It’s crazy, to me, how far gaming has moved on in the last 20 or so years.
I remember playing the original Baldur’s Gate back in 1998, and its sequel two years later. I was captivated by them, drawn into their open worlds, brilliant writing and often zany characters. I also remember changing discs like it was going out of fashion. It was somewhat of a shock, then, to recently reacquaint myself with those games on Xbox One; while there are still some elements of them that shine bright, in most aspects they’ve aged poorly.
But here we are with Baldur’s Gate 3, available right now via Early Access. From what I’ve played of it so far it seems to successfully capture the spirit of the original games, but also makes changes big and small, providing an overall experience that’s more enjoyable and immersive. This is Baldur’s Gate for the 21st century; a hardcore computer RPG with AAA graphics that bring you closer to the action than ever before.
After creating your own character, which may take you a while as there are many races, classes and other more granular options, a stunning CGI intro sets the scene. You’ve been kidnapped, and a strange parasitic creature has been coerced into your head via your eye socket. But your captor’s tentacle-laden ship has suffered a major blow, and now’s your time to escape. Straight away it feels like Baldur’s Gate of old, presenting you with an isometric view of your surroundings. And so off you trot aboard a strange flying vessel, hoping to find a way to safety.
There are objects to loot and strange contraptions to interact with as you find your way around by pointing and clicking. Eventually you discover that you’re not the only survivor, and as the camera moves in to present a bout of dialogue in a more cinematic fashion, you really get a sense of how grand Baldur’s Gate 3 is. Like previous games in the series, dialogue plays a large role – your choices can seemingly have a large impact on how things play out. But here, the detail of the character models really brings conversations to life. You can actually detect feelings and emotions.
Allying with another captor hoping to escape from the ship, it wasn’t long until I found myself in my first battle. Combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 is quite the departure for the series, being turn-based rather than real-time with a pause function. Grid-free, you and your enemies take it in turns to move around the battlefield and perform actions. Anyone that has played the likes of Divinity Original Sin 2 or Pillars of Eternity 2 in turn-based battle mode will feel very familiar with the set-up. The result is that battle in Baldur’s Gate 3 feels less like a chaotic melee than it did in its predecessors, but some fans may be turned off by the change.
Baldur’s Gate 3 really opens up when you finally find your way off the ship. Alone in a strange land, you’re left to explore, loot more things, and encounter strangers that may be able to help you. Play your cards right and you can have a three-strong party in no time at all. You’ll want allies, too, as the hostiles you encounter in the early stages of the game don’t go easy on you. Some weird brain-like creatures caused me some trouble from the outset, and later a group of ruffians truly tested my skills. Though after emerging victorious I realised I could have made the fight much easier by using my noggin and shooting down a huge rock suspended over their leader’s head.
Visually, Baldur’s Gate 3 already feels somewhat polished, though the many patches leading up to the game’s Early Access 1.0 launch suggests not everyone has had the same experience as me. What I have encountered though, is another issue that’s more problematic, though less so now that I’m aware of it. Baldur’s Gate 3 initially autosaved my progress fairly regularly, like it’s supposed to do, but at some point it simply stopped doing so. I only found out an hour or so after the last manual save I made; biting off more than I could chew in a battle, I found my party defeated and a considerable amount of progress lost.
It was at that point that I decided to hold off on playing Baldur’s Gate 3 further for a while. I’d seen enough. I’m confident that at some point this is going to be an absolutely phenomenal game – all the ingredients are there. But with the graphics to be further improved, more content to be added, the gameplay tweaked and the player character to be given a voice, to play it any further in this Early Access state would possibly only serve to ruin it. You don’t have to make the same choice – Baldur’s Gate 3 is perfectly playable right now minus the occasional unwanted frustration – but with such an epic journey ahead, why not wait for it to be well and truly finished?
Baldur’s Gate 3 is available right now via Early Access on Steam and Google Stadia