Coming about 20 years after the release of Baldur’s Gate 2, Baldur’s Gate 3 reawakens the long dormant but never forgotten Baldur’s Gate series. Go for the Previews, Boo!
Type: Single-Player, Co-Op
Genre: Adventure, RPG, Strategy
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
EA Release Date: 6 Oct, 2020
It may have been ages, but I did play enthusiastically through all the early games. While I do not recall the story verbatim anymore, I do remember enjoying both it and the gameplay. The classic RPG elements mixed with a kind of grim and serious story made for quite an enjoyable experience. The character that left a lasting impression on me to the point where I still remember his name was Minsc and of course his Miniature Giant Space Hamster companion, Boo. While Baldur’s Gate 3 is still in Early Access and more will be added later, I have not encountered Minsc and Boo yet who have been in pretty much all the previous titles. Hopefully they will be added later or perhaps I have just not encountered them yet as it just wouldn’t be a Baldur’s Gate game without them!
Early Access Preview
Baldur’s Gate 3 is only in Early Access at the moment which typically means the game will be unfinished, is highly unstable, lacks content and is otherwise likely to yield an unfavourable experience. Here is the interesting thing; this game is already pretty solid. Yes, while it is quite obvious that it is still in development rather than being a finished product, what is there already is quite impressive. I will share with you some of the interesting issues I experienced that directly related to it being an Early Access title rather than a final product.
Is this quest chain finished or did I miss step or something? Harking back to the days before I had an overflowing Steam account and a backlog longer than I am willing to admit to, I always explored games fully to get as much out of them as I possibly could. It is what made me a great Quality Assurance Manager while I was working in the Game Industry. Since I have an innate drive to explore every nook and cranny and complete every side quest this leads me to having an obsession of completing everything I can before moving on. Some quest chains of course start in one area and finish much later in another area so you can’t finish those right now, but if a quest sits for too long in my Quest Log I start to wonder if I missed something, often leading me to get the itch to backtrack. Unfortunately, with this being an Early Access title I was never quite sure if the quest was just not finalized in the game yet or if I missed a critical step.
The camera was a bit of burden in the game as well, it would sometimes lock on to some random part of a room and refuse to shift focus until you double clicked on a character portrait. Other than when that occurred, the camera worked well enough. It gave plenty of adjustment options to be able to see what you want to see when you want to see it most of the time. Sometimes the camera would feel like it got snagged on something and refused to cooperate, but that is likely just an artifact of this being an Early Access title rather than a real issue with the game. An example of this I can give is when you are leaving a crypt you encounter early on (and I will bring this up again in the next paragraph!). You have to make your way up to the top of a cliff area to progress although doing so is quite a challenge. You can climb a vine, that is easy enough, but the camera refuses to go up high enough for you to see the next ledge to tell your characters to go there. It was not until I blindly clicked a spot and triggered the character to move up there that the camera decided to snap to a better spot to allow me to see again.
Random dice rolls can really mess with your gameplay! While dice rolls are a huge part of Dungeons and Dragons and their presence in the game is very welcome, they can have some pretty drastic impacts to the gameplay. At one point you will encounter a person caged and two more people below them. You can try to rescue the person, or you can kill the person. Should you wish to recruit the person, you will have to rescue them. If you are successful with your dice roll, you will save the person and gain a companion and not end up in a battle. If you fail your roll, you will end up fighting either the duo on the ground or the person in the cage. Fortunately for me, my roll was successful, and I ended up saving the companion and did not need to dispatch her two captors. Instead, I was given valuable information by the duo. While I admit I didn’t witness the aftermath of the other possible ways that encounter could have went, I can only imagine it would have cost me a companion or cost me the future aid of the NPCs. I promised to talk about that crypt again in this paragraph, so here goes. After surviving the opening of the game you find yourself washed up on a beach. Progressing a little forward is a locked door and a possible companion. If you lockpick the door, you can enter the crypt. Failing to lockpick the door will lead you to having to find a way into the crypt. Because I was successful in lockpicking the door, watching all those Lockpicking Lawyer videos on Youtube must be paying off, I likely bypassed some dialogue and possible puzzles. While that is fine, it leaves new content for the next play through, it does lead me to wonder how heavily the random dice mechanic will impact my experience of the game and if I will ultimately end up save scumming to get desired results when given the opportunity.
Companions: Pathing? Where we are going, we don’t need pathing! Same Companions: ACK Why am I suddenly on fire and near death? Your allies are kind of stupid in a way. The AI likely will be improved over time, however, until that day, you get the joy of suicidal companions. Often times I would be moving only my player character through areas to collect chests or other goodies, or even just to progress through an area, when suddenly I would notice my companion is near death (or dead). It made no sense at the time, but I figured oh well, Early Access bugs. Turns out though if you watch the Companions closely, it isn’t really bugs that is causing it, it is their own sheer stupidity. Hey, there is a perfectly good path over there, nah, it’s cool, I will auto-walk through this flaming/poisonous area because it will take me two less steps overall. Same companion moments later: Why did you do this to me? It hurts so much. It would be nice if the AI had some kind of mild danger avoidance for non-hidden traps. The best example I have was an area that had vines, passing through the area, the vines would grab you momentarily doing a little damage before letting you continue on. I had gone to investigate a door in the area when I triggered a vine trap myself. After investigating the door, finding it to be locked, I opted to continue to explore the area before attempting to work my way inside. I then observed my companion was near death and I looked at her, she was standing in the vine trap repeatedly being hit by it. Yes, I could have manually moved her, but the fact the AI thought it was a good idea to move her from where I left her that was safe to that spot and just let the damage slowly mount up left me a little disappointed. Either way, I’m sure that won’t be an issue down the road.
The combat in the game feels a little lacking right now. I am going to go ahead and assume that is entirely due to it being Early Access and not by design. Do not get me wrong, I like where the combat is going, it just feels a little off right now. You can switch between ranged and melee attacks and your characters have a limited amount of movement they can do on each turn. If you want to be lazy, you can simply click an enemy and your character will run into range (if they have sufficient amounts of movement remaining) and attack the enemy. Working on your positioning is a little better though so you are better off positioning yourself. This leads to the fiddly fringe areas of movement where it can be hard to move your absolute maximum. It does not help that the camera is not always cooperative. The game then gives you a percentage of what I assume is your chance to hit. It does not really seem to mean much though because it feels pretty random if your hit connects or not. I’ve missed plenty of times with a pretty much 100% chance, so it doesn’t feel like just getting the unluckiest of unlucky shots. You also have a bonus action you can do, which involves hiding or shoving or a few other things, but they don’t really seem to have that much impact. I moved to melee range of an enemy and got auto-attacked by the enemy (fortunately they missed), attacked them with my sword and also missed then opted to shove them. They moved a little ways away from my character and fell down. Got back up and then proceeded to walk back to me and hit me. Not quite sure what the shove really did for me other than venting a little steam. Often the shove doesn’t yield any movement and pushing them into a flaming area did not actually appear to hurt them. Because of the turn-based nature, the frequent missing (by both sides) the battles can kind of feel like an attrition battle to see who gets tired first rather than a real battle. It is not bad though and the combat style is very suitable for this type of game, but it just felt like it needed some work. I am almost positive had I played a mage based character, the spells would have made for a more exciting battle because I did enjoy my caster I picked up as a companion although with great magic comes great responsibility and a fair amount of accidental collateral damage when another companion got in the way.
There are other little nitpicks and complaints I could mention for the game, such as jumping and it being awkward and weird at times, but almost all of them are minor and are clearly due to it being Early Access rather than problems with the final game. Let us move on to the positives, shall we?
The game has a rather nice fleshed out character builder that gives you a lot of customization options when it comes to your character. The pre-builds are not available yet, but that does not really matter. Selecting the race, class, and look of your overall character is nothing new, but it is something that Larian Studios has always done well in the past. For example, because I was a Rogue this time around due to not feeling like being a spell caster and always finding tanky melee characters to be a bit boring after a while, I opted to go for an elven character. There were several species of elves to go for right off the bat, and they all had a subtype to choose from too. This basically customizes your starting stats a little more than just choosing the race would allow for. Once you choose your race and subtype, you can pick your class. There are also backgrounds to choose from that says what kind of person your character has been to that point that further modifies your character’s stats. All of the various modifications you can make gives you hints at synergies because it tells you what the focal stats are so selecting a compatible race for those stats means you will be starting off on the right foot. Further customization can be done before finalizing your character but I will not go into all those details for this preview. I’ll just leave it at that anything your player character cannot do for themselves odds are good that there will be a companion who can do it for you so pick a character you will enjoy and stock your companions based on your unmet needs. You cannot really go wrong.
The story is delivered with a mixture of cutscenes and character on screen dialogue. The characters are all very expressive when delivering their dialogue although they tend to revert back to their default look once they have finished speaking their lines (which can be a little jarring at first, but it is a joy of Early Access playing.) You can visibly see the anger when a character is upset about something and this expressiveness really helps the immersion into the game. Because everything variable is pretty much tied to dice roll outcomes, it kind of makes me want to save before each encounter just so I can see both the win and fail outcomes to see which I will find more interesting.
The gameplay itself, albeit marred by the wonky camera and kind of lack luster fights, is actually quite engaging in itself. With the story being so branching and your player character having some impact in how it unfolds coupled with the decisions you make means that the game has a fair amount of replay-ability. If you do not resort to save scumming, this could lead you to need multiple play throughs just to see every outcome of every choice especially if you get some unlucky rolls. Every time there is a dice-based choice it has some stat related to it. You are warned before selecting it that that stat will be challenged by a throw of the dice. The higher your stat the more likely you are to have the throw go your way because of the modifications that your stat gives to the requirements of the throw. A good example of this is early on you see a vat. My character was very dexterous but not highly intelligent and in fact had an intelligence penalty. This led me to be unable to understand what I was looking at and also a few upcoming control panels meant nothing to my character too. Coming back with a highly intelligent mage would allow me to experience what I missed (unless I had a bad roll of the dice). These differences that stats make coupled with throws of the dice do make for an interesting system and one I did ultimately come to enjoy once I learned to stop worrying about a few bad rolls of the dice.
There are plenty of weapon, armor, and gear options for you to use, albeit restricted to the class of your character. I found myself favouring the bow over melee weapons with my Rogue. I mean sure, I am stealthy, sure I can backstab, but often times the battle started with my characters so far away from the enemies it would take me a few turns to even get into backstab range so it was quicker just to unleash my arrows most of the time. There was an interesting trap that I encountered in that crypt I mentioned earlier. There were signs I could not read, curse my low intelligence but I assumed it was probably something to do with it being a bad idea to be a grave robber, but I mean, I am a rogue thief. There is a hint about moving something heavy to block the vents in the area but I couldn’t find anything heavy I could move. Putting a vase on it did not really seem to do anything. Pressing the highlight objects key on the keyboard often did not highlight anything (even if I am staring right at a chest) but again, likely an Early Access bug which I opted to ignore for now. So, I decided to just go for it, opened the big sarcophagus, saw a shiny sword I could use and took it. This triggered a trap and put oil/grease all over the floor and caused flaming arrows to start shooting across the room. Nothing else really happened though. I walked through the grease slipping a couple of times and guided my companion to the safe area beyond. Eventually the room did catch fire and was quite an inferno, but it did not really impact me much. I am pretty sure those flaming arrows would have ignited the floor had they hit me or my companion but fortunately they missed. It is also possible they were supposed to just ignite it automatically but that did not occur for quite some time. Either way, those kinds of traps are part of the fun and getting out of there without singeing my hair was fine by me.
There is quite a lot of content already available in the game and I can only assume a lot more will be added as time goes on. The game is getting frequent updates and patches so that shows that there is no risk of the game being abandoned any time soon. Learn from my mistake here though! The game takes over 80GBs of hard drive space and I figured dedicating an entire 120 GB M.2 SSD just to the game was a great idea. Turns out that around 30GB of free space isn’t enough space to allow the game to patch itself, so make sure you have a much larger drive for it to reside on otherwise you will find yourself in my shoes having to repeatedly uninstall and reinstall the entire game just to get patches that are only a few gigabytes in size.
Go for the Eyes, Boo. GO for the EYES! Aka Graphics
This game definitely looks better than the older games in the series. Sure, it is 20 years newer and built on a more capable engine that can run on systems with resources we likely could barely even dream of existing 20 years ago. Almost everything in the game is a wonder to behold. The characters, especially when in their close ups for dialogues, are some of the best I have seen in recent years. There are some issues here and there where the graphics glitch out a bit, but that can still be forgiven while it is in Early Access. The ship you start out in looks like it is alive itself (because technically it is) and its fleshy corridors and pods really helps with the ambiance. The outside world you encounter early on feels like it was pulled directly from Divinity Original Sin II so if you have played that already, you will already have a feel for what the graphics are like. There are some quirks here and there which actually make sense, where something blocking your view… actually blocks your view and rotating the camera around allows you to see behind things that were previously in the way. The game does a decent job indicating where paths go that are obstructed from your current viewpoint by giving outlines but it does not hold your hand and place flashing arrows telling you where to go. Interactive objects will become highlighted when you point at them, pressing a hot key will also highlight objects in your visual range to aid you (at least some of the time, other times it seems to do nothing). The graphics, while excellent for this style of game as mentioned above, still does have areas where improvements could be made though, but with it being Early Access odds are those improvements will come down the road.
The voice acting in this game is in English, which is always welcome and I can say is done very well. There are some characters that are a little hard to understand but that is from the character’s accent rather than a problem with the voice acting. Most dialogue is delivered both on screen and spoken which is always enjoyable. The voice actors really put effort into matching their tone to the character’s current mood. The music is exceptionally done once again. If you enjoyed the soundtracks of the Divinity Original Sin series then you will likely enjoy Baldur’s Gate 3’s accompanying soundtrack and sound effects.
Controls and User Interface
The controls and User interface leave a lot to be desired, but with the game just coming out in Early Access I will not rip it apart. The camera in my opinion as mentioned before is terrible right now, but once those bugs get ironed out it should be fine. The characters also do not always do exactly what you expect them to do when you issue a command. This leads to unusual things occurring and often has companions suffering for it. Jumping is also an issue at times. You can see where you likely should jump, but you can never seem to find a suitable landing spot leaving you wondering if you are supposed to jump. If you move around a bit and slowly move your mouse in the landing zone you will usually find somewhere to land. The first time I encountered that was in the starting area where it was showing you that you can jump. Took me a while to both spot where I was supposed to jump to (the camera didn’t even show a gap) and then once I figured out where I was jumping to, finding a spot I could land took more than a minute. These kinds of kinks will get ironed out over time though, so I am not overly concerned right now.
As of right now, the game does not really do that good of job preparing you to play the game. If you are new to this sort of game you will definitely be lost. Even as someone with a decent amount of experience playing games like this often left me a bit stymied and gave me a lot of challenge just to figure out how to do simple tasks. The little optional pop-up tooltips on the side did help though.
You Either Die a Hero, or Live Long Enough to See Yourself Become the Villain
Everyone, including my companions seems to hate me. They are very snarky, and I keep expecting the cleric to stab me in my sleep. It is kind of refreshing actually that it isn’t just another game where everyone recognizes you as the hero. One of my favourite games of this genre is actually a Star Wars game called Knights of the Old Republic (not the MMO!). In that game you played as a bit of a mysterious person too and some of the companions you had such as the robot HK-47 likely would kill you if they felt they would benefit from it. I mean in that game there is a big twist reveal that I won’t spoil for those of you who have not got around to playing the game that came out in 2003, but I kind of am getting the same vibes here. It kind of feels like the game is hinting at you not quite being the hero of the world.
So, should you pick up Baldur’s Gate 3? The game is very much in Early Access and eventually you will run out of content. The content that is there is actually pretty decent if you ignore the quirks and bugs that you encounter. The game will eventually be finished. I have no doubt of that because Larian Studios has earned my trust. Their frequent updates and patches show they are very dedicated to this title and I feel the Baldur’s Gate franchise is safe in their hands. The game isn’t perfect yet, as mentioned, and if you need to have a complete experience with as few bugs as possible then maybe you should look elsewhere for now such as to Divinity: Original Sin 1 or 2. If you are a fan of Dungeons and Dragons and enjoy the fifth edition rulesets, then you will likely enjoy Baldur’s Gate 3. It will be a long road getting from where it is now to its final destination, but it’s definitely a road I am willing to travel for now.