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  • Writer's pictureL. Sahara McGirt

Review: Baldur's Gate 3

I've played some pretty big games in my life; Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, The Witcher 3, and Skyrim, to name a few. Roleplaying games, particularly, have been a cornerstone of my gaming life from the moment I hit 'start' on the Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Each time the worlds get bigger, the stories longer and more epic, with more quests and side characters and NPCs to fill the hours in these in-game worlds. Baldur's Gate 3 is the culmination of decades of RPG storytelling and mechanics. I don't believe it's the peak, quite yet, of where roleplaying games will take us, but I think it's the best we've seen up to this point.

Dungeons? Dragons? Let's Get Roleplaying

If you have ever played Dungeons and Dragons, you know all about the roleplaying involved and how fighting plays out. In Baldur's Gate 3, roleplaying aspects are the usual 'choose from a list of potential dialogue' so it's not quite the same as playing with a group of friends who are making up the script as they go, but choices are affected by your character's aspects such as the skills, race, backstory, and class, that you choose at the beginning of the game.

I mean, who doesn't want to be a dragonborn at least once in their lifetime?

Customization Galore

Baldur's Gate 3 offers loads of character customization options. You may end up stuck at the customization screen for an hour or two unless you decide to play as one of the existing characters who are also available as companions for your overall game. If you choose them, these characters will play a monologue about their backstory, which is an unexpected aspect I've never seen a game do before.

While choosing your race, backstory, and class are simple enough, customizing the overall look of your character will have you spending all that time trying to decide the details from your overall body's build to your voice and even down to your genitals. Not comfortable with seeing that in a game? No worries, Baldur's Gate 3 can hide them in its options. Some other great parts about Baldur's Gate's customization is that while many of the choices include fantastical colors, the developers did a great job of making skin tones and hair colors (and flowiness) look realistic and natural enough. After all, this a world where red-skinned and horned Tieflings and bluish Drow exist. It's a great chance to play as a character you've made before in DnD but now available in video game format.

I am a little obsessed with how this character turned out.

These Battles are Tough

As for gameplay and mechanics, fighting in Baldur's Gate 3 feels like having a turn-based encounter on your friend's tabletop or through online D&D tools like Roll20. Taking your chosen class' skills and applying them to an encounter can be simple enough if you're looking to fight rather straightforwardly. But where Baldur's Gate 3 shines is in your ability to fight creatively. With potions, scrolls, bombs, exploding barrels, and any number of objects you can pick up and throw, you can choose to have the most explosive brawl you've ever imagined or the quirkiest toss-up with randomly thrown objects of your dreams. On the battlefield, Baldur's Gate 3 takes turn-based boss battles to another level.

However, those battles can be grueling. Even in its lowest difficulty setting, Baldur's Gate 3 can be a slog regarding major boss fights. It took me a whole day to get through the final series of battles at the end of the game without my entire party dying. The game challenges you to think creatively, really think out your moves, and make sure you are skilling up your characters well while min-maxing your equipment and stats. Using and navigating the environment in a fight is vital to Baldur's Gate 3. So is timing. Every mechanic and ability you have available to use is worth figuring out in this game, including the ability to split up your group, as that can allow you to place characters in a fight in strategic locations.

Baldur's Gate 3's mechanics are more than I ever dreamed of. Roleplaying isn't just choosing specific dialogues; it's the ability to solve quests without ever picking up a sword by rolling the dice and passing a persuasion check that lets you talk your way out of a fight. It's the ability to move and stack boxes to reach a door to save someone's life without running through a burning building. It's using a spell, skill, or potion of invisibility and sneaking a Rogue around to pick someone's pockets while your Bard distracts them with a bit of song. Whether you want to roleplay someone who bashes their way through a door rather than lockpicking it or a simple Drow Bard who somehow manages to talk a potential enemy into giving you what you need before convincing your opponent to walk to their death, you truly have options in Baldur's Gate 3.

It's a Long Story, No, Really

Before I get into the quests, story, and setting of Baldur's Gate 3, I must let you know when Larian says this game's story takes 100 hours to complete; they are not kidding. When I blaze through a plotline in an RPG, I can typically do them in half the time. There is no chance of doing that in Baldur's Gate 3. With most quests completed and the main storyline, I managed to complete the game in a total of 87 hours. This does not include the time I spent savescumming and going around to make different choices, including replaying whole areas of the game to see the outcome for review purposes. According to Steam, I spent 161 hours on this game in the past 2.5 weeks.

I wish I was joking.

At points, the game is a slog, but just about every quest feels like it matters and isn't filler to keep you playing pointlessly. You can, of course, skip some quests. Some affect your overall story, and ignoring a quest or two can even affect it positively. Other times, skipping a quest may have a negative outcome. It's all about making those choices based on how you want to play the game, whether helping or harming others. Timing also matters to some questlines. If you decide to do one quest before another, you might find out that a bunch of characters, be they enemies or friends, died. Sometimes you'll do a quest and learn the context of a different quest you didn't choose to do yet and decide you'd rather not help the other guy. Baldur's Gate 3 is a game where you can choose to be evil and truly join up with or be the bad guy. What the outcomes of that are is for you to find out, and you may find that some choices lead to a literal dead end.

Without too many spoilers, the overall plot of Baldur's Gate 3 has you taking on the cult of the Absolute (a giant brain) that seeks to control the populace of Baldur's Gate and create an army of Mind Flayers to take over the world. Your main character, whomever you choose to be, is infected with a brain worm that should have already turned you into a Mind Flayer but for an inexplicable-to-be-discovered reason hasn't. It's up to you to discover what's happened, why, and how to get rid of your brain worm before you turn into a brain-eater. There are reveals after reveals throughout the plotline. Many of these are predictable and mostly well-executed, so they can be forgiven. I have to admit that I was left feeling a little less than stellar about my overall ending, but some of that was because of my choices throughout the game. I chose to romance a character who has a rather unavoidably difficult choice to make, and I couldn't help but feel sad that the only choices left for them are all pretty hard.

Bard Tip! Performing music is a great distraction. It's also just fun to do with other Bards.

With a Little Help from My Friends

While the overall plot isn't too unfamiliar for someone well-versed in roleplaying game plots, the real story treasure is how your companions interact with the story and your choices. As always, characters will approve and disapprove of your decisions, and in some cases, they'll even turn on you as your choice directly conflicts with their beliefs. It is possible to have a playthrough with a majority of the companions alive and at your side, but know, chances are, you will probably miss out on at least one companion due to your choices in your playthrough. This gives your decisions a little more weight as you have to decide who you want to align with and how your story plays out. Be chaotic, be evil, or be the lawful good you know yourself to be.

Romance is available in Baldur's Gate 3, and all options are a potential romance regardless of gender. It all comes down to the choices you make. Some options even allow for polyamory or a more 'dating' style romantic gameplay. Make the right choices, and you'll have no end of options for romance. However, be ready for some choices to lock you in with a particular character.

The voice acting in this game is particularly phenomenal, with varied voices bringing these characters to life. The narrator, aka the DM, is well-voiced and worthy of listening to all day. The cast of characters are all unique and mostly enjoyable to have on the road as you make the journey through Baldur's Gate 3 from start to finish. You will have favorites. But what's beautiful about completing quests related to each character is their growth over their storylines, whether for better or worse. Even going around in areas of the game will have characters revealing aspects about themselves that give them more depth, and interactions at camp can make you care about them.

Other notable aspects of Baldur's Gate 3:

Clothing options. You can hide your helmet in speech or battle; I always appreciate this because some helmets are just ugly. Yes, you can also set your character so that their underwear is all that shows or normal everyday wear is what they appear in rather than armor. And yes, you can dye them all.

Controller gameplay is available over mouse and keyboard. What I particularly liked about this is that Larian took into consideration the differences between the two and changed up the UI for controller gameplay to keep it controller friendly. If it's any indication for consoles, playing with a controller will run smoothly once the game releases on the PS5. Swapping between both was as simple as hitting a button a few times on whichever I wanted to play with and as someone who sometimes wants to lean back and game, it was well done and easy to adjust to both.

The game does get buggier as you reach the end, but after Larian's last patch, I'm sure they'll have it all cleaned up pretty quickly.

By the end of Baldur's Gate 3, I was quite relieved to reach the ending. Like climbing a mountain and reaching the peak, I was a little exhausted by the journey and ready to make my way down and go back home for a nap. The view from Baldur's Gate is quite beautiful, though, and if these are the heights we can reach in RPGs, those peaks will only get higher and higher. Baldur's Gate 3 left me feeling hopeful about the future of roleplaying games, and I look forward to playing more. I might wait before starting another playthrough anytime soon, though.

Even the environments within the game were something to admire.

Thanks to Sandbox Strategies for providing the review key for the purposes of reviewing this game.

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