Everybody is talking about Baldur’s Gate 3. As a long time D&D player, both video games and pen-and-paper, I felt I should weigh in too.
At the end of the eighties, my father bought a PC. After fiddling around with an Apple-II with green-black monitor and no hard disk, this was a huge improvement. We had storage, and a monitor with colors (4 and sometimes even 16 of them).
The games were awesome on that PC. One of the ones I played was The Bard’s Tale II. A role-playing game. I didn’t understand the mechanics very well — not all, in fact. I was still very intrigued and spent hours drawing maps on grid paper and trying to understand what all these numbers in my character sheet did. Yes, you had to draw your own maps and the game was grid based. It also used rules similar to D&D, which are not easy to grasp for a young kid with no help.
Later, I ran across Eye of the Beholder, on the new PC my parents got. More grid paper, but I started to understand how the game actually worked. I was a teen by then. Next came Lands of Lore, one of my favorite games to this day, and then Menzoberranzan. With that last one, I actually had a manual which contained the D&D mechanics underpinning the game. It got me into pen&paper Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2
Okay, so, this was a very long intro to get to 1999, when I picked up Baldur’s Gate 1. It was based on the Dungeons & Dragons rules, and my friends said it was cool. So it had to be good, right? I was actually a bit disappointed.
It did not have the first person view of Eye of the Beholder and Lands of Lore. When you start out, you only have a single character in your party, and you have to move them on some weird isometric map. The almost-but-nor-quite-turn-based combat was not what I was used to either.
But, it grew on me, and then I started to love it. Baldur’s Gate has its flaws. A lot of time is spent walking around forests trying to get all the black patches of fog of war off the map. Baldur’s Gate 2 improved on that, with more interesting locations — and weirdly, no city of Baldur’s Gate.
It took me forever to finish both the games, and the expansions that came after. Then the developer, Bioware, moved on to other IP. They built Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, so no complaints there. But it meant Baldur’s Gate 3 took twenty years to get made. Larian Studios finally got the go-ahead, and wow, they delivered.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Larian Studios is probably most well-know for the Divinity: Original Sin series, which are great games. So, I was very happy they were making Baldur’s Gate 3. And now it’s finally here!
Twenty years of innovation separate it from the first two games, and it’s by a new studio. That has caused changes. Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 used pre-rendered 3D backgrounds, for example, but these days, real-time 3D graphics look better than those pre-rendered ones did.
We’re also 3 editions of D&D further along — well, technically four: there’s also a 3.5 edition of D&D. Where Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 were based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd edition), Baldur’s Gate 3 uses D&D 5. That doesn’t have a huge impact. You still have magic missiles and stinking cloud spells, they just work slightly different. The combat rules also differ slightly.
Larian did make the choice to make combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 turn-based, and to add actual dice roll animations for a lot of actions. This is a seemingly odd choice. The first two games were kind of real-time-ish, while this is fully turn-based. But, that’s actually a good thing. Real-time combat is not better or fancier than turn-based combat. It’s just different. And D&D lends itself best for a turn-based approach, because the pen-and-paper rules use turns as well.
Then there’s the controller support. Yes, it’s there, and it works. I’m playing on a PC attached to my TV, with a controller. And I’ve no trouble with the many actions available. Although inventory management is difficult — and as my friends can attest, I’m not good with video game inventory management at the best of times. And Baldur’s Gate 3 has made me carry even more weird shit around.
Finally, Larian has done something that turns many a video game creator green with envy: they made all the dialog voiced. There’s hundreds of hours of talking in the game by a load of voice actors. It’s an astonishing feat.
No game is perfect. Baldur’s Gate is good, but it has flaws. It’s taxing to run at high settings, even for my high-end PC. And I hear that the second and third act have progressively more performance issues — and yes, I haven’t finished the game. I’m only sixty hours in, so sue me.
There are also bugs. I get those. It’s hard to make a complex game like this. Quests have multiple ways to solve them, and conversations that can happen at various points and in various orders. People involved in quests can be killed. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Still, it is annoying when a certain event does not trigger, or a quest gets stuck in your journal. And again, as the game progresses it apparently gets worse. I guess I’ll see.
Of course, Larian is working on fixing these issues, so who knows where we’ll be a few more patches down the line. I’ll be playing for another hundred hours or so, I think.
I think the stats speak for itself. Baldur’s Gate 3 stands in the top ten of most played games on Steam, with half a million simultaneous — not total, no, simultaneous — players. It’s drawing great reviews all around.
And, yeah, I love it too. Good writing, good mechanics, fun puzzles and quests. And while Baldur’s Gate 3 is long, it’s not a long grind to force you to by time-savers or microtransactions. It’s long because its chock-full of story and stuff to do. I’ve been playing D&D for over twenty-five years, and this is as close as a game has gotten to the actual pen-and-paper experience.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is not for everyone. If long RPGs, party-based turn-based combat, or fantasy are not your thing, this game might not be for you. Otherwise, go for it.
Just be aware, if you’ve played Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, that this is a very different game. A good one, but the experience differs. If you do want the exact same experience, you should play Pillars of Eternity instead. … And then play Baldur’s Gate 3 too. It’s great.
Now, I’m going back to Astarion, Wyll, and Lae’zel to sink some more hours into saving Baldur’s Gate.