With the game so close to full release on PC/Macs, anyone who didn’t check out early access may still be wondering: Is Baldur’s Gate 3 Worth Buying?
Developed by Larian Studios, the company behind the Divinity: Original Sin games, Baldur’s Gate 3 has been available in early access for players on Steam since October of 2020. The original Baldur’s Gate games introduced important technical advancements over other RPGs at the time, and expectations are high for this long-awaited sequel.
Indeed, the game faces some tough competition from a lot of major players this year – including the upcoming Bethesda release of Starfield – but Baldur’s Gate 3 has a lot to offer RPG fans. A robust lore and history, strategic turn-based combat, a deep, engaging story with intriguing companion characters, gorgeous graphics and visuals, and the ability to play with friends in multiplayer co-op are just a handful of the highlights.
I’m going to go over the details of all these things and more, analyzing what the game has to offer, how the developers have handled early access, and what their strategy is for future updates. Will it be enough to make Baldur’s Gate 3 Worth Buying? Let’s find out….
Background and Development
The Baldur’s Gate franchise is a series of role-playing games set in the expansive world of the popular tabletop RPG game Dungeons & Dragons. The main entries in the series, Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II were released in 1998 and 2000, respectively, both for PC and Mac computers. Subsequent spin-offs, expansions, and enhanced editions have released on consoles, but the series has a strong history of being PC focused.
The original two games were developed by BioWare and published by Interplay, but after the release of Baldur’s Gate II a financially struggling Interplay lost the license to make more Dungeons & Dragons-based games. After being acquired by Wizards of the Coast, the IP floated around some for years after, with other studios wanting the chance to acquire the rights. Larian Studios was one of those companies, but it wasn’t until they saw success with Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin 2 that Wizards of the Coast felt confident enough in their ability to turn out a compelling game.
The storyline through Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II are known as the Bhaalspawn Saga. In them, the children of Bhaal, the Lord Of Murder, roamed the land. At the end of the DLC for the second game (spoilers!) players were ultimately given the choice of whether Bhaal himself returned or not.
Baldur’s Gate III will take place almost a century after the events of these previous installments. There are few characters still alive in the Forgotten Realms who have personal memories of the Bhaalspawn Saga events. The developers at Larian Studios have said that for most races in Balder’s Gate 3 it is part of the history books.
However, it has also been directly suggested by developers that everything in the previous games becomes more and more present as Baldur’s Gate 3 story progresses. We don’t yet know how, but it seems likely that some story elements from the earlier games are continuing to have an effect on the Forgotten Realms a century later.
Gameplay Mechanics and Features
Like the lore and world itself, combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 is based on the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition ruleset. Regular movement through the world as you’re exploring happens in real-time, but when you enter into combat the game seamlessly transitions into a turn-based combat mode.
This change allows players to strategically approach combat encounters. The developers have said that when designing battles they constructed them as if they were like puzzles, which players will have to solve.
For example, the layout of a combat space may have bulky creatures doing direct damage in the front, with rogue archers shooting at you from rooftops and a magic caster firing spells at you from out a window. What is your approach to that battle? Which of the attackers is the highest priority and how does your party effectively take them down while incurring damage from other fighters?
Combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 will require some thought and planning, it won’t be a ‘mash X’ kind of game where you can smash your way through with brute force. This might be jarring for some players used to faster action, higher pace games, and could seriously impact whether they feel Baldur’s Gate 3 is worth buying. Personally, my gamer tag Deltia actually comes from Delita in Final Fantasy Tactics, a similar style turn-based game, so this isn’t anything new to me.
Think of the combat like chess, you strategically plan out your initial attack, look at the order of attack, and plan accordingly. Will you charge in with a Fighter to take all the attention away from your Wizard? Can you have that Wizard crowd control sleep the ranged character in the back? And what happens when the enemy lands a massive critical strike on your main character?
The combat also has a heavy randomness to it, using dice rolls true to form on the Dungeons & Dragons foundation. This makes for wild plays and sometimes frustrating ones. But that randomness and unpredictability is core to the game, making every encounter, playthrough, race, character, and scenario a bit different and interesting. For most gamers, this will be a much slower-paced experience, and if it’s jarring, I’d say do not let that hold you back from trying the game because the build creation and difficulty is where Baldur’s Gate 3 shines.
Character creation is often a highlight for many fans of RPGs, with lots of people enjoying the process of creating their ‘perfect character’ with just the right appearance and stats. The character builder in Baldur’s Gate 3 goes beyond just basic aesthetics, with choices for race, possibly a sub-race, class, sub-class, background, and abilities all playing a part in who your character is.
At launch Baldur’s Gate will have over 11 races and 28 sub-races, along with 12 classes and 46 sub-classes to choose from! And Larian Studios has said that all of these pieces play an important role in your character’s identity, informing who they are and how the world will react to and interact with them. The creator itself is one of the most detailed and complex we’ve ever seen in gaming. With tons of unique DND races like the Dragonborn, Drow, Githyanki and Tiefling, this is a fantasy RPG fans imagination come to life. For some, this system alone might make Baldur’s Gate 3 worth buying.
I will say the downside of creating a character is the bonuses, specifically racial is vitally important to your build and as far as we know, you will not be able to change. The bonuses greatly increase or decrease your character’s performance. Pick a suboptimal race for your Paladin, then challenging fights at or below your level becomes a problem. So be warned, if performance is important you really need to identify and select the appropriate race otherwise you will be rerolling 20 hours in when you have a terrible ability distribution and build.
Another aspect of your character and creator is your interactions with the world. In the vast world of the Forgotten Realms, all creatures and people mix and mingle and sometimes clash. Your character’s identity and personality will greatly influence the story you experience. Your race choice will influence some of the dialogue options available to you. Members of that race you meet out in the world will speak to you differently than they would a foreign stranger. Issues of trust or distrust between races may make some NPC companions less likely to want to follow you.
The main story of Baldur’s Gate will follow a specific path but the world and your character come alive with the various branching dialogue options based on your class, race and other attributes. This doesn’t become apparent during your initial play-through, but re-roll a new class, or a new race and you will be absolutely shocked at how different the story is. Sure, some of the quests, side or main end up nearly the same linear direction, but the agency you have over your character rivals that of Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
There will be side quests you can pick up immediately, or skip and come back to later. There will be companions who can join you on your quest – or you can dismiss or skip them entirely if you want. These companions are integral to your party build and load-out and some can be romanced.
The romancing options for companions are a lot different than traditional games. Talk a couple of times, give them a gift, maybe do a personal quest, have a cut scene, hook up, and that’s it. In Baldur’s Gate 3 you will need to invest in your romantic partner, and if you screw it up, they will walk away. And it’s not as simple as hey let’s wait until the last mission in the game and we might as well hook up. Romance done right in a video game is hard. You want to be drawn to that character, through interactions, quests, and stories. And unlike other RPGs, you will really need to invest in this aspect to see the full story bloom.
Other NPC interactions throughout the world will present scenarios in which you can intervene – often having to make a moral choice that will have in-game consequences for your character and also affect how your party companions feel about you.
The consequences of all those choices will affect how your journey and the story you experience play out. Your playthrough will not be exactly the same as anyone else’s, nor are you likely to have the same experience if you go back and create an entirely new character to play again.
Graphics and Visuals
In order to help tell all of that story, and to cover all of the different narrative branches and possibilities, Larian Studios recently announced that at launch the game will have over 174 hours of cinematics! Lots of motion capture was done for Baldur’s Gate 3 and it really gives character expressions and movements a believable quality.
The character creator and all of the appearance options provided give players an endless combination of ways to make a character their own. And while players might be worried that the top-down isometric view would mean that they won’t really get to see the details of their character and companions up close, they should keep in mind all of those cinematic hours. Lots of great storytelling moments and conversations will happen in those cutscenes, and the graphical detail of them is greatly enhanced.
Additionally, the environments in Baldur’s Gate 3 are complex, detailed, and vibrant, with immersive atmospheric effects that make the world believable, regardless of all the fantasy elements surrounding you. Even when not put on Ultra settings, the environments and textures still look good. It’s not really until you hit the low settings that things really start to blur and simplify drastically.
All in all, regarding the visuals you may ask: Does the graphical quality of Baldur’s Gate 3 really push the envelope of what technology is capable of in the current PC and console generation?
I’d put the graphic quality in between Mass Effect and the Witcher 3. The Witcher is the apex of modern generation games, and Baldur’s Gate 3 is believable enough to be considered in the modern area. The combat has flashy cinematic capture with big animations when you critical strike. As in most of the game, the bulk of the effort is placed on the story and interactions between the characters via dialogue screens. If you want the highest fidelity graphics, this game isn’t for you, but if you want incredible story telling with modern-day graphics, it definitely has that.
Multiplayer and Cooperative Play
Given its foundation in the tabletop world of Dungeons & Dragons, it should come as no surprise that Larian Studios has allowed for multiplayer features and cooperative gameplay options. A group of four friends can play together through the Baldur’s Gate 3 campaign in a way reminiscent of the typical tabletop experience.
There are two ways to play the game with friends. One is for up to three friends to join a campaign already in progress. You can do this by choosing ‘Multiplayer’ from the main menu. From the Online or Lan tabs above you will see a list of available lobbies or games. Find your friend, and join them in game. You’ll take control of one of the game’s NPC companions – such as Astarion, Shadowheart, Lae’zel, Wyll or Gale. You can choose what character and class you’d like best, and the host can assign you to them.
The second way is for everyone in the group to start a new adventure together. Again, you’ll first choose ‘Multiplayer’ from the main menu. One player will need to choose the ‘Create’ button in order to generate a new game and lobby. Their friends can then join the lobby and everyone can click ‘Launch’ to start a new game where all players can create their own custom character.
I’ve played many hours in early access with two other friends and find the co-op very enjoyable. You have the freedom to roam around independently but are placed in important dialogue when it pops up. Combat allows you to take independent actions and you can even assign companion(s) to another party member to manage. Overall the party leader, or lobby host has most of the control, but the other players have some autonomy, especially in combat and build creation.
When someone leaves the group or if you’re friends aren’t able to jump in, you simply can play and control their characters as companions. This is a great way to experience other builds and experimenting together. Moreover, you can level much faster when everyone is spread out completing quests, selling items, and initiating quests.
Another fun element is that all players can have a say when it comes to dialogue options. Whichever player prompted the conversation initially remains in control, but other players can mark which option they’d prefer.
BG3 is not an MMO, so do not expect sprawling cities with hundreds of players. From my perspective, the multiplayer feels very intentional vs other games which tried to tack it on at the last minute. The story and your character’s path is the foundation of the game and having a small group to play with is a nice touch. For those who are coming to this game from the original tabletop D&D background, this addition could make Baldur’s Gate 3 worth buying.
Story and Length
The breadth and depth of the narrative in Baldur’s Gate 3 is a huge strength and what many people who play and enjoy RPGs love the most. A story where the choices you make matter, and it can take a different path and have a different ending depending on what you do. Where after you complete the game, you can create a completely different character and have a completely different experience. The amount of replayability this game has cannot be overstated, and potentially fans could be playing and enjoying Baldur’s Gate 3 for many years to come.
However, it has to be said that this same great strength may also hide some weaknesses. Could the sheer scope of the game be too much for today’s gamers? Many of us are working adults with families, spouses, or other commitments outside of gaming. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a game you have to invest in. Developers have estimated the game will take at least 75 hours to complete even if all you do is run straight through the main story.
The amount of content is staggering even in early access with only one act to play. What’s mind-numbing to me, is the branching dialogue choices. I’ve played the classes to gather research for builds and a tier list, and every time it’s the same, yet also very different. One playthrough I killed my companion, and another one left my party. In one playthrough I destroyed a very difficult fight, another I had to reload 100 times to complete it. One playthrough I was able to bypass an important fight, another, was initiated on sight.
The dice roll system to dialogue is core to the story and initially a huge turn-off to me. I didn’t understand it and wanted to just select and get my result. But the randomness, just like combat, makes the game MUCH more interesting. Sure you can just save before and reload 100 times to get that 20-dice score, but the playthrough and randomness when things don’t go your way adds a lot to replayability.
The dice rolls combined with insane amounts of branching dialogues make the game feel like a Skryim-level RPG. Every play-through is different. Every playthrough you learn something new about the story, the game, and yourself. You constantly see and experience new things and wonder, what if I played a Drow Bard next time?
Is Baldur’s Gate 3 Worth Buying?
Let’s answer the initial question? Should you buy this game?
In summary, buying Baldur’s Gate 3 guarantees an immersive role-playing experience, a captivating storyline, strategic gameplay, stunning visuals, and the chance to actively participate in the game’s ongoing development. If you’re a fan of the genre, the Dungeons & Dragons universe, or simply crave an epic and unforgettable adventure, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a must-have title that will provide you with countless hours of thrilling and immersive gameplay.
I would say avoid this game if you want fast paced action, like a shooter or action-based RPG. Avoid this game if you don’t want long-cut scenes and tons of dialogue options or just aren’t a fan of fantasy or Dungeons and Dragons.
Final thoughts: the developers at Larian Studios have created a masterful world to explore, filled with intriguing characters, captivating storylines, and morally complex choices. You’ll have the opportunity to shape your character’s destiny, forge alliances, and make impactful decisions that will have far-reaching consequences, immersing you in a truly immersive and interactive adventure.
If you’re interested in purchasing Baldur’s Gate 3, the base game costs $60. A value well worth the money, in my opinion. For higher prices, there are other editions of the game available for purchase which can come with either digital cosmetics or physical items depending on what you’re interested.
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