Baldur’s Gate 3 is imposing in stature and its best moments are truly memorable, but some early issues with scale suggest an uneven experience.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is Larian Studios’ most ambitious game to date. It’s important to illustrate that immediately, because this is the same developer behind Divinity: Original Sin – it is no stranger to setting the bar high. With Baldur’s Gate 3, the goal appears to be taking and refining what’s been learned across previous titles and its own lengthy Early Access period. Adhering to the tried-and-true Dungeons & Dragons tabletop experience and implenting it into a gargantuan co-op RPG somehow works, and it works well – except for when it doesn’t, often enough to make it worth considering whether its scale gets the better of it at times.
Baldur’s Gate 3 begins with high-stakes action. Immediately thrust into the role of a hero – either pre-designed as part of a diverse cast of characters and classes, or customized by the player as an original insertion into the story – who has been infected with a mindflayer tadpole. Usually a means to an incredibly bad end in quick fashion, they discover that they have been gifted with rare powers and no transformation – yet. Assembling a crew begins soon after, though, as always, there’s nothing that says players must join up with similarly afflicted characters. The incredible amount of choice that comes with Baldur’s Gate 3 is truly on display within its opening minutes.
Review In Progress Disclaimer
That said, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a truly massive game – and codes weren’t available until close to review embargo. Any thoughts here are currently in progress, as we’ve only just – see: 40 hours and change of gameplay – scratched the surface of what appears to be a huge, twisting plot with plenty of variables and opportunities for replay.
Early Thoughts on Combat
The most important part of Baldur’s Gate 3 is that its dizzying options and strict adherence to tabletop-style character skills, quite simply, works. While overwhelming at first, it’s easy to experiment with different abilities and find uses for even the most niche ones. Combat is spectacular at times, with a great deal of options that can either be obvious or require some quick thinking. One boss feels insurmountable, only for an accidental moment of brilliance to lure it underneath an environmental trap. A spider web can be incinerated to prevent movement loss, while floors can be manipulated with innocuous water to produce shocking results in the hands of the right magic-wielder.
Baldur’s Gate 3 really does manage to capture the best parts of a roleplaying campaign. If a player can think of it, there’s a good chance they can do it, provided it falls within the confines of their party’s abilities. Those infatuating late night moments of tabletop madness – “why would you ask a pig if it’s a long-dead god?” – feel like they’ve been captured in Baldur’s Gate 3.
Unfortunately, the engine propelling this enrapturing combat forward doesn’t always enjoy being burdened with so much potential. At times, combat will simply stop moving – an enemy will get stuck thinking about its next move, or find itself in just a weird enough spot on the map that it doesn’t think it can continue its turn. There will be a brief hang-up where nobody moves, and then nothing – the next turn will be started. It can be comical, but in certain tense fights it popped up and felt almost like cheating, with a powerful foe skipping an entire turn for no other reason than, it would seem, standing a little off to the left of a raised platform.
We’ve only just started eclipsing what was available in Early Access in terms of character abilities and content, so much more is to come – but it’s safe to say that, with patience for the odd glitch during combat and a willingness to save and reload often, much of what Baldur’s Gate 3 is doing mechanically is a lot of fun.
Early Thoughts on Scale & Choices
While the open-endedness of the best Dungeons & Dragons campaigns is something that Baldur’s Gate 3 easily captures across its first forty hours, that doesn’t necessarily come without hiccups. There’s a little lack of polish when it comes to story beats that can be jarring. Characters will sometimes react to a new story moment, only for a different line of dialogue to bring them right back to it a minute later, occasionally even repeating the same line. Some que s seem to trigger over the most minor circumstances, and a lack of clear direction in some big story moments can make it feel like progression is halted when really a player simply needs to chance things and hope they work out.
In some ways, though, this is a good problem to have. It doesn’t happen often enough to be a disaster by any means, and the trade-off is that Baldur’s Gate 3 feels riddled with choices that genuinely matter. Impactful conversations with seemingly insignificant characters will suddenly ripple out across multiple chapters and acts. An item acquired that looks suspiciously like it might be useful almost always is, if a player is patient enough – even if it is worth a fair bit of gold. And skills and abilities that seem oddly suited towards combat are exactly that because they have overworld uses that are invaluable replacements for skills that the party might not be geared towards.
Maybe the conversational bugs and the weird quest triggers will bother some, but across dozens of hours already, not once did it feel like Baldur’s Gate 3 was telling its band of heroes they can’t do something. There is always a solution available to a given party’s arrangement, almost tirelessly so. It’s quite the accomplishment.
The other notable element of our Baldur’s Gate 3 review in progress is on performance. At times, the world will start to lag and frames will drop significantly. Usually, this is after an extended period of time playing – several hours at minimum – or when there are particularly busy scenes occurring, like fights with 15+ people involved or world assets that are visually taxing, like a windmill. So far, this can always be solved by simply saving and reloading, but it’s worth keeping an eye on, especially if it leads to anything game-breaking.
That said, for all its flaws, Baldur’s Gate 3 is engrossing at almost all times. It’s the type of game that both makes players want to invest all their time into finishing it while simultaneously keeping them thinking of what their next build will be when they inevitably decide to replay it to see all of the things they missed the first time. It remains to be seen if the swelling story manages to stick the landing once some more secrets are unveiled, but it’s so far, so great for Larian Studios and a riveting installment in the Baldur’s Gate franchise.
Baldur’s Gate 3 releases on August 3, 2023 for PC, with a PlayStation 5 version arriving on September 6, 2023. Screen Rant was provided a digital PC download code for the purpose of this review.