For as much hype as Baldur’s Gate 3 had been building in the months leading up to its release, to its strong early days on PC and now to its release on console, it never really interested me. Allow me to explain. Although I’m a fan of certain titles within the genre, I’m generally not really a fan of turn-based RPGs. I also don’t play Dungeons & Dragons, nor have I ever.
That being said, Baldur’s Gate 3 has boldly stepped its way into my gaming library, as one of the best RPG titles I have ever played, through an intriguing narrative, memorable characters, deep and diverse gameplay and an overall sense of choice and freedom which I haven’t seen matched in another game to date. Developer Larian Studios has simply crafted an absolute masterpiece and an experience I won’t soon forget.
The Battle Ahead
Set approximately 100 years after the events of Baldur’s Gate 2, and based on the 5th Edition of the D&D rulebook, this sequel revolves around a central battle against the Absolute, an evil, mind-controlling force that is set on utilising its cunning powers to wage a war against the gods. While that sounds incredibly broad in scope, the main narrative takes place over the course of three distinct acts, which slowly reveal important points of information and context that will consistently keep players on their toes. The game itself shares that broad sense of scope through its unprecedented freedom, although most actions and choices will lead you down the same road, even if you might tread through a few untraveled paths and conversations.
Even so, I’ve rarely played a story that keeps the engagement and intrigue at such a high, rivalling even the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, which is one of my favourite games of all time. The fact that a mystery is brilliantly told and balanced over the course of a 50+ hour main story, is simply baffling. While that is held up by some memorable party characters, romances and brilliant voice performances, something has to be said for the consistent level of polished writing. I also enjoyed the various gameplay mechanics on offer, but I would be lying if I said the story wasn’t the main reason for me sticking around.
Building a Legend
You begin Baldur’s Gate 3 by creating a character of your own. While you can choose from existing party characters to play as, each with their own preset classes and origin stories, there is simply no reason why you wouldn’t create your own, as those preset party members are playable throughout the story anyway. Choosing between a whopping twelve distinct classes was already hard enough, with the choice of Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard options on offer.
While each of the classes contains their own abilities, the line doesn’t stop there. Players must also choose their sub-class and race, which adds additional perks and benefits to your main class, on top of an origin story. This will ultimately define how balanced your character stats are, which are comprised of Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution and Charisma. If that wasn’t enough, you’d also have to design and choose the appearance of your character, which felt like another layer of complex choice and depth.
I began the game as a human fighter, which seems a little plain, but holds its own advantages, particularly in close-quarter combat. But with the freedom of exploration and discovery, I soon wanted more. Thankfully, Baldur’s Gate 3 gives players the time to take all their gained experience at any point and reimagine their character for a whole new approach to gameplay. It’s definitely one of the best iterations of character creation I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Along for the Ride
But what would a lengthy and expansive narrative be without a memorable cast of characters to enjoy it with? You’ll share most of your journey with a range of unique and well-developed characters, like the brutal Shadowheart, the wide-eyed Karlach, the boastful wizard Gale and the brutal Halsin. The best part of Badlur’s Gate 3 is that their input never feels overdone, and their interactions, either in gameplay or via cutscenes, all feel equally important and integral to the narrative.
But even better than that, these relationships can flourish based upon your dialogue choices, but also through romance. Along the way, you’ll get the chance to engage in relationships with any of these characters, should either party seek it. While I found that certain characters made it more obvious than others, I was simply surprised to see just how deep these relationships and conversations dive into personal development and history, rather than basic sexual exploits which serve the point of humour more so than a realistic relationship. While there are certainly some raunchy (and intermittently wild and bizarre) scenes of that nature, none of it feels like the butt end of a bad joke.
It also helps that many of these characters are subject to some fantastic voice performances, each with multiple hours of quality and variety, given you’ll most likely never hear some of these lines and conversations, based on your replies and general outcomes with these characters. But at the end of the day, the feeling that while I enjoyed my time with these characters, comes the amount of dialogue that I missed due to those significant choices, which only adds to the feeling of inevitable replayability.
When it comes to gameplay, Baldur’s Gate 3 builds on many of the existing mechanics and tropes you might have played in other RPG titles. Battles are turn-based and allow players to utilise each member of their party with a certain amount of movement, action and bonus action points to spend. While each player in the party can only move so far each turn, they must also choose how to dish out those main and bonus actions each time. Your main action point will account for something like a main attack or spell, while your bonus action point is usually reserved for something like a secondary action, like a dash, roll or even shove.
Battles can take a while depending on your pace and the amount of enemies you encounter, but this never felt slow. When you come to grips with its mechanics, Baldur’s Gate 3 soon glides effortlessly, as you whip up a string of attacks, spells, and well-planned actions in rapid succession across multiple party members, before your opponents even know what’s going on. But building up expansive character customization and creation comes with the breadth and scope of approaches in combat. You’ll rarely need to spam the same strategy, as you’ll more than likely discover new ways to dispatch enemies at every turn. While some enemies can be avoided altogether through charisma and conversation skills, some enemies can even be dispatched earlier than normal, thanks to your nifty approaches.
As basic as my human fighter felt at times, I was never short of a new strategy, depending on the environment and general circumstances. That enemy might be stronger than you, and it might take more than you’ve got to beat them. But if they’re near a cliffside, give them a shove, and thank me later. Are your enemies standing in a pool of grease that you created from damaging a nearby barrel? Well, dip your sword in there, light it up on a nearby fire source and show them how to cook a feast. Anything that feels like it can be interacted with usually can, which is simply incredible because it matches the logical ingenuity of real D&D games, which are based more on deviating from the common path in order to succeed. Sure, you can collect lockpicks to open doors, but you can also smash certain ones down instead.
For as deep as character creation and customisation are, it’s no secret that overall progression is very much the same. After gaining sufficient XP, gear and weapons through both looting and a range of in-game activities, you’ll be able to level up and upgrade certain elements and abilities within your class. Characters are, however, capped at level 12, which means most of this journey will be spread across multiple hours. While you’re never particularly weak in those earlier levels, things do take a turn for the better around level 5, in which you feel as though you have enough to gain the upper hand, or even re-spec to a character that is now deadlier against certain enemy types.
Character statistics also play a huge part, as certain actions require the roll of a die. As any D&D fan would know, many things are judged on the roll of the dice, and Baldur’s Gate 3 is no exception. For example, most conversations usually lead to a roll based on your response. Should you select a more demanding or confident response to a rather serious question, you’ll need to roll the die to meet a certain number, in line with your current statistics. While a goblin might stand in your way, threatening to kill you if you come any closer, you might find that the stern approach only requires you to roll a 5. Should your stats meet this lower requirement, your roll will be successful and the goblin will move out of your way. But should you say this to a more powerful or intimidating enemy, the roll might instead require 15 or higher, making your chances of success slimmer, should you not meet those requirements. This can then result in a number of consequences.
But it’s Baldur’s Gate 3’s approach to choice and freedom that makes each interaction and relationship feel so fresh and ultimately appealing. Character progression is so closely intertwined with the relationships you build with others, and even your own relationship to your custom character, through a journey of what can only be described as thousands of choices and decisions. I’ve barely touched on the expansive open world that you’ll get the chance to explore. Through lush forests, wide caverns and dense cities, you’ll bounce between these environments in any order you see fit, along with a range of primary and secondary missions, both of which push the story forward in new and exciting ways. You can even take some friends along with you, with 2-4 player cooperative play both locally and online.
Look the Part
Visually, Baldur’s Gate 3 won’t necessarily blow anyone away, but it’s certainly impressive how well this game runs, given the amount of assets and textures built into everything there is to interact with and explore. Choosing between a Quality or Performance mode will target 30fps in 4K or 60fps in 1440p respectively. That being said, while I always select the latter mode for a smoother experience, that 60fps target can drop in certain sections, usually during chaotic combat sequences or in densely populated areas. But even so, it’s nowhere near as frustrating and does little to detract from the overall experience.
After all I’ve covered in this review, I still feel like I’ve left something out. And that is an enduring testament to this RPG masterpiece.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is without a doubt a must-play for fans of D&D and RPG games alike, but also a worthy option for anyone who wants to have fun on their terms. Be it for its engaging narrative, expansive character creation and progression, or freedom of choice in exploration, combat or relationship building, there is simply no shortage of surprises in store. My tale began by exploring a game I normally wouldn’t play, but it has now enveloped me in a virtually limitless playground of choice, creation and consequence, and has left me wondering why it even took me so long to get around to this in the first place.
It’s a big call, but here we go; Badlur’s Gate 3 is simply one of the best RPG titles ever made.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Engaging narrative; Expansive character creation and progression; Dense gameplay; Virtually limitless ways to play
Lowlights: Frame rate in Performance mode can dip at times
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Mac OS
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by the publisher.