It’s not often that a game changes the way I perceive a genre. Baldur’s Gate 3 has done exactly that. I walked in uncertain about how I would engage with a turn-based game, but after the singsong of morning birds heralded the rise of the sun and demanded I leave my PC and go to bed, I would do nothing but think about my next quest, the next conversation, and the next battle I would invariably find myself in. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a triumph, a new pinnacle in what it means to be a role-playing game.
The genius at work behind Baldur’s Gate 3 is Larian Studios, a company nestled in Belgium and one that has delivered many a critically acclaimed RPG. But this time, the team sought to infuse its latest offering with the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition ruleset. D&D has always succeeded in capturing the imagination of players, letting them try out anything their minds can concoct. Larian Studios has somehow managed to nail this sense of creativity in Baldur’s Gate 3, despite the challenge of trying to think up the various shenanigans players will attempt.
Like any great D&D campaign, Baldur’s Gate 3 kicks off with a bang, a call to action, and an intriguing mystery to solve. After being infected with a parasite that will eventually transform them into a monster, the player is thrust into a living, breathing world jam-packed full of characters as complex as the rules governing the combat.
The appeal of Baldur’s Gate 3 is immediately obvious in that each player’s story will be unique and each playthrough of this 100-plus hour campaign will be just as interesting as the first. Part of this is thanks to the near overwhelming character creation screen. After about an hour of tweaking, I had settled on a human paladin (I know, standard fare), with an oath to uphold justice and some proficiencies in a few areas including Intimidation and Persuasion.
My wife, on the other hand, created an elf ranger with proficiencies in being sneaky and the ability to speak with animals. It’s here that Baldur’s Gate 3 yet again captures the joy of D&D: It can be played entirely co-operatively.
And so we set off on our quest, not knowing what to expect, but so far enthralled and somewhat overwhelmed with what we were about to undertake.
Roll a perception check
When it comes to RPGs, I’m far more used to the Elder Scrolls-style of adventuring, and while I had dabbled in D&D, I wasn’t sure Baldur’s Gate 3’s combat was going to grab me. You can imagine my relief, then, when it immediately clicked.
Combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 is handled in turns. Players and enemies alike take turns performing an array of actions during a fight, with various restrictions on movement and number of attacks per go. It then boils down to tough decisions trying to work out where you want to move your hero given they can only cover a few meters at a time, who to attack with your primary action, and whether your bonus action should be spent on attacking, healing, or something else entirely.
While the combat is slower than real-time fighting, it’s far more meticulous and rewarding. Though some will snub their noses at the notion, one particular encounter saw my wife and I reloading numerous times as we sought to experiment with different strategies to get the outcome we hoped we could achieve.
We were in a cavern with a few bandits that were one conversation away from becoming hostile. In the back of this room was a man tied to a chair, receiving a beating. These bandits had – rather dastardly – spread oil everywhere and placed explosive barrels around ensuring that everyone would be annihilated if necessary. What we wanted to do, and hoped we could, was defeat the bandits and save the man. We made a plan, but as they say, man plans and the dice laugh – or something like that.
What followed was about two hours’ worth of different strategies and attempts. We tried the diplomatic route to no avail. We attempted rushing in and fighting, but the bandits were just as happy to blow themselves up too if it meant sending us to the Nine Hells. We even attempted having two of our party Misty Step across the chasm and pre-emptively attack from above, but this inadvertently caused my paladin to break his oath – and I’m no oathbreaker!
The towel was thrown in as we bowed out for the night, but the thinking didn’t stop. An idea sprung into my head as I was standing in the shower, wasting water as I thought about Baldur’s Gate 3 and the encounter in the cavern. I pitched the strategy and we promptly returned to the game.
I sent my cleric down to speak with the bandits, distracting them long enough for my wife to sneak around and steal all the explosive barrels. My paladin and the fighter stayed up top, ready to drink a Potion of Feather Fall and float down to join the battle. As luck would have it, the strategy worked, and we walked away with loot and a thankful artist who promised to line our pockets if we made it to the titular Baldur’s Gate.
And that’s part of the enticing element of Baldur’s Gate 3. Combat can spiral out of control or go exactly to plan, and sharing these moments with friends and hearing about their own adventures is just as exciting as playing the game. The way I approach one fight will be completely different to how you or someone else does. The joy of D&D is being able to think up something and act upon it and it’s a miracle that Larian Studios has managed to capture this magic.
I can fix her
What makes a fight intense in Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t just that you might lose, it’s that you might lose characters you’ve come to love. These characters are part of the rich tapestry that Larian Studios has crafted, each with their own motivations and goals as well as shortcomings and internal conflicts. All of these elements come bubbling up over the many hours you’ll spend fighting with and talking to the companions that join you on some truly remarkable quests.
I lost track of the number of quests we completed during what turned out to be a 150-odd hour campaign. We played hide and seek with a ghost child, helped a woman resurrect her husband, and berated a djinn until he turned me into a wheel of cheese. Each quest surprised and delighted, and not only offered an opportunity to learn more about the characters, but also expanded our understanding of the world.
For this reason, the writing in Baldur’s Gate 3 is to be lauded. The citizens and creatures you meet are full of life, displaying a vast swathe of emotions in their dialogue. You’re just as likely to be enraged by a terse githyanki as you are to chuckle with bewilderment at a bard’s showmanship.
As you press ever forward through the story, your companions’ secrets are exposed, friendships are tested, and motivations shift and change. It takes a master to compose such a cohesive story with as many intertwining narratives and characters as there are in Baldur’s Gate 3 while still remaining engaging after dozens, if not hundreds, of hours.
Even after all those hours, there were only a couple of stumbles along the epic journey. I think I crashed to desktop a few times and sometimes the AI pathing was funky, but these faults pale in comparison to the overwhelming good on offer in Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s got all the trappings of a legendary Dungeons & Dragons campaign, stories and characters your local dungeon master could only dream about creating, and combat that rewards those who are willing to learn and experiment.
Larian Studios has tapped into the Weave and conjured up a near-impossible miracle, bringing the creativity of Dungeons & Dragons to life in Baldur’s Gate 3. Players are given real agency to pursue the narrative in a way that suits them and to dive into combat and experiment with a dizzying number of options. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a truly phenomenal game that has managed to sweep up the imaginations and dreams of players and developers alike. Baldur’s Gate 3 may just go down as one of the greatest games of all time.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Baldur's Gate 3 is available on PC, PlayStation 5, and will be releasing on Xbox Series X/S.
Baldur's Gate 3
- Impeccable storytelling
- Diverse and intriguing suite of characters
- Intense and rewarding combat with depth and complexity
- A rich world to get lost in
- Classic Dungeons & Dragons co-op joy
- Some funky AI pathing
Sam Chandler posted a new article, Baldur's Gate 3 review: A natural 20
But you only gave it a 10?
Great review! I’ve been playing myself lately and this game delivers
Patch 5 continues to act like dlc
I don't think I could replay this monster of a game
I've got 80 hours partway through act 2 and I am pretty sure I'm starting over after seeing this new patch
I'm gonna be real happy when I get it on Xbox, aren't I?