If you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down with some friends and playing some Dungeons & Dragons, you know the chaotic fun that comes with it. You pick your class, race, back story and then slip into character, trying to solve the mystery provided by the Dungeon Master without getting everyone killed in the process. Or yourself, for that matter.
It’s an experience that has been translated to computers and consoles countless times, but fans of the genre will often point back to the Baldur’s Gate games as some of the very best CRPGs out there. Now, after 20 long years away, Baldur’s Gate returns with its third instalment, this time with Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian Studios at the helm. The game is out with a huge Early Access release on PC and Stadia today.
Set almost 100 years after the events of Baldur’s Gate II, your created character is captured by Mind Flayers and has a lovely Illithid Tadpole climb it’s way into you. Through your eye socket. Nice. The problem here is that if it’s not removed, you’ll end up being turned into a Mind Flayer and you obviously don’t want that. Thankfully, you don’t have to go through this journey alone.
Like any good DM, the game gives you some companions to help you along the way who all conveniently suffer the same affliction. It beats the heck out of the traditional ‘You all start in a bar…’ opener, but while it’s a little corny and convenient, it’s still a brilliant way for a regular game of D&D to start, putting all party members in the same place and forcing them to get to know each other.
Speaking of which, your party members consist of Shadowheart – a half-elf cleric, Gale – a human wizard, Lae’zel – a githyanki fighter, Wyll – a human warlock and Astarion – a high elf vampire. Astarion is already my favourite character. I love his mannerisms, demeanor and his combat ability, being able to hide and then strike with a deadly back attack for massive damage.
Of course, it’s all about the journey of your own custom character and there is so much to choose from when building your adventurer. Firstly, you have sixteen races to choose from which is huge, each with different stat-lines and perks. Then, you have six classes to choose from – Cleric, Fighter, Ranger, Rogue, Warlock and Wizard.
For my character, Thaddeus Grey, I choose to be an Asmodeus Tiefling, hailing from Nessus, the deepest layer of Hell. Asmodeus is quite badass, so coming from this bloodline means you can wield fire, which is pretty neat. Picking the Warlock class was a given, and with that, I already started building my character’s history: a hardened dude who has seen some serious happenings, and came out the otherside changed forever, vowing to live a better life. Not all Devils have to be bad…
The D&D groundwork is apparent from the off with the Fifth Edition system smartly woven into the gameplay. In a regular game of D&D, as you explore your surroundings, DM’s will roll secret checks based on your Perception skill or even ask you to make a check when you pass something of interest. Succeed, and you might discover a little secret; fail, and you’ll be left wondering what you missed. As you explore the landscape of BG3, every now and then, small dice roll symbols appear over a character’s head while a check is being made. If it turns blue, the character will have a line of dialogue and draw your attention to something like a hidden button or a trap, but a red die symbol leaves you clueless. You know something is there but you cannot probe the virtual DM for more details.
One of the excellent ways this was implemented was when I was wandering through an abandoned village. Dice symbols started popping up over my entire party’s heads. All the perception checks failed apart from one, the character shouting, “There’s an ambush up ahead. Be careful!” I moved the camera around a bit until I could see a small band of goblins waiting to get the jump on us. Instead of giving them the satisfaction, I snuck around behind them and performed my own sneak attack. It was so satisfying and could have easily gone a very different way for me had I have not been warned.
The RNG is a little harsh sometimes, but if you really don’t like a result, you can always reload a save. Personally, I wouldn’t, because failing checks is fine and leads to some interesting interactions and encounters. To maximise your effectiveness, you really should play to your party’s strengths. Have a character that’s good at persuasion? Let them do the talking.
This is the first RPG in a while where I’ve wanted to talk to everyone and not skip lines of dialogue. Each interaction has the potential to be different, especially if you are doing multiple run-throughs with different races. NPCs will react differently depending on a number of factors, and race is one of them.
Combat has changed somewhat since BG2, with the game shifting to turn based as soon as an encounter starts. Much like how combat works in Fifth Edition, each round lets you move a set distance, perform an action and a bonus action if you have it available. This feels immediately comfortable to anyone familiar with the system and newcomers alike, with simple tutorial and tooltips to help if you get lost.
Once again, I found that RNG often wasn’t on my side. Many attacks were missing as I threw my party into battle. Brute force doesn’t always work and you have to think about your strategy. Correct placement and tactics lead to better results as I discovered in my second run, having a much easier time with an early encounter simply because I took some time to set up as opposed to rushing in.
Another situation saw me take on a larger party of higher level enemies and defeat them just because I planned properly. I had Gale cast Fog around a doorway and as the enemy rushed me, being funnelled through fog where a greased floor and firebombs awaited them. I weakened the bad guys just enough that my low level heroes were able to finish them off with strikes and spells. It felt really good.
The game itself also looks very pretty, getting a serious glow up after 20 years and even over Larian’s recent work. In particular, the character models look fantastic, as each custom character head has been 3D scanned into the game.
The slight downer is that, while there is a lot of content, you can tell that this is an Early Access game. I often found textures that didn’t load in, characters would T-pose out of nowhere, mouths wouldn’t move when characters spoke and there were bugs aplenty that caused me to reload because I couldn’t continue. Even reloading in certain situations caused the game to crash completely which was pretty frustrating until I realised what the trigger was.
While it’s rough and ready, I have to say I’m really enthralled by the experience so far. Baldur’s Gate 3 has tons of depth and enjoyable enough gameplay that I’m willing to look past the bugs of early access. It was quite frustrating at times but still forgivable. The good experiences were more than enough to make up for the bugs and these will only improve over time, making BG3 one of the best in-depth RPGs in a long while. Things can only improve from here on out and I can’t wait to see what comes in chapter 2.