I’ve had Baldur’s Gate 3 since the first days of Early Access. I played it a few times back in the game's early days, used it to benchmark some video cards, but I never really went past the first 15 minutes of the game. That’s because during the times before the game went gold, there was a good chance you would have to start over after a patch. I decided to wait until the release of the game before diving in so while I did have a chance to really see how the game was and has progressed over the years, it wasn’t until last month that I decided to really play the game.
Let me preface by saying I do play Dungeons & Dragons so I know many of the rules to the game. I also recently finished Descent into Avernus with a few friends so Baldur’s Gate 3’s continuation of that module was just perfect, as I wanted to see how it progresses past the pen and paper game. No spoilers in this review so you can feel safe in reading the entire article.
Baldur’s Gate 3 has you waking up on a ship controlled by mind flayers, a very dangerous monster in the D&D lore. We’re talking spell casting, multi-attacking, highly dangerous squid-faced abominations that show no mercy. You’re infected with a parasitic worm that will turn you into a mind flayer in due time and you start out seeking a cure for your infection.
Starting out, you can create a character or choose one of the pre-made “origin” characters. For players of Divinity Original Sin games, this should be familiar to you. Well, a lot of the game should be familiar to you in how it plays, but we’ll get to more of that in a bit. The character creator is robust and lets you tailor many of the physical attributes in letting you make a wide variety of looking characters.
A good deal of the D&D character races, classes, and their sub-races and sub-classes are available for you to choose from. The races and sub-races can offer up some extra stats or abilities over a human character. Want to be a straight up tanky fighter? You got it. Want to be more of a guy that sling spells around from afar? No problem. Multi-classing is also supported, so those who want to play something like a fighter/mage can do so with ease. There is a level cap of 12 for Baldur’s Gate 3 and I understand why Larian would do that. The spells and abilities that are available in the higher levels are just ridiculous and there’s no way you could implement many of them in the game. Wish spell, anyone?
But what’s really cool is you don’t have to permanently live with your decision. In the game, you’ll meet a character that will sit in your camp and let you “respec” your character as well as any of your companions for just 100 gold pieces. That’s right, 100 gold is all you need to completely redo your character from scratch anytime you go back to camp. Want to play a different class without having to start over the game? Done and done. Did you choose some abilities at some level you’re not happy with? Pay the 100 gold and you’ll be able to redo it all. I wish more RPGs would do this, as now you don’t have to regret putting a point into an ability you might not like or be stuck with a class ability you aren’t happy with. Play carefree in your character leveling decisions knowing that you can easily redo them almost anytime. as going to camp is but a button click away in most instances. Too many games lock us into decisions that we might regret later with a character build, but Larian implemented a feature that takes all the stress out of character management and a feature I hope more RPG games look into putting in their game.
Getting into the game itself, those who have played Divinity Original Sin 2 will be familiar with the layout of the UI. Down the left side are your party members. Across the bottom are the selected character’s abilities and various action buttons. In the upper right corner is the mini-map which can be adjusted to either rotate with you as you turn around or stick to a N as the top of the map orientation.
The character sheet can be daunting at first, but you’ll learn your way around it as you play. Even with my experience in the pen and paper game, I felt a little overwhelmed at first until I learned where everything was. One problem though is that the consistency of the UI between using a mouse and keyboard or a game controller is non existent. What you can do in one UI might not be possible in another depending on your control style. Seeing as the game’s in a constant state of flux, some of my complaints might have been addressed in a later patch, but at the time of me finishing the game, this is what I ran into.
An example of this is talking to a merchant. When using a keyboard, I was only able to access the current character’s inventory to buy and sell. Changing to another character resulted in any unfinished trades to be lost. But if I switched over to the gamepad, I was able to cycle through my companions backpack and add in other items to sell to the trader without any issues. Another example is how on a game controller, you could hold down a button to get a list of items to interact with. It made picking up things or opening containers much easier. On the keyboard and mouse side, holding down Alt highlighted some objects on the screen but not all of them so you might miss something that could have been searched.
After a bit, I did find playing using a combination of mouse and keyboard during combat and gamepad when exploring was giving me the best of both worlds and allowed me to enjoy each aspect to the fullest, whether I’m exploring a new setting without being afraid of missing something to loot or fighting a group of orcs in a camp and being able to scroll through the map quickly and precisely click on an area where I want to shoot my concussion arrow.
Larian has been working on Baldur’s Gate 3 for a long time and you can tell by how well crafted the story is. Without a good story and good companions, Baldur’s Gate 3 wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is right now. While the main quest is really solid, most of the side quests and all the companion’s backstories are incredibly well done. Each companion has something they need help with and Larian’s writers should be commended for how well most of your companions grow and evolve throughout the game depending on your actions. My favorite endgame story so far is Astarion’s and his quest to be free. The end of his journey was really emotional and very satisfying to witness.
Of course, this also wouldn’t work without some great voice over work and the cast of Baldur’s Gate 3 do a tremendous job of acting out all the scenes. Whether it’s quick playful banter during travel or some highly emotional scene where it could have easily fallen apart without good acting, all of the voice actors hit it out of the park showing a great range of emotion depending on the scene at hand. It’s the combination of great writing and great acting that really sets Baldur’s Gate 3 apart from many RPGs out there.
Combat is turn based and if you aren’t used to it it can be a little slow at first. But because there’s so many things you can do in D&D and so many strategies that can be presented based on the character and environmental settings, you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of it being turn based than if this game were in real time.
Baldur’s Gate 3 rewards players that think outside the box. You don’t have to go into each encounter the same way, and it’s the fact that the game allows for many multiple ways to resolve an encounter whether through combat, dialogue, or something completely different that makes Baldur’s Gate 3 such a rewarding experience.
The game highlights the fact you can be hurt - and hurt a lot - by environmental factors very early on so you get a huge warning right at the beginning that that innocent looking puddle next to you can be flammable and easily kill you should an enemy set it on fire. Exploding barrels are highly dangerous and you should stay away from them if you can, or use them to your advantage. After a few hours, I would scan the area before every fight to see if there’s something I can use that could make my fight easier and perhaps, use less resources to boot.
Don’t take the AI lightly either, as the computer will also use any trick in the book when they fight you. I’ve lost many characters due to standing too close to a cliff and the enemy using a push action to just fling me off and instantly kill me. I’ve also read of one really awesome scenario where the player pushed an enemy into the lava and on the next turn, which happens to be an enemy archer, used one of his concussion arrows to shoot at his burning friend and push him back on solid ground. That’s something human players would do and I was highly impressed Larian was able to program that type of intelligence into the enemies of Baldur’s Gate 3.
Combat can also be a bit frustrating at times as you can’t take back any moves you make. I’m not talking about accidentally clicking on the wrong area to walk to because that happens in a lot of turn-based strategy games and Baldur’s Gate 3 does a good job of confirming your more impactful actions, such as going into rage with your barbarian or casting a spell. I’m talking about attacking the ground. Yes, because Baldur’s Gate 3 environment can get in the way at times of you clicking, you can easily click on a piece of ground rather than a character if you’re doing a general attack. And without a confirmation of an attack since it is a pretty common action, there were many times I wasted an attack because I was just a few pixels off from clicking the enemy and my sword swung into the dirt harmlessly. In intense battles where each move is important, this could mean a situation where your character dies because you miss that all too important stunning strike on an incoming ogre.
If you’ve played Divinity Original Sin 2, you know how well Larian does graphics. The game looks absolutely stunning for an RPG and there is a ton of detail in not only the characters themselves but the environment. Even before you get to Baldur’s Gate you can see the artist and level designers crafting quality set pieces with the outdoors and well made interiors of buildings and caverns. There’s plenty of different places to explore and I didn’t once think some place was a cookie cutter version of another. The variety in places to see really makes Baldur’s Gate 3 feel unique in each of the three Acts and there’s a lot you’ll probably miss in your first play through so if you want to go back again, you won’t be bored by the same locations. I completely missed a few sections in Act 2 and I plan on visiting them the next time I play.
Since I only had my imagination to guide me when playing D&D, I was really excited to see how Larian visualizes spell effects. We throw a lot of fireballs, magic missiles, and eldritch blasts in our campaign and to see them represented in Baldur’s Gate 3 was a real treat. The fireball really exhibits that explosive power you think about when playing the pen and paper game. Magic missiles fly in a swift motion, always hitting the target with precision. Larian’s attention to detail in both the environment and magical effects makes Baldur’s Gate 3 a visual treat for the eyes and keeps you engaged in fights with a cornucopia of visual effects.
Because of the open end aspect of the pen and paper game, Larian has some of their own interpretations of the rules. They aren't consistent with what's written in the book at times, but I'm OK with that. For example, pushing can be done as a bonus action where that's an attack in the basic rule set of D&D. Another is that you can drink health potions with a bonus action, where as written, it's an action. We homebrewed it as a bonus action in our campaigns, just like Larian and like D&D, Larian's got their own homebrew rules that fits Baldur's Gate 3. I have no complaints on the changes they've made to make the game play better.
If you want a long RPG, Baldur’s Gate 3 is it. It took me 90 hours or so to finish all three acts and that's with me skipping a great deal of side quests and some large areas in various acts. I will say I enjoyed the first two acts more than the third, although the third act seemed really long. Which is fine as that third act takes place entirely in Baldur’s Gate and you get an extremely large city to explore. Overall, it didn’t feel like a 90 hour game and I was always eagerly happy to jump back in the next day on my quest to finish the story. This is a game where after the story is done, it’s done. You can’t continue playing, but that’s OK for me. There’s so much content here and plenty of things to discover on multiple playthroughs.
There were a few bugs I encountered and some game crashes, but luckily nothing game breaking. I do have an issue with the save system. There doesn’t seem to be a good amount of auto saves and they are very far apart. I did get caught a few times where I died and had to go back 20 or so minutes since my last save. Thus, use your quick save often and I hope Larian increases the frequency of auto saves in the future.
While a long time coming, Baldur’s Gate 3 is that rare game where it feels like a complete product and there’s so much content that you could play this for well over a hundred of hours without getting bored. The characters and story are engaging and the graphics are solid. Also, the game’s constantly being updated so if you do run into an issue, chances are Larian will fix it. I didn’t even touch on the multiplayer aspect where you can have up to three friends join in, which is pretty awesome to play a full D&D campaign with others online. I solo’d the entire game, but did play with others a little to see how well it worked. Well worth the wait, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a more than worthy follow up to the classic PC games, and I hope we get to see more from Larian in this world in the future.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. As one of the original writers, I was tapped to do action games and hardware. Nowadays, I work with a great group of folks on here to bring to you news and reviews on all things PC and consoles.
As for what I enjoy, I love action and survival games. I'm more of a PC gamer now than I used to be, but still enjoy the occasional console fair. Lately, I've been really playing a ton of retro games after building an arcade cabinet for myself and the kids. There's some old games I love to revisit and the cabinet really does a great job at bringing back that nostalgic feeling of going to the arcade.View Profile