For just shy of a month now, gamers everywhere have been buried in Larian Studios’ Baldur’s Gate 3. Heck, one of my own friends just kicked off their fourth playthrough. Another friend is running three playthroughs simultaneously. That same friend hasn’t gotten out of Act 1 in any of them, and he’s hundreds of hours in.
That, my friends, is a very dense game.
It’s been a treat to watch so many of my friends spend hours in character creation, and dive into the many conflicts, political and otherwise, in the succeeding time. The game runs like butter, but I’m talking Challenge grade butter, not the store brand stuff you find at Safeway. And best of all, despite that fact that the game is a video game adaptation of Dungeons and Dragons including races, classes, gameplay mechanics, settings, and lore, you don’t have to have any experience in any of those things to be able to dive in and start consuming with reckless abandon. This game was designed for anyone who wants to take a chance and roll the dice. And that’s just one of the many key takeaways that all game developers can get from the success of Baldur’s Gate 3.
To be abundantly clear: yes, the game runs beautifully, it looks incredible, it plays incredible, but I am absolutely not saying that that is the expectation of gamers moving forward. It isn’t fair to expect that every AAA game that releases over the next decade will be of the exact same caliber, because many of them aren’t designed to be of that caliber, and are catered to specific audiences. That is ok. That is encouraged. What we can take away from Baldur’s Gate’s success is what good comes from understanding your audience, understanding what works for gameplay as a gamer, and being transparent with expectations right from the get go.
Character creation is not new in video games. If anything, it even seems to be getting out of hand in some respects (don’t even get me started on how long I spent building my character in Elden Ring). Baldur’s Gate 3, however, distinguishes itself with its player-centric design, evident from the very beginning. This customization is not merely cosmetic; it extends to how players navigate the game world, solve problems, and engage in storytelling.
Being a Druid is going to make it much easier to convince that adorable dog to come with you and join your party. Being a Tiefling is going to throw up obstacles at every turn as everyone else stereotypes you and dismisses you. Your character choices impact how you experience the world. In turn, the world responds to your choices, both physically and based on your actions. The game’s design philosophy underscores the importance of letting players shape their experiences, an aspect that developers across genres can incorporate.
Character creation may be common, but the hours I spend in character creation for Elden Ring or Fallout really don’t matter too much and aren’t going to change the core experience for me. It’s one aspect of development that is certainly possible, though no doubt challenging. However, the rewards to the player experience certainly seem like they’d be worth the effort.
Despite being an adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons, complete with its races, classes, and lore, Baldur’s Gate 3 welcomes newcomers with open arms. It doesn’t demand prior knowledge, allowing players of all backgrounds to dive into the adventure. The “Dungeon Master” is the game’s narrator, who, with that cool and collected velvety voice, provides oversight of your adventure every step of the way. When a decision needs to be made, the game highlights which of your traits come into play, allowing you to decide if the odds of success are worth the risk. And of course, you aren’t stuck trying to figure out math or different stats in order to determine your actions in a fight.
This accessibility is a lesson for game developers—creating a welcoming entry point for newcomers can expand a game’s reach without alienating existing fans. To be sure, this isn’t something new; but oftentimes, “tutorial” levels for games can feel bulky, endless, and disorienting. You can learn the aspects of how to play the game by jumping straight into it and making choices that maybe aren’t critical, but show the level of involvement you as a player can have in the game.
One of the hidden gems of Baldur’s Gate 3’s success is the sense of community it fosters. You can’t scroll the likes of YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter and not be overwhelmed by clips showcasing tips, tricks, impressive feats, or hilarious failures every other post. And the welcoming and accepting nature of the community is a breath of fresh air in an oftentimes toxic place, where communities and fandoms are often lamenting negative experiences in their games in unproductive ways.
I should know about toxic communities, I’ve been a Halo player since I was 13. What a learning experience it could be if developers were creating spaces for players to interact in, fostering a sense of belonging, and turning their games into hubs for discussion and collaboration. And no, MMOs don’t count (and that’s not a diss on MMOs). But for developers to create and sustain in game communities for their players showcases a willingness and a desire to hear the feedback, apply it, and make it readily accessible. There’s opportunity that exists here.
But how do you manage player expectations? More and more over the last decade, we’ve seen sordid tales of developers overpromising on their games and then underdelivering in catastrophic fashion (hello, No Man’s Sky!) and the damage that’s often done is difficult to undo. Gamers don’t forget, for better or worse. In recent months, we’ve seen an admirable example from Bethesda about setting expectations for Starfield, their brand new space exploration RPG that, in fact, just dropped for those who had purchased the premium early access bundle.
They shared that there were “over a thousand” planets to discover, but only a small percentage of them were populated beyond being empty sandboxes. They shared gorgeous graphics and impressive character renderings, but conceded the game would cap at 30fps on consoles, a sacrifice necessary to compensate for the massive scope of the game. So far (on my limited first few hours of the game), this feels accurately depicted to me. Hyping up a game is all well and good until the developers are called to be responsible for it. You can share enthusiasm and fun features for your game, and also assure that expectations are realistic. Developers are still human, at the end of the day.
Baldur’s Gate 3’s triumph isn’t about setting unrealistic standards for the industry; it’s about embracing player-centric design, accessibility, managing expectations, and community-building. By understanding their audience, developers can create games that resonate deeply with players and forge enduring connections. As players, we care more about how a game makes us feel and how that in turn brings us back to it, more than anything else. We can see when a game chooses profit over quality. It will always be obvious.
In an industry that sometimes prioritizes profits over player satisfaction, Baldur’s Gate 3 reminds us that the true measure of success lies in delivering a cohesive, unforgettable experience. This is attainable on every level, and when it’s the number one priority, trust me, the audience will notice.