Back when I talked about Divinity: Original Sin 2, I waxed about the many organically comical situations I found myself in while playing it simply because of that game’s systemic randomness.
The studio behind that game, Larian Studios, a developer out of Belgium, is known for having developed some of the most technically impressive physics systems around, which creates all sorts of crazy situations. They far outweigh the many issues that come with playing something with such complex architecture running under the hood. Things like bugs, glitches and the occasional impossible scenarios that are implicit with such ambitious projects are par for the course for anyone that’s played them over the years.
And it wouldn’t be any different with Baldur’s Gate 3. Now, the last few weeks following the release of the finished game, which has been in early access for the last three years, garnered a lot of controversy, mainly from some flaming articles coming out of outlets, stating that developers should be afraid of the scope and ambition of this game and how that sets the expectations of their public.
Knowing Larian as I have over the past couple of decades, I know that they put their heart and soul into making this game and that definitely isn’t the goal they had in mind when making this. It must be incredibly annoying to be the center of such petty squabble, especially now that Baldur’s Gate 3 is out of their door and available as complete as intended.
But the point of this article is not to discuss such topics. Instead, I wanted to talk about what makes Baldur’s Gate 3 tick, and in that, how things that probably weren’t hailed as priorities in its design process are elements that I most enjoy when playing it. Sure, knowing that it emulates D&D 5th edition rulebooks is fine and dandy, and I’m as much of a save-scammer now as I always have been thanks to that, but it’s definitely not what I’m here for.
Now, an unpredictable encounter, oh damn, count me in. And there are plenty of those to be had in this. Even ten minutes into the adventure, during the very first encounter, I’ve managed to get completely different outcomes when starting out.
Baldur’s Gate 3 opens with your chosen character and a handful of others being hauled away by a mindflayer ship, wherein all are infected by a parasite which in time will turn you into a tentacled abomination. Free from your captors due to an all-out attack on the flying ship, you sneak your way around trying to figure out a way off that mess, all the while having the opportunity to free your fellow prisoners.
Once through a few of the contraption’s sections, you’re faced with your first big fight, where one of your captors is squaring off a captain of the invading force. All the while, it wants you to get ahold of the ship’s controls before you’re blown to smithereens. But before you can actually do that, you still have to square off against some lower class demons, and that’s where the infamous version 5 rules start popping up in Baldur’s Gate 3.
For starters, this is the first of the series to actually show you dice rolls on screen and the bonuses you can apply before you challenge your 20-sided adversary. Before, these rolls happened out of view, and you pretty much had to accept it whatever the consequence, but having it be visually displayed brings its own share of annoyances to someone like me, who likes playing by those consequences when they help me get the best experience possible.
In this, though, seeing the cogs turning and not going my way exactly forces me to be much more of a save-scummer than I usually am in these affairs, even more so with Larian’s past efforts. Case in point, this first real fight in the game. I must have restarted it over 10 times before the odds came to my rescue and I was able to get away unscathed. And that’s something that’s been happening ever since with just about every other encounter, where success teeters on the edge of absolute failure at every step.
Fairly shortly after your eventual escape from the clutches of the mind flayers, you’re dropped off at a seemingly deserted beach, and a few steps later, you find the remains of the very ship you were being held minutes before. In it — you guessed it — there are more demons to fight off, but this time, the dice are especially evil, and knowingly, you’re way over your head for that point in the adventure, where you’ve barely leveled your characters.
But the worst comes a bit after, when you approach a couple of grave robbers having an argument. Surely, you can just get down and start fighting them, but there’s the option of putting your luck where your mouth is, or better put, where your die lies. With a roll, you can either intimidate or wiseass your way through without having to draw blades against these dudes, but regardless of the outcome, it’s disappointing that soon after you have no choice but to fight, as you enter their den and have to contend with their friends.
Deeper inside, after dealing with the opposition, an even harder encounter is inevitably going to take place, against skeletons guarding a tomb. Even though they’re simply made of bones and not much else, they prove to be quite a handful and can definitely put an early end to your party. Thanks to the damned dice, I had to save-load my way through the entire thing, and barely escaped by the seat of my pants. Out of the three party members I’ve had up to that point, only one scraped by, having to revive the others and dive into a long rest before continuing on.
In Larian’s past games like Divinity: Original Sin 2, in comparison to Baldur’s Gate 3, I felt like there were options that somehow made it possible to survive such encounters, and those not only gave me means to get by, but do so in a manner deemed clever, making it especially rewarding to do so. All the while, in BS3, it’s usually a matter of odds mandated by the dice, of trial and error, instead of the cleverness of before.
Then again, there is space for that in this game, but noticeably less of it. And given that on top of the randomness that I myself adore is that layer of visual dice rolls, it doesn’t exactly feel like happenstance, but artificial draws.
But outside of that, given the grand scope of Baldur’s Gate 3, it’s an acceptable limitation, and on the grand scheme of things, it’s a smaller gripe than what we could have with some of the bugs found in the game, like sometimes not being able to talk to your party members individually, something that’s happened to me repeatedly in the 15 or so hours with the game.
With these arguments out of the way, is Baldur’s Gate 3 the magnanimous game that some publications will have its readers believe is unshakeable, barring perfect? One that other developers should be afraid of and not just take note? Of course not. It’s an amazing accomplishment to be fair, an epic product that has been in development for well over five years, and available in early access for about half that time.
With these details in mind, it’s quite possible to state that yes, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a very well put together RPG and that it’s undeniably well worth picking up, but with the caveat that it’s far from being a perfect game in any way. And while saying that, there’s the added note that even though it’s not a flawless product, there are inherent qualities that make it even better of a game because of it.
Knowing these points is paramount for your overall enjoyment for sure, and they’re something that make playing Baldur’s Gate 3 feel like having an unpredictable dungeon master along for the ride, one who’s a stickler for rules and that can throw a heck of a wrench onto your gears without even batting an eye. The actual blow by blow of playing this game is very much an experience akin to a tabletop, and for that, Larian is to be commended.