Baldur’s Gate 3 is finally here after years of Early Access and an even longer development cycle. We already got a good look in our preview a few years back, and after spending so long in development we were eager to see what Larian Studios did with that time.
With popular games like Divinity: Original Sin under their belt, could that experience translate to an entirely new setting? Would it work for a franchise that was accustomed to the live combat of Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights?
Like so many Early Access games, it earned a dedicated fanbase before the launch even happened. Now that the full game is out, is it everything people hoped for; or is it just a meme game with bear sex? Find out in our full Baldur’s Gate 3 review!
Baldur’s Gate 3
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5
Release Date: August 3, 2023
Price: $59.99 USD
The first thing you get when making a character is the option to play an “Origin” character, which already is a great addition to the game.
Rather than put your generic character in, you can play with one of the companions as the main character and explore the overarching plot of Baldur’s Gate 3 through their eyes.
In addition, you can choose to play as The Dark Urge, a customizable PC like normal but with a special background. Anyone with passing familiarity with the Baldur’s Gate franchise will quickly figure out what this “Dark Urge” is. It’s not a spoiler when it’s so obvious.
I’m going give you a hot take. “Live” battles like the ones in the original Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and throughout the CRPG are relics.
They feel like glorified tech demos made to brag about how Dungeons & Dragons could be played in real-time without the clunkiness of turn-based combat.
The end result in my opinion is just trading bad gameplay for immersion. It wasn’t fun to scroll through your combat log after getting insta-killed to find: Spellcraft Check: 2+4=Failure, Drow Sorceress is casting “Unknown Spell”, Player Character took 56 Acid Damage, and Player Character Died.
Taking the turn-based combat Larian Studios is known for and combining it with the brand recognition of Dungeons & Dragons is a match made in heaven. I only wished they’d realized it sooner, I’d kill for a TRPG using the 4e ruleset.
The gameplay is peak Larian Studios tactical combat, and that includes all the inconveniences and poor handling it comes with. Has one of your companions expertly noticed a trap on the ground? Congratulations, you have approximately 0.2 seconds before they auto-path directly over it.
There’s other fan favorites too, like getting bodyblocked by allies in doorways (at least this can be avoided with jumping), accidentally clicking stuff like ladders appearing in front of you when you pan your camera, things like that. If there’s an option to confirm movement before it actually happens then I must have glossed over it.
Speaking of glossing over things, a handful of mechanics aren’t adequately explained during the tutorial. For instance, if allies fall within the same “block” of actions on initiative, you can control them all at once.
I managed to discover most of the quirks of combat through the first leg of the adventure and had an easier time throughout the rest of the game. Believe me, enemies will not hesitate to use any and every cheesy tactic at their disposal. Expect crazy jumps, being shoved into chasms, the works.
So once you get used to the mechanics and the problematic quirks of the fighting system Baldur’s Gate 3 is surprisingly in-depth. I was particularly impressed early on with a boss fight that required observational skills due to illusions, as well as having a spell in the chamber to create water, I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers.
Larian Studios also enhances the typical Dungeons & Dragons CRPG by making weird spells actually useful. For example “Mage Hand”, Poke traps, move small objects, activate levers, never before have weird spells been so fun to have.
Other interesting spells like Charm Person, Detect Thoughts, Disguise Self, Speak With Dead, and more all have actual practical application throughout the game.
A lot of detail has been put into Baldur’s Gate 3 over its years of development, with weird spells and situations there’s plenty of opportunity to be creative.
Lie to a drow, mind control a hobgoblin, bargain with a hag, or just kill them! Similar to The Elder Scrolls you can kill virtually almost anyone and Larian Studios was prepared to take that into account with multiple ways to solve quests with multiple different outcomes. Choices actually matter.
Speaking of choices, the romance and sex scenes are… well they’re fun. I was put off by how eager everyone was to get down and dirty early on in the game though. After the first big quest everyone wanted a piece of my geriatric dwarf, and I understood some of it. Shadowheart and my Dwarf were kind of vibing with one another during character choices.
But then the stoic Gith suddenly feels jealous and wants to ravish him, meanwhile the Wizard who has literally sat in my camp since I met him laments that my dwarf wants to share the evening with Shadowheart instead of him. We basically just met, slow down.
Instead it feels like “Oh, I really like how you kill monsters. We should sex.” This is admittedly pretty in-character for Lae’zel, but less so everyone else who suddenly wants my dwarf’s turgid adamantine rod. I also want to point out that all the romance options are conventionally attractive races.
We’ve got a smug tumblr sexyman vampire, cute half-elf cleric, a druid who’s a bear in more ways than one, a handsome warlock, a cute and awkward wizard, and the stoic Githyanki who’s probably the closest to being an unusual romance pick racially.
In contrast with the safe sexiness of Baldur’s Gate 3, Larian wasn’t afraid to go hard with gore and dark magic. Life is brutal and short, especially in the frontiers of the world. The game opens with an Illithid tadpole crawling in your eyesocket and it doesn’t slow down with the body horror.
A tiefling girl is murdered and her intestines are exposed, roots grow through a man’s body as he’s warped into a wooden gate for a hag. It’s a place that fantasy games haven’t gone graphically before, instead relying on text and narration to fill in the gruesome gaps.
Graphically, the environments are sublime and diverse. From the sun-filled forests to the city, the game even opens with you aboard a Nautiloid Spelljammer careening through one of the hells, as much detail was put into the environment as it was the dialogue and quests.
There’s plenty to explore, little knick-knacks spread all over. This game isn’t a glorified graphical benchmark like most AAA games, the graphics do what they need to do and do them well.
Musically, Larian Studios goes even harder with the theme “Down By the River” reappearing as a leitmotif in periods of drama and intense action; and I’m a sucker for leitmotifs.
Ultimately, Baldur’s Gate 3 is virtually everything I’d want out of a tactical RPG. Like the Divinity series it ditched the live-combat in favor of more interactive tactical combat, it remains rooted firmly in the lore of Forgotten Realms, and it’s not afraid to be gritty with its depictions of violence, dark magic, and the brutality of life in the near lawless life of a fantasy adventurer.
Outside of some moderate gameplay hiccups endemic to Larian’s combat system, along with some immersion-breaking dialogue,
Baldur’s Gate III was previewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Larian Studios. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.