Baldur’s Gate III Impressions

You must gather your party before venturing forth

The third entry in the venerable Baldur’s Gate series was revealed some time ago. The reveal footage showed off the new gameplay (obviously), some new party members and story details. There was a lot to unpack from this. Regardless of what you may think of how “true” this looks to be to the series, it’s in the very capable hands of Larian Studios. Larian Studios are renowned for the Divinity: Original Sin games and the Divinity franchise as a whole. This studio developing an RPG game in 2020 is an immediate stamp of quality - And I haven’t even properly played their games. It took me some time to gather my thoughts on this, after admittedly feeling “this is not Baldur’s Gate” as my initial reaction. I took some time to comb through the footage again, and make a few notes!

The background here is that this entry is based on Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, the most recent version. Representatives from Larian have stated that all classes from this edition will be available to use in creating your character, along with all races as well. This gives a lot of scope for character customisation and I’m pleased to see this. There will also be pre-generated characters complete with their own origin stories, it does seem unclear (to me at least) if these origins will apply to custom characters however.

Tell us a story, Monty! Something ‘bout bears and gold!

As far as the story goes, what has been revealed so far is that the big bad guys are Mindflayers. These a******s are alien-looking creatures who exhibit psychic abilities - Most commonly used to enthrall unwitting victims into doing their bidding and then having them for lunch once they have outlived their usefulness. So they’re not the nicest bunch of lads. Your protagonist has a Mindflayer tadpole buried into their brain, which over time will transform you into one of these abhorrent creatures. Seemingly it’s not just you, as at least one other companion you encounter, Shadowheart, will be afflicted with the same condition. Sounds horrific in fairness. Despite this being set 100 years or so after the events of the original games, this is a story sequel so it will be very interesting to see where the connections are made. The tadpole in the brain may sound a bit silly but certainly creates a sense of urgency - You absolutely will want to get that healed before you start turning into one of these monsters. Supposedly, the Mindflayers will be able to exert some kind of control over you the more the tadpole grows.

Big props to the team as well for the impressive CGI intro. It’s action-packed, featuring presumably the city of Baldur’s Gate being attacked by the enemy. Dragon, fire, the city being destroyed, it has everything really to set things up.

You point, I punch

The biggest change with the gameplay, is that it is now fully turn-based and does not use the pausable real-time system as employed before. I was ambivalent about this at first but it does make sense. Dungeons & Dragons is already a turn-based game so this makes complete sense to make the change, as much as I wholeheartedly love the formerly used system. There are some more changes in the gameplay to note as well. There seems to be a huge focus on verticality. In the gameplay demo, you can see the playable character (who is a vampire spawn in this scenario) jumping onto higher elevations to gain an advantage over the enemy. There seems to be benefits to having the higher ground, whether they be in attack bonus or damage. This adds a whole new dimension to these types of games that to my knowledge, we haven’t seen yet.

Not only this, it seems as though your resourcefulness will certainly be rewarded. We see the player use an ability called Throw, where you can simply throw objects at the enemy. In this demo, he actually manages to kill an enemy by throwing an object at the monster. How cool is that? This means if you’re out of spells and used up your abilities, even if your weapons aren’t the most effective, there is some kind of recourse for getting yourself out of a difficult spot. You can move objects like boxes and crates so it seems as though you will be able to use what would normally be static world objects to your advantage - To reach a vantage point to take out a foe, access some treasure etc. This is undoubtedly the most positive thing I have seen so far, in that you are enabled to be creative. Once this is fully released I can only begin to imagine the inventive methods people will use to achieve success in combat and exploration.

From what has been shown it seems that combat in general is high stakes. It seems easy to be killed by even the most basic enemies, if you become complacent in your tactics. We see one of the developers who is playing die in the very first combat - Bearing in mind that the man has probably been playing this since it has been playable, we’re in for a tough time if we don’t use our brains. He came back strong, employing the Stealth of his Rogue PC and using a nearby fire to light his arrows and deal some extra damage, ultimately allowing him to be victorious. A nice touch which I absolutely loved, was the use of the spell Mage Hand. This is a simple spell which allows you to push, grab objects, etc. When Mage Hand is cast, it actually becomes a party member temporarily, having actions on each turn. This is a wonderful touch and it feels as though we’re only scratching the surface of the level of detail we’ll see.

Camaraderie, adventure, and steel on steel

I was absolutely delighted to see just how much this is based on Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Larian Studios have gone on record to say that there have been some tweaks to the system, but this is entirely understandable, when adapting this game system to an entirely different medium. Knowledge checks are there. At one point we see the player character make a Nature knowledge check, to determine that there is something valuable hidden under a rock. This is great to see and lets us know that those Skills, assuming you put points and training into them, will most certainly be used.

I completely geeked out at one point, when I saw a dice roller. In my excitement, I completely missed what the check was for, but to see the animation of a D20 come up on screen, requiring you to interact with it, was a wonderful moment and speaks volumes about the respect that the studio must hold for the source material. This to me, is a great indicator about the faithfulness we will see to the system.

Another geek-out moment had me noticing a reference to The Harpers. They are a faction of do-gooders whose primary goal is to create fairness and equality for all. This again reinforces the respect that is there for the lore and it would be amazing to see this group in this game, whether you can join them or not or just simply some kind of involvement in the story.

Abilities in the game seem to be faithful as well, in that there are powers you can use per encounter, there are full actions, bonus actions etc. These mechanics are a natural fit into the videogame world and I would fully expect it to work pretty much flawlessly. I recently played through Pillars of Eternity which also contained encounter and rest powers, and it worked excellently in the pausable real time setting, so it should certainly work here too.

The bluster of the city makes me feel… insignificant

Visually, it looks absolutely stunning. Even at this relatively early stage, the character models and environments look like a treat. We are shown a river’s edge environment and everything from the water effects (which are f*****g hard to do) to buildings, grass, fire, and all in between are impressive.

For a D&D veteran like myself, this presents a great opportunity to strongly visualise characters I have played over the years. Provided that the character creation is robust, which I expect it to be, I will be able to recreate my Batman-esque Rogue/Assassin, Half-Orc Fighter wielding a flaming sword, anything you can imagine. The possibilities here have serious potential.

A major aspect of this game is returning to the city of Baldur’s Gate and what purpose it serves. Will it be a hub for you and your party? Will it be more of a third act hub for the story much like the first game? We don’t know yet but I simply cannot wait to enter this city for the first time, again, and see it in all it’s modern visual glory.

Ye goody-goodies make me sick

I’m happy to say confidently that I am very very much looking forward to this. My initial reaction was that of an old man, complaining about modern music not being what it used to be. Now after spending some more time with the information we have and gameplay footage, I can happily say I’m very excited.

Aside from what we have been shown, we can expect some more news soon and I await this with anticipation. Personally, I would love to see some more of the magic shown off and a deeper dive into character creation, but Larian if you’re reading this (that would be great I need the clicks) hold off on showing the city. That is bound to be a magical moment and should be left as a surprise.

At the end of the day I’m glad this is in the capable hands of Larian Studios, and that it is being made at all

All images taken from the Baldur’s Gate III press kit here

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