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Baldur's Gate III

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Developer: Larian Studios
Release Date: Aug. 3, 2023


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PC Review - 'Baldur's Gate III'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 7, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Baldur's Gate III is the official next adventure in the venerable Baldur's Gate series.

It's difficult to eclipse Dungeons and Dragons when it comes to tabletop RPGs. There are plenty of competitors, but when you think of the idea of sitting down with some friends and rolling some dice, you think of D&D. While there have been plenty of D&D-themed games, the Baldur's Gate series has always been one of the most highly regarded when it comes to capturing the feeling of a tabletop experience in a video game. Baldur's Gate III is set in the same world, but the important part isn't the storyline, which you don't need to know to hop in; the game is effectively self-contained. It's doing its utmost to capture the feeling of playing D&D with friends, even in a solo adventure.

Baldur's Gate III opens up in effectively the worst place imaginable. You wake up in the hold of an alien ship belonging to a race of terrifying creatures called Illithids. Even if you don't know the name, you've probably seen them before: weird creepy octopus men, better known by the charming name of "Mind Flayers." In true Alien fashion, the Illithids promptly implant a "tadpole" behind your eye that will eventually devour everything you are and turn you into one of them. A series of accidents allows you, and a number of other victims, to escape. Now you have to deal with the fact that you have a monster tadpole growing in your brain and the fact that this particular species of tadpole doesn't seem to follow the rules. It's a race against time to find a solution before you become a corrupt monstrosity — unless you want to become one.

The story is the centerpiece of BG3, and it's involved, complex, cheesy, silly, heartfelt and occasionally really horny. The primary focus of the story seems to be on making it feel like an adventure through a D&D module, and that works in its favor. There's a sense of excitement and exploration that sometimes feels more like a tabletop adventure than a video game, and it made me enjoy large aspects of the game because I could take things in different ways. It helps that the cast is largely likable and interesting, while having just enough in the way of oddities and quirks to capture the feel of adventuring with another person, instead of an NPC.

It's difficult to emphasize how absurdly involved even the most casual conversations are in BG3. At any given point, I could be offered one of countless options. I started playing as a bard, assuming that charisma and persuasion skills would be one of my greatest weapons. There were hundreds of more dialogue choices that resulted from being a bard. I could make charming quips, poke fun at storytelling cliches, join sing-alongs, and more. One of my favorite early bits involved finding a captured bard singing a rather lackluster song. I had bard choices, and I could also shout out rhymes for him to follow or grumble to a party member about how awful the tune was.

The game is filled to the brim of things like this. Perhaps most importantly, not every choice has an obvious consequence, or sometimes no consequences at all. A lot of them exist entirely to let you define your character's personality and traits. This isn't uncommon in games, but BG3 goes above and beyond to give almost everything you have a chance to shine, which helps your character feel like a character instead of a template. You can be a vagabond or a hero, or you could embrace evil and become a force of sin and terror in the world.

This also applies to the huge number of companions that you can get in the game. A good chunk are "origin" characters, which means potential playable protagonists for those who don't want to generate their own characters. Others are companions with in-depth plotlines and stories. For example, Gale the Wizard is a former gifted archmage who was given a terrible curse that requires him to devour magical items regularly or suffer from grave consequences. Questing with him involves dealing with his "condition," but his wealth of knowledge and gradually increasing power can be a huge boon. Most companions in the game have their own quirks and foibles. You can't expect to get along with everyone, and you may sometimes have to make tough choices.

As I've mentioned, BG3 is good about making them feel like someone I could imagine playing alongside in a D&D game. Astarion the rogue often encourages you to do absurd and ridiculous things because he finds them hilarious, and he is usually entirely onboard with you doing the sort of things that might make a DM tear their hair out in frustration. Gale, on the other hand, is a hardcore role-player who is dedicated to his bit. Sometimes it can be annoying, but it helps the feel of the game.

BG3 is extremely good about allowing for multiple options to handle situations. Fighting is always an option, but the D&D mechanics strongly discourage getting into a bunch of fights in a row without a chance to rest up, and a true "long rest" requires supplies. It's often a better choice to find out what you can do otherwise. My bard protagonist was able to stroll into heavily guarded areas by stacking multiple spells and buffs to convince guards that I absolutely belonged there. One of my wizard companions could turn into gas and sneak through a small crack.

One of the cool things about the game was that my magic users were not just big, booming cannons. A lot of utility spells ended up being as useful (if not more so) than the combat spells. Throwing a fireball is cool and all, but it's even cooler to use a simple spell to bypass a locked door or boost my rogue's jump range to hop across a huge gap and unlock a chest without alerting the guards. My bard's magic ended up being mostly utilitarian, and using a spell slot on Charisma turned out to be a huge boon.

Combat is inevitably a part of BG3. D&D5E combat works surprisingly well in this regard, due in no small part to the studio's previous work on Divinity: Original Sin, which thrived on providing a ton of tools and ways to use them in combat. Each character class has an absurd number of combat options, and the game systems are well designed enough that you feel like you have some genuine freedom with actions, even within the mechanics of a game. You can dip your weapon in fire to set it aflame to inflict extra damage to a fire-weak enemy, or sneak up to a guard on the edge of a cliff and push them off, or throw a lightning spell at enemies foolish enough to stand in a puddle of conductive liquid.

Combat is broken down into turns, with every character having an action and a bonus action they can take in a turn, as well as a base movement. Most things you can do are actions, but the list is long. You can attack, cast spells, dash further away, hide, drink potions, and more. Certain characters can take extra actions, depending on their stats and abilities. Bonus actions are effectively a second action you can take without using your primary action, and they usually involve specialized spells and abilities.

A major part of combat isn't just winning but winning effectively. This is because everything you can do is governed by a cooldown mechanic. Special attacks and abilities are tied to either short or long rests, while most spells are tied to limited use spell slots, which are governed by level. You can use an ability and can't use it again until you can rest, which isn't always an option. Short rests recover some HP and certain abilities, but spell slots and stronger abilities require a long rest, which requires you to have enough supplies or find a place that allows you to rest.

Of course, there's a lot more to combat than that, but it's something that will take a fair amount of time with the game to understand. There are rules about having advantage and disadvantage (which can require you to roll two dice and take either the higher or lower), positioning, attacks of opportunity against nearby foes, resistances, saving throws, death checks — basically everything that makes up the role-playing system converted into a nicely automated game form.

The only downside is that BG3 doesn't do a great job of teaching players about it. It's an understandable assumption that someone might have a knowledge of D&D before buying a D&D game, but BG3 certainly has appeal outside of the D&D fan base. While the game explains some mechanics, it throws you into the deep end and assumes you know a lot of things; it can be rather overwhelming if you were drawn to the game as a cool-looking RPG and weren't familiar with the franchise or D&D. That said, if your experience with D&D5E is from real play podcasts and the like, you should be fine.

BG3 also looks great. The character models and animations work really well, and the environments are detailed and fun to explore. It has the occasional moment of wonky animation, but it doesn't detract from the whole. The voice acting is largely quite good, and even when it goes over the line to silly and melodramatic — well, that's still part of the D&D experience, isn't it? My only complaint, which is rather unavoidable in a game like this, is that I ran into a number of bugs. Rarely was it serious, but it could occasionally be distracting. Large bug fixes were dropped throughout the entire review process, so by the time you read this review, it's very likely that many of these little annoyances will be fixed.

Baldur's Gate III is everything an RPG adventure should be. It's appropriately epic while also spending time with the small moments. It allows you to feel powerful while also rewarding you for being clever and avoiding trouble. It offers the class fantasy of everything from a stalwart paladin to a hellish abomination, from fast-talking trickster to rage-filled barbarian. It has its quirks and flaws, but they usually add welcome texture to the game. Perhaps most importantly of all, it captures the feeling of sitting down and playing through a D&D adventure with some friends.

Score: 9.0/10

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