Larian had been cranking out solid games in the Divinity series for a good few years before its reputation skyrocketed with the release of Divinity 2: Original Sin. It struck gold with its combination of role-playing fun and devilishly organic combat.
Now the developer has been given the keys to the castle so pined-after by developers around the world – an official Dungeons and Dragons license and the long-awaited third entry in the Baldur’s Gate franchise. Thankfully, it’s rolled another critical hit.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Baldur’s Gate 3 is an immediate pick as one of the best RPGs ever made, a ridiculously reactive and freeing narrative adventure. Version tested: PC
- Engaging stories and characters
- Lovely presentation
- Incredibly reactive systems
- Unbelievable replay value
A new, old start
The first two Baldur’s Gate games are straightforwardly seminal in the canon of interactive roleplaying; enormous adventures that were different for each player that played them, with a large cast of memorable characters and storylines to sink into.
Baldur’s Gate 2 might have come out all of 20 years ago, but gamers have been awaiting a third entry the whole time since, in hope rather than expectation. Giving the rights to Larian, after the screaming success of Divinity 2, was a decision that seemed so sensible that it was almost too good to be true.
The world of Dungeons and Dragons, the Forbidden Realms in which Baldur’s Gate is in fact just one of many major cities, is one that Larian has been able to slip into pretty seamlessly.
Story-wise, things get off to a lively start with an absolutely bombastic opening cinematic that sets the scene aboard the tentacled ship of a Mindflayer, an unambiguously evil squid-face who’s infected the player with a little brain tadpole.
After creating a character of your own, replete with multiple races and classes to pick from and a range of delightfully-modelled faces to add to them, you’ll escape the doomed ship in a frightful crash before setting out to get said tadpole out of your cranium before you’re turned into a mindless zombie.
It doesn’t take long to assemble a cast of companions whose aims align with your own to differing degrees, and you’ll soon be off exploring a large coastal region in the hopes of discovering how to help yourself and, down the line, the world, by hindering the Mindflayers’ machinations.
If that sounds big, it’s just Act 1 – you’ll eventually make it to a gorgeous, teeming rendition of the city of Baldur’s Gate itself, via mountain passes or deep underground depths, all packed with optional stories, interactions and battles.
Dividing your time
Much like in Divinity 2, your time is spent in a few primary ways in Baldur’s Gate 3 – exploring, talking and fighting. You’ll walk around large and small areas figuring out what lies where and who you might want to talk to.
You’ll talk to those characters, receive quests and requests from them, find out more about how you can de-tadpole yourself and, of course, periodically get into scraps and fights.
Those conversations are as good as Larian’s best work – scripted evocatively and universally voice-acted to a really high standard. Being rid of text-only mute conversations, even from the most minor side characters, makes for a really deep-rooted feeling of quality.
Battles play out in turn-based style, using D&D’s initiative system to get a turn order and letting you move your party around and attack enemies in turn. There’s a good amount of synergy to explore between abilities and elements, although it’s a little less unhinged than Divinity 2’s elemental combat.
Still, it’s engaging stuff that gets more and more freeform (and slightly easier) as you progress, and the satisfaction of pulling off an unlikely victory is well worth the time it takes to do so. It might take a little getting used to how brutal D&D’s dice-based combat can be if you have a run of bad luck, but once you’re in the swing of things it’s pretty straightforward.
The environments you’ll be fighting in, meanwhile, are Larian’s finest to date on the visual side, with gorgeous colour palettes and background details selling the reality of the situation beautifully. I’ve been playing on the PC from our mid-range build, but the game promises to look superb when it launches on PS5 soon, too.
Cranking down to lower settings still leaves you with a pretty game, if a slightly less sharp one. Character models are similarly delightful, too, with expressive and empathetic faces and detailed, grounded armours and clothing textures. The animation of those models can occasionally be a little janky, though, especially in dialogue.
React to me
If that all sounds like a new high bar from Larian, it very much is – but what truly elevates Baldur’s Gate 3 is its reactivity. This is a game that lets you do basically anything its systems could possibly accommodate, which means a hell of a lot.
If you’re struggling with a fight, you could reload a save, turn yourself into a raven, fly to a better vantage point and ignite a well-placed explosive barrel to start things off better.
Or, you could use a potion of invisibility or three to sneak around pickpocketing enemy weapons to even the odds. Or, you could simply talk to the ringleader and figure out whether you can persuade them or intimidate them into abandoning the fight.
All of this will take place without any quests breaking but, even more to the point, quests will react to your choices – locking off avenues you could have explored, but almost always offering up new alternatives.
I might have accidentally made enemies out of a network of illicit traders, but if they’re blackmailing me to complete a smuggling job for them as a result, perhaps that’s my way out, for example.
Rolling a successful strength check might just see you saving someone who’ll turn out to be the entryway into a sprawling questline full of derring-do and mystery.
The mechanics of these decisions, from a top-down perspective, might not always be all that bracing, but the breadth of what you can actually do is jaw-dropping in the same way as Tears of the Kingdom earlier this year.
This includes killing off major characters, turning down seemingly required questlines, and totally alienating your party members – nothing is off limits, and the more you test Baldur’s Gate 3, the more surprising twists it’ll throw back your way.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a must-play for any RPG fan, a stunning and labyrinthine adventure that makes abundantly clear that every playthrough you embark on can unfold in radically different ways. Its stories and characters are magnetically interesting, but its true genius is in allowing a remarkable degree of decision-making freedom.