“Not quite as amazing as reviewers claim. Still, a fantastic RPG and a nostalgia trip for Dungeons and Dragons kids of the Nineties.”
I explained to my niece that Baldur’s Gate was a generational game. Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadow of Amn was created in 2000 when I was her age. The Enhanced Edition updated the original classic game and Siege of Dragonspear added an interquel in 2016. However, creating a full-fledged sequel to a twenty-year-old game was something that I thought was a risk even with all the nostalgia packed in. Indeed, I concluded Baldur’s Gate 3 was probably something made by fans of the game from when I first played it in the Nineties who now had the chance to play with the toys as adults. Whether or not this is true, I certainly choose to believe that it is. It is the same sort of thing that I imagine about Spider-Man fans who grew up to write Spider-Man.
The game has received almost universal praise upon its release, calling it the redemption of the stand-alone RPG that has been undermined repeatedly by corporate greed as well as the dissolution of several famous studios. However, I’ve always felt this to be an exaggeration and the RPG market is still in pretty good shape. After all, we had The Witcher 3 as the “Savior of RPGs” recently and while that had a defined protagonist, I don’t think of that as necessarily a precursor from being a true RPG. After all, that would have eliminated the Nameless One from Planescape: Torment.
So, onto Baldur’s Gate 3. Is it any good?
Oh yeah, it’s fantastic. Just not quite as good as a lot of people are proclaiming. There’s a lot to like here and it reminds me of the best parts of Dragon Age: Origins and the original Baldur’s Gate but there’s more than enough to question as well. The game is pretty much a trigonometry textbook of inventory management and combat management that many fans will appreciate being more complex than the dumbed down version of other RPGs that some of us fans prefer.
No one was asking for the “invulnerability” mode that Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition had so you could just experience the story, but you will spend a lot of time trying to figure out what alchemy ingredients, vendor trash, and so on are important. Then there’s the save issues. The game has some automatic saves, but a large chunk of the game really does depend on you remembering to save often and well. Not because you’re going to die in the game, the game is pretty forgiving by giving you access to a Lich able to resurrect your party members for a paltry 200 gold (at least if you search for him). No, it’s because saving often will prevent you from doing something that annoys the hell out of you.
At one point, I sold a Wand of Resurrection that I was supposed to either give to a widow or break in front of her and it vanished from the vendor’s inventory too. Another incident is the fact that to stop a bunch of poison gas traps, you needed to have rocks to put on the vents. Which can mostly be gotten from your camp, which you can’t access this deep into the dungeon without major backtracking. This also doesn’t cover a lot of story beats that are decided by dice rolls that, bluntly, I’m fully willing to cheat on because I’d prefer to avoid a child being murdered by a snake because my super-charming CHR 17 Warlock apparently mumbled this time.
It’s still a fun game, don’t get me wrong. Indeed, the game strongly benefits from the fact that it embraces the absurd and weird of the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse. The opening of the game is that a bunch of Cthulhu-looking aliens (Illthids) abduct you with their MAGICAL SPACESHIP (Spelljammer), put a parasite in your brain, and you only escape because of another group of aliens (Githyanki) attack you on dragonack while you’re traveling through HELL. The premise is delightfully nuts and as crazy as a Gloryhammer album. They really need to do another Planescape or Dark Sun adventure with these guys.
The plot gets even more weird and complex, involving Netherese magic and gods long thought dead by most Dungeons and Dragons nerds not aware of how the setting was updated past 4th Edition. It also takes the somewhat old school approach that the first ACT of the game has you fighting goblins, owlbears, and other low-level enemies. A green hag is a particularly powerful boss if you choose to confront her. I was twenty hours into the game before I started moving from what was traditionally low-level monsters.
The companions are well-designed, but these are usually the most popular part of the game anyway. I think Mass Effect: Andromeda was the only game where the party members just went over like a wet fart with me. My favorite characters were Astarion, Lae’zel, Astarion, and Karlach. Which is a huge chunk of the party right there. The voice acting is great but seemingly every character in the game is voiced and that really adds to the sense of reality to the place.
The characters are a bit on the horny side, which is not so much a complaint as an observation. No sooner than I’d had a few conversations with Lae’zel, an alien from a bunch of race supremacists worshiping an undead lich queen, then she wanted to get down and busy. This applied to virtually all the other characters and they’re all player sexual too. This is a game that needed a “Flirt” button option versus some mixed signals being put out. The game has a nudity option, which is something that both The Witcher and Dragon Age: Inquisition had. I mostly mention this because I appreciate the idea that Mature Audiences who can see horrifying brain surgery with a demonic parasite aren’t going to be traumatized by nipples.
The world is pretty and well-designed but I’m going to be honest that a lot of the joy from this game (at least separating it from other games) will be the nostalgia factor from people who love Dungeons and Dragons. It’s the return of an old friend and you’re willing to overlook the bugs (which are minor but annoying) along with the fact you might have to go back to camp, remove a follower, recruit a follower, and then search their inventory to find some Infernal Iron that you need a for a quest versus having all quest items available.
Still, I’m going to give credit where credit is due, this is a solid game and if you have the patience to deal with the interface then you’re almost certainly going to enjoy this trip down memory lane. It’s probably the best game I’ve played since The Witcher 3 and not only has the massive open world RPG content of a hundred hours like, say, Assassins Creed: Odyssey but it’s actually worthwhile content.