People these days more often tend to forget the history of gaming. Whether they deem it important or they are just consumed by the next thing, we sometimes forget the influence of the games that set the foundations for the titles we love today. For example, the RPG as we know it would be nothing if not for the two men who created Dungeons & Dragons back in 1971. Even today, the tabletop game is played across the world with some campaigns lasting years and countless memories being made amongst friends.
The influence of the game has transcended the groundwork for RPGs as we know them and has given many people the chance to escape from their everyday lives. The one thing that really cements D&D for most fans, is its freedom and flexibility, and its narrative of free choice and risk. Many RPGs pretend that the choices you make will affect the narrative, but most don’t as far as I’ve noticed. How would a video game based in the D&D universe factor in all the components that make the tabletop game so unique? Baldur’s Gate 3 is that answer, and I believe this will be the primary foundation for many RPGs to come.
Developed and produced by Larian Studios, Baldur’s Gate 3 is the third installment in the series with the original title having been released in 1998. Like its predecessors, Baldur’s Gate 3 takes place within the Forgotten Realms of the D&D universe, along with its rich characters and diverse enemies. Fans of D&D and new fans alike will find this game to be satisfyingly dedicated to its source material while also providing a completely unique experience. The game is very open for exploration and mostly everything is customizable.
The main narrative surrounds either your original character or one of the characters you can choose from in the creator portion at the beginning of the game. You and your party will find yourself captured on the ship of a Mind Flayer, and after escaping the endeavor you’ll quickly realize that you are infected with a deadly Mind Flayer parasite that is destined to change you. Now tasked with either removing the “tadpole” or embracing its powers, the choice is up to you. As you and your party traverse the Forgotten Realms of Faerun you’ll encounter friendship, romance, betrayal, battle, and sacrifice. The decisions you make and the friends you allow into your group will determine your legacy, whether it’s good or evil.
The game starts with you choosing a character in the creator menu. This section could be very daunting for new players who are unfamiliar with D&D, but luckily everything has a little paragraph that will explain definitions and such. You can choose from original premade characters that have their own rich storylines, or you can create a completely original character. Either way, you will most definitely run into all the premade characters as you progress. The characters that will most likely be in your group are Astarion, Gale, Lae’zel, Shadowheart, Wyll, Karlach, and the Dark Urge. Each character has a very deep back story that you can find out more about through conversations and building trust. Even if you don’t choose one of them in the beginning, you can still recruit them and play as them when you build your group. The game has three acts and is mostly focused on the journey to Baldur’s Gate.
If you choose to create your own character, you have plenty of options to choose from. First, you’ll start with choosing your class which will consist of many options, all of which will include particular perks that can help with different tasks. I chose to be a bard and that comes with perks in persuasion, spells, and charisma. I found it to be very useful since a lot of situations can be beneficial through persuasive conversations. After you choose your class, you can choose your race. You can be an elf, dwarf, half-elf, human, Tiefling, Drow, Githyanki, gnome, and more. After choosing your race you can add spells and advantages based on the class you chose. Aside from the action-based choices, you also have a lot of cosmetic freedom. You can choose your color, hair, eye color, age, and even how your private parts look. This game really does not hold back from anything and it allows for the experience to be way more immersive.
After creating or choosing your character, you are then ready to go out into the world. The beginning starts with you on the Mind Flayer ship. On the ship you’ll get a feel for navigation, camera, picking things up and storing, as well as combining items. When approaching a character the game will allow you to speak with them in a number of various ways. Some options will be particular to the class you chose, for example, a little bracket will say bard and I could say something witty or persuasive. Very much like the real D&D, we have a narrator who acts very much like the Dungeon Master. Her mysterious voice will act as your thoughts and even as your descriptive guide. Even though many things she narrates are apparent in front of you, this extra detail really dragged me more into the immersion.
As you move around and explore, you can do so in two options. You can literally just move your character like any other game, or if you click on the left stick, you can do point-and-click movement like the PC version of the game. I enjoyed the PS5 version visually in regards to how decluttered it looks compared to the PC version. I understand this game could be daunting with so many choices, actions, and items that sorting it is very particular for some players. Luckily you can access your radial dials by pressing R1. Here you can access all your spells, attacks, and items in a neat fashion. Over on the left side of the screen, you’ll see all the characters in your group. You can press L2 and choose which character to play as, or you can tell them to separate or wait. In this menu, you can press R1 if they are due for an upgrade or press L3 to check the character’s reactions, inventory, stats, and proficiencies. You are able to store items, drop them, and trade them as you wish.
Combat in the game is turn-based. When entering a battle the camera angle will shift to that of a tabletop perspective. Depending on your level and types of attacks, you’ll be able to see your advantages over enemies. Each character will have a bracket at the bottom of the screen that will show action, bonus action, movement, and spell slots. As you upgrade your abilities, all of these will increase but of course in the beginning you are very limited. You can select where you want your character to run but the movement numbers might be limited as well.
The best option is to check your long-range attacks and their percentage. Some enemies will dodge your attacks which makes the game way more strategic. Make sure to always look at your surroundings as many battles could be ended quickly by blowing things up or limiting the angles of attack. Once all action points are expended, you will press the triangle and end your turn. The number of characters in your party compared to how many enemies there are will define how many chances you have to attack.
If your party member is killed, you can revive them but they will only have one action point. You can also use healing spells to heal others or yourself. My biggest suggestion is to be very aware of the spells you chose and read carefully on how to use them to your advantage. You don’t want to have a bunch of spells that are not combat-oriented. Combat might take some getting used to and I believe it requires some patience, but I promise once you get the hang of it, every encounter will feel fresh and challenging enough that once it’s over you feel like you actually battled your way out. You can also change the difficulty settings at any point to one of the three options which are explorer, balanced, and tactician.
The map is blacked out but materializes as you travel around. You’ll see mission markers in the distance and it’s up to you to traverse the area and find paths to reach them. You’ll also find fast travel markers as glowing stone runes. You can use these to fast travel to nearby locations on the map, and it really makes the whole experience a lot easier. As you travel, make sure to interact with as many characters as you can. Some will automatically start talking to you while others wait for your approach. Conversations could unlock items, locations, side missions, and even romance. Characters can be added to your camp and there you can have conversations and build up deeper emotional connections, even romantic or just sexual. The game really spares no expense to the level of options and freedom.
The thing I love most about the game is the dice rolls. Just like the twenty-sided die of D&D, many of your actions will be based on the number you roll. For example, if you are trying to talk your way out of something the roll number might be a 15 to get past. If you roll lower it’ll be a failure and higher will be a success. The dice rolls add so much to the balance of the game and it makes it so much more fun. The game really feels alive and it is very easy to be consumed by, I promise you the hours will just start to fly by.
There is also a multiplayer option in which your friends can join your party and traverse your adventure alongside you. Keep in mind that the biggest component of playing D&D is having friends or at least people to play with, so this game is great in satisfying those aspects. You are also able to quickly save anywhere you are and you can regain health and more by resting in your camp. You can do a short rest and a long rest depending on your provisions so make sure to collect food. Unlike most games where you just go to bed and wake up, this game adds so much to the nighttime experience. You’ll have dreams, late-night rendezvous with lovers, and more. Baldur’s Gate 3 will keep you on your toes throughout.
The game is very long and you will definitely spend many hours being consumed in all its glory. There is a structure and a main narrative of course but it’s easy to get drawn in by all the side quests. Unlike some RPGs that make you feel like you have to grind, this game never felt that way. There are multiple ways to do things, sometimes it even felt like Hitman with all the angles of approach which I loved. A lot of the game is centered around discovery and trial and error. Nothing is really laid out or explained which makes things feel more free. Yes, there are guides online and I’m sure at some point we’ll have a manual because there is so much and so many things you might have never known. I believe this game to be a real contender for Game of the Year, mark my words.
Going into this review I didn’t know what to expect. D&D has surrounded my life for years but I never really took the time to get into it. In fact, my boss has a whole dungeon-decored room in our job dedicated to a D&D podcast and I never really took the time to play it. Baldur’s Gate 3 has changed that immensely for me. I am now in love with the lore and all the things it has to offer. For people who know the world by heart and newbies like me, this game will be one to reckon with for years to come. Baldur’s Gate 3 is now available on PC, and PS5, with an Xbox X/S version available in the near future. Good luck traveler.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Baldur’s Gate 3 for PlayStation 5 provided by Larian Studios.