Review: Baldur’s Gate 3

Official Keyart for Baldur's Gate 3

Every once in a long while I play a video game where in the middle of having a grand ol’ time I have a realization: this is one of those once in a decade kinda experiences right? Like this game is so fucking good! The word “masterpiece” gets thrown out a lot in media reviews but I truly believe this is one of the best games I’ve ever played and if there is one title deserving of the word “masterpiece”, it is this one.

A game where after spending approximately 84 hours in my first playthrough I am thinking of just starting another one with a completely different character to see what that experience is like. This game has been on mind for the last weeks and I expect it to be in my thoughts in the years to come.

Now let’s get into it.

My Experience with Video Game RPGs

Before I get into Baldur’s Gate 3 proper I think it is important to talk about my experience with RPGs to provide some context and clarity for why my perspective here is the way it is.

Firstly, I think it is also important to mention that I am specifically talking about video game RPGs and not table top RPGs. I have played multiple video game RPGs. I have not played any table top RPGs.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is based on the systems of D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) and specifically D&D 5th edition, a table top RPG. However, when I talk about this game, I am approaching it as someone who has only played video game RPGs. My only real familiarity with D&D is the animated TV show The Legend of Vox Machina which I watched a couple seasons of earlier this year.

Skyrim

Now for some time travel, the first RPG I remember playing was The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, a game released in 2011, developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. In hindsight, at the time I didn’t really understand what a “RPG” was. Skyrim was just a game that was extremely popular and talked about everywhere so I played it. I also left the game unimpressed thinking the game was massively overrated. That is an opinion I still hold but now I at least understand why other people enjoyed it.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Fast forward a few years to my next big RPG experience, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a game released in 2015, developed by CD Projekt RED and published by CD Projekt. This is still one of the games that go on my “best of all time” list. I put it on my games of the decade list for 2009-2019. It one of very few games that I have actually replayed. I did a second playthrough of the game earlier this year and that gave me a new perspective on a game that I love. Suffice to say it is an important game for me and influential to my understanding of video game RPGs.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

A few years after the The Witcher 3, in 2020 I played Final Fantasy 7 Remake, a game released in 2020, developed by Square Enix Business Division 1 and published by Square Enix. This was the first time I played a mainline non-MMORPG Final Fantasy game. At the time I did enjoy it but I’ll note that looking back on it now I think bits of the narrative are very much incoherent and require some lore explainer videos to explain which I increasingly find irritating.

Disco Elysium

In 2021 I played the CRPG (Classical RPG) Disco Elysium, a game released in 2019, developed and published by ZA/UM. It is another one of those games where I recognize why other people enjoyed it but I did not enjoy my time with it. I did finish my singular playthrough of it but it is not a game I would play again. It is however a game that left an impact on me, I was left thinking, do I just not enjoy CRPGs or do I not enjoy Disco Elysium? For some further context for that question, Disco Elysium was my first CRPG.

Cyberpunk 2077

In 2022 I played Cyberpunk 2077, a game released in 2020, developed by CD Projekt RED and published by CD Projekt. I was inspired to play this game after watching Action Button’s 10 hour long (!) review of the game. Despite this game’s many many flaws I found myself developing a fondness for the characters and their narratives. I enjoyed it enough to put it on my list of games of the year for 2022.

Yakuza: Like A Dragon

Also in 2022, I played another massive RPG – Yakuza: Like A Dragon, a game released in 2020, developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and published by Sega. This was not my first experience with the Yakuza franchise, that would be Yakuza 0 but this is the one that had the most impact on me and the one I perhaps enjoyed the most. Like A Dragon also ended up in my 2022 list of games of the year.

Are we there yet?!

Hold on to your dice folks, I’m getting there. Disco Elysium would not be my last CRPG. We have arrived at the primary topic of this review, Baldur’s Gate 3, a game released in 2023, developed and published by Larian Studios. So with great delight I can answer the question in my previous paragraph. It was Disco Elysium that I did not enjoy not CRPGs.

An Aside about TTRPGs

Some of y’all will have rightly observed that I have over the years played various games based on different TTRPGs. How come I haven’t actually played any TTRPGs? A couple things: First, I started playing video games fairly young and the transition to playing video game RPGs came naturally.

Second, TTRPGs by their very nature are social games. They are games best played with and enjoyed with other others. For a long time I was for all intents and purposes a solo gamer. Even when I played multiplayer games I played with randoms I didn’t know and didn’t speak to after our games were over.

Since TTRPGs are so social, finding the right group of people plays a critical role in one’s enjoyment of the game. This is a significant barrier for me. I would probably enjoy TTRPGs if I actually played one but getting over the double hump of finding a TTRPG I like and finding a group I like means that I haven’t gotten into them yet.

Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3 was not on my radar until a few days before the game came out. I started hearing some buzz about it from folks in my social circles in the preceding its release. When I first heard about it, I thought to myself, “oh its another video game for D&D nerds, not for me” and moved on.

It was not until I watched a streamer I follow start playing the game on her stream that I became truly interested in the game. Watching her go through the character creator and play a bit of the game intrigued me enough to the point where I bought the game and started playing the game.

I suppose the lesson here is to not judge a video game by its uhh themes? Source material? I think you get what I’m trying to say.

Mechanics

Speaking of the character creator, that is the first and arguably one of the most important aspects of a RPG like this. I had a great of fun creating my character and for the most part I found the character creator flexible enough to get the look I wanted. One could easily spend hours in here getting things just right.

This is the character for my first playthrough. Minerva, a tiefling cleric under Ilmater. Oh and they are non-binary!

One really awesome aspect of the character creator is that the the game lets you pick the they/them set of pronouns and it also doesn’t tie your voice options to your gender (looking at you Cyberpunk 2077). The game also uses the they/them pronouns in dialogue text to refer to you!

My inspiration to play as a cleric came from watching The Legend of Vox Machina and the cleric character there Pike Trickfoot. I later learned that according to Larian’s statistics, clerics are the least played class so far.

Gosh, they are so pretty. I wanna smooch them.

Let’s talk about some of the game’s other mechanics. Combat encounters in this game reminded me of playing XCOM 2 due to the turn based nature. In the first act of the game I really wasn’t enjoying combat all that much. It felt clunky to me, I was taking way too much damage and I really didn’t like the way spell slots limited me from doing significant damage.

As I have been informed limited spell slots are unsurprisingly a D&D 5e mechanic which have been ported into this game. Having finished the game, I’d say the only thing that particular mechanic achieved for me was making me just not use magic unless absolutely necessary.

I ended up playing a lot of Karlach and Lae’zel in my party for the high melee DPS along with Shadowheart and myself playing support, using healing spells when needing to, doing damage spells only when absolutely necessary. I will note however that magic use gets better as you progress in the game and your magic using characters get more spell slots, but because the game trained me early to treat magic as a very scarce resource, I just ended up playing the rest of the game that way.

Partially, this is my fault. I tend to play turn based combat with an eye towards doing as much DPS as possible every turn. This game does offer a fair variety of other options in combat such as applying status effects, buffing allies etc. etc. however I am a simple cat, I hit enemy with big stick until they die.

Ultimately, the primary reason I played this game was for the narrative and the characters, not the combat. Which is why when I started my first playthrough I played on the lowest difficulty which makes combat easier. By the time I got to the end of the game combat had definitely gotten easier but I would still say it is one of my least favourite aspects of the game.

Characters and Narrative

Halsin really out here spitting wisdom eh?

Alright enough about mechanics, let’s talk characters and narrative. The strongest aspect of this game are the various companions it provides you. Each one is a well defined, fully fleshed out character with a unique story of their own. I very much enjoyed all the interactions I had with each character and by the end of the game I really felt like I had gone on a adventure with them. Like they were actual friends rather than characters in a video game.

Shadowheart <3

A big appeal of these kinds of games is the romance subplots for companions, on that front I am happy to say that this game offers that in spades. In my first playthrough I only really explored Shadowheart’s romance plot to the fullest extent but what I’ve seen from others online, the other romance plots are also well thought out. I still will never fuck Astarion though, sorry not sorry.

Yes, of course I fucked the devil. You kidding?

The big thing that really impressed me with here are the possibilities in the narrative. So many decisions in this game are meaningful in a way I have not experienced in other RPGs. From momentous world shattering choices to smaller things like what class you are opening up a path that wouldn’t be available otherwise.

The amount of possible branching paths in this game boggles the mind. This is definitely a game which invites multiple playthroughs, personally I am really curious what would happen if I made a completely different set of decisions. What if I played a chaotic evil monk instead of a friendly good cleric?

Lastly, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the narrator who serves as the game master. Her voice acting is absolutely exquisite and I thoroughly enjoyed her presence throughout the game.

Technical

This game looks incredible. Character models have a high level of detail and facial animations during animations look good. Various environments in this game have a reasonably good amount of detail.

The game ran well enough on my PC. The only places I saw minor frame drops were in some sections of act 3. Act 3 is especially heavy on CPU usage so if you have a older/weaker CPU, you’ll see more frame drops.

The game as it stands now has had two major patches addressing a large number of bugs. There are definitely still a bunch of other bugs in this game, however I didn’t find anything that detracted from my enjoyment of the game.

Conclusions

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who worked on this game!

I’ll reiterate what I said at the beginning of this review. This game is a masterpiece, a once in a decade marvel of marrying table top mechanics and narrative with a video game format that I’ll be thinking about for years to come. A new standard has been set when it comes to video game RPGs.

Now if someone could tell me who the fuck Baldur is and why he has three gates, that would be great.