Also on: PC
Publisher: Larian Games
Developer: Larian Games
I have been playing Baldur’s Gate 3 for nearly three whole years. That is a LOT of time to get familiar with a game! While those three years were limited to just what was available in Early Access, I had plenty of time to get acquainted with the basics and the systems as they grew throughout those years. With the recent launch of the full game, my friend and fellow editor for Gaming-Age, Matthew Pollesel, asked me to add my thoughts to his review.
All of my time with Baldur’s Gate 3 has been on PC, both in Early Access and with the full launch. I have something like 8 different campaigns going at the time of this writing, which is fantastic. My “Primary” campaign is one I am running with my core group of friends, and we treat it like a tabletop D&D game. We have a 5-hour play session scheduled every Sunday evening, and we have scheduling conflicts that come up all the time that cause us to reschedule, just like real D&D! Kidding aside, we play pretty consistently and have been playing on and off since the game launched. We have had a chance to play basically every class and race available, made all of the decisions (both good and bad), explored everything we could possibly find, and STILL feel like we are barely scratching the surface of what is possible in this game.
As far as “D&D in a video game” goes, Baldur’s Gate 3 is as close to perfection as you could possibly get. I have a lifetime of experience with tabletop D&D, and Baldur’s Gate 3 is the type of thing that my friends and I could have only dreamed of growing up. It adapts all of the best parts of the tabletop game while jettisoning (mostly) everything that bogs the game down. The one big change is obviously, there is no human Dungeon Master running things. There is no compassionate person to fudge a roll behind the screen or to drop the DC of a check down to 1 to ensure the players get a much-needed win. Larian has something of an answer for this in the form of their mercy system, which you can turn on to track your dice rolls and give you some help if the dice are constantly coming up short. This is an optional feature that you have to seek out and turn on, so purists don’t have to worry if they want to let things fall as they will.
Playing with a group is pretty seamless, and the ability to have a player drop out and their character persist under the control of another player is great if someone has to step away in the middle of an encounter and the party is unable to stop and save. If you don’t have a dedicated group. Larian has provided a whole host of incredible NPC companions. The max party size is 4, but there are a few mods that allow you to increase that limit. The NPCs in this game might be the best there have ever been, and I am not being hyperbolic. I cannot recall a single game that has ever created characters with this level of depth over this much gametime.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is MASSIVE, and the care and detail put into each of the companion characters rivals what most MAIN characters receive in other games. You will get completely lost in the side stories for your characters, swept up in the romances (if that’s your thing), you will grapple with the morality of the choices you and your companions are forced to make, and you will grow dangerously attached to them by the end. I have a solo game going in addition to my many co-op campaigns, and I am constantly drawn back to further explore the characters that Larian has created to accompany me. I would honestly argue that Baldur’s Gate 3 is two different games, the one you can experience with friends where the in-game characters are just that, and the solo experience where the created characters ARE the friends in your game.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a game that I honestly cannot find fault with, despite going over it with a fine-toothed comb. A big part of this is BECAUSE Larian had 3 years to work on it in early access, taking player feedback into consideration and constantly improving on the base that they started with. I will be the first to admit that there were definitely some issues when early access first launched, but that was part of what you signed up for! All of those early issues were well worth it once I got my hands on the full release. The game runs seamlessly on my PC and I have fallen in love with it all over again.
For me personally, Baldur’s Gate 3 is *not* my “favorite” game this year (that distinction goes to Armored Core VI), but I do believe it is the hands-down easiest choice for “Game of the Year” ever. I don’t say that lightly either! 2023 might be the most stacked year for video games in history, with an absurd number of absolutely incredible titles available to play, and even more to come before the year closes! With all of that in mind, Baldur’s Gate 3 has captured the cultural zeitgeist in a way that few games in history have, all while being the most polished and complete, well-put-together launch experience I have seen in years (due in large part to the three years of early access, but still). This has been an absolutely banner year for video games, but Baldur’s Gate has planted its flag firmly at the top, and I don’t see anyone dethroning it for years to come. My personal score would be an easy A+, 10/10.
In many respects, my experience with Baldur’s Gate 3 was completely different from Tyler’s. I went into the PS5 version of the game with no prior experience with the franchise. In fact, I’ve never even played D&D in any form, so even though I’m vaguely aware of dice-based tabletop games (and their video game counterparts), I was more or less learning how the genre works as I went along here.
Consequently, the way I played Baldur’s Gate 3 was also very different than how more seasoned players like Tyler approached the game. I played it solo and offline, so I didn’t have any party to help my character. I also played it on the easiest difficulty setting – which turned out to be a good thing, given the number of times early on I found my party members on the brink of death.
And yet, despite all those qualifications and caveats, I ultimately came to the same conclusion that Tyler came to — albeit with a much smaller sample-size of playtime: Baldur’s Gate 3 is a fantastic game.
To a great extent, this is because it’s a very accessible game, even if – like me – you’ve never played a game of D&D in your life. I’m not one for overly complicated systems, and from the get-go, it’s clear that dice-based outcomes are as far from complicated as you can get. Admittedly, it can be a little frustrating to fail at, say, reading someone’s mind because of the outcome of a random number generator, but at the same time, you know exactly what you’re doing as it happens, and you know why you succeed or fail.
The incredibly generous save system also helped a great deal. Early on I found myself stuck in a dungeon with no hope of escape, and environmental hazards were slowly killing off every character in my party. All I needed to do was load a previous autosave, and I was able to try again without losing too much progress.
Both of these things highlight how Baldur’s Gate 3 is accessible without ever making any huge concessions towards the dreaded “casual player” (in other words, me). Even if you don’t really know what you’re doing, the game nudges you along and makes sure things continue at an appropriate pace. Not sure where to go next? Look at that big unexplored section of the map, which you’ll see every time you camp for the night. Stuck on a path or an unwinnable situation? Those aforementioned saves are awfully handy!
I even found the game’s turn-based combat fun – and I usually can’t stand turn-based combat. True, I needed to learn to ignore my usual instincts of running up to every enemy I saw and attacking in hand-to-hand combat, but once I got over that – and started figuring out when and how to add in ranged attacks – battles went substantially better. It also helps that the game provides you with a well-rounded party, so it’s more a matter of figuring out how to use the different characters in a way that makes them complement each other, as opposed to treating them all as interchangeable.
I’ll also note that the game does a fantastic job of making your character come alive. I never really thought about this as I was playing, up until I saw videos of other people playing and realized how weird it looked to me to see Baldur’s Gate 3 without the weird-looking half-elf folk-hero fighter I’d created, at which point I realized I’d grown attached to my character. If that’s not a sign of how well this game draws you in and makes you feel like you’re a part of it, I don’t know what is.
Does all this add up to make Baldur’s Gate 3 the best game of the year? That’s hard to say at this stage, given the insane number of genuine GOTY contenders we’ve had so far this year – to say nothing of those that are still scheduled to arrive over the next few months. But notwithstanding all that, it’s clear that it’s certainly on the short-list as one of the top contenders.
Larian Games provided us with a Baldur’s Gate 3 PS5 code for review purposes.