Beautiful, Fun, Epic… Sorta wonky?
Baldur’s Gate 3. That’s right, Baldur’s bloody gate three. Those words were enough to make any gamers in their early thirties giddy with excitement ever since it was announced. Developed by Larian studio, which made the excellent Divinity series, the game has been ripe with hype since the day of the first teaser.
It finally released as a dreaded early access game on October 06 2020, at exactly 13h00 EST, and like thousands of fellow nerds stuck at home, I jumped on the occasion to give it a shot. After playing 13 hours since then already, here are my impressions.
Spoiler free synopsis:
Baldur’s Gate 3 is not, so far, a direct sequel of Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2. It actually takes place in the era in which D&D 5E happens. This means that, not only is the ruleset different, but the majority of the pantheon of gods has died and been replaced. The main character starts off having been abducted by Illithids (AKA mindflayers, AKA Squidfaced braineaters, AKA Squidward’s Revenge). These weird creatures implanted a rather disgusting tadpole thing behind the MC’s eyes that will eventually transform them into an Illithid themself. Cue the mindflayer ship crashing near Baldur’s Gate (because that place is seriously a giant epic adventure magnet), and the MC gathering a party of parasite infested weirdoes. The quest begins to find a way to get the sickening bug out of your brains.
So far, I’ve tried multiple classes and races as I always do. I haven’t seen a very large difference in the way the people react, other than the occasional flourish in conversation, or extra options to avoid skill checks. That being said, some NPCs will treat you differently if you are certain races (for example, other tieflings will tend to like you more if you’re one – and everyone seems to dislike and distrust Giths). This is nothing that’s particularly new in RPGs, but adds some flair for sure.
So far, the available races are limited to Humans, Elves, Half-Elves, Drow, Dwarves, Halfings, Tieflings and Githyankis. Each of them except Humans and Giths has sub-races from which to choose with their own flair. As far as D&D races go, they got most of the basic ones in at least. As this is early access, we can expect (hopefully) a few more races to be added over time. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t at least see gnomes, half-orcs and aasimars.
As for available classes, I was disappointed in the selection for the early access. You can presently choose from Fighter, Ranger, Rogue, Wizard, Cleric or Warlock. Although the classes have a few choices within them – Fighter, Ranger and Rogue can select one of two subclasses each; the Mage can choose either Evocation or Abjuration; the Warlock can select either the fiend or the great old one; and the cleric can chose from 3 domains. Larian studios has claimed that all classes from the 5e player’s handbook will be available at launch, but it’s still disappointing that they left out fan favourite monks, barbarians and paladins from the first Early Access version.
Skills, stats and origins seem to follow the 5e rules pretty decently, with some slight modifications to make it work better in a game, but it works.
Character looks are a mixed bag for me so far. On one hand, they look amazing, but on the other, I feel like there’s a lack of options so far. The photorealistic graphics on the faces are beautiful, but you can only choose one of a handful of faces, two dozen hairstyles and colours. The game would benefit greatly from something as simple as a body type choice, as right now, everyone has the exact same body (lean, cut, average height for men; decently curvy for women). Like many other players, I like to spend a lot of time making characters, so the more options, the better. I’ll give them props for gender fluidity though. Bearded woman? Man in makeup with female voice? No problem!
Beautiful, but sometimes wonky. That is the best way to sum up the game’s visuals. The early access shows on occasion. The physics engine is mostly what makes things wonky, which seems somehow much weirder with the amazing graphics of the game. For example, in the prologue there’s an Illithid talking to you, and the camera zooms to its face, the tentacles are just rag dolling everywhere going through its face. It’s distracting and beautiful and weird all at the same time. Like a lava lamp.
The scenes are gorgeous, the monsters looks amazing (except maybe for the half-naked ogress I chose to fight – that’s a decision I’d like to take back) and the spells are very interesting. Occasionally a monster will randomly stretch out to cover a square mile after it dies, but the skin textures still look life-like!
So far, I’m enjoying the story, but I can identify its weakness. This version of the game only has the first act, with a maximum level of 4. The story so far feels more like a Divinity sequel set in Forgotten Realms than a real Baldur’s Gate though. I won’t be the first to make the parallel between the stories so far in BG3 and the opening act of Divinity Original Sin 2 – (start on a ship with something you don’t want on/in you. Escape your captors, and then try to leave the area in which your ship crashed… Even the tentacles of the Mind Flayer ship are reminiscent of the kraken that attacks the ship in Divinity 2). In the same way as Divinity 2, it lacks any way to make you attached to your own character, other than the fact that you created them.
In Baldur’s Gate, there’s a full prologue in which you just get to know the protagonist. It builds an emotional bond to the MC, and gives some sort of meaning to the inciting moment of the story. In Baldur’s Gate 2, the assumption is that you, the player, have already been through a full story with your protagonist, therefor it was ok to start already captured. Baldur’s Gate 3, like Divinity 2 before it, suffers from being thrown into the inciting moment without first going through the introduction. It’s not earned. They try to hide it behind a raw epic prologue full of action, dragons, explosions and demons (produced by Michael Bay maybe?), but it didn’t work.
The companions also suffer from this. I think they are all interesting characters, with diverse and sometimes conflicting personalities which shine through within the first hours you adventure with them. You start off not liking them, but they grow on you. However, you get the feeling they know that they skipped the whole introduction part and are suddenly in the action. They seem to be following your lead without knowing why. This is especially apparent for the strong-willed Gith warrior. She is strong, resourceful, and as far as she knows, the only one who can lead the party to a cure. She overtly treats the MC as a subordinate (literally calling them a subordinate at one point). Despite this, she will just calmly follow you around even if you go against everything she wants. This blind obedience is odd. It doesn’t quite fit.
This part will have the biggest disparity in opinion. Some people love it, others hate it. The best way to describe it is this: it’s Divinity 2, with D&D flair. It mostly follows the 5e ruleset, except when it doesn’t. Larian made some modifications in order for the game to work a bit better. As for me, the gameplay is my favourite part.
Overall, this game is the closest things I’ve found to tabletop D&D, the way idiots like me play with their friends. There are so many things you can do, from combining spells, to interacting with the environment, to interacting with other characters. In the prologue, I wanted to see what happened, so I chose the “throw” action, and threw a pair of boots from my inventory on the enemy. It dealt 2 points of damage. It was more comical than effective. A little later, I come up behind an enemy Halfling, standing on a crate near the edge of a small cliff. I shoved him off the cliff, and then threw the crate on him. He was left prone, with a height disadvantage and 2Hp left. Sometimes buffoonery works.
Combining spell effects for great synergy can also be fun. My class of choice is always wizard. The first companion you get outside the prologue is a cleric. I discovered that our cantrips worked very well together – she has an attack with a dexterity saving throw, and I have an attack that creates difficult terrain and can make the enemy prone, thus negating their saving throws. There are also more obvious interactions, like things being flammable, and flames being extinguishable. The game is very dynamic and it’s great fun to find new and interesting strategies.
The encounters can be rather difficult, but not so much as to make it frustrating if you have a basic mastery of the mechanics and the rules. With some creative use of your abilities, you can overcome some otherwise very tough fights.
I already love this game. This might already be one of my favourite releases of 2020. In fact, this might be one of my favourite things of 2020 overall (which is a low bar, let’s admit it). For my recommendation, and my score, I’ll divide it in two.
If you can put up with a few bugs, and don’t mind playing through the content as it’s released. If you’re like me, and will probably play through the game multiple time just to try it with different races, classes, and overall playstyles. If you can accept that this is an Early Access. Then, play this game.
If you don’t have patience for bugs, and would rather play the game from start to finish without waiting a few months. If you don’t trust that companies will fulfill their promises in Early Access, as so many others have failed to do before. Wait. Maybe go play Divinity 2. Or go find Suikoden 2 and play it. It has nothing to do with Baldur’s Gate, but I just always need to find a way to plug that game.