Larian Studios undoubtedly put a lot of hard work and a lot of love into the development of Baldur’s Gate 3, but perhaps even they did not expect the sensation this game would cause. 875 thousand simultaneous players, 43rd place in the list of the best games of all time according to Metacritic? What is this if not success?
|Game||Baldur’s Gate 3|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5, GeForce Now, Xbox Series, macOS|
I wanted to start this review with a nod to old-school isometric role-playing games and intended to focus on the original Baldur’s Gate dilogy, which is rightly considered the best and most titled representative of the genre. However, I decided not to do so for a very simple reason: it’s no longer possible to follow the formula that was considered the gold standard two decades ago. Since the release of Pillars of Eternity, we have had several attempts to “do it like in the best of times”, and now Larian Studios demonstrates how it should be done. And there is no doubt that Baldur’s Gate 3 will become the standard for role-playing games for years to come.
After all, we are looking at an epic adventure of incredible scale with a huge number of locations, tasks, characters, scenarios, and just crazy attention to detail. An excellent character editor, eleven races, twelve classes and forty-six subclasses, hundreds of spells and skills, three long acts, each of which could be turned into a separate game if you wish, fully voiced dialogues, even the most unobvious ones, like a conversation with that random bird, of course, provided that your character understands the language of animals or has used the appropriate magic. Graphics. Modern, and the character animations deserve a special mention, as they would look quite appropriate in the next Sony cinematic exclusive. The work of the screenwriters? On top, unexpected plot twists are really unexpected, even side quests are well-written individual adventures, rarely straightforward and definitely not the standard for role-playing games, meaningless fetch-and-fetch. Attitude to the source material? Respectful in everything related to the lore, but with a somewhat free interpretation of the mechanics, the influence of Divinity: Original Sin II is noticeable, but not dominant. However, we’ll come back to this later. For now, let’s see what’s going on in the game.
You wake up aboard the Navtiloid, a ship of Cthulhu-like Illithid brain-eaters attacked by Githyanki warriors, red dragons pouring fire on the ship, fierce battles raging on the decks, matzos, disgusting slime, bodies in strange capsules, and living brains running on disgusting short legs. Soon after a not-so-successful landing, you’ll have to gather your surviving comrades-in-arms, fight off goblins, make friends with druids, deal with the problems of tiefling refugees, wander the swamps in search of a witch’s hut – all in order to find someone to help get rid of the brain parasite that infected your character on board the ship. This is how Illithids reproduce: a few days with the parasite, and the victim mutates into another brain-eater… Or maybe it’s different for you. You might want to refuse the help of your fellow nautiloids, make friends with goblins, slaughter tiefling, lose the druid grove, and make a deal with a swamp yagi. Or are you not interested in all these conflicts at all, the main thing is to survive, and therefore you are ready to join anyone who promises to heal you? It is up to you. And the results of your choice may not become apparent immediately. Helped someone in the first act and forgot about them? It’s likely that in the third act you’ll have a pleasant encounter or an interesting cutscene. However, it’s easy to miss it, because even the smallest third act is so huge that when I scrutinized it, I was surprised to find that I had passed by the content for a good few hours just because I hadn’t paid attention to some subtle branch from the main path at first.
Over time, it turns out that something strange is happening to the parasite in your head – according to all calculations, you should have gone through the process of ceremorphosis and turned into a monster long ago, but something is preventing this from happening, and you are not the only one who is unique. There are many, many more infected, and they are all somehow connected to the mysterious cult of the Absolute, which is spreading at a terrifying rate along the Sword Coast. So, it seems that you will have to save not only your own skin, but also the whole of Feyrun. Or not – in this game, everything depends on you.
Of course, you won’t have to deal with all the troubles alone, as you have a diverse team of companions at your service, each of whom is traumatized in their own way: the half-elf Tineserda, who as a little girl was drawn into the cult of the dark goddess Char and lost her memory, the tiefling Karlak, a barbarian with a hell engine for a heart, literally escaped from one of the local hells, the sorcerer Will was born into an influential and wealthy family, but due to circumstances was forced to make a deal with the devil and promise him his soul, the high elf robber Astarion is a vampire with a difficult fate, the story of the wizard Gale is better heard from him, it is as tragic as it is funny, there is also the warrior Leisel, she is a Githyanki, which is a trauma in itself, and several other characters who will join your group (or not) towards the end of each act. I can’t say that the personal stories of each of them touched me equally deeply, but none of the companions can be called flat or uninteresting. I would periodically rotate the usual group not only to go on a personal mission for a companion, but also to spend more time with each of them, because everyone has a lot of interesting stories and comments on what is happening around them. However, you need to take into account the fact that companions evaluate your actions according to their worldview and may leave the group forever if you regularly upset them. This, by the way, is perhaps the only moment in the game where the worldview mechanic works at least somehow, in all other cases Larian Studios decided to ignore it. In dialogues, for example, there are no answer options that would be available only to a good or evil character, and no other nuances tied to the character’s worldview were noticed: you can quite easily behave like a chaotically evil person and turn into a real angel in a minute, the game doesn’t care – the main thing is that you successfully pass the required characteristic test if the dialog requires it.
And since we’ve already touched on the topic of differences from board rules, let’s dwell a little more on the mechanics of combat, since there are more of them here. From the obvious, movement and positioning on the battlefield no longer occurs with the help of conditional cells, instead the developers borrowed the linear movement system from Divinity: Original Sin II, which turned out to be quite convenient. The interactivity of the environment was also taken from there – throwing oil at enemies and setting them on fire with a fireball or incendiary arrow? Freeze a puddle under the enemy’s feet so that they slip and lose concentration on the spell? Easy. Or maybe throw a tub of water into a bunch of cultists and strike them with lightning? Why not? Veterans of Dungeons & Dragons will notice changes in some classes (especially rogues, rangers, and monks), as well as in many spells. The structure of the round, and the battles here are turn-based, unlike the controlled pause in the original dilogy, remains the same as in the board game. During the six seconds that a round lasts, a character can perform one basic action, such as attacking or casting a spell, one bonus action, which includes certain types of spells, some skills, attacking with a weapon in the second hand, or using a healing potion, and move a certain distance. The useful bonus action is not really available to all classes, so Larian has made some changes here as well. From now on, jumping, pushing, or immersing a weapon in a substance (you can make your sword burn if something is burning nearby, for example) are bonus actions, which makes the game for melee characters a little more interesting. The shelter system has disappeared, so there’s no need to look for the nearest chest to cover your body, instead you get +2 to ranged attacks when you’re above the target, shooting upwards has a penalty, respectively.
An important difference from the tabletop version, which I found out about later than I would have liked, is the ability to prepare spells without a long rest, in fact, at any time outside of combat, your mages can redefine their active set of spells, but the already used slots are not updated, so you still need to go on a long rest. The mechanics of which have also been changed, by the way. Players have two short rests per day, during which they can partially or fully restore their lost health, they happen instantly, and they actually serve as free treatment after a battle. Once you’ve exhausted the limit of short rests or available spells, you need to go back to camp and go to bed. To fully restore your health and other resources, you’ll need to spend provisions and time. The latter, however, is only important if you have an active task with a hidden timer.
By the way, although the battles in the game are very well orchestrated, you don’t often see stupid straightforward melee combat, my favorite pastime was trying to avoid fights wherever possible. Sometimes the right use of the environment allows you to kill all the enemies before they realize what happened (carry gunpowder barrels with you, I recommend), sometimes a potential conflict can be resolved verbally. No, not peacefully, just… in the second act, for example, I literally talked absolutely all the bosses to death, except for the final one. Some of them were drunk, some of them were deceived and sent to their deaths, and somewhere I appealed to their conscience, forcing the scoundrel to commit suicide. The satisfaction was no less than that of a successful completion of a difficult fight.
Despite the sometimes significant differences in mechanics from the tabletop, which will certainly cause old fans to grumble, I can safely call Baldur’s Gate 3 the best Dungeons & Dragons adaptation I’ve ever seen, because few games have managed to convey the atmosphere and almost unlimited possibilities of the original so closely. Of course, there is still a long way to go before you have complete freedom of choice, but there are really a lot of options for the development of events and solving the tasks set before you, I spent about a hundred hours on each of the three acts and I have hardly seen everything the game has to offer. At the same time, I can’t say that at least some of the content was filler, there are no boring identical dungeons, no pointless backtracking, and almost no meaningless side quests. Almost – because in the third act, cut or unfinished content begins to catch the eye, the most striking example being the completely empty attic in the vampire castle, except for the treasury and diaries. After spending about an hour looking in every nook and cranny ten times in search of an important character, I gave up and went to the reddit, where I learned that this character was obviously simply not added to the game. However, this is not such a problem, because the game is really monstrous, and there is enough content for more than one playthrough, and if you get bored, you can run a cooperative playthrough for four, it should be fun.
Should you play Baldur’s Gate 3? This question shouldn’t even be asked if you love Dungeons & Dragons or the genre formerly known as cRPG: we haven’t seen anything of this scale in a very long time, not even Dragon Age: Origins looks a little bit like a poor relation against this game. And, let’s be honest, we’re unlikely to see it in the near future, because I don’t know which developers will have the patience, perseverance, ingenuity, love, and probably money and time to release something similar in depth and scale. A few months ago I was sure that Tears of the Kingdom would be the game of the year, but now I think I was wrong. I’ve been waiting for this game for 23 years, I was upset when I found out who would be responsible for its development, because I don’t really like the Divinity series, and now I can say that it managed to exceed all my expectations.