It's too easy to overlook the best quest in Act 1 of Baldur's Gate 3
Baldur's Gate 3 places great confidence in its secrets. While many other games guide or even force you into their best storylines, Baldur's Gate 3 is ...
Baldur's Gate 3 places great confidence in its secrets. While many other games guide or even force you into their best storylines, Baldur's Gate 3 is content with you missing out if you don't wander far enough. This also happens with the best quest in the first act, and I almost completely overlooked it.
After about 13 hours, I had completed all the quests presented to me in the first act. Some obviously extended throughout the entire game, but I was done with the opening chapter of the game. On the trail of the Githyanki, I set off towards the mountain pass, only to find out that I was underleveled. There were still some black spots on the map of unexplored areas, so I decided to fill them in. Why not, after all?
First, I fought against the gnolls on the road and in their hideout. Most people encounter this fight on their way to Karlach, but using TheGamer's guide, I knew where it was and could reach it stealthily. Once those were dealt with, I proceeded to an abandoned town square and rescued someone trapped in a burning building - their grim "thank you" hinted that they would return later in the game. I gave Gale another spell scroll. I was done.
But I only leveled up once and had independently decided that Githyanki stink and are boring, actually. So, off to the goblin camp and beyond to the Underdark. Wait a minute, haven't I already been in this area?
South of the goblin camp, there was another black area on the map - the only one remaining. I had assumed it was simply the edge of the explorable area, but as I got closer, I saw that it was possible to jump down. It would cost me half of my health, but it was possible. I turned back and then headed directly south from the Ravaged Village, where two men were arguing with an old lady, pleading for the return of their sister. If you're not familiar with this quest, complete it first and then come back here.
This encounter begins the quest. A perception check told me that the old lady lied when she claimed she hadn't seen it, so I believed one of the men when he told me she was a witch. I followed her into the grove below the goblin camp, and indeed, I found the missing woman in her hiding place there. Something eerie was going on - the woman wasn't chained or captured, but rather force-fed.
As you surely know, having definitely listened to me and played this quest, the woman is indeed a witch, and the quest takes you through the various magical corridors of her hideout, including her brainwashed servants. In the final battle, the witch clones herself and forces you to use a clever identifier to keep track of the real witch (I used Witch Bolt), while the woman you want to rescue is sitting in a blazing cage.
You must divide your attention well during the battle by focusing on the powerful witch while also extinguishing or lowering the cage. It forces you to think about how you approach the fight rather than simply weakening your enemy's health before they weaken yours. Mechanically speaking, this is the climax of the quest, and when transitioning to Act 2, it's important for you to experience the challenge of setting priorities and thinking ahead.
Narratively speaking, the fun is just beginning, though. Let's say you free the girl (you can defeat the witch and then choose a different reward if you want to be selfish), she is not grateful. In fact, she hates you. She is pregnant, and after her husband's death, she wanted to trade her baby for the return of her husband's life to the witch. As you search the witch's hideout, there is a way to still complete the ritual, but as with all deals with witches, there's a catch.
In case you haven't listened to me unexpectedly, I won't reveal the catch. But the quest is not just a necessary lesson on a mechanical level. It also contains one of the best portrayals of world-building within the narrative. It grounds the fantastical realm of Faerun - not by focusing on fates or mind flayers, but rather on relatively normal people dealing with relatively normal problems in a very unusual world. It is crucial to understand what Baldur's Gate 3 is, yet it is hidden at the bottom end of the map.
But that is also important to understand. Baldur's Gate 3 will not simply reveal its secrets to you. If you want to experience everything in this world, you have to search for it. You would be a fool to miss out on something. Baldur's Gate 3's willingness to surprise you is its greatest asset, but make sure not to miss the witch in the southwest of the first act.