I might not finish Larian’s latest book for a few weeks, but what I’ve read so far has been pretty good.
Baldur’s Gate takes about 100 hours to play through the first time. Review copies were given out this past Sunday morning, and the first draft you’re looking at was due the following Wednesday. I’m not a Time Wizard (yet), but I’ll do my best to help you decide what to buy on day one based on what I’ve played so far. I’ll keep adding new thoughts and insights to this article until we can roll credits. I’m about 22 hours into Larian’s latest high-fantasy behemoth, and I’m still in the first act that Early Access players could play. I can say that I pretty much love it.
When video games try to recreate the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons on a tabletop, they often have trouble with how you can use real-world logic and your imagination to solve problems. Even though no game will probably ever have that much freedom, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a significant improvement over games like Skyrim or Dragon Age. And that makes the world feel so much more accurate, making me feel smart for coming up with non-traditional solutions.
If something could catch fire, you can probably use a fire spell to set it on fire. If an enemy is standing in water and you zap the water, it does about what you’d expect. By climbing and jumping, you can get to many hidden places. If you have enough strength, you can pick up and throw almost anything that looks like it should be easy to move. This includes most furniture. This kind of care also goes out to the people who live in the world. Everyone has a name and a voice, even the animals, which is pretty impressive. As a ranger who knows the “Speak to Animals” spell, I have never met a bird, ox, or wolf that didn’t have something to say. Even a fierce owlbear didn’t eat me because I talked to it.
So far, the writing is also good. (My biggest complaint about Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin games was that they didn’t do much to get me interested in the story.) Baldur’s Gate 3 starts with an appropriately epic intro in which a spaceship that looks like a squid is chased through magic portals by dragons, and the player characters get infected by mind parasites that will slowly turn them all into brain-eating Cthulhu monsters called mind flayers if they can’t find a cure. All of the voice actors have done a great job, too. Even though I don’t like everyone I’m traveling with, they’re all fascinating people with many secrets and deep pasts I’ve just started learning about.
Faerûn is a more severe and grounded world than Divinity’s Rivellon, which I like, but there are still some strange and funny side quests to keep things interesting. At one point, I walked in on a female ogre and a bugbear about a quarter of her size, having a good time. No one came out of it well, but I had a good laugh after trying to get that image out of my head.
I’ve found a few bugs, but nothing that makes the game impossible to play. In one area, a goblin I talked to didn’t say her lines, the camera stayed on a shot of one of my party members’ faces for far too long, and then a different party member from the one who started the conversation was put in charge of negotiating, which she wasn’t very good at. Sometimes, models’ clothes clip into their bodies when they bend in a certain way. There are also lighting problems in some dialogue scenes and other strange things. All of these things are annoying. We’ve also got two big bug-fixing patches since the review build was released, so when the final version of the code is ready, I’ll go back and see if these problems are still there.
There are just too many of them.
Since I first played the Early Access version in 2020, combat has gotten better, and it now feels much more fluid and natural. Still, it’s not as good as it could be because it tries to be true to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, a system that works better on paper than on a computer screen. Even at the first level, there are a lot of buttons to learn and deal with, and this gets harder with every caster you add to the party. Getting a spell-focused character to the next level is a lot of hard choices. There are too many spells, and I doubt many will ever be used. And at lower levels, the amount of damage enemies do compared to how much health you have can make even small battles very stressful.
At the same time, death has become less important because you meet a character early on who, for 200 gold, can bring any party member back to life. I would have liked Baldur’s Gate 3 to have a better balance between the chance of dying and the consequences if you do.
Progress also feels like it’s holding back. Only 12 of the 20 levels are playable in the 5th Edition. This means you will level up 11 times over 100 hours or more. Getting a new level feels like a big deal, but the fact that my party is still only level 4 after more than 20 hours of playing feels slow. Along the way, I’ve been given other power boosts, like magic items, which can make a big difference. But I’ve often finished a big quest, looked at how little my experience bar went up and sighed.
But I have almost nothing wrong to say about the art and music. Both bring the Forgotten Realms to life as a colorful but grounded high fantasy world, with everything from simple halflings to terrifying red dragons drawn in a way that feels real without being creepy or unsettling. It looks like what I would want a CRPG like “Infinity” to look like in 2023. The character builder is also great. I played around with the different playable races and their visual options for at least an hour.
I like Baldur’s Gate 3 as a whole.
I like Baldur’s Gate 3 so far, on the whole. It has some problems, like minor bugs and a combat system that I don’t love at lower levels. But I’ve been waiting 14 years for another Dragon Age: Origins when an old-school CRPG got a big enough budget to look like a high-quality animated movie. Still, the design hadn’t been wholly steered in the wrong direction in an attempt to reach a different market, like the last two Dragon Ages. This is the closest anyone has ever gotten to making that magic happen again.
Check back in a few days to see what I think about the story, and stay tuned for the final review in a few weeks.