subclasses and spells. These are important facets, considering that you'll spend numerous hours progressing through the campaign. I found that things can be overwhelming at first, though they're certainly worth delving into given that I like RPGs.
The system is even more intuitive and streamlined, since races are no longer restricted to specific stat bonuses, such as +1 Strength or +2 Charisma. You're able to freely allocate those points to suit your build and playstyle. I definitely prefer this compared to concepts showcased by other games, like Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, which can leave you mired in "race-class-skill-bonus" dilemmas if you're keen on min-maxing. The information was presented in a helpful and clear manner, too, as opposed to being obtuse, confusing, or overly complex.
Branching storylines and rich narrative
Your journey begins aboard the Nautiloid, an Illithid vessel that has been kidnapping people, turning them into mindless thralls or vicious mind flayers. Soon, you realise that you and your companions have tadpoles in your brains, slowly growing and corrupting you, until you're but a husk under the control of the Illithids. Naturally, those critters need to be removed.
- Read more: How to level up fast in Baldur's Gate 3
But, the story in Baldur's Gate 3 isn't just about this sole predicament. Instead, you learn of a living, breathing world around you, one that's filled with factions, supporting characters, optional objectives, pets, and even dream sequences. For instance, during the first act, I helped out Tiefling refugees in a druid village. This also entailed completing multiple tasks, such as freeing an accused girl, battling harpies, learning about the shadow druids, saving a kidnapped woman from a hag, tricking dozens of goblins, and more.
Then, during the second act, one that takes place in the Shadow-Cursed Lands, I had to infiltrate the Moonrise Tower. Along the way, you'll likely discover several methods to survive the curse, unearth long buried secrets, and even meet some familiar faces.
This is just but one "branch" of sorts, as there are major arcs that lead to new outcomes depending on your decisions. The sheer multitude of stories and objectives that are interwoven with the narrative arc make for a thoroughly engaging romp. It doesn't feel as though certain moments or instances are just self-contained. Rather, they're part of a bigger whole, not just your personal story, but of everyone around you.
Companions, choices, and consequences
And you certainly don't have to venture alone in Baldur's Gate 3, since you'll be joined by a wonderful crew of companions, each expertly written and voice acted. Examples include the Shar maiden, Shadowheart, who's often at odds with Githyanki dragonrider Lae'zel. This is similar to how the powerful warrior, Karlach, and demon pact-bound spellcaster Wyll, begin their encounter. Fans of the series will also be treated to returning characters, Jaheira and Minsc, who'll appear during your travels. I truly felt that each companion had a compelling motivation, and it made me guilty to leave some of them by the wayside in favour of more viable team compositions.
- Read more: Best builds in Baldur's Gate 3
In any case, dialogue interactions often lead to skill checks, where you roll virtual dice to see if you succeed. These choices do lead to consequences: tricking goblins lets you pass through their camp without mishaps, fooling cultists of the Absolute allows you to infiltrate their ranks, and deciding to fall in love with someone might just make another potential partner happy for you, ending a romance before things could get too steamy.
One arc that's particularly memorable involves the aforementioned Dark Urge Origin. My character was plagued with visions that turned them into a bloodthirsty killer. This gave way to dialogue options and incidents that aren't in a Custom Origin, like murdering a hapless innocent, taking out a spellcaster warding off the darkness, tearing the wings off birds, or outright eliminating a companion before they even had a chance to join me. The reward, which I won't spoil here, was definitely a surprise, but I did wonder if it came at such a high price.
The interactivity and reactivity in Baldur's Gate 3 are truly off the charts, as one key decision may lead to another, and you'd have to reload your save, or maybe even replay the campaign, just to see a different outcome. I felt that this leads to a richer role-playing system where you're truly tailoring a character to suit your needs and preconceived ideals.
And a little bit of clunky combat
The combat in Baldur's Gate 3 follows a more traditional turn-based style. Your four-person team dukes it out with an enemy force, with units taking turns based on their initiative. You perform actions (i.e., most regular attacks, as well as dashing or reviving a fallen comrade) and bonus actions (i.e., jumping, shoving, and also additional attacks). The idea is to manage these limited number of actions, all while moving tactically on the battlefield, so you can deal as much damage at a given opportunity.
There are 12 classes and multiple subclasses for you to try out. I've tested everything during the early access period, from the spell-spamming Wizard and song-buffing Bard, to the bear-transforming Druid, stealth-sneaking Rogue, and rage-filled Barbarian. This time around, I opted for the Monk, the only "new" class for the full release. As a martial arts disciple of the Way of the Four Elements, my character could shoot fireballs and ice projectiles, before following up with melee attacks that can stun foes. This was complemented by having party members that provided buffing and healing, magic spells, and raw melee damage.
I found that the combat system was easy enough to get used to owing to my familiarity with the genre, even while playing on the default/balanced difficulty. However, I did have qualms with how the battle flows. Firstly, there's no way to speed up combat at all. As such, once you start fighting a dozen enemies in a single bout, you might think it a little tedious. Likewise, there were instances when hostiles took a while before they made their next move (i.e., they were probably attempting to detect an invisible character), as well as bugs where my Barbarian, Karlach, couldn't hit anything in spite of a target being right next to her (i.e., there was no targeting outline at all).
Speaking of not hitting anything, the game has the "X-COM Curse," something that turn-based tactics fans will be familiar with. I've seen attacks completely miss even though the chance to hit was 90% or higher. True, anything below 100% isn't guaranteed to hit, but having these incidents occur somewhat frequently was downright annoying. Moreover, as for annoyances, I was surprised that I still had to rely on outdated mechanics, such as having to loot each corpse or container one at a time, instead of all lootable items within an area being readily shown. Likewise, I didn't like having individual inventory storage and carry weight, as these made inventory management and selling to merchants an unnecessary chore.
To the gates
My other qualm with Baldur's Gate 3 is that, with all the options and sense of scale, certain interactions and segments could've been made clearer. For example, there's a Guardian NPC that's supposed to guide you as you try to control the Illithid tadpole in your mind. However, even though I had unlocked more powers, I wasn't sure about when she'd next appear. Because this type of dream sequence only occurs when you rest in your camp, it's hard to ascertain if it clashes with other moments, like Dark Urge segments, companion advancements, or even romance scenes.
Nevertheless, I know that I've only scratched the surface of what is truly an epic and massive RPG. Currently, I've spent around 50 hours for our review build (not including my time with early access). Having just recently cleared the second act, I'm eager to see where the adventure takes me.
We'll have a final score for our Baldur's Gate 3 review soon, so stay tuned.