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Baldur's Gate 3 Review

Baldur's Gate 3 Review

Through a litany of modern games mired by microtransactions and shifty live-service releases emerges a shining beacon of light: Baldur's Gate 3. Your buddies at work are talking about it; your favourite Discord servers are awash with videos about it; heck, even Grandma and her bridge club are wittering away about it (probably). The game has quickly become a cultural phenomenon and with my playtime knocking the three-digit mark, I finally feel ready to evaluate my adventure through Faerûn — so let’s dive in. 

Baldur’s Gate is a series based on the ever-popular tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. The first two titles — both developed by Bioware — are over two decades old, yet they remain the darlings of DnD gamers to this day. When it came to tackling game number three, however — well, that task fell to none other than critically-lauded Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian Studios. 

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The game’s namesake, Baldur’s Gate, is a fictional city, a bustling, merchant-filled metropolis on the west coast of Faerûn. Faerûn is a fictional continent on the planet of Toril, third planet from the sun and anchor point of the great moon Selûne. Toril is one of the eight planets in Realmspace, or the Torilian system, which itself is part of the — alright, okay, I hear you; I’ll stop. But the point I make is this: the Dungeons & Dragons universe and its Forgotten Realms are decidedly enormous. So the first question you might be asking yourself is this: is Baldur’s Gate 3 for me? Can I jump in here? Or do I have to trawl my way through the many, many preceding games, books, television shows and tabletop campaigns first? Let’s answer that together.

The overarching narrative of Baldur’s Gate 3 centres around the player character and their ragtag band of recruited companions as they seek out a cure for a particularly nasty form of infection: a mindflayer tadpole forcibly lodged in their brains and threatening to imminently transform them into mindflayers themselves. It’s a compelling premise and one with a plight that is easy to understand, drawing the game’s diverse main cast together in a way that requires no previous understanding of the DnD setting or themes. 

In fact, Larian Studios has taken great care throughout to make sure that the Sword Coast setting of its latest release is littered with lore and easter eggs galore for fans of the franchise without alienating newcomers who are just stepping in. Though the scope of the game is inarguably vast, its story maintains a tight focus on the fate of its titular city and the lands immediately surrounding it, with complex elements like Faerûn’s history, geography, religion, and so on, being introduced in digestible chunks and never exploited to excess. 

I, for one, knew not a thing about the Forgotten Realms before diving in and was nonetheless able to thoroughly enjoy my journey. It’s a difficult and delicate challenge to weave these two audiences together — the connoisseurs and the clueless — so let’s talk a little more about how Larian handles it here.

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The main draw of Baldur’s Gate 3 is most often not the sweeping, world-ending tale at its core but the much smaller interactions encountered along the way and the choices made as you pass through them. You might find a gaggle of ogres and make the choice to slay them on the spot, or perhaps you’ll talk them into fighting for you instead. You might encounter a wandering widow whose grief has led her headlong into the hands of an evil entity, or come across a locked tome containing untold power. The game’s map is far from large, at least by the standards that modern open-world role-playing games have been adhering to, but around every corner lies a meaningful moment, an interaction that leads to a quest, to a discovery, or to a seemingly insignificant decision that will creep back up on you dozens of hours later. The lore of the wider world is carefully drip-fed as you enjoy these smaller stories that anyone will be able to follow, and to that end, this title feels like an ideal jump-in point for anyone unfamiliar with the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. 

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a faithful recreation of the DnD tabletop experience, though, and that means accepting that not every action is entirely under your control. You can choose to try a certain approach, but it’s a roll of the d20, DnD’s signature 20-sided die, that will most often determine the outcome. Your chances of passing a die check can be bolstered by your character’s stats in persuasion, deception, strength and so forth, but there’s no way to ever guarantee a particular outcome. I often approach games with a completionist mindset; I want to see every eventuality, find every collectable, beat all that the game has to offer and do it in the best way possible — but that simply isn’t what Baldur’s Gate 3 is all about. Failing skill checks was initially a source of great frustration that saw me reloading quicksaves and trying to secure a more favourable outcome, but doing so felt more and more antithetical to the game’s design as the hours rolled on. This is not about seeing everything, and it’s not about passing or failing a dialogue interaction; the most fun to be found in Faerûn lies in accepting the fact that fate doesn’t always go your way and rolling with the d20 punches. 

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Baldur’s Gate 3 became substantially more enjoyable for me when I arrived at this realisation part way through its opening act, but that doesn’t mean that this facet of the game always functions perfectly. Now and then, the videogame seams will start to show, with a scenario playing out in a way that feels inorganic: characters might treat you as though you’ve witnessed events that have yet to transpire or you did not witness, or they might throw uncharacteristic tantrums and leave your camp forever. In the grand scope of the game, however, these occurrences are rare and almost always overlookable owing to how excellent the rest of the experience remains. There are a staggering number of decisions to be made and paths to take, with the sheer amount of agency granted to the player in all areas of its design easily being the game’s crowning achievement. 

Exploring every corner of the Sword Coast is a truly rewarding experience. There are no floating exclamation marks or central questing hubs that you’ll constantly run to and from, and you’ll find things to see, people to meet, and bizarre events unfolding at even the most peculiarly distant edges of its map — but it’s not just stumbling upon strange NPC stories that makes this kind of scrutiny worthwhile. Passive checks — dice rolls that occur automatically in the background — can uncover all sorts of things, from chests full of treasure to secret doors and invisible walls. The Sword Coast truly brims with adventure and Baldur’s Gate 3 encourages you to wander every square inch, all without shoving you along with blip-laden maps or repetitive, hour-padding fetch quests. 

Simply put, Larian Studios trusts in the player’s ability to find things for themselves. It’s an approach that’s worked wonders for recent successes like The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild and ELDEN RING, in which you are provided with a well-balanced sandbox that will set you on a grand adventure without keeping hold of your hand. 

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Though there is much placed on the shoulders of you, the player, you certainly won’t be navigating the narrative or sauntering across the Sword Coast by yourself (that is, unless you choose to role-play as the rather unsociable sort). I expect that most players will quickly find themselves in the company of a merry band (or not quite so merry, depending on how agreeable you choose to be), and each companion will join your camp (which can be travelled to and from at any time) along with their own backstories and motivations, their own personalities and preferences, and their own classes and fighting styles. Though their origins are fixed, the direction in which they develop is highly dependent on how you choose to deal with them and the hurdles you’ll have to face as the game goes on. Some of them are certainly more interesting than others, but there’s incredible scope for character development and individual arcs throughout Baldur’s Gate 3 that simply sends its replayability value through the roof. Every recruitable companion has their own tale to tell and each one can play out in many different ways. 

Whilst the characters can often be fiercely independent where their stories are concerned, the same is less true for their personal organisation skills. It’s down to you to dress them up, kit them out, and decide how to grow their skillset as they rack up experience and level up — you can even switch them over to a different class entirely, though doing so might feel a little against their preset character backgrounds. As you gather up a vast array of armour, amulets, and weaponry along your journey, you will inevitably have to take a little time out to organise everyone’s loadout and inventory. The character sheet interface is well designed with a number of sort options and the ability to view all active party member’s sheets side by side with the touch of a button, and items can seemingly be moved between your crew at infinite range. You can also send anything you collect back to an unlimited camp storage box for retrieval later on, making carry-weight management a much less tedious affair here than in some other contemporary games. Keeping things in order can be occasionally cumbersome, however; characters sent back to camp will hold onto their inventory, and you’ll have to travel there and swap them back into your party before you can access their items. Owing to the even distribution of experience points, your party will often all level up simultaneously, too, meaning that you’ll now and then be pulled away to manage their progression, something that could take some time if you’re a particularly build-conscious player. Some might find bulk-boosting their companions to be preferable, of course, but I often found it to be a little distracting. 

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These are ultimately extremely minor issues, but they might cause some amount of frustration since the game already requires a substantial time investment to see through. All in all, however, keeping your party finely tuned and clutter-free is a relatively short distraction from the main event and playing around with gear sets and character builds is a rewarding and enjoyable exercise most of the time. These aren’t the only issues you might find during a playthrough of Baldur’s Gate 3, though. The game is occasionally bogged down by choppy performance — particularly in its final act — and bugs causing the UI to fail or disappear altogether popped up a couple of times during my playthrough. There were also times in which quests would seemingly softlock because of a misbehaving NPC AI or some other technical hiccup; however, I met not a single miserly bug that couldn’t be fixed with a simple reload — something that is rarely an issue owing to frequent autosaves and the ability to quicksave often. Though bugs and glitches can be frustrating, they certainly didn’t detract from my overall experience with the game.

Let’s sidle along and talk about the combat. Battles in Baldur’s Gate 3 play out in turns, and each of your four party members fit into a particular class, though the option to multi-class is also on the table. The range of abilities available to each archetype is vast, and you can pad out your combat capabilities with an enormous amount of single-use magic scrolls, consumable items, and additional spells or skills bestowed by equipped gear. All but a few basic abilities are tied to various cooldown resources, and these are replenished with either a short rest, which can be executed a limited number of times from anywhere, or a long rest, wherein you’ll return to camp and recuperate with a slumber. 

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I initially played out almost every combat encounter in a highly conservative manner, storing up spell slots as I worried about what I might come up against in the next battle; this quickly caused the game’s conflicts to turn stale. Some careful resource management is in order if you are in a particularly precarious dungeon, building up to an obvious boss battle, or perhaps playing on a higher difficulty level, but resting rarely offers any punishment and the resources to do so are plentiful. Once I realised this, I shifted my playstyle from one much less concerned with conservation to one far more geared up to go to town on my opposing combatants; the game immediately became considerably more enjoyable. Turn invisible, shape-shift, blast enemies over a cliff edge, or self-destruct and wipe out everything on the screen; right in line with every other aspect of the game, the offerings open to you are almost immeasurably extensive, and I believe that even those who might ordinarily avoid a title boasting turn-based combat will find great fun and satisfaction in this one.

If Baldur’s Gate 3 sounds too good to be true, well, it really isn’t. Though much debate has been stoked about whether or not Larian Studios have raised the bar to a new and largely unattainable standard of RPG (a debate that’s certainly too hot for me to handle here and now), it’s clear that the developer has gifted gamers with a breed of videogame that is regrettably rare in the current industry climate; it’s one without predatory microtransactions, battle passes, always-online requirements, or broken promises to the player. It harkens back to a time before gluttony managed to get its slimy grip on the art form we all love, and I hope that more studios will follow the great example set by Larian Studios in creating what is quite simply one of the greatest achievements in software development of all time. 


10.00/10 10

Baldur's Gate 3 (Reviewed on Windows)

Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?

The scope of Baldur’s Gate 3 is scandalously large and, what’s more, Larian Studios manages to make good on every detail. It’s up there with the greats, an adventure that any avid role-player will revel in, and one that few will ever regret embarking on.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Conor McGuigan

Conor McGuigan

Staff Writer

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