Baldur’s Gate 3 first impressions – An unfinished triumph

Posted on October 14, 2020

Baldur’s Gate 3 has launched into Early Access on PC recently with a big wave of players buying in to check out this hugely anticipated title. In fact the game has reportedly already sold over a million copies with the launch supposedly breaking Steam. All in all a very good start for this Dungeons and Dragons adventure.

So what’s with all the hype? Well that answer is two fold. Firstly, the Baldur’s Gate series is well loved and revered as classics in the CRPG genre of video game. It may have been 20 years since the last official Baldur’s Gate release, but that hasn’t stopped fans of the series from returning in droves to see what the new title has to offer. The second reason for the game’s success certainly has something to do with the game’s developers. Larian Studios are masters of the CRPG genre, and whilst they never developed the original two Baldur’s Gate titles, they did develop the much loved Divinity Original Sin games which are adored for their vast worlds and tactical, turn-based encounters.

Baldur’s Gate 3 kicks off in a Mind Flayer ship where the player character has been taken captive, alongside a drove of others, and where you get infected by a Mind Flayer parasite that will, after time, turn you into one of the beasts yourself. The opening tutorial level of the game is similar to the opening of Divinity Original Sin 2 with your ship eventually crashing and the player winding up on a beach where they can begin their adventure. Despite the similarities, Baldur’s Gate 3 does a fantastic job of tutorialising the basics and setting the player off on an adventure with high stakes. It won’t be long before you come across other characters who are able to join your party and soon you’ll be off looting, killing and roleplaying.

“Much like Dungeons and Dragons, Baldur’s Gate 3 seems built for coop play.”

The game is playable with up to 4 players cooperatively and I must say coop seems to me to be the best way to experience this game. Unlike Divinity Original Sin, from what I’ve seen so far, there’s no “Lone Wolf” trait that allows you to go at the adventure solo. The experience seems much more geared towards a party based experience which either means you control all 4 characters yourself and attempt to immerse yourself in the roleplaying of all 4 characters simultaneously or you find a friend or 3 to share that load. Much like Dungeons and Dragons, Baldur’s Gate 3 seems built for coop play. However some bugs in the Early Access release does make coop play in particular a little more frustrating.

I’ve had an opportunity to spend a good amount of time with Baldur’s Gate 3 now and first impressions for this title are mostly positive from me. As a big Divinity Original Sin fan, I’ve found a lot to love within Baldur’s Gate 3 that I think the Baldur’s Gate fans will learn to love, even if it doesn’t strictly stay true to the typical Baldur’s Gate formula. Larian has found a way to create combat and general gameplay moments that advances the CRPG genre and makes for a really engaging user experience. Those same traits are found in Baldur’s Gate 3 and it makes for the type of game you can lose yourself in for hours.

As an Early Access product, Baldur’s Gate 3 is incomplete and obviously so. I can spend a lot of time singing the praises of this game, and I still intend to do so, but it’s also important to note that players will find bugs, a lack of polish, and other incomplete elements whilst playing Baldur’s Gate 3. And honestly, if I was capable of being a more patient person, I probably would have benefitted from waiting until release to check out this game. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still hours of enjoyment to be found even in the Early Access release. But you’re certainly going to be missing out on a level of ‘completeness’ that isn’t available yet. Texture pop in is very common, some moments of dialogue don’t appear to have any lip dub animations currently, the game’s narrative isn’t yet complete, and there’s a whole myriad of other noticeable elements that could use iteration and polish. I’m not necessarily disappointed by the release of Baldur’s Gate 3, given that it was always clear we were getting an Early Access product, although if you were to go from playing Divinity Original Sin 2 in its current state to Baldur’s Gate 3, you will notice a decline in quality. However if you’re willing to push through those elements, there’s still heaps here to get excited about.

Baldur’s Gate 3 truly does cling to its Dungeons and Dragons heritage. DnD fans will notice it immediately, from the dice rolls on encounters to the spells, classes and races available. Passive skill checks mean certain elements can remain hidden without you even knowing and the general rules of DnD fit in quite well with the Larian formula. Anybody who has spent some time with DnD or the Baldur’s Gate series in the past will see systems here that are intelligently implemented and feel really satisfying in a ‘familiar yet different’ way. The narrative and lore of the world is also darker than what Larian has produced in the past, sticking closer to the history of the franchise. It’s all the better for it too, with some mature and interesting narrative moments that were more compelling to me than what came out of the Divinity Original Sin titles.

As a big Divinity player, I also noticed some new elements that gives the player more options and expands on the roleplaying aspects of the game. Even basic systems like a push or jump bring in new possibilities for the player.

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On occasion, it does unfortunately feel as though the DnD ruleset that Larian is abiding by is hampering their creativity to some degree. I think combat in particular feels a little underwhelming and slow at current and will hopefully see some iteration before release. Missing attacks is never really fun and it just seems like there’s not as many environmental elements you can utilise to your advantage during combat when compared to Divinity Original Sin 1 & 2. The same can be said about the way spells and attacks interact with one another. Larian’s past games have had some of the best turn-based combat I’ve ever seen. Whilst Baldur’s Gate 3 is still very good, I can’t help but feel the combat is a bit more limited. I do hope that further into the game more combat and attack options open up however we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.

Ultimately, Baldur’s Gate 3 is quite an enjoyable experience, however a clearly unfished one. I’m excited to see what Baldur’s Gate 3 will eventually turn into. The possibility of storytelling, world building and roleplaying here is expansive and tantalising. The core systems that have been put in place leaves me feeling confident in Larian’s abilities to evolve the Baldur’s Gate franchise and produce a quality product. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in some aspects of the game’s combat and lack of polish, although I’d be a fool to go into an Early Access product expecting perfection. Personally I look forward to following along with this game and seeing where it goes from here.