If there is a game I am exceptionally hyped for, then it is Baldur’s Gate 3. Originally I wasn’t super excited for it since, well obviously it isn’t finished yet. After putting a good 15 hours into the early access of Baldur’s Gate III, I quit the game with the intention to not spoil the rest of Act I for myself and return to it when the game is complete and less buggy…or at least that is what I was going to do, but I’m not sure if I can stop myself from jumping back in.
Lets get something out of the way before we continue this review. I haven’t played either of the previous Baldur’s Gate games…or Neverwinter Nights…or any Dungeons & Dragons video game. My D&D knowledge extends from watching others play pen and paper campaigns, bravely attempting to be the DM for a group of friends in high school, and the 72 pages I have read so far of The Crystal Shard
With all that in mind, here are my first impressions of Baldur’s Gate 3 (Early Access version):
Our Adventure Begins
What exactly is this so called Baldur’s Gate you may ask? After all it is the name of the game and is therefore probably important. Well my friend, let me tell you. Baldur’s Gate is an actual gate! To be more precise, it is a famous gate to a city that also goes by the same name. Not confusing at all. Thankfully, all of this juicy backstory is conveyed to you by way of character conversations and the occasional book page. No prior world knowledge or dive through the Forgotten Realms Wiki required!
We start out our adventure in an Illithid ship. A mindflayer then infects us and other passengers with a tadpole eye parasite (if you are rather squeamish then be prepared to look away at this part). Mindflayers repopulate by infecting and turning other beings into mindflayers. Sounds like a problem for us. We are then thrown into character creation.
If you like custom characters then you are in luck! Currently, there are 13 background origin stories (sailor, entertainer, scholar, etc.) and 8 main race types with sub race options. All of these offer bonus skills and ability points to help shape your desired play style. You can play as either a male or female character (this determines your character’s pronouns). You can also choose any of the available voice options regardless of your gender body type choice. As far as skin tones and eye colors, you can choose from racial lore abiding colors or open your horizons to the entire massive color pallet and make a blue Halfling with green hair and demonic yellow eyes.
There are currently 6 classes available with some having sub classes. If your favorite class is not already here, then you will have to wait for the rest to be finished. Druid, Paladin, Bard, Barbarian, Monk, Sorcerer, and a bunch more sub classes are planned for the full game. Me, being a magic slinger deviant with a sword at heart, chose to be a Warlock Drow. I chose a performer since that charismatic combination was bound to provide some funny dialogue choices. The surface dwellers tend to hate/fear the Drow which means potential drama. I forgot to take screenshots of my first character, so you will be seeing some of Tav the Tiefling. Look at this handsome fellow!
Another gorgeous cut scene later and we are free to explore the telepathic squid people ship. The first thing I do is immediately break something. Of course. I even passed an intelligence check that told me the thing looked super fragile and I touched it anyway. Great going me.
A narrator sets the mood by reading out dialogue descriptors, just like a Dungeon Master would. Your race, class, background, or skill set can net you unique options and responses from characters, such as surprise a Drow player helped them. Fans of the Divinity Original Sin games will rejoice that understanding animal speech isn’t required for communication anymore. I walked up to a squirrel and managed to negotiate peace and territory passage solely through body language and gestures between the two of us. Would having a Speak to Animals spell be beneficial? Sure, but you don’t feel like you are completely missing out without one. Will some dialogue choices give you the same end result? Of course, but I did not notice the occasional illusion of choice until I actually went through all of the possible options. The facial animation here is top notch too, other than the occasional visual glitch.
While your character has some voiced lines, they become a silent protagonist in conversations. Origin characters (aka your party members) will be playable as main characters on release. I do not think they will read aloud their player chosen lines either, but they will narrate their own thoughts. Plus, they get a lot more dialogue options unique to them. Sounds like multiple playthrough material.
I enjoyed the company of all the companions. They have all proven to be interesting, well-voiced, and make me smile when they give me compliments. Or they just yell at me for being too blindly positive about our dire situation. Each character has their own goals, beliefs, and problems you can help them solve. They will approve and dislike many of your choices, but as long as you keep them happy enough (and alive) they will stick by your side. Companions sometimes have conversations with each other while exploring too which can reveal information about their backstory or just entertain.
I’d say Wyll had the least impact on me since he is a bit more on the open book side. He is a famous monster hunter hero (ignore the fact he can get randomly killed by some goblins before you recruit him) despite being chained to some of his past mistakes. He seems to be a mostly normal, straightforward guy. However, that can work out since you might already have 2 other melodramatic characters in your party to manage.
Unlike the original Baldur’s Gate games, combat is turn-based and plays mostly like that in DOS2, but with some officially licensed 5e D&D flair. In addition to our standard run up and hit the enemy tactic, we can now jump/disengage, dip our weapon in certain environmental effects, shove people, throw stuff, dash, attempt nonlethal knockouts, and help downed or dying friends. These are all handily sorted and color coded on our expandable toolbar so we know what is a main action and a bonus action. You can also use these outside of combat. Disengaging is a bit problematic as it is a bonus action, a change from the 5e rule set. Essentially, this means that anyone can just jump away from melee range to avoid melee Attacks of Opportunity and jump literally over your fighters to your squishy mages.
Hit percentages based on behind the scenes math are displayed when you hover over enemies and previous rolls shown in the combat log. XCOM missing at 90% chance to hit jokes will be had. You can also inspect enemies to determine what their strengths and weaknesses are. On my very first turn of combat I hurled a random spiky shell at a distant imp, rolled a 20 crit, and OHKO’d the guy. It was a magical moment.
You have access to one short and one long rest. Short rests recover some health and certain abilities while others require long rests. Long rests teleport the party back to pocket dimension campsite land where you rest until the next morning. Party member conversations happen here after meeting requirements, so you are encouraged to rest every so often. There is currently no penalty or time limit for using long rests despite the story trying to convince you that time is precious. This means short rests are pointless and spell slot rationing is nonexistent since you can freely long rest after every encounter.
Something I did not use all that much was the ability to enter turn-based mode whenever I wanted. Each turn is equivalent to 6 seconds of real time. This is mostly useful when sneaking around enemy vision cones. I am glad to see there is very little crafting in the game since I found it to be a big hassle in the Divinity games.
Did I mention there is a co-op mode? You can play with three of your online/LAN buddies or split-screen couch co-op between two players. I will opt for the solo path, but I am glad this is still an option! Streamers can use an official Twitch extension that allows viewers to access your party’s character sheets and vote on dialogue choices. This is an amazing utility since you can pop into a stream and look at that player’s party build without asking a ton of questions. Plus, who doesn’t love voting to do something really silly?
The music so far has been fantastic. The main menu hooks you in with a powerful male choir chant and orchestra. The character creation has three variations of Down by the River, and they are all beautifully done. I keep playing them on loop outside the game since I love singing and humming along to all of them. Borislav Slavov has outdone himself with this one. While I can hear some similarities to his work for DOS2, the songs here hit you harder with the vocals and drum beats. It feels deeper and more gritty in a way, which makes sense as the tone of this game is much more serious and has a sense of grandeur to it.
The voice acting is great across the board with a lot of European accents, which makes sense given the developer studio is in Belgium. I found no problems with any of the characters and thought they were all well done, even monsters like the goblins.
Early Access Status
Honestly, if you are not super familiar with D&D class and combat systems, then there is going to be a bit of a learning curve. Spell logic for each class type is not explained very well. I often confused how spell slots and spell memorization worked for each of the classes since little was explained. There are a lot of useful tutorials, but these do not cover everything as of yet. Unfamiliar players need to be patient, experiment, and save often.
BUGs bugs bugs. Baldur’s Gate 3 is in early access so expect there to be some rough areas. Surprisingly, for a game this ambitious the issues are mostly small ones. In dialogue scenes character’s eye balls could clip through their eyelids, people can face the wrong way, or mouth animations would not occur for a line or two. Dragging around character portraits is a little wonky, no quick sell option, and the inventory sort button was in a weird spot. While these bugs make up a big list, these are all minor things you can reasonably look past since otherwise the current state of the game is relatively stable with only 1 crash in my 15 hours of fun.
As mentioned, I think the game needs a lot of combat system re-balancing and AI tweaking. I recall with DOS2 a lot of major reworks were made by the time it officially released so I trust every ability and action in this game will be tweaked with time. That isn’t to say it isn’t fun to play, because it definitely has enough challenge to keep encounters interesting, opportunities to learn from your mistakes and change your approach, and many fun classes and party combinations to try out. A certain encounter giving you trouble? Try using that hold person or grease spell, throw a lit torch at enemies in the dark so your human characters can see them easier, stack some boxes so you can climb onto a nearby roof, or have a bird peck out their archer’s eyes.
Honestly, I really want to hop back into Baldur’s Gate 3. When the game releases you will be required to make a new character and restart, but that is a year or so away. As much as I would like to keep some of the main story in Act I a surprise, I am not sure how long I can hold out until I boot up the game again just to hear my party members bicker and accidentally get glass cannon Gale killed again. On the bright side, that means I can have fun pointing out all of the new content and changes in the full release.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
Check us out at Opencritic!