Baldur’s Gate 3: A Realistic Look at the Long Awaited Game

Baldur’s Gate 3 was released for early access on October 6 – so you can purchase the game and begin playing the first part of the game even though it isn’t yet completed. Even with this being only an early access version with game features and cinematics still incomplete, the game is certainly playable and worth grabbing if you are itching to play it as soon as possible. Enough of it is available to get a real feel for the game and have lots of fun.

The original Baldur’s Gate was released by Bioware on December 21, 1998 with Baldur’s Gate II releasing on September 21, 2000. The games provided a much more open world with many more interactions available to players than other RPGs of the era and was largely mimicked by even Paradox Studios in their design for Tyranny on November 10, 2016. Icewind Dale was also released by Black Isle Studios (whom had developed ports for the Baldur’s Gate series) on June 29, 2000 and Icewind Dale II was released August 27, 2002. These games used the rules of Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition and set their stories in the Forgotten Realms universe.

Beamdog had remastered these games beginning in 2012, adding a handful of new features and providing the entire game without repeatedly swapping out CDs, but little if anything was done in terms of graphics. The third installment was long believed to be eventually released by Beamdog, but it seems that the license switched hands in 2018. Rather, this game is being released by Larian.

Typically my articles about games tend to be mainly a list of features that can make the game better, but this article will be much less on my typical advice and much more on covering what has been done. I do intend to have a discussion regarding something that I think is outside of Larian’s hands, but let us look at the game itself here. However, just for good measure:

I am stating unequivocally that Larian may take these ideas and put them into action without providing me with any compensation whatsoever outside of providing a better product for me to purchase. I waive any legal right which obligates any compensation or presumes any ownership of the ideas on my part. With that said, I won’t refuse any completely voluntary compensation (via my Patreon page below) – I just don’t demand it. Completely optional.

Fun fact: to date I have gotten $5 from one person on my Patreon page – over 3 years – probably not going to be seeing anything.

What Features are Missing

Menu screen for Baldur’s Gate III

As you can see from my screen here: the difficulty is set on classic (see the lower right corner) – and I have typically played these games on easy levels, particularly the first game in any series as low level characters die very, very easily. In fact, I downloaded the save game editors to cheat the hell out of my characters – because life is challenging and stressful and sometimes you want to feel like a deity going through and smiting people. I have certainly come across points in the game where it just feels too hard with these low level characters and I’m considering slaughtering some innocents just for the XP boost. But there is no ability to change the difficulty level yet and I suspect we will both be able to make it easier and more difficult by at least one degree in the future. It’s early yet, but I’ve been frustrated to find no save game editors and the one trainer I found, made by a WeMod, a group that I’ve successfully used trainers for other games, does not work.

When you get to create your character, after a short cutscene, you’ll see the opportunity to select origin – as of yet, you can only do this for your custom character, who is named Tav unless you type a decent name in that box. The other names you see there apply to other characters you can have travel with you once you find them and so likely will mean that in a later release you will be able to edit them – their skills and appearance, perhaps even their class, but it isn’t there yet.

There is much that you can do to customize your character’s appearance, though body shape is not one of them nor can you recolor the armor that you are wearing – the latter being something that was available in the original games. You can still change races, faces, hair, makeup and pick the colors for it all.

You only have a few races and classes to choose from, though certainly enough to get started – notably missing some such as gnomes or druids – but that is something that seems likely to be expanded upon in the future.

You will also come across places where the characters you speak to won’t move their lips or it will say “[cinematic pending]” because the cinematic isn’t done yet – but I see these as just a cause to replay the game later as it is still absolutely playable.

There is the ability to send things to wares by right-clicking on items in your inventory, though this just puts a marker over it and when looking for what it even meant I simply got some forum/reddit posts suggesting that it is in other Larian games where you should be able to “sell all wares” but it hasn’t been input in there yet.

But, this isn’t much to be missing, and not enough to prevent a fan from playing the early access version.

Stability

It’s early access and so you might expect there to be all sorts of bugs and crashes – and there are notable crashes according to Larian – but with the game running for 65 hours on my computer – I did leave it on overnight on the first day – on the highest graphics settings possible, I’ve had one legitimate crash. I also had one where I had to close the program through task manager because once you’ve hit the windows key it will go black within a second of clicking back onto the program. Otherwise I was amazed at the stability.

It lagged at times, especially in battle but sometimes during dialogue, but it only crashed once. In lots of recent games I’ve played, such as the graphically bereft Crusader Kings III, it will lag on a zoom and you just wait a few seconds to see the game crash outright – and Paradox probably doesn’t even know that because it’s error reporter doesn’t work – but this game manages to clear the cache and continue playing. There may be some work to do on preventing the overload in the first place, but I was pleasantly surprised that it stays running. There should be no need for praise here, but because the market is saturated with games that are utterly incapable of doing this basic task it is something to be praised.

Comparing Graphics and Gameplay

Graphics have greatly improved between the earlier versions, including the Beamdog remasterings, and what we have today. Certainly, personal computers in 1998 could not handle graphics like we see in this game, but Beamdog didn’t give us an upgrade. There were a handful of standard pictures to use, all which also applied to another character in game, and you had to go look for custom pictures to add or create your own (which DeviantArt turns out to be a great resource to find great pictures to convert). But that is no longer an issue in Baldur’s Gate III.

Compare the original Baldur’s Gate‘s character creation above, showing both the character as they appear in the world and the custom picture (taken from some artist or another on DeviantArt for non-commercial purposes) to the new three dimensional model we can literally rotate and design in Baldur’s Gate III. Given Paradox’s Tyranny using such similar of a look to the original Baldur’s Gate as late as 2016, I was hoping for a notable upgrade but nothing this advanced. Throughout the game you don’t rely upon sprites of your character at all, but rather a proper three dimensional model that was impossible two decades ago, and we enjoy the same throughout battles and cutscenes.

In fact. It is also breaking some barriers, as female characters can have beards – and I’m not sure who wants their female characters to have beards, but they can. It is nice to have the option anyway.

Two custom characters interacting in a cutscene

Everything is voice acted now – not just battle cries, characters breaking the fourth wall to call you a slave driver, and quick phrases to cover a long dialogue. I haven’t come across anything quite as hilarious as Minsc yelling “Go for the Eyes Boo! Go for the eyes!!” but the dialogue is much more engaging this way, if less able to be modded. I trust that we will get some hilarity out of this game yet, rather than just cuteness from animals.

However, we are bound by the rules of Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition, something I will be discussing in greater detail further down. Rather than our traditional rules that allow characters to roll – and reroll – for randomized stats which can be given to six attributes, the fifth edition is much more restrained in this regard, granting extra points to basic stats based on race and class and allowing minimal optimization therein. Gone are the days of rerolling until you get favorable stats when creating your character. In fact, other than where a race provides bonuses above 15, the new game will no allow you to start with any stat above that 15.

Picking your stats in the original Baldur’s Gate, and its derivatives, you would look for an acceptable total roll and ascribe the stats as you like, limited to what a roll of 18 could give you.

You can see this with an Elven cleric and a Githyanki cleric with the same stats input. The elf has a +2 dexterity bonus and no strength bonus, while the Githyanki has a +2 strength bonus and no dexterity bonus. My strength cannot be over 15 for the elf and dexterity cannot be below 10, while the Githyanki can have 17 strength and 8 dexterity.

There is also a wild difference in fight mechanics. While Baldur’s Gate used a real time combat system that you had to pause in order to make timely adjustments, Baldur’s Gate III uses a turn-based system relying on initiative more in line with the rules of Dungeons and Dragons. We also don’t have to worry about our spellcasters using up valuable magic on low level enemies based on scripts that don’t specify when to use which spells. However, we lost the ability to pause outright, even when going to the options screen. Downed players begin losing a hit point a turn once downed until they die 10 turns later as opposed to dying immediately and possibly permanently in the earlier games. You can shove throw opponents – something missing previously – and the terrain is much more integral to how you fight, especially with two dimensional maps being replaced with three dimensional maps. Throwing oil on the ground can be used to create not only a slippery surface, but also a trap that can be later ignited into flames surrounding enemies and allies alike.

The world is also much changed in that rather than having certain areas mapped, which you could explore and use the four edges to determine which new area you could discover – it is for the most part one big map. Certain areas might cause you to enter a new map, but the space between the druid enclave to a destroyed village is completely walked as opposed to jumping immediately between the two areas. One drawback of this approach is that things are much closer together than they really should be. It would be nice to have much more open areas between the places you seek out, perhaps where there are more monsters to fight – and grind your way to glory. The quick travel option that they have already would mean you wouldn’t have to do it more than once. I would certainly be willing to sacrifice the fluidity of the world to make such distances more possible. Perhaps it would be a reason to buy horses and wagons and the like to make those distances faster.

In the earlier games you had to possess letters or books to read them, but now you can read them where they lie in the world. In fact, I only recently learned that you can take these books by right-clicking on them and choosing “pick up” or “steal.”

Most of the books are more detailed than this, providing a lengthy passage that may cover a couple pages, but reading works out just fine.

Some items can be moved rather freely on the map – such as empty chests. However, I’m not sure how that can benefit you in battle, only that it sometimes let you reach objects behind them.

The economy, however, is quite screwed up. The standard rules that have applied since time immemorial have been that you sell items for half the price that you buy them for – it is certainly the standard in older versions of Dungeons and Dragons and even playing games loosely based on the system such as Final Fantasy saw the same economy in place. However, this is shattered in Baldur’s Gate III. Trading with a merchant I have seen where they wanted 1050 gp for a 600 gp piece of equipment – so I sold things I could find at around 1/3 their value until I had enough to afford the armor – only to find they were asking for around 1500 gp for it now. There is no seeming rhyme or reason for the prices and they shed doubt on the values provided for the items to begin with. Mind you, he had gained back the gold he paid me in the interim.

There are some nice additions that you can now actually use Speak with Animals and Speak with the Dead – and yes the animals are cute in their replies often, and seeming without it being the animal’s intention to be so. I have spoken to cows who told me about how they eat “the shinies” that are hidden in their troughs to teach their ranchers a lesson and a bear that was very concerned that the druids and myself could understand him but the famous Volo seemed to not understand him at all. If you have a ranger, the spell “speak with animals” lasts all day in this game so I strongly suggest speaking with these animals.

Yes, that dog is talking, not a third person out of frame.

The character screens also need some work yet. I could find nowhere to recall what proficiencies my character did or did not have and it is less clear than ideal how much more experience was needed to level up. It is good overall, but a few tweaks are needed. It could be made much more appealing if we had a single character screen that could show a much larger picture of them, perhaps commenting on what kind of character they are showing themselves to be.

The Limitations of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition

Before I even go into this, I would like to point out that I don’t believe that Larian has any choice but to use the fifth edition rules in this game. Older versions are out of print – which is why the 3.5 Monster Manual IV is going for $60 on eBay, though I got all the others for no more than $35. They get their license from the people who have created these books – specifically the creators of the Forgotten Realms, TSR. The company is going to be insistent that the game help sell their current product – it is a limitation of capitalism – and while I would love to see Larian branch out later and leave the setting behind to create a similar game based on a better version of Dungeons and Dragons, capitalism can be expected to be standing in the way of that. Yes, capitalism limits your games and socialism would likely result in much better developed games with more creative freedom.

But, one of the more disturbing things I have read was in a Polygon article:

It seems like a lighthearted moment, but for fans of the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons — which Baldur’s Gate 3 is based on — it’s evidence that the team at Larian gets it. The latest version of D&D is all about improvisation. It’s part of the reason why actual play experiences have become such a big deal. Anything can happen, and it’s fun to bend the rules. The team at developer and publisher Wizards of the Coast goes to great lengths to give Dungeon Masters the tools they need to be flexible

Different versions of Dungeons and Dragons provide different things to players and different players prefer different systems. What the fifth edition provides, however, is not flexibility and improvisation. Rather, it provides simplicity – the rules are simplified and, in a sense, it is a return to the roots of the franchise being more like the original allowing players to focus more on roleplay. This is distinct from the fourth edition that eschewed roleplay for pure combat, and the third edition which is a more complex version of the second edition and newer players found the calculations and rules more cumbersome. If you want simplicity you play the first or fifth editions; if you want to just go around killing shit you play the fourth edition; if you want customization and freedom you play the third edition or 3.5. In fact, I own more books on 3.5 than exist for the fifth edition, all purchased after it went out of print. I also have every single 3.5 book published by Wizards of the Coast themselves on PDF, for free, because it’s out there, you can’t find used versions of them all, and since Wizards isn’t selling them they cannot claim damages from piracy – I searched their website in and out to find where they sold these old edition books and they don’t.

If someone truly wanted to have freedom, they would seek out 2.5 or 3.5 – they have a much more customizable framework with a lot more races and classes, along with monster races possessing monster classes, entire books dedicated to alternate rules. Can a player take off their boot and throw it at an enemy in 3.5? They absolutely can throw their boot or any other item they can lift. Rather than limited proficiencies, they have skill levels with various skills based on their class or adopting one of two official feats that allow them to make all skills class skills. There are two books dealing with psionics alone. All this customization of skills and feats and juggling both bonuses and penalties to stats based on race can be cumbersome on paper; it can be tiring to calculate each and every skill roll; but they would be very manageable as the mechanics of a computer game where the computer keeps track of all this and calculates it for you.

I almost played the fifth edition once – and I was holding my nose through the simplified mechanics that made my character seem uninspiring and cookiecutterish – until the DM decided that the 8th level characters would begin with the money and equipment of a first level character. I backed out of playing at that point – thinking the DM was a bad DM who would punish his players – and I was right as the person who invited me in confirmed my suspicion that the DM did not suddenly give good rewards early on to allow players to properly equip themselves. While much of this was on the DM, the fact remains that 3.5 allows much more customization and freedom for characters, especially with a good DM, than the fifth edition can provide. I’m not sure that the fifth edition even allows for epic levels and it certainly doesn’t allow for multiclassing. The classes are much more standardized with fewer options and I felt it really was poopooing the idea playing an evil character because clerics can only turn undead – whereas evil or neutral clerics could rebuke them instead in 3.5. It is good for beginners who want to focus on the roleplaying aspect of the game – something that has no real value on a computer game which already limits your roleplaying to predetermined dialogue paths, no matter how well written.

The fifth edition is plainly an inferior edition to adapt to the PC because its strengths are lost in the translation to PC while 3.5’s strengths shine and, in contrast, its weaknesses are erased in the translation.

I would love to see Larian create a game of this caliber using the 3.5 mechanics – they are clearly skilled at bringing mechanics into the game which were once the sole realm of our collective imagination on the tabletop. Whether they could use their license with TSR to do so or whether they could get an alternate license directly from the Wizards of the Coast to create their own world that they are no doubt capable of making would be to be seen. However, I have no doubt that they would be very capable of making an amazing game with those mechanics and the storyline could have a much longer life. One game taking characters through the first ten levels followed by another taking them to twenty, entering then epic levels in the third and taking on gods themselves in a fourth. However, it doesn’t sell the current product and we are stuck without access to the superior, generic drug in favor of the patented drug that can be hyped to more profit.

The Story

Baldur’s Gate took us through the life of a Bhaalspawn, the mortal spawn of the God Bhaal, and Baldur’s Gate II continued their story as a powerful wizard tries to steal their profane power. Baldur’s Gate III leaves this twenty year old story behind and instead gives us a hero(ine) who abducted by mindflayers and have a tadpole embedded in their eye that connects them telepathically with others who have suffered the same experience and (s)he seeks to have the parasite removed before they are transformed into a mindflayer themselves – though the process seems to be more the tadpole coming to its own by reorganizing the host’s body into a new body for itself. This is not a spoiler – this is the premise.

The particular premise does seem to put a timer on you, though I am still unsure whether or not you can run out of time. I have had nights which were uneventful followed by a very eventful storyline night that makes me fearful again to rest too often to regain powers and hit points – encounters avoided to minimize the risk.

Yet, it is compelling. It may lack miniature giant space hamsters – though I cannot guarantee that it does lack them – but the characters appear well fleshed out with distinct personalities and backstories. The choices you come across are not clear cut, but rather are more realistic with right and wrong across the board and moral quandaries you truly have to grapple with. Each character, significant or not, has something unique to say and the world shapes itself to your decisions.

There is something to be said about the perception of the characters though. I killed a druid, yet none of the other druids ever discovered it even though they should have come across the body. I was surprised to gain passage by goblins in an area – as a new choice popped up that I didn’t have in other playthroughs – but when I killed a bunch of them, two days later the other goblins didn’t even question my presence. This is useful for my propensity toward cheating in single player games, but hardly realistic.

Conclusion

All-in-all, the game is very promising at this early state – certainly much more promising than Red Dead Redemption 2 Online was. All games can be improved, but this one should be well worth the money once it is complete and worth the early purchase now for fans of the series. If you are a Dungeons and Dragons fan, you should pick this one up if you can afford it – especially if the sixth edition turns back towards being more like the third edition – because we need someone to be creating Baldur’s Gate games when that happens.

I know I griped about a few flaws, but they pale in comparison to most of what is on the market. The strengths here are many and there is strong reason to believe things will get much better by the time early release is replaced with the official release.

All images are in game captures.  Fair use.

This work is unpaid because this is not a for-profit site.  If you want to help support this work and more like it in the future, please consider becoming a patron of mine on Patreon on my page.  Funds will not only help me transition to writing full-time but will allow me to purchase professional images for the articles.

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