Awoken from the slumber of six years of development and three years of early access, the full version of Baldur’s Gate 3 is finally here. And it was well worth the wait. While many enjoyed Baldur’s Gate 3 in early access, I opted out and instead decided to wait for the full release. I’ve only been able to play around 10 hours of Baldur’s Gate 3, which doesn’t put me any farther than the people that finished Act 1 in early access, but since this is my first time experiencing Baldur’s Gate 3, I’m happy to report that the finished product is wildly fun and extremely well polished.
First, a bit of background. Baldur’s Gate 3 is literally Dungeons & Dragons 5e with a premade story for you to follow, and it makes for such a good alternative. D&D’s already a game beloved by many, but it’s held back by physical limitations and lots of prep work. What you lose in unbridled creativity both in storytelling and combat encounters in D&D, you gain in the ease of booting up a video game and the ability to play with friends from anywhere in the world in Baldur’s Gate 3. And after starting two campaigns, one with my high school friends and one with my brother and dad, I have to say that this game could really replace your D&D game nights.
I’ve put in around 50 hours in various campaigns, and from what I’ve played, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a remarkable experience with a genuinely impressive amount of player freedom — whether that be through character and class customization, world-altering decisions, or absolutely bonkers combat encounters and equally bonkers ways you can get out of starting a fight.
Make it Pink! Make it Blue! – The Customization
The graphics in Baldur’s Gate 3 are gorgeous, and it’s best shown in the first minutes of the game when you create your character. The detail and level of customization are impressive. I’m not one for extremely detailed character customizations that allow you to determine cheek depth and jaw tautness, so I love Baldur’s Gate 3’s refined character creation. The selection of races is wonderful — they are all visually stunning and so much fun to customize. You can spend hours just customizing your character, and trust me, I have. I also really love how there are trans and non-binary options; the more diversity and representation, the better. You can even customize your character’s genitalia, which is cool (you can also turn off all nudity, which is equally cool).
Baldur’s Gate 3 wouldn’t be a D&D game without multiple classes, subclasses, and multiclassing. At launch, Baldur’s Gate 3 has 12 classes and 46 subclasses to choose from. After you’ve chosen your class, you either get to choose your subclass immediately or unlock your options at level two or three. Also, at level two, you can begin multiclassing into any of the 11 other classes. And then there’s Feats which offer even more minute class customization. You can truly make any class you want in Baldur’s Gate 3. The buildcrafting potential is strong, but you also don’t get punished for picking whatever race, background, class, and subclass you find to be the coolest, a balance that’s really important.
D&D Made Easy… But It’s Not Easy – The Gameplay
Yeah, figuring out puzzles and making decisions is cool, but we all know the combat is what’s really important. I love the turn-based combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 — it’s almost identical to Divinity: Original Sin 2. The skills, spells, and combat roles your individual character contributes feel really solid for those familiar with RPGs. I also find the hotbar UI really easy to understand and navigate, which is a huge win. The downside is I’ve experienced some awkward mechanics that make combat slightly less enjoyable. Like how you might want to hit someone with a melee attack but your character took a few extra steps and now you’re just barely out of reach. Or when you aim a spell and need to finagle your line of sight because it’ll only line up with the enemy’s toe. And while there is are difficulty settings, combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 is challenging. Consider running away when things are too tough or reloading a save (quick save often!) when a bad roll results in you fighting 10 enemies that are a level above you.
Just like D&D, Baldur’s Gate 3 features skill checks. In conversations, these skill checks are manual dice rolls that can have pluses and minuses based on your proficiencies and spells. Everywhere else in the world, skill checks are automatically performed as you walk around — like perception checks when looking for traps, stealth checks when sneaking past enemies, and survival checks when looking for treasure. I’m a big fan of these skill checks, especially the manual ones, because it adds that tactile D&D feel of choice and chance that makes successes and failures carry more weight.
However, with skill checks, I wish there was an option to turn on all dice rolls instead of seeing only visible dice rolls in conversations. I know the percentage by an enemy is all you need to know to quickly consider the AC check and saving throw chance, but I think all the automatic dice rolls behind the scenes can inhibit the player’s understanding of the core combat system, which is both a positive and a negative I suppose. I just think the option would be nice.
Besides how good combat and skill checks are, the only downside I have with the gameplay is the lack of a beginner-friendly tutorial. The intro of the game, which takes about an hour, serves as an appetizer to introduce you to combat, decision-making, exploring the world, and solving puzzles, but if I wasn’t already familiar with how Larian Studios’ games work, since I played and loved Divinity: Original Sin 2, I think I would’ve struggled to learn the ropes during this short “tutorial,” if you can call it that. I’ve taught multiple people how to play and enjoy Baldur’s Gate 3 which has been fun, but it’s not great that there’s no good way to learn on your own. I wish there was a more detailed or in-depth showcase of how to play Baldur’s Gate 3 to help people that are new to Larian Studios’ games and new to D&D.
And, of course, we can’t forget about romance. Anyone who’s been following Baldur’s Gate 3 is aware that you can have sex with a Druid shape-shifted into a bear, and there is a lot of fantasy lust fulfillment in Baldur’s Gate 3, but what’s really taken me by surprise is the opportunity for deep romantic connections. I’m gonna be honest, I started romancing Shadowheart to just get the juicy sex scene (for science), but when our relationship finally got to the point where we went on a nighttime date, I found myself leaning into getting to know her and building our relationship subtlely — I even ended the night with a kiss. There were plenty of opportunities for me to get right to it and have a one-night stand, but I find it fascinating that the romance can be deeper than that. I was expecting Mass Effect where the end goal is sex and was surprised to find that Baldur’s Gate 3’s romance is much more mature, in more ways than one.
Fun with Friends – The Co-op
The best way to play Baldur’s Gate 3 is with friends. Much like how you only play one character in tabletop D&D, Baldur’s Gate 3 is so much better when you are focused on playing one character. Playing solo, you control all four party members which makes roleplaying, selecting the best characters for specific situations, and cultivating the best builds challenging.
I have two weekly campaigns of Baldur’s Gate 3 going — one with my three high school best friends and one with my brother and dad. Co-op is so good in this game that I’ve stopped my solo campaign to not get spoiled and experience the full campaign with my party of friends and family. While Baldur’s Gate 3 solo is incredible, it’s even better with co-op.
To illustrate why co-op is better: after defeating the goblins and entering the tiefling camp at the beginning of the game, I demanded that I talk to the people ahead because I’m a Bard (multiclassing as a Sorcerer) who has high Charisma and is proficient at every conversation ability. Once we all entered camp, my Druid friend turned into a spider and started freaking everyone out in the village while my Warlock friend Eldritch Blasted a door because he wanted to follow a rat. All while my Rogue friend and I were arguing as to who would sell their excess gear first. Good thing we quicksaved.
Mind Flayin’ Fun – The Story
Right after customizing your character and pressing “Venture Forth,” you’re immediately launched into a dramatic cutscene that features mind flayers, dragons, and realm hopping. There might not have ever been a more immediate, action-packed opening than what we get with Baldur’s Gate 3. And the story just continues to evolve from there. The first main goal is to deal with the tadpole that’s been planted in your brain that’s supposed to turn you into a mind flayer but hasn’t, but the story’s scope grows even bigger when your Guardian meets you one night and hints at a cosmic war being waged. It’s all high fantasy excellence, but not the kind that reeks of pretentiousness and fluff.
Related: Is Baldur’s Gate 3 Coming to Xbox?
While the grand overarching story is really interesting and I definitely want to experience more, the micro stories found in sidequests and the Origin characters’ backgrounds and interactions with each other are just as strong a motivator for me to keep playing — sometimes even more so. For example, I really like the characters Wyll and Karlach, but both of their life goals are to kill each other. Because of my specific choices, I guided Wyll and Karlach to understand one another and to form a budding friendship. However, every choice has a consequence; Wyll’s magical patron appeared and turned him into a demon for not honoring his pact. Wyll is forever a demon going forward in my campaign which is such an interesting story arc for him. Wyll and Karlach’s relationship doesn’t have anything to do with the tadpool story, but it’s mini-stories like this that make discovering the next big story detail feel like a lived-in adventure that I’m in charge of.
I’m halfway through Act 2, and there are three Acts in Baldur’s Gate 3. To make this a well-rounded review, I looked up some comments about Act 3 on Reddit to see how the experience is. In my research, I found people reporting that Act 3 has very poor performance and optimizations as well as the most bugs, some of which make progressing almost impossible. That said, Larian Studios is known for listening to the community and updating their game, so those will likely be ironed out in time. Bugs and performance aside, people are saying Act 3 contains some of their favorite moments of Baldur’s Gate 3. They’re also saying that the ending is a bit abrupt, but at least all the characters receive endings true to your campaign choices.
Choose Wisely – The Choices
D&D is known for being an open-ended game with infinite choices. While Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t that, and can’t realistically be without the help of an insanely powerful AI-run system the likes of which doesn’t exist (yet), there are tons of exciting choices to make, all of which can drastically change the outcome of specific encounters and the story at large. One silly example is you can persuade an army of goblins to let you pass or call upon some troll friends you made earlier to fight them all. There are more serious examples, too, like if you should have an entire tiefling refugee camp exterminated by siding with the goblins. Or you can find the head Druid to continue a spell that will keep the tiefling camp safe until everyone can evacuate to Baldur’s Gate. The stakes are sometimes large and sometimes small, but the choices always present multiple routes forward, all led by you.
Going back to my Wyll and Karlach example, there were multiple opportunities for me to side with Wyll and kill Karlach, or stick to Karlach’s side and kill Wyll for being the problem. I could have drastically changed my entire party’s story, including mine, by choosing to kill Karlach or Wyll, but I chose the middle ground, and Wyll became a demon because of it. Each decision so far has felt so personal and distinct to my campaign, which makes me want to play different campaigns with different friend groups to see just how far we can take it.
My Final Thoughts
Baldur’s Gate 3 is an incredible game full of player-driven choices and expressive combat. I think Baldur’s Gate 3 could easily be GOTY for RPG lovers and people familiar with Larian Studios’ games and D&D. I also think people unfamiliar with either Larian Studios’ or D&D could struggle to find their groove with Baldur’s Gate and consider it more of a four stars out of five kind of game. If you have three solid friends, the best way to experience Baldur’s Gate 3 is through weekly gaming sessions. It’s so much fun and I look forward to every Tuesday and Thursday night to play more Baldur’s Gate 3 with my parties.
There are a few things like poor performance in Act 3 and the lack of a tutorial that keep Baldur’s Gate 3 from being perfect. That said, no game is perfect, and what Baldur’s Gate 3 does bring to the table is innovative, imaginative, and extremely fun.
I absolutely love Baldur’s Gate 3; the more progress I make, the more hooked I become. Every moment I’m not playing Baldur’s Gate 3, I wish I was… so let me wrap this up — go play Baldur’s Gate 3! It’s a defining RPG that masterfully blends all that’s brilliant about D&D into an equally convenient and engaging video game best suited for four wide-eyed adventurers.
- This article was updated on August 14th, 2023