There are good games and there are great games, and then there’s Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s the magnum opus of Larian Studios, a Belgian developer that’s been honing its craft since the late 90’s, delivering an unforgettable and epic experience by seamlessly melding its acclaimed Divinity Original Sin gameplay with the world, lore and ruleset of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). In doing so, Baldur’s Gate 3 did not just turn into a great game, it redefines what it means to be a great game.
Right from the outset, Larian promises a grand spectacle. From the beautifully crafted start screen and its orchestral score to the extensive customizations in the options menu to the detailed and highly adaptable character creator, the game screams “epic adventure ahead”. What’s more, after leaving the character creator, which could pass for a full game or standalone D&D app in and of itself, Baldur’s Gate 3 entirely delivers on its promise of grandeur.
The story has you running and racing through the D&D realm of Faerûn to remove a mindflayer tadpole from your brain, lest you turn into one of the dreaded Illithid yourself. Even though the start of the game might seem to limit your role-playing and adventuring freedom, nothing could be farther from the truth. The storyline sprawls in a myriad of different directions and takes you along so many unexpected and twisting narrative arches that it delivers a nearly perfect feeling of player freedom.
As such, Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the rare video games that does not limit player choice to simple, binary decisions between good and evil. At many points during my adventure I was presented with moral crossroads that left me unsure which path to travel. Deciding on the lesser of two evils, aiding certain people with valid needs at the risk of alienating an ally that is essential to freeing an oppressed group from a whimsical tyrant, or becoming an instrument in the Gods’ grand schemes without ever fully comprehending their plans are just a few of the many dilemmas the player will be confronted with.
Luckily, you will be accompanied by other characters that have a thing or two to say about all of these choices. The game boasts a diverse and memorable cast of companions, each with their own backstory, goals and personal quests. During the adventure the player and its companions have ample opportunity to build a deep connection and shared purpose, aided by witty and profound dialogues that make all characters feel truly alive.
If you are excited for a true D&D-style campaign with not just the standard companions but actual friends, Baldur’s Gate 3 has got you covered too. The game provides an online four-player co-operative mode that supports nearly seamless drop-in and drop-out functionality, and a two-player split-screen mode that’s arguably best enjoyed together on the couch with a controller.
The sense of connection and the world coming to live around you also owes a lot to the artistic presentation of the game. Each location, whether it’s the bustling city of Baldur’s Gate or the eerie depths of a long-forgotten crypt, is full of immersive ambiance. On top of that, Larian provides a very high level of voice-acting and motion capture work in almost every conversation.
While a big part of the allure of Baldur’s Gate 3 stems from its role-playing aspect and world exploration, its bread and butter lies in the turn-based combat system. Larian has succesfully merged its C-RPG formula with the latest D&D ruleset into tactically deep and satisfying combat, featuring a wide array of spells, abilities, and items to experiment with.
Going to town on an opponent with a sword? Have at it! Poisoning your adversaries by sneaking into their food storage? Only if you’re stealthy enough. Blasting your enemies off a cliff with magic? Why not! Baldur’s Gate 3 provides a level of strategic and creative freedom that is unparalleled in any other video game and comes very close to the tabletop ideal of pen-and-paper D&D. As a result, it provides endless replayability.
Much of the replayability also comes from the implementation of D&D’s iconic D20 dice rolls. Because numerous aspects of the game are left to fate, no single playthrough will ever be the same, even if you tried. Even though chance plays a large role, Larian has made it so that player creativity can nearly always overcome bad dice rolls. With four party members travelling together alternative solutions are always available.
The only areas where Larian stumbles slightly and did not roll a natural D20 on Baldur’s Gate 3 are small performance issues, such as occasional framerate fluctuations, particularly in later regions or heavily populated areas. The studio has, however, been on top of bug and performance fixes, as its community-driven development approach dictates.
This approach might also explain why the first act of the game touts a higher level of polishment than later acts. This becomes especially clear during the concluding section of the game, which tries to weave together the different story lines and player choices in an overarching finale, but leaves some questions unanswered and other subjects unexplored.
Even though there is plenty to do and experience to gain, the last third of the game also does not show a lot of player progression because Larian has implemented a level 12 cap. This hard limit is understandable from a gameplay balancing perspective since some D&D builds are notoriously overpowered nearing the traditional level cap of 20, but it might take away some of the fun for more experienced D&D players.
Despite these minor drawbacks, Baldur’s Gate 3 is nothing but a masterpiece, setting the gold standard and raising the bar for future role-playing games. It offers an unrivaled adventure of epic proportions that transports players to the magical world of Faerûn with stunning visuals and music, an engaging storyline, and deep RPG mechanics. As a long-awaited sequel to the iconic Baldur’s Gate series and as the follow-up to the well-received Divinity Original Sin 2, it faced high expectations and, without a doubt, surpasses them brilliantly.