Back in 1998, Interplay and BioWare unleashed an RPG by the name of Baldur’s Gate and it quickly changed what could be expected from a D&D based video game.
Set in the world of Forgotten Realms, Baldur’s Gate transported players to a universe of possibility, where choices mattered, and everything had a consequence. Now, over two decades later, the team at Larian Studios are picking up the mantel, and are looking to once again venture into the Forgotten Realms.
Baldur’s Gate III at first glace is unmistakably a Baldur’s Gate installment. From the way menus look, to the way you select your race, character and backstory. This is a game that gives you choices from your first decision to start up the game, and these will send shockwaves through how you play and the way NPC’s of the world react to you. Larian Studios, known for their work on Divinity: Original Sin are no strangers to an RPG of this nature. All their work has the feel they have been touched by what Bioware did in the past, and what Baldur’s Gate meant to countless late 90’s players. This connection to the subject matter comes in how every aspect of this new installment is crafted shows just how much a labour of love Baldur’s Gate III truly is.
Jumping into the gameplay session the team at Larian Studios have set up, the presenter has selected his class — in this case, a noble vampire spawn — and we start up the game. The intro cinematic gives us the first taste of what this new universe will look like, and get a look at the existential threat of this installment, the Mind Flayer, a psychic creature who steals away the citizens of cities and changes those he captures into more of his kind thanks to tadpoles though the eye. This is the situation we find our protagonist in, recently infected, and on a living ship currently being attacked by dragons.
As the dragons take down the massive ship, the demo session starts, and we get our first look at what Baldur’s Gate III looks like. Built with the new Divinity 4.0 engine, the team at Larian Studios have managed to capture the feel of the old titles, while giving it a modern, polished look. Allowing you to control the camera, and give more dynamic looks at the fully realized 3D world, Baldur’s Gate III is to put it simply, stunning. From the foliage that spatters the wilderness, to the rocks your character must overcome to reach his destination, it all feels polished and mesmerizing.
It is also here where we as an audience get our first taste of how hard Baldur’s Gate III truly is. While many modern titles hand-hold the user to ensure the game never feels too challenging early on, Baldur’s Gate III, once you are past the tutorial takes the training wheels off, and forces you to embrace the systems at your disposal and master them before you have any chance of overcoming the obstacles in your path.
Once a few of the smaller creatures where dispached, we finally got a look at how NPC’s will work in this new installment. With many of the people, you will meat for your party also being infected by tadpoles, there is a new psychic connection you will share with some members of your party. It is here you also can make choices that will alter your playthrough going forward. With you having to use dialogue to make friends, it is ultimately up to you how you talk to NPC’s and if they join your party. For the playthrough we got to see, he chose the options that ensured he could progress, meaning killing or making enemies of potential party members was not on the table.
The choices based on dice rolls also come into play with how you deal with potential party members, or just other NPC’s in the world. With select choices needing dice rolls to be successful, chance always has a role to play in how each choice plays out. As our presenter quickly finds out, a few bad dice rolls can quickly hamper even the most well-laid plans.
Moving onto combat you will quickly find the turn-based battle system making an appearance, taking everyone in the room back to when they used to play Baldur’s Gate, with each choice and the turns avalable meaning life or death of a character. From bandits to skeletons, the playthrough managed to fit in a lot of challenges in a relatively short time. Yet, each enemy had its own level of challenge. What could look like an easy fight, could quickly find yourself scrapping to have enough actions to make the final kill before everyone dies — as is what we quickly witnessed with a few bad rolls and some bad luck lead to a very short demo.
Despite what could seem frustrating, the challenge is part of what makes the Baldur’s Gate franchise so rewarding. To know you overcame potential death by the skin of your teeth makes each battle rewarding, and the quick save feature your friend. The tactical moves and the choices in how you take on a fight make the universe of Baldur’s Gate fun, and exciting to experiment with.
Something new this time around is the ability to use turn-based mode while not in battles. For use in puzzles, and stealth, this new turn-based option shows the real flexibility in how you can play Baldur’s Gate III. When faced with a trap, our player switched modes and tried to use the environment to the best of his abilities. As he used each turn to overcome obstacles, the complexity of the game Larian Studios is building is made clear. This is a game that is ripe with possibility and option, but it is up to the player to maximize what they want out of the game. From side quests to simply the way you can take on challenges, Baldur’s Gate III is truly an evolution on the formula, in all the best possible ways.
It is nearly impossible to touch on all the features Baldur’s Gate III has up its sleeve, yet what was on display was impressive and compelling. Larian Studios, along with all the knowledge they have building RPG’s and ran with it. The game is stunning and brings with it all the features I would hope to see from the universe. Yet, even with this connection to past games, they have made something that looks to stand on its own feet. Filled with legacy but built for everyone Baldur’s Gate III looks to be a game built for everyone that likes RPG’s, choice and building their own stories in a game. While it is still early on, and bugs are to be expected, I am excited to see what the finished product looks like when it launches, giving a new generation of players a chance to venture into Baldur’s Gate.