The game BALDUR’S GATE 3 is all about making decisions. Explore the depths of a vast subterranean temple where you will encounter an enormous, demonic beast. Depending on how the player has designed their character, the monster may be persuaded to eliminate its accompanying warriors from hell or even exile itself back to the inferno. Another option is to fight the opponent more traditionally, by using electrical blasts and sword slashes to topple grease barrels and ignite the battlefield. When the player character is assigned to get a crucial item that has been hidden in a heavily guarded room, there are a few options available to them: either sneak in to get the object, maybe tell a convincing enough lie to obtain admission, or just plain transform the area around the secured room into a murderous massacre.
The popular role-playing games Mass Effect and Dragon Age were later produced by BioWare, the same company that also created the Baldur’s Gate series, which debuted in 1998. The first two titles in the series (Baldur’s Gate 2 came out in 2000) made BioWare a well-known creator of the awkwardly titled “computer role-playing game,” or CRPG, subgenre. However, BioWare’s post-Gate work strayed from the heavily text- and statistics-heavy subgenre as it increasingly combined direct action with role-playing. which was forced to occupy a specialized market niche. For games created in what appeared to be a dying design ethos, fans had to turn to the efforts of creators like Belgium’s Larian Studios, which found success with large, conventional CRPGs like Divinity: Original Sin (2014) and its 2017 sequel, Original Sin II.
Baldur’s Gate 3 was launched this summer by Larian, picking up where BioWare left off almost 23 years ago. Unexpectedly, this contemporary role-playing game has amassed a massive player following, smashing records on computer game shops and winning praise from all quarters. It’s easy to understand why the game has become popular after spending some time with it. In addition to offering a new perspective on role-playing games, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a nod to a previous generation of role-playing games that have captured the imagination of players. It opens up the subgenre’s alluring aspects to players who would have been turned off by the seemingly impossible learning curve of more difficult games.
The vast array of options provided by its design—in terms of dialogue, battle, exploration, and interactive character development—has always been the draw of role-playing games. This subgenre eliminates the need to gather a group of similarly committed friends for frequent sessions with a challenging board game and is based on the guided creativity made possible by tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. (In actuality, the Baldur’s Gate series is based on the design rules of the Dungeons & Dragons game system and is situated in that world.) A cross-platform role-playing game (CRPG) can appeal to players who enjoy open-world exploration, large-scale interactive storytelling found in role-playing games, or the adaptability of combat found in many contemporary action games. The only drawback is that, to the inexperienced, these games can be rather daunting. A command bar full of unknown powers and walls of statistics in character creation screens are just two examples of how they usually give players an overwhelming amount of information to process. Similar in density to War and Peace, Baldur’s Gate 3 instructs players by encouraging trial-and-error with its numerous interaction rules rather than with a slow introduction replete with pop-up lessons.
In the end, it implements what are essentially hard systems with a pleasant looseness. The numbers on the dice, which are occasionally displayed visually, determine whether a player succeeds or fails in convincing other characters during a chat, hitting an arrow, or taking a smack from a longsword. Reloading a saved file allows them to approach a challenging battle with new strategies based on what went well or poorly in the previous attempt. Perhaps most importantly, players can make a lot of blunders outside of battle, and instead of showing a “game over” screen, Baldur’s Gate 3 will frequently just keep playing and incorporate those failures into the player’s own story. Players are motivated to struggle through the early hours’ hurdles by a straightforward but intensely engaging plot—the main characters are infected with mind-controlling tadpoles that will burrow deeper into their brains if they are not removed quickly. Baldur’s Gate 3 eventually gains the forward momentum of a TV series or page-turner with its many plotlines that demand the player’s attention, the curiosity about the characters and world of the game, and the hook of learning how to navigate battles that seemed impossible only moments before.
Baldur’s Gate 3
its surroundings with a multitude of short stories that can be found via chance meetings or by finding a particular area of the terrain. These can take many different forms and have radically varying moods, such as releasing a gnome bound to a windmill blade or solving a murder investigation. These tales revolve around a group of young robbers under the command of a demon-looking, Oliver Twist-like scamp with glowing red eyes and goat horns; other characters include a ferocious pixie trapped inside a lamp, a snarling wolfman, and a burly ogre caught in the middle of an illicit sexual encounter. A dark cave that opens up on the side of a mountain, spelunking through a city’s maze-like sewer system, or exploring hidden rooms in houses will almost always satisfy curiosity with an unexpected story that is compelling in and of itself and may also help to enhance the game’s fiction or award the player with new items and experience points.
At points, Baldur’s Gate 3 resembles a typical high fantasy game, complete with goblins, robe-wearing wizards, and pointy-eared elves. It also appeals to those who are not into fantasy because it acknowledges the absurdity that is a part of the situation. There is a strand of humor throughout, but the tone doesn’t descend into the kind of winking irony that would make it overtly parody. Nor does it take discussions replete with allusions to magic objects or malevolent bipedal squid too seriously. Even if the game doesn’t hesitate to sober up and settle down when necessary to try emotionally charged drama moments or to evoke a sense of foreboding suited for perilous situations, there’s an attractive unfettered delight to the quest. For the game to succeed, this precisely calibrated tone is necessary. While other games’ extreme freedom can deprive their stories of a genuine feeling of authorship or a persistent atmosphere, Baldur’s Gate 3 maintains enough control over the gameplay to never feel like a barren wasteland. More than just a blank sheet of paper and a pen are provided; the audience’s imagination is encouraged to create their own entertainment. While Larian Studios controls what the user sees and does during the game, they are free to customize the finer points of their adventure.
This type of design is executed with a confidence that is all too uncommon in popular games. The end result is a chance for the audience and the creator to meet halfway through the play; the audience believes there is no wrong way to proceed, and the creator has provided a breadth of possibilities wide enough to account for countless interaction styles. Even though the genre has momentarily fallen out of favor, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a noteworthy example of the potential that arises from a brilliant studio working inside a genre whose strengths it understands well.