Baldur's Gate 3 Review - A glorious success
Baldur's Gate 3 is a difficult game to assess. Not because I have nothing to say about it - I have a lot to say about it. But rather because ultimatel...
Baldur's Gate 3 is a difficult game to assess. Not because I have nothing to say about it - I have a lot to say about it. But rather because ultimately, I will label it as a "masterpiece," and that is a significant term. After 84 hours with the game, however, I keep coming back to it.
CRPGs are inherently niche. Games of this genre are often criticized for their high learning curve and complex mechanics, but Baldur's Gate 3 proves that CRPGs can be accessible with a streamlined version of the fifth edition rule set of Dungeons & Dragons.
This commitment to accessibility is wonderfully demonstrated in the first minute of the game in the character creator. Creating a character is often seen as a time-consuming effort and usually requires a lot of thought. Here, the process has been simplified with a clear user interface and detailed tooltips. While there are original characters that can be played similarly to Divinity: Original Sin 2 (the previous work by Larian), individually created characters prove to be particularly enticing. Unique background stories pale in comparison to the variety of appearance options, and fine-tuning the details can take an eternity.
Particularly interesting is "The Dark Urge," a unique blend of original character and individual character that allows you to choose an evil background story where your avatar is responsible for heinous acts, loses their memory, and becomes entangled in the hectic narrative. I chose this for my first playthrough, and I'm glad I did - the way the unique plot elements of "The Dark Urge" merge with the overarching story is incredibly well-executed, and the skillful writing lends genuine conflict to the potentially evil choices presented to you.
The story is brilliantly executed, dark desires aside. You begin the adventure aboard a nautiloid, a ship of mind flayers, and the driving force of the narrative literally burrows into your skull. You have a mind flayer tadpole attached to your brain, and if you don't find a way to get rid of it, you will become a mind flayer yourself. Of course, in the finest RPG tradition, you free yourself from your tutorial prison and are released into the world, but with an implied time limit thanks to your own passenger, who guides your decisions whether you like it or not.
This discourages resting and healing your group for extended periods and instead encourages you to take a pragmatic path by turning to the nearest NPCs who can assist you with your problem. This way, you will learn more about the world and those who inhabit it, naturally improve in dealing with a group of injured heroes, and potentially meet companions who can join you on your quest for healing.
However, you quickly realize that there is no set time limit, at least not regarding the tadpole. The initial fear fades away, and you begin to explore the uncharted path, discovering how dense this world is. At every corner of the map, it seems a secret is waiting to be uncovered or an encounter that needs to be dealt with. There are set-piece scenes connected by brief transitional sections of the land. This makes the game feel like a successful recreation of a D&D campaign. After all, most Dungeon Masters won't bother describing an area where nothing happens.
The combat appropriately captures the tabletop experience. It is a turn-based affair where characters are able to move, take an action, and use a bonus action in each of their rounds. However, unlike the tabletop experience, every possible action you can take in each round is presented to you. This prevents situations where barbarians forget to make reckless attacks or bards don't bother to use bardic inspiration. In addition, there is the inclusion of universal actions such as helping and pushing creatures, a realistic implementation of verticality, and impressive enemy AI. Thus, you have the most competent, versatile combat system I have ever seen.
Combat mechanics are nothing without combat design, and Baldur's Gate 3 shines in this aspect as well. There is nothing "random" about the encounters. Other games in this genre often populate dangerous areas with groups of henchmen or simple elite enemies that require some more thought to defeat. That is not the case in BG3. Whether it's unique formations or mechanics, no encounter feels the same. One fight in the second act stands out in my memory - there is a group of enemies lying in wait, ready to ambush you. During the battle, they attack your party members and then teleport them to different locations, leaving each character to fend for themselves. At one moment, I controlled a group of warriors whose approach was to support each other and take out enemies one by one. In the next moment, I was fighting in four separate battles, with my ranged-focused rogue barely clinging to life.
Having meticulously crafted each encounter is the main reason why I would rate Baldur's Gate 3 far above its counterparts in this genre. You are greatly rewarded when you carefully consider how to build your characters and what decisions to make. Any concerns I had about a low level cap were completely dispelled by the excellent balance in everything.
It is one of two factors that assure me that this will be one of those endlessly replayable games - a fresh start with different character builds, items, and goals will lead to significantly different experiences on the battlefield, making each new playthrough a fresh start with renewed opportunities to influence the mechanics as desired. Add to that the fact that you can reallocate your skills at any time and create bizarre multi-class combinations, and I am bursting with excitement and enthusiasm.
Another factor that already has me planning my second, third, and even fourth playthrough is the selection of characters. The companions are exceptionally well-written, and there is something about their way of talking to each other and getting involved in conversations that makes them feel natural. The origin characters, in particular, form an incredibly strong cast. Each companion has a personal quest to complete, and they frequently come up during the journey. Instead of feeling cumbersome, it feels organic. These quests are so captivating that you curse the four-person party limit and start looking for a mod to fix this obvious flaw.
Shadowheart and Astarion stand out particularly here, as they experience significant plot points throughout all three acts of the game, delving deep into their past, emotions, and motivations. They are complex and captivating, and the journey with them is extremely rewarding. You have surely also heard how "awesome" this game is. As one would expect from a group of attractive individuals who may believe their time is limited, advances come quickly and abundantly, and it is all too tempting to indulge in each of your whims.
The romantic scenes are well executed, even if they don't escalate into sex. One of the most touching moments in the game was when my character shared a night of trust with Shadowheart and completely rejected her advances - she took it in stride, and now we're best friends. It was excellently written and shaped our entire relationship. Of course, from that point on, all bets were off, and I had affairs with everyone and anyone. My Dragonborn truly lived up to being a very naughty Dragonborn.
The excellent voice acting and direction further emphasize the writing - we are in a new era where video games truly know how to leverage acting talent, and there is no gap in performance between the main characters and the minor supporting characters. Every performance is dedicated and convincing, enriching the world. My personal highlight is Samantha Béart's portrayal of Karlach, a lively, delightful, and rough barbarian. Béart's ability to evoke both laughter and pathos is commendable.
However, Karlach leads me to a regrettable criticism of the game. While Baldur's Gate 3 is filled with branching paths and complex questlines, it lacks the final touches. After a breathtaking transition from the end of the second act, you finally reach the titular city. Well, only half of the city. Apparently, due to the hurried rush towards the designated endpoint, many things were cut from the final game, which particularly affects the third act.
The aforementioned personal quest of Karlach ends abruptly without proper resolution, obvious quest tie-ins are missing, and the way a significant portion of planned content was compressed into a single area makes the city feel chaotic and overwhelming. However, I can't help but love how things unfold. I spent hours racing back and forth through the city, completing quests, resolving entire subplots, and diving into some of the most hair-raising battles of my life. When you look beyond the covered cracks, of course, you can see cracks, but cracks alone do not necessarily mean fault lines.
Baldur's Gate 3 is a masterpiece. Games like this are rare, experiences that capture the zeitgeist so profoundly that malicious rumors arise, suggesting that Larian Studios could face legal consequences for developing a game considered "too good." From the storytelling to the level design, combat, quests, character creation, and romance, everything is finely tuned to deliver a captivating experience that evokes awe and joy.
Rating: 5/5. A review code was provided by the publisher.