Baldur’s Gate 3 Review – Critical Success

Since the early days of video games, TTRPGs have greatly influenced what digital roleplaying games would look like. Games such as Diablo focused on implementing the mechanics side of TTRPGs, and games such as the previous Baldur’s Gate titles had a heavier focus on the story and characters.

Baldur’s Gate 3, developed and published by Larian Studios, manages to take both of these aspects to their peak. With the tried and true Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition system, an epic and engaging story, and an open and dynamic world, Baldur’s Gate 3, like its predecessors, is an experience to be remembered for years.

A mind flayer preparing to insert a tadpole into his victim's eye.
While I know I’m going to play this game dozens of times, I’m sure I will never skip the opening cinematics.

I just finished my first playthrough of Baldur’s Gate 3 after about 80 hours, and there’s a lot to talk about. If you still haven’t been convinced by the amount of hype and positivity surrounding the game, maybe this review will help make up your mind.

I played Baldur’s Gate 3 in Early Access more than two years ago. I remembered the epic opening with all of its disgustingly realistic imagery of mind flayers and tadpole insertions. And yet I couldn’t help to be in awe of it all over again. Baldur’s Gate 3 has one of the most exciting starts in modern games. The stakes are high from the first moment, and it hooks us into the story and the characters before the gameplay even begins.

Baldur's Gate 3's character creation menu
My first character in Baldur’s Gate 3, the half-elven bard, Sierra.

Once we are properly tadpoled and on our way to becoming an illithid thrall, we get to the character creation. There’s a surprisingly low amount of customization when it comes to the characters’ appearances, but considering the different races and subraces, there are enough options to create a good-looking character. Even though I was initially disappointed at first, and though I might’ve missed certain options to customize the character further, I was satisfied with the result at the end. While Baldur’s Gate 3 offers less freedom when it comes to character appearance, it more than makes up for it in the mechanical aspect thanks to the D&D system.

We get to choose from the main 12 D&D classes, and with subclasses, multiclassing, and equipment, there are endless builds and variations to try on your character. We even get the option to respec the main character and our companions early on in the game, so there’s nothing stopping us from experimenting and trying unique builds. I started as a half-elven bard, hoping to use my high charisma to be more successful in dialogue and social challenges. I won’t spoil anything, but my silver tongue helped me talk my way through many challenges, even some minor boss fights.

The Nautiloid in Baldur's Gate 3.
I still can’t forget how amazing the background in this scene was. We just got out of our pods and are exploring the ship while hells literally broke loose.

Once we are done with the character creation, we are joined by Lae’zel, a Githyanki fighter who was also kidnapped by the mind flayers, and now we have to escape the mind flayers’ ship, the nautiloid. Before we get into the gameplay, I have to praise how amazing Baldur’s Gate 3 looks. I’ve been playing D&D for several years now, and outside of artwork, minis, and battle maps, the visualization happens in our own minds. Baldur’s Gate 3‘s graphics had to compete with the imagination of D&D players, and it actually manages to hold its own. The character design, animations, monster models, and especially environments look fantastic. My PC has been getting old, and the game runs smoothly on lower settings on older systems. But Baldur’s Gate 3 looks so good on ultra quality that I decided that it was time for an upgrade to my hardware, just to experience the game again with the highest settings.

If you are familiar with the D&D system, the gameplay of Baldur’s Gate 3 is very easy to get a grasp on. But if you haven’t played D&D or other CRPGs before, the UI and mechanics might seem a bit complicated. The tutorial does a decent job of introducing the player to different mechanics, but the learning curve will continue as you level up and gain new abilities and new companions. Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition is one of the simpler TTRPG systems, but learning it is still time-consuming. I believe Baldur’s Gate 3 simplifies it even more and teaches the mechanics at a decent pace to be accessible to players who are new to the genre.

A skeleton in Baldur's Gate 3 with a staff on his back
One of the early fights against a horde of undead. A very challenging and scary encounter for a low-level party.

The mechanics and gameplay of Baldur’s Gate 3 continue to expand, putting the 5th edition system to very good use. As a long-time D&D player, I was worried about the changes to some of the mechanics, but in the end, I think the changes served the game well. If you had a decent party composition, combat felt very balanced, and it was challenging and deadly where it needed to be. Fighting a few goblins with the help of NPCs lets you learn each character’s spells and abilities, and harder fights put that knowledge to the test. As I leveled up and progressed through the game, I tried a few different builds on each character. I managed to optimize my builds to the point that fights started to get easy, but even then, the game managed to throw challenging encounters at me in crucial moments where I either barely got by, or lost and had to load a previous save.

The combat is also where most of the flaws in Baldur’s Gate 3 show up. In larger fights, certain enemy AIs act irrationally or don’t act at all until you attack them. Camera angles might get glitchy indoors, but the tactical view fixes that issue in most cases. Pathfinding is inefficient if there are a lot of obstacles and enemies on the way, and certain attack animations might get stuck or not play at all if there’s a lot going on. While you might occasionally face these problems in your playthrough, they are few and far between that it doesn’t affect the overall experience of Baldur’s Gate 3.

Fighting mimic chests in Baldur's Gate 3
It won’t be D&D without mimics, and they actually gave me a slight jump scare the first time I opened a mimic chest.

I played on the normal difficulty and didn’t change any other gameplay settings such as the karmic dice. While looking through the three different difficulty options, the aspects that change with each setting shouldn’t change the overall experience. If you are new to the CRPG genre and are not familiar with the D&D mechanics, the explorer setting will still provide you with a fun and decently challenging experience. But if you are a veteran, you can challenge yourself by playing the tactician difficulty and turning off the karmic dice.

We get a small sample of the freedom of choice that Baldur’s Gate 3 offers in our escape from the nautiloid. While on our way to the helm of the ship, we find another captive trying to escape their holding pod. If we help and manage to save them, they will join our side in escaping the ship. But if we ignore their pleas for help, we might have an awkward conversation with them later on. It’s a small and unimpactful decision to introduce the player to a basic concept in the game. Our actions have consequences, and many of them go way beyond an awkward conversation.

A white dog next to a bloody corpse in Baldur's Gate 3.
Our first meeting with Scratch, the goodest boy in all the realms. It was actually a very heartbreaking scene especially if you had the speak with animals spell.

This is where the story and the world-building of Baldur’s Gate 3 shines. There is more than one way to solve almost all problems in the game. I got stuck through some quests, and after a while, I had to search online for answers, only to realize how much each player’s experience might differ from one another. I avoided looking up answers because it’s easy to spoil certain aspects of the story if you read through another player’s experience of the same stage of the game. We might both be doing the same quest in the same place, but the state of the world might be drastically different in each playthrough.

The experience of the story even differs based on the companions that you bring along. My main party included Karlack, Shadowheart, and Gale. Some of these companions’ quests and stories were so ingrained in the main story that I constantly kept wondering what it would be like if they were not with me. The final stages of Baldur’s Gate 3 also bring back many allies that you have made throughout your adventures to help you in the final fight, providing a nice summary of your adventures as you bring your journey to a close.

Lucretious, the fancy necromancer in Baldur's Gate 3.
A memorable and colorful NPC that we meet in the third act of the game. Lucretious the Necromancer.

Speaking of companions, it’s time to talk about the voice acting in Baldur’s Gate 3. For a game with about a dozen companions and hundreds of unique NPCs, the performances in this game are stellar. I especially loved the narrator’s mysterious and tempting performance by Amelia Tyler and Karlach’s excitable and emotional delivery by Samantha Béart. For me personally, a game’s sound design rarely catches my interest. I often listen to other music or watch youtube while playing games. But Baldur’s Gate 3 was one of the few games that grabbed a hundred percent of my attention with its atmospheric music, top-quality voice acting, and expansive sound effects.

The writing for most of the story, especially for NPCs and companions is really good. There are many memorable moments in dialogue and cutscenes. There are funny, serious, sad, and ridiculous moments to keep the world engaging and fresh. And while the bear scene rose a lot of controversy prior to the release of the game, the romances that I experienced in my playthrough were actually tastefully written. Certain companions’ story endings were disappointing and felt a bit rushed, and while Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t have the best writing in RPG video games, when it comes to party-based games of this scope, it does offer memorable interactions and an epic adventure overall.

The Dice rolling screen in Baldur's Gate 3.
My proudest dice roll in a crucial story moment for Shadowheart.

It’s not easy to write a review for a game like Baldur’s Gate 3. There is so much more I want to talk about but I’m afraid of spoiling the story if I go into any more details. The game has so much to offer, and it’s a complete and enjoyable experience on launch with no microtransactions and DLCs, something that we are getting less and less of each year with questionable AAA releases. There are many discussions on whether or not a successful game like Baldur’s Gate 3 should raise the expectation of players from AAA developers, and I think that alone is proof enough of what Larian Studios have achieved. They made us question the state of the gaming industry, and think about what a modern video game can achieve.

I played the game for 80 hours and enjoyed every single moment of it, but I also know that it’s not a game for everyone. If you don’t like turn-based combat or haven’t played CRPGs before, you might not get the appeal of Baldur’s Gate 3. But if you like CRPGs, story-driven games, or enjoy TTRPGs and heard all your friends talk about this game, then trust me, Larian Studios have rolled a natural 20, and you don’t want to miss it.

Nima played Baldur’s Gate 3 on Steam with a personal copy.

(Editor’s Note: The article originally incorrectly identified the voice actor for Karlach in the final release of the game as Shalla Nyx.  We regret the error.)

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