Overall - 100%
Baldur's Gate 3 is nothing short of a masterpiece. The story is incredible, the world gorgeous and immersive, voice-over and writing of the highest quality, an amazing soundtrack, everything comes together in near perfect harmony. It's not only the best RPG of the year, it's the RPG of a generation.
It has been over 20 years since the release of Baldur’s Gate 2; that’s two decades that have passed since BioWare released a Dungeons & Dragons RPG based on the 2nd Edition ruleset. It’s not all that often you wait that long for a sequel. Now, in 2023 and on the 5th Edition of D&D, Larian Studios once again looks to thrust players into the grand adventures of The Forgotten Realms.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Review
Having just watched the credits roll after nearly 90 hours of time in Baldur’s Gate 3, I really don’t know where to start. There are so many experiences I want to share, countless stories I want to tell, and shocking consequences I’m still processing. I want to say everything, all at once, which leaves my brain a confuddled mess and unable to say much at all. Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of those games that transcends mere entertainment; it’s not simply a game you finish and forget about. It’s an experience that will stay with you for years.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a shining example of a talented, dedicated, and passionate development studio working to the very highest of standards. I can’t even begin to imagine the complexities of developing a game with so many moving pieces, so many variables, choices, decisions, consequences, and outcomes, and it’s delivered in such a way that nothing else really comes close.
Nothing here is really new; most of it has been done before. However, rarely does a game deliver on every single aspect of development, every promise, every expectation.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is that good.
The story begins as your hero finds themselves trapped aboard an Illithid vessel. Infected with a deadly parasite, you race to find a cure before you turn into one of Dungeons & Dragons most iconic enemies: the Mind Flayers. It’s a story that begins very black and white. If you don’t find a cure, you turn into a monster that eats brains in order to survive. Those first few moments of simplicity soon fade away to unveil a narrative that any Dungeon Master would be envious of creating.
I really don’t want to spoil anything more than has been shown in the trailers and pre-release footage, but it’s a fantastic story and one that is entirely unique to your hero. Baldur’s Gate 3 is far from the first game to feature dialogue choices but in recent years the illusion of choice has been more prevalent, decisions that appear to put the power in the hands of the player only for the choice to not really matter. Baldur’s Gate 3 is so far on the opposite end of that spectrum, the line has become a dot.
Decisions I made during my first hours of the game provided opportunities and consequences 80 hours later. Whilst exploring I stumbled upon an Owlbears nest, a cave filled with the bones and the remains of unfortunate adventurers that had trodden this path before me. It’s a fearsome creature and one I’ve encountered many times in my D&D days. Approaching quietly, I cast Speak with Animals, hoping to negotiate with the monstrosity before I became its next meal. As I got closer I noticed it was protecting a cub, so the outcome was looking bleak.
Needless to say, things didn’t go to plan and I ended up slaughtering the beast right in front of its offspring, which then began eating its mother before I’d even sheathed my sword. Rummaging around I looted an Owlbear egg and thought nothing more of it. That Owlbear cub then somehow manages to make its way to a goblin camp and can be “saved” as an optional companion to help populate your camp.
But wait, there’s more.
About 15 hours later, I stumbled upon an old lady that wanted me to steal a Githyanki egg, but there was an option to convince her to take the Owlbear egg instead. Then, about 60 hours after that, I meet the lady in Baldur’s Gate and learn what happened with the egg. This is one of hundreds, if not thousands of events that shape and alter the world of Faerun. Baldur’s Gate 3 has everything, from massive changes that shake the very foundation of The Forgotten Realms, to charming and heartwarming stories featuring just a mother and daughter, in a single home in the games biggest city. The depth and scope of the choices and consequences system is unrivaled and creates one of the most immersive and rewarding game worlds the genre has ever seen.
I know I waffled for about five minutes there, but I really wanted to drill in just how expansive this world is. There’s nothing else like it, and I lack the articulation to really do it credit. I’m a gamer, not a writer. So now that you know Baldur’s Gate 3’s living and breathing Dungeons & Dragons experience nails the narrative, how fares everything else?
Baldur’s Gate 3’s combat, not all too dissimilar to other works of Larian Studios, is the most enjoyable and accurate representation of the Dungeons & Dragons combat system in the industry today. It somehow manages to conform to the necessary rules and mechanics of a video-game whilst simultaneously allowing for the ridiculously creative and near limitless possibilities of a game that was designed to be played with a pencil, a piece of paper, and your imagination.
It’s turn-based roots will immediately turn some folk away. It’s slow, methodical, and pure strategy. Some of the battles can last over an hour, so it’s definitely not going to work for everyone. However, if the turn-based genre is one that appeals, the combat on offer is incredible. Each environment is unique, verticality and the environment play a huge role. Leaping over chasms to reach distant enemies, shooting chandelier’s down onto unsuspecting enemies below, triggering traps at just the right time, no two battles ever feel the same and while some improvements to AI speed and decision making wouldn’t hurt, the combat never got stale.
And that’s just about where you fight, that’s not including what you fight, and who fights at your side. Even now, after nearly 90 hours, I’m finding new and exciting ways of combining my different characters abilities. Throwing out an ice spell to try and trip enemies, followed up by a fireball to melt the ice, and then an electric jolt to fry anyone still standing. These powerful combinations are present across every class and the synergy potential in combat is rewarding from start to finish. I suppose you could just use Gust of Wind and knock 12 goblins off the edge of a cliff too; both work.
I’m not usually keen on games that require me to manage entire parties, as I much rather focus on developing a single character. While the micro-managing of items and inventory definitely felt overwhelming at times, the characters themselves made it worthwhile. I don’t think any of the companions are guaranteed. Certain choices you make mean you may never meet, while others mean they die at your feet, and that makes me sad.
It’s sad because each character is entirely unique, expertly voiced, and each with an intricate and emotional story to tell, and some people may never experience those stories. Every companion has their own story arc, often playing roles alongside the main story itself, but every character grows with you and changes based on their experiences. What do you do when a character you’ve grown to love for their combat prowess needs to make a decision that you find morally questionable? Do you back them up through fear of losing an ally, or is the weight of the consequence of an immoral act too much to bear? Even these complicated stories, most of which last the duration of the entire game, have multiple paths at multiple points, each offering insight into different aspects of the characters past and future.
That’s not to say that every encounter is an exhausting exercise in morality and consequence. During my adventures I had “romantic encounters” with a bear, a rather aggressive Githyanki, a flamboyant vampire, and a succubus that then proceeded to imitate my form and spread delight amongst The Forgotten Realms on my behalf. I spoke with a military-like pigeon, Commander Lightfeather, leader of the finest aerial communication regiment this side of the Chionthar. A pig who was all too eager to share its newly formed stubble, an ox that turned into some gelatinous demon of one form or another. Every counter, be it pigeon or pig, has be crafted with such care and attention. Moments will disgust, horrify, but also charm and entertain.
What’s even more remarkable is the technical state of the game. For the vast majority of the experience, I didn’t encounter any bugs. My game still hasn’t crashed once, and none of the dialogue or encounters have had any issues but unfortunately, the latter stages of the game do struggle. Exploring Baldur’s Gate, while a visual feast and an explorers playground, the frame rate is horrible, nearly unplayable in certain places. Much can be said for the final battle, while absolutely epic, it definitely needs some post-launch TLC.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is nothing short of a masterpiece. The story is incredible, the world gorgeous and immersive, voice-over and writing of the highest quality, an amazing soundtrack, everything comes together in near perfect harmony. It’s not only the best RPG of the year, it’s the RPG of a generation.
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