Baldur's Gate 3 fails to make the most of its circus element
I have always been fascinated by the concept of a circus as a setting for Dungeons & Dragons. The combination of real magic within the world of D&D, t...
I have always been fascinated by the concept of a circus as a setting for Dungeons & Dragons. The combination of real magic within the world of D&D, the illusion of "magic" that circuses portray, and the dark yet whimsical nature of circuses, all align with the pseudo-medieval time period in which Dungeons & Dragons games take place. This presents numerous opportunities to incorporate a circus into the tabletop world. In fact, there is even an official adventure, Wild Beyond the Witchlight, that utilizes circus performers, showcasing the magic and wonder of the Big Top. That is why I was thrilled to see a circus in Baldur's Gate 3, but unfortunately, I was disappointed with what it had to offer.
Baldur's Gate 3 is a game that fully embraces its choices and consequences. It grants players complete control over every scenario they encounter, allowing them to determine their own path. Whether it's fighting goblins at the Goblin Camp gate, using charm or threats, or even resorting to unorthodox tactics like smearing excrement on oneself (which can surprisingly be effective), the game commits to the choices made by the player. However, this commitment comes with a price. For example, if you want Minratha as a party member, you may have to make difficult decisions such as harming innocent refugees to gain her support. It is this level of commitment that elevates Baldur's Gate 3, challenging players to create their own enjoyable experiences, much like a Dungeon Master would in a tabletop game.
However, we don't see this aspect reflected much in the circus. Instead, the circus merely serves as the backdrop for a single quest, which, while engaging on its own, doesn't truly focus much on the circus itself. As you explore the circus, you may encounter a ghoul that sniffs you, have the opportunity to purchase dyes from a mummy, or perhaps decline buying a statue from a stone mason due to their exorbitant prices. There's also a chance to play a wheel of fortune with a cheating djinni, though you will always end up losing. However, in order to win and obtain his Legendary weapon, which is undeniably valuable, you must pickpocket his ring.
Regarding the behind-the-scenes activities at the circus, that's about it. However, there are two noteworthy stalls worth mentioning. The first one is not particularly circus-like, but it compensates with its excellence. You engage in a conversation with Zethino, who leads you into a situation resembling a tunnel of love. You get to choose any companion you desire and answer three questions about them, intended to gauge your familiarity with them. Some of the responses can be quite amusing, like accusing Shadowheart of passing gas on her enemies. However, if approached seriously, these questions provide an excellent opportunity to deeply connect with your chosen romantic interest. Interestingly, Zethino is actually Orin the Red, one of the central villains in the game, cleverly disguised. It remains unclear how to trigger her transformation into her true form, which is accompanied by a brief cutscene and her sudden disappearance. This only adds more intrigue to the encounter, although it doesn't exactly align with the traditional circus theme.
The second attraction is Dribbles the Clown, who serves as the main highlight of the show within the circus world and also acts as the main catalyst for your adventure. As you explore the circus, a cutscene ensues where you witness Dribbles' performance, which mainly consists of him delivering cheesy jokes. Through either heckling or seemingly random chance, you are chosen from the crowd as a volunteer to join him on stage. It is during this moment that Dribbles reveals himself as a follower of the Absolute and launches an attack. Upon defeating him, it becomes apparent that he is actually a shape-shifting creature masquerading as Dribbles. This revelation propels you on a quest to discover the whereabouts of the real Dribbles.
And with that, your time at the circus comes to an end. I understand that not every quest can be a large, intricate event, but it feels like the circus is a singular experience compared to the layered and intricate murder mystery found right next to a church. Baldur's Gate 3 cannot afford to have every side quest consume hours and hours of gameplay, as it aims to keep players engaged with the main narrative. Therefore, it disperses smaller stories throughout the game. To its credit, the circus is like an espresso - it manages to pack a lot into a small space. However, personally, I had hoped for it to be more like a trenta latte that I could fully immerse myself in.
I have some rough ideas for creating a circus-themed adventure in Dungeons & Dragons, and I was expecting to find inspiration here, but unfortunately, there isn't much to work with. However, there are already many elements in Baldur's Gate 3 that I intend to draw inspiration from (or let's say "borrow" ideas from), and I had hoped the circus would provide more material for me to choose from. Most of my criticisms about Baldur's Gate 3 stem from wanting more content, which is actually a sign that the game is doing something right. Nevertheless, it doesn't alleviate my disappointment about missing out on the circus aspect.