Before we get into it, this is not a review as Baldur's Gate 3 is in Early Access and only the first 20 or so hours are available. Yes, the Early Access price is full price ($60) and you should know if you [censored]not, but to score it and judge the game on what will clearly be a Beta release with the attendant bugs and crashes is not fair. I know that some of you will not agree with me.
With that is out the way, let’s get into it. BioWare burst onto the scene some 20 years ago when they managed to give D&D fans as close to a tabletop experience as possible on the PC with Baldur’s Gate. An expansion, a sequel and another expansion later, the story of the Bhaalspawn came to a close and so did BioWare’s foray into this story. They did go on to develop Neverwinter Nights, but despite fan demands they had moved on from the Baldur’s Gate series.
But just because they moved on does not mean that the fans did, though, and some of those fans went on to join a little studio called Larian Studios. This studio took up the BioWare mantle with their own CRPGs Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin 2. Well they finally got their wish and managed to land the Baldur's Gate license - and thank goodness they did.
In terms of story, Baldur's Gate 3 - at least the first part that we have - has no connection to the Bhaalspawn story, but it is just as grand in scope and scale. There are no spoilers here as Larian has streamed the opening hours. You wake up after an Illithid Nautaloid has crashed, you and a few others were kidnapped during an attack on Baldur’s Gate and now face a race against time to find a powerful healer to destroy the Illithid tadpoles that have been implanted in you. You see, Mindflayers don’t reproduce the way the rest of us do, they implant these tadpoles in unwilling victims and after a short gestation period, the tadpoles transform the victim into a Mindflayer. And so begins your quest to journey across Faerun in search of this healer.
That may be the scripted overarching narrative, but your story and your adventure start with the character creator. Larian have exercised all their considerable imaginative and technical skills to give you the widest choice of races and classes that I can recall in any licensed D&D game to date. Larian even made a point of this in jokingly chastising the community for overwhelmingly creating traditional human & elvish characters instead of using the full range of choices available. Your choice does not stop at races; you have a wide palette of skin tones, scars, tattoos, hair styles and colours to choose from. The character creator can easily extend the playtime by another 20 hours if you so wish.
In this release you have a choice of six-character classes with each class having two sub-classes, so you really have a choice of 12 classes. Broadly the game covers the major high fantasy classes, but I am sure that Larian will add more for the final release including whatever the 5E rules have instead of the old Prestige classes. With such choice, this is a game with almost infinite replayablity options.
Larian have stuck to their strengths with the game design and if you've played the Divinity games or even the original Baldur's Gate entries, you will feel right at home with this game. Your party operates from an isometric viewpoint on a beautifully painted background. You can zoom in and out, but honestly in this type of game playing from a drawn back viewpoint is the most efficient way to play and the most enjoyable as you can see more of the area including the battlefield. While the original game had some elements of verticality, modern technology has allowed Larian to fully realise the advantages and disadvantages of being able to play on the Y axis.
However, this is where the Early Access-ness of Baldur's Gate 3 comes into play. I have often found myself frustrated as the screen is obscured by elements of the level design, making it difficult to see enemies as you try sneaking in to surprise attack those you can see. There are also similar problems in combat - one of the early battles in the Nautiloid had these walking brains attack your party and when I thought I had one cornered, I found that the stack of crates I thought was two stacks high were actually 3 and they shielded the last brain. You also face issues of not being able to see where to go because a level above the one your party is on will obscure the paths you can follow, leading to you back tracking and searching far too much.
Battle is where the game truly delights. And frustrates. The original games were difficult. I remember the first time I reached Candlekeep with a party of 5 and was confronted by a mage seeking to claim the bounty on the lead character’s head. He kicked all five of my party’s arses across that map, until I realized that using the pausable real time and all my party’s skills, spells and a ton of luck was the key to survival. This game took that mistake out of consideration as it returns D&D to its turn-based roots. Larian have added their own twist to the rules with something they call party initiative, but to be honest I haven’t really noticed it or what it adds to the game.
Once in battle you must take your time and have your wits about you. Part of that is knowing each member of your party inside and out. I have died and had to reload far too many times. Heck, Larian released a death heatmap boasting of the number of times players have died. The other part is an old rule of thumb – make sure your party is balanced. It may be cool to have a party of all magic users, that is until you run into a balanced enemy party who takes you apart in less than five turns. This was definitely a problem for me as I created a mage as my player character and along the way I picked up a cleric, a rogue and another wizard. I had to try the second large battle about six times because I didn’t have a fighter to tank and protect my wizards. The game’s difficulty needs a bit of balancing.
In terms of UI, Larian still have not streamlined their design. You have a dizzying array of buttons on screen as well as keyboard short cuts. For any PC gamer Q and E would be mapped to map rotation, but not Larian games, that is mapped to Mouse 3. So, spending time either remapping the keys or familiarizing yourself with the standard key bindings is essential. If you have a programmable keypad like the Razer Orbweaver, it's a great alternative.
As this is Early Access, I am not going to dwell on performance issues. There are bugs, I have had a crash or two, but overall, it is not unplayable. I do think that for the price it is not for everyone; it's really for the person who wants to support Larian and the game – the so-called hardcore fan. If you don’t have fond memories of spending days of your life in the ‘90s playing Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 I’d say hold off until the final release of Baldur's Gate 3. However if you are a super fan, someone who replayed the original games multiple times with mods and who joined the Baldur's Gate newsgroups and read everything about the game and how it fit into the Bhaalspawn lore, then this will probably be the best $60 you will spend this year.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
Please login to post comments.
The PlayStation 5 is almost upon us, and this is an exciting time in gaming as we usher in the arrival...
23-11-20 Read more
I've had the honor of playing Astro's Playroom (and a few other titles) on the PlayStation 5's DualSense...
13-11-20 Read more
Before we get into it, this is not a review as Baldur's Gate 3 is in Early Access and only the first...
09-11-20 Read more
These past few weeks, I sat down to binge both seasons of Amazon's The Boys, the new superhero series...
02-11-20 Read more
It’s almost Halloween, not that I’d recommend trick-or-treating this year, and the end of our 31-day...
30-10-20 Read more
Latest ReviewsBrowse All Reviews