I started my career here at Gameffine with a review of Divinity: Original Sin 2 nearly 3 years ago — it still remains the only game I’ve given a perfect score to. The Original Sin series helped place Larian as my go-to RPG studio, dethroning Obsidian which sat on the throne since KOTOR II. It elevated the CRPG formula to a new level by combining traditional adventuring tropes with excellent environmental manipulation and absolute freedom of exploration. At the same time, I also consider myself a CRPG purist and the original Baldur’s Gate will always have a special place in my heart and that of a million others as a game that defined a generation.
I cried when the story broke that Black Isle Studios’ Baldur’s Gate sequel titled The Black Hound had been canceled, leaving the future of the franchise in uncertainty. While I appreciate Beamdog’s Enhanced Edition of the first two games as well as their interest to make a sequel, Siege of Dragonspear proved that they were not ready to stand on the shoulders of golden age Bioware. Then came the surprising news that Larian was working on Baldur’s Gate 3. While I was certain that they were capable of delivering on the gameplay department, I felt that Larian’s writing team typically leaves much to be desired. Still, I was hopeful and glad that this legendary IP would get a second chance at life like many of its brethren in recent years.
This leads us to this preview at hand. I had been playing Larian’s Baldur’s Gate 3 from the very hour it launched on Early Access. I must say that I had been delaying this preview as much as I could. I have far too much emotional baggage attached to the series, and I feel that my opinion is bound to set off the Larian fanbase in a wrong way when it comes to certain topics. The other reason is that playing Baldur’s Gate 3 compelled me to start a fresh playthrough of the original once again.
In my opinion, there are three groups of people playing Baldur’s Gate 3:
- Hardcore Baldur’s Gate purists
- People who got into CRPGs with Divinity: Original Sin 2 and looks at Baldur’s Gate 3 as an alternative
- Old-school RPG players who are fans of both Baldur’s Gate and Divinity series
While I’m not certain which faction I belong to, I am willing to set most of my prejudice aside and perceive BG3 for what it is (though I’m not sure how successful I will be). But first, let’s get the Loxoth out of the way — BG3 is very much wearing the skin of Original Sin. From the art style to the UI to the controls, it has more to do with Larian’s previous outing than BG successors like Pillars of Eternity or Pathfinder: Kingmaker. That doesn’t mean it’s Original Sin-lite, of course. BG3 is using the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons ruleset, something that sits between the 2nd and 3.5 edition in the eyes of DnD veterans. Almost everything you do is tied to an off-screen die roll and the RNG that comes with it. The implementation of the ruleset is pretty loose when you compare it to the recently released Solasta: Crown of the Magister, but I feel that’s for the better.
I’ll be honest here. I’d have loved BG3 to feature 2D pre-rendered backgrounds with some real-time lighting tricks similar to Pillars of Eternity (something which mimics the feel of Infinity Engine), rather than the fully 3D graphics engine and assets from the Original Sin series. Whenever I boot up BG3, I feel as if Larian were in the process of making OS3 when Wizards of the Coast contacted them to make a new entry in the Baldur’s Gate series. There are some similarities to Dragon Age: Origins in the form of cinematic dialogue interactions, companion dynamics, and a camping system. While I have no problem with the latter two, the cinematic interactions are very janky, unpolished, and buggy at the moment to be enjoyable. While they succeeded in showing off the detailed character models and awesome facial animations, it just doesn’t sit well with me (that’s probably the purist in me talking).
BG3, set in the Forgotten Realms, tonally sets itself apart from the dark humor of the OS series in a convincing manner. The gist of the story is that it’s been 100 years since the events of Baldur’s Gate 2 and Faerûn is facing an Illithid threat. The Cthulhu cosplayers take you captive in their nautiloid vessel and infect you with a mind flayer parasite. But the ship comes under fire from Dragon-riding Githyanki warriors and crash lands back in Faerûn after a short session of realm hopping. You awake in a coastal area and encounter other survivors of the wreck who become potential companions. The party then tries to find ways to remove the parasite before they are turned into walking sushi.
The game will be in Early Access for at least a year, so expect a large chunk of story content and other features to not be there. If you want a more comprehensive list of present content, check out this article. For now, you can create your character from a list of 8 races, 6 main classes – each with their own specific subclass. You are also presented with a reasonable pool of spells and abilities to choose from.
A big departure from the classic BG games is the change in combat. Instead of opting for a traditional Real-Time with Pause combat system, BG3 uses the tried and true turn-based system Larian is so familiar with. This ruffled a few feathers in the community but I really love this change. In my opinion, RTwP is a relic of the past and tabletop-inspired RPGs are best played on a turn-based system as proven by the TB updates for Pillars of Eternity 2 and Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Since the game uses 5th edition DnD ruleset, the combat system is able to set itself apart from Larian’s last entry for better or for worse. This time around, you only get one action per turn (usually) but the system is complemented by the availability of movement and bonus actions (such as jumping, dashing, using potions, etc). The enemies aren’t hit-sponges like they were in OS2 and fights are over a lot faster than before. The highly interactive environment and the inherent RNG makes each encounter highly dynamic. Of course, the RNG can be a bitch sometimes but hey, that’s dice rolls for you!
Of all the things I like about BG3, the best aspect has to be the skill checks. Although the RNG makes me want to pull out my long, curly hair sometimes, I love how almost everything has a skill check tied to it, Perception, deception, intimidation, persuasion, other backgrounds, stats, and skills come into play very often during exploration and dialogues. Some of the dialogue options are outright awesome and there are lots of ways to properly role play (evil options are the best). I just wish there was some option to easily switch between party members during dialogues in order to use them for skillchecks without the game locking it to the character that initiated the dialogue.
I think it’s time to address the one thing that seems to irk people the most – Early Access. Steam’s EA program is something that has greatly benefited Larian in the past with D: OS and OS2. One could argue that the reason they end up being so good is due to the involvement of the community in the development. But Early Access is a touchy topic for many due to several incidents in the past involving scammy developers and shitty games. Truth be told, there’s no real reason to buy BG3 in its current state unless you want to be involved in the development and provide ample feedback for the betterment of the game. The current build of the game is very buggy, runs badly on anything lower than a hexacore CPU, and has a lot of stability issues. It also means that the game is not content complete, there are lots of tweaks to be made and a lot of the skills/items are not balanced well. That being said, there is a lot of content to chew through even in its current state. I have put in around 50 hours already and easily see myself put another 50 just to try out all the different playstyles and party composition.
Baldur’s Gate 2 was always a tough act to follow. There are decades of nostalgia attached to the game that it’s just not feasible to please everyone. It’s understandable why Larian decided to play it safe with Baldur’s Gate 3. It may not be the sequel us BG fans wanted, and the game is best enjoyed not as a direct sequel but as a new take on the classic formula in a Divinity pantaloon. I suppose that’s also why I tried to balance this preview out as best as I could. There is a lot to love in the game even at its current state. The writing is a step above Larian’s usual affair with likable companions and an engaging story. The world is intricately detailed and rewards exploration. The combat is tactical and challenging with many ways to tackle each encounter and it rewards creative thinking.
As much as I enjoy the current build, there’s still a long way to go for the game, so it’s best for the average consumer to wait for the polished 1.o version. It will be worth it!