RPGs are kind of an unspoken love of mine. I find true RPGs hard to get into as most of them can feel quite awkward until it just *clicks*. I know this is a weird way to describe a game but for a lot them this is the case. This isn’t really an indictment on them but more just a comment on how the genre can rely on a little more than just the immediate hook that so many other games do. Larian Studios is a personal favourite developer of mine. I have absolutely adored both Divinity: Original Sin games and the announcement they were doing Baldur’s Gate III [BG3] filled me with so much hope for the long-anticipated title. Larian has a history of understanding and building on what makes an RPG so good, in terms of characters, game design and atmosphere. They also have repeatedly shown a very good attitude towards their community, with a great level of openness and honesty when it came to their games being in Early Access. BG3 is no different, and while what is currently on offer is only a portion of what the full product will have, I can already call it one of my favourite RPGs of this generation and Cyberpunk can Cyberfuckoff.
To kick things off, there is the character creator. You don’t really have to look very hard to learn that I love character creators. I would argue that a good 20% of my time in all of FromSoftware’s Soulsborne games is spent creating the most horrifically ugly character possible, so I generally just make ScoMo. I know a lot of people don’t like an overly complex character creator, and I get it. Most people just want to dive right into their shiny new game and not think about anything, as shown by the fact that Larian had to callout BG3 players for making generic white males all the time (any more generic and it would be the main character in a Naughty Dog game). However, I don’t care about that. I want to spend God knows how long in a character creator and I was rather pleased with what BG3 had. Arguably not as flexible as something like Bloodborne or Black Desert Online (about the only real thing BDO has going for it), but it was still a pretty good character creator. From non-standard hair colours to voices and other traits that aren’t specifically bound to gender/sex, I never felt that restricted in what I could make. I ended up settling on a short, drow half-elf with bright pink hair.
As for my class, I chose a Warlock because I like magic but I also like punching/slicing things. The game distinguishes itself from Larian’s previous Divinity games quite a bit here. Rather than applying stat points at each level which allows you to kind of branch out from your chosen class (though this is not recommended in the Divinity games), the game looks at your character’s chosen class and applies increases to the appropriate stats. While some may look at this as restrictive, this is how level increases in D&D works so it is quite reflective of that experience. In a way, it also removes some of the headaches that these RPGs can give when trying to decide which stat you should increase. You just have to invest in the character that you have created. I have not really played a game in a long time that allows you to properly invest in your character this way.
Combat is also another area where BG3 feels quite similar yet distinctly different to Divinity: Original Sin 2. In DOS2, each skill is given an attack potency range and a percentage chance to hit, similar in a way to how a lot of tactical strategy games like XCOM do it. Factors like elevation also come into play. BG3 is a little similar in its layout, however, the potency of an attack is instead determined by the type and quantity of dice that are rolled. For instance, my Witch Bolt Incantation determines its damage by internally rolling two d12 dice. Whatever the collective number from these two twelve-sided dice is will determine how much damage my Witch Bolt will deal. While this sounds a little more complex, it actually has a really nice side effect.
I’ve never been one to really delve into a lot of Tabletop RPGs (TTRPGs). Not through a lack of interest, mind you, but more that TTRPGs like D&D can be incredibly daunting if you don’t have someone to hold your hand and explain the little details for you. These types of games require a number of people as well as someone to mediate and direct the campaign. BG3 cuts out a lot of the fat and instead allows you to learn the core D&D rules at your own pace. For someone like me, this is brilliant. I like the roleplay, I like the roll play and I like the stat system, but other D&D systems can go way over my head and being that person that slows the game down because they don’t particularly understand everything is a major anxiety trip for me. BG3 never makes me feel bad about going at my own pace. I can explore the richly detailed world as much as I want, I can mull over combat decisions for far longer than a real-life TTRPG would permit and even the aforementioned character creation is less daunting. I don’t have to try to envision and describe my character, I just get to shape them to what I feel is appropriate. The classes are all explained and everything I need is right in front of me. Weirdly enough, however, because everything is in front of me and I have been able to learn about the beauty and flow of TTRPGs like D&D 5e (fifth edition), which is what BG3 is based on. As a result, I don’t feel so discouraged about trying D&D. Even if it’s a one-shot campaign, a campaign-style which is centred around quick completion, I feel much more confident throwing my hat in the ring whenever I am asked about potentially joining one. I am not sure if this is something that was intended from the people at Larian Studios, but if you are someone that is intrigued by D&D, this is a really nice and simple way to familiarise yourself with it.
One of my favourite things about BG3 is just the sheer quality in its writing. It’s far from perfect, but the writers at Larian have been very careful in their story writing and have focused a lot of their attention to the characters that you meet in BG3. A personal favourite character of mine is Shadowheart, a sassy, meticulous elf woman. She makes it immediately clear that she normally does not band with random travellers but accepts your company nonetheless when you meet her. I won’t say much else, but my character definitely simps for her. Each character has their own unique storyline that unfolds as you progress and fight together. You learn about their motives, their backstory and their general personality. They’ll approve or disapprove some major decisions that you’ll make and they may also interact with one another in quirky or thrilling ways. It’s about finding the right balance. One character’s approval may come at the cost of another’s disapproval and learning which characters will mostly approve of your character’s action will help create a very successful and functional party.
Now, it’s hard to give a proper, definitive comment on a lot of what BG3 has to offer right now. What I’ve played might be entirely different to what the full release will ship. There are a number of technical issues which include low framerates and long loading times (even on an M.2 SSD), but that is all pretty forgivable given that it is still a very new release in early access. Regardless, this is a very promising start to what will undoubtedly be an excellent RPG. Larian clearly has what it takes to create a new Baldur’s Gate game in 2020.