Tuesday, July 9

Baldur's Gate 3 Review

I played on: PS5, Steam Deck, Mac
I payed: £49.99
Available on: PS5, Xbox Series S & X, Steam on Windows, Mac OS, and Steam OS
Notes: N/A

Let’s start our review with a brief history lesson of this iconic series. Baldur’s Gate started life in 1998 with Baldur’s Gate 1 on Windows and Mac computers. An expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast, launched the following year. Baldur’s Gate 2 and its own expansion, Throne of Bhaal, released in 2000 and 2001 respectively. These were all developed by Bioware and all hold up to this day. Fans of the series got 2 spin-off titles in Dark Alliance 1 and 2 but these were a different genre. It would be 19 years until the series would get a successor in Baldur’s Gate 3. This threequel is a very different game to it’s two predecessors in a lot of ways. It was developed by Larian Studios as opposed to Bioware like before. It also bases its gameplay on the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition ruleset whereas the first 2 games used Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition. It has also foregone the original game’s isometric camera, instead moving the view much closer to the action.

What all of this means is that fans that wanted a true sequel to Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 might not find it here. A lot has changed and that might upset some purists. The simple truth of it is that Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 just wouldn’t work today. Both the gaming industry and the D&D scene have changed a lot in the 22 years between BG2’s Throne of Bhaal and Baldur’s Gate 3. AD&D no longer exists and CRPG’s are no longer as common as they once were. Games have gotten bigger. For context, Baldur’s Gate 1’s budget was around $5 million and took 3 years to develop. In comparison, Baldur’s Gate 3 was in development for around 6 years and cost an estimated $100 million. I’m going to write that as a number just so you can understand how much that really is. $100,000,000. It’s a miracle that we got Baldur’s Gate 3 at all. Larian have made a near-perfect game here. While it’s not the isometric old-school CRPG that some would have preferred it to be, it is a modern take on those old classics. One that has gotten a lot of people into the world of Dungeons and Dragons for the first time. Myself included.

Gameplay is split up into 3 sections when you break it down to its core. You have exploration, conversation, and combat.

Exploration sees you moving around the environment and, well, exploring it. You’re able to interact with most items. Normally you’re able to pick things up, move them around the area, throw them, or make context sensitive actions as well. This means you may be able to pick a locked door or disarm a trap. Although first you will need to detect the trap. This is done automatically as you near it and is a dice roll based on your perception skill. What works well about all these options is how they let you manipulate the world around you. Every problem in the game has more than one way to solve it and some are simply genius. For example, if you find a room with suspicious vents around it then you can be pretty sure it’s trapped with some sort of gas. You can disarm the trap mechanism, break the vent, or simply block it with a large enough crate or other environmental object. Found a locked door? You could search around for the key, pick it, use magic to unlock it, or simply smash it down with a weapon or offensive spell. I’ve beaten this game 3 and a half times and every time I’ve found new ways to achieve my goals.

This goes for the conversations as well. This is a basic system that works like conversations in the Fallout or Elder Scrolls games. You will hear a line of beautifully voice-acted dialogue and then be given a list of responses. What makes Baldur’s Gate 3 stand out is how many options you have, all based on the character you play. If you’re a big strong scary barbarian, then you can threaten and intimidate your way through conversations. While a charismatic bard will be able to fall back on their theatrical performance skills to sweet talk their way to victory. Wizards meanwhile can use their magic to read the thoughts of their conversational partner to gain unnatural insight. On top of these skill checks during conversation your background, race, or class might mean you just know more about certain subjects. For example, if you’re a drow or deep gnome then you will know more about the Underdark. On the other hand, a warlock will have more knowledge on the seven hells and the nature of devils than others. Each of these comes with a draw back as well. For example, the deep gnome I played, had an advantage during my time in the Underdark but was far less equipped to deal with the city. This means that each playthrough leads to you playing in a different way and learning different things.

Combat is what I found remained the most similar between each playthrough. That’s not to say that it’s uninteresting, because it’s not. Combat is turn based with each of your party members having a certain number of actions, and spell slots, each turn. This goes for the enemies as well. You can use your weapons or magic to deal damage or use other skills to heal and buff your allies. Similar to the exploration and conversations, what makes this great is how things interact with each other. One character can freeze an enemy with cone of cold, which covers the floor in ice. Another throws a fireball that melts the ice creating a puddle on the floor around a group of enemies. Then your wizard uses lightning bolt to electrocute everyone standing in the puddle. You can also use the environment to your advantage. Throw enemies from ledges, shoot down a chandelier to ignite the oil on the floor, destroy the bridge or platform an enemy is standing on, and so on. You can interact with the environment during combat in some fun ways.

Like most CRPG’s you will find yourself levelling up as you progress on your journey. This will allow you to become stronger, take on tougher fights, and have more tools in your belt for problem solving. If you’ve played the D&D 5th edition tabletop game, then you will know how this works as it’s taken wholesale from there. It’s a fantastic system. A solid foundation for this gem of a game.

Of course, there’s more to any game than just its gameplay, there’s the story and world building. Baldur’s Gate 3 carries on the story from the previous 2 while also forging its own path. If you’ve not played the previous 2 games, then you will still be able to enjoy this story and world. If you have played them then you will have a lot more context for the events that character’s reference. It’s been a century since the events of the first two games and as such they are now legends. Stories sung by bards in taverns. The characters are now folk heroes. But they did happen, and you will even bump into a few of these heroes along your journey.

Our story begins onboard a Mind Flayer ship. You’ve been abducted and infected with an Illithid tadpole. This is a nasty little bug that crawls behind your eye and borrows into your brain. After a few days it should transform you into a Mind Flayer. You manage to fight your way through the ship. This section acts as a tutorial area, teaching you the basics of the game.  You end up crash landing east of Baldur’s Gate, just outside of a druid grove. This sees you beginning the 1st of 3 acts. You need to find a way to remove the tadpole from your brain before you succumb and transform into a Mind Flayer. Along the way you will uncover a mysterious new cult. This, cult of the Absolute, is headed by a new god, one that may see all of Baldur’s Gate, the Sword Coast, and maybe even all Faerûn enslaved. It’s up to you and your group of companions to stop the Absolute.

All your party members are fantastic and there are a lot of them. Not including temporary companions, you will have up to 10 to meet and recruit. That’s not saying you will have all 10 during your adventure because some of them are locked behind choices you make. If you’re an evil bastard, then some may take a shine to you while others will refuse to fight by your side. There is also no guarantee that all your companions will survive every act. Based on your actions and choices, companions can permanently be killed off. I love this as it really allows the story to feel fresh during every playthrough. I’m planning on starting a 4th playthrough and I’ve only just finished my 3rd. It’s such a replayable game.

My biggest complaint about the story is how much it begins to lean on nostalgia towards the 3rd act. Once you enter the city of Baldur’s Gate there are a lot of call-backs to the first 2 games. Mostly the first one. I don’t want to say what they all are but let’s just say that a lot of characters from those games are somehow still alive. I mean it’s been a century since the events of BG2, so it feels odd that so many characters are still around. It feels even more odd that they don’t look like they’ve aged much at all.  I know that all these things are explained in the wider lore. It still feels a little lazy to me. It could have worked if we bumped into them as older versions of themselves, having lived rich, adventure filled lives, in the century that we missed. As it is, it feels odd that so many characters return and look almost identical. I will admit that when this is my biggest complaint, you know you’ve got a spectacular game.

Ultimately Baldur’s Gate 3 is a very rare thing. It’s a game that will go on to define its genre for years to come. Like Fallout New Vegas, Mass Effect, or even the original Baldur’s Gate back in its day, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a legendary game. So close to perfect that it’s beyond impressive. A true masterpiece. A real 10 out of 10.

Recommendation Rating: 10 out of 10.

No comments:

Post a Comment