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Baldur's Gate 3 Review

Down, Down, Down By The River

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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Throughout my nearly 130 hours of Baldur’s Gate 3, I could not help but be astounded by the sheer flexibility the CRPG showed in allowing me to push things along my own way. From getting into a drinking contest with a bloated, undead carcass to bypassing long encounters thanks to a well-cast invisibility spell, Baldur’s Gate 3 made me feel as though I could do anything.

There were moments where a dice roll wouldn’t go my way, such as a stealth check that had the entire Goblin camp rise up against me in the first act, down to having to deal with the Steel Watch on every corner during the last push through the city of Baldur’s Gate proper. But through it all, it felt like I was playing my own story, shaping my own adventure, and that developer Larian Studios was just along for the ride.

A Natural 20

Let’s not bury the lede: Baldur’s Gate 3 is a landmark achievement in modern RPGs, and games in general. This is a masterpiece of a game, a true showcase of how flexible and free game storytelling can be, and a true watermark in game development. The team at Larian Studios has done something incredible: made a game with so much density, wonder, freedom, and substance that it will likely not be replicated or matched any time soon.

At its core, Baldur’s Gate 3 is all about player choice. The team at Larian has set the backdrop: you’re an adventurer whom a Mind Flayer parasite has infected and desperate to find a cure before you become a soulless Illithid. It pushes the narrative along quite well, adding urgency and purpose to every interaction. Yet, along the way, stories, characters, and the relationships built between the player and the denizens of Faerun come to define the experience overall.

I found myself contemplating my relationship with Shadowheart when I wasn’t even playing BG3, or deciding I wanted to spend more time with the haughty yet affable wizard Gale just because I enjoyed his company. And literally every time I saw Mol, the Tiefling child who you meet in Act 1, a smile was brought to my face, knowing that she was getting into some mischief somewhere.

Personally, I could have done with a little less horniness from the main cast, but what can you do but reject everyone except Shadowheart, right?

Shadowheart BG3

Each major character, whether a companion or just someone who popped in and out of my travels, felt fully realized, with their own motivations, desires, and personalities that rivaled some of the best in other games. As a result, the characters and the world around them felt more alive than some games can. 

There were whole decision points that saw me have to get up and take a walk before I could decide on a path forward (especially thanks to my desire to do as little save scumming as possible for this review playthrough). It’s been a while since a video game made me care so much about my actions, and it’s a testament to the writing and worldbuilding in Baldur’s Gate 3.

The writing itself never quite took itself too seriously, with an undercurrent of humor throughout each encounter. As someone who loved fantasy writing, even when it can get overly serious (I am a Tolkien fanatic, after all), it was a nice change of pace. Even some of the best DMs I’ve played under have struggled to maintain a level of levity needed to keep encounters fresh and engaging, not simply weighed down by the bulk of the campaign’s plot. Baldur’s Gate 3, by extension, feels effortless in how it pulls this off.

Each of the three acts feel like they could be fully realized campaigns all their own, from the trouble at the Druid Grove in Act 1 to exploring the streets of the lower city in Baldur’s Gate proper in Act 3. And Baldur’s Gate 3 rewards this exploration, uncovering side stories and new bits about the world at every turn of the camera. 

Each offers a unique experience as well, from the long gloom of the Underdark, where danger lurks around every corner, to the gloomy, Eldritch darkness of the second act. And while the plot is always driving forward, it’s flexible in how you reach its end in a way that other games can only dream of pulling off.

Part of the flexibility built into Baldur’s Gate 3 could result from its tabletop roots. Built on the ruleset of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, Baldur’s Gate 3 feels like a grand campaign setting we all would love to play around the table. Seriously, it feels like a true pen-and-paper style campaign, right down to the dice rolls themselves (turn Karmic dice off in the menu to feel mocked by the Dice Gods truly).

Taking my standard Drow Rogue I bring into every campaign (though by the end, I’d multi-classed into a Gloomstalker Ranger/Assassin Rogue hybrid), Baldur’s Gate 3 gives multiple ways to play, even from the get-go. You can create a brand new character (like my Rogue, for instance) or take on the role of an Origin character: one of the bespoke companions you meet along your journey.

Origin characters provide a great entry point if you don’t want to create one in Baldur’s Gate 3’s extensive and excellent character creator. But I strongly recommend building one and playing them first, as you miss out on some excellent voice-acting performances if you choose an Origin character from the get-go. However, there is no wrong way to go - the BG3 experience will be just as flexible and freeform as if you made a half-orc Barbarian or jumped into the shoes of the Teifling Barbarian Karlach.

I am particularly interested in the Dark Urge and will likely play him in one of my future playthroughs. But, he’s not a Drow, so it might take a bit for me to get to him. Seriously, every character I play seemingly has to be an edgy Underdark boy.

Baldur's Gate 3

Choose Your Own Adventure

As I mentioned before, Baldur’s Gate 3, when you get down to it, is all about your choices. Every decision you make has some payoff, whether a subtle shift in an NPCs attitude towards you or one that hurtles the plot in a wildly different direction.

Want to play an evil bastard who wants to watch the world burn? You can do that. Want to be the paragon of justice, helping to save the world from the Absolute for nothing more than the satisfaction of a job well done? Sure. Want to meet somewhere in the middle and have incredibly over-the-top combat encounters along the way? Also possible.

Want to simply be a murder hobo, much to the chagrin of your party members? Go for it.

Each decision carries weight, whether it be a conversation point that fundamentally changes the definition of the relationship with a character to changing the course of the narrative entirely. Baldur’s Gate 3 makes this clear early on with the Druid Grove quest in Act 1, but it never stops throughout its run time. Even up until the final encounter, you can change course, make new choices that redefine the story, and ultimately shape the world of BG3 the way you want.

And it’s here where Baldur’s Gate 3’s greatest triumph shines through: it truly captures the essence of a night of D&D effortlessly. Anything I could think of during a casual game of D&D I could do in Baldur’s Gate 3. Do I really want to waltz my party into this very obvious trap, or try to find some way around it? Nothing is stopping me from experimenting and then living with the consequences. 

One sequence saw my needing to descend into the depths of Bhaal’s temple below the city of Baldur’s Gate, and a failed perception check tipped me off that something was about to happen. A few scrolls of Greater Invisibility later I had turned the tables on the ambush, defeating the enemies that would have ordinarily gotten the drop on me entirely. 

What makes this ability to choose and live with your choices is that Baldur’s Gate 3 also offers the flexibility to say “screw that” to the last decision you made and reload a quick save at nearly every point in the experience. It’s an incredibly robust save system, allowing you to quickly save at nearly any point (even in the middle of a conversation) and re-roll should you choose to try a different approach.

While some will decry save scumming, as it’s been called, I think it’s great that Larian thought of this and facilitated it rather than made it harder on players. It simply adds another way to choose your own adventure, and while it’s one I didn’t interact with as frequently as others, there were times I was immensely happy it was there, if for no other reason than I wouldn’t need to redo whole sequences after a full party wipe.

The way Baldur’s Gate 3 weaves each decision into its storytelling is nothing short of impressive, either. From interactions that fundamentally change character motivations to progressing a certain quest that locks out others (I still have not stepped foot in the Mountain Pass), Baldur’s Gate 3 feels less like a chimpanzee spinning hundreds of plates at once, rather that I’m staring at the intricate, yet incredibly detailed web of the Weave itself.

That isn’t to say there aren’t issues, and they tend to crop up the later and more complicated a save game becomes. I’ve had entire interactions with characters that felt out of place (such as Wyll exclaiming we need to save the prisoners of an underwater - and flooding - prison, all while we were in my camp at the time), to cutscene cameras that were just broken entirely. Word of advice: if you’re playing a Druid, get them out of Wild Shape before triggering a cutscene if you can. The amount of story I witnessed through the body of Jaheira’s Owlbear is astounding.

Despite the amount of freedom on display with BG3, nothing ever felt forced or that the game was trying to lead me down one path or another overtly. Sure, the main plot really wants you to be the hero of Faerun, carving your name into stone alongside Balduran himself. But in my entire run time, I never felt forced or even penalized for taking less pure means to achieve my end. As a result, I felt like I was truly inhabiting my character, with the world reacting and molding itself around me, versus feeling forced to adapt to everything myself.

It’s also a world that feels connected to its past, yet never at the expense of drawing new players into the fold. Set a century after Baldur’s Gate 2’s events, characters from the older games come and go, and can join your party if you play your cards right. Seriously, teaming up with Jaheira and Minsc felt like stepping back in time. Hearing Jaheira proclaim, “Nature’s Servant Awaits,” brought a small tear to my eye. Baldur’s Gate was such a formative part of my life, and it’s what made me fall in love with PC Gaming back in my teenage years. It’s incredible to be playing it again - and still feel connected to those characters and adventures that defined those years decades later.

Draw Your Swords

Combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 will come to dominate many playthroughs, as the story took me down into some of the best-crafted dungeons I’ve played in years. Each encounter felt completely handmade, with enemies and traps carefully placed by expert DMs to give a challenge, yet provide plenty of options for me to work out in how I approached things. 

If you’ve played Larian’s previous titles (and seriously, I recommend them fully), you’re going to be somewhat familiar with its incredibly flexible combat and turn system. Baldur’s Gate 3 takes that and adds in the 5th edition ruleset, allowing you to do anything you can think of at the tabletop effectively. 

Combat BG3

The UI here, especially when using mouse and keyboard, can overwhelm some, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it all starts to feel second nature. It’s flexible, too, allowing you to customize your windows to see exactly what you want at a moment’s notice. On the controller, it feels a bit more cumbersome, though if you don’t mind extensive radial menus, you’ll likely be fine.

Combat is probably the biggest departure from the original Baldur’s Gate formula. In the previous titles, combat played out in real-time, though you could pause the action to direct your party members, only to watch it all play out when the action resumed. Baldur’s Gate 3 returns the series to its turn-based roots from the tabletop game, and I think it flows so much better as a result. 

Slowing down the action helps plan strategy, especially when playing multiplayer with friends. Having the time to think, position, and effortlessly down whole swathes of enemies with a well-placed Fireball, or knock a carefully repositioned enemy off a cliff with Eldritch Blast is satisfying as hell. Even myself, who plays roguish characters, reveled in sneaking off into a corner to hide, only to jump out next turn and strike an unsuspecting enemy with a Sneak Attack each time the dice roll fell into my hands.

Combat isn’t easy, either, even when on the easiest difficulty. And this is a good thing. You’re still at the whim of the dice, and she can be cruel when she wants to be. Boss fights are not simply Tank and Spank affairs, usually requiring forethought and planning to overcome. Learning the mechanics and unique ways to beat some of the bosses in Baldur’s Gate 3 has proven to be some of its most rewarding moments outside of character conversations themselves.

This is also where having a balanced party really shines through. Making sure you’ve got a healer in tough moments can come in clutch, or a tank that can absorb damage while your squishy Bard inspires the party with a little music in between turns. 

When I realized I could do that in my multiplayer playthrough, I’m pretty sure I squealed with joy.

Some Rough Edges

It's not all perfect, though. As I progressed later on in the game, things did start to feel a bit rougher, with less polish than the earliest moments. Camera issues cropped up as I mentioned, while I did have more combat encounters where the AI just forgot how to take turns more often than before.

Performance often dipped as well, especially in Act 3, when there was so much more going on around me than in previous acts. On devices like the ASUS ROG Ally and Steam Deck, locking the framerate to 30 fps helped smooth out the experience, though it didn't solve all the dips. While PlayStation 5 has only had its version out for a few days, Larian's cross-save made it possible to check out a late game file in time for this review, and it's rough in the city proper.  Patches will likely smooth out this performance over time, but it's worth noting if you're jumping into the RPG on console for the first time.

Lens Journalist Baldur's Gate 3

FSR and DLSS help smooth out framerates on PC, though, and having both options is such a nice thing, especially since so many PC ports recently only ship with one of them in the box. FSR 2 is supposed to be coming at some point in the future, further boosting image quality with AMD's offering, and the inclusion of DLAA for Nvidia users as an option instead of relying on purely DLSS if your hardware is up to the task is definitely appreciated.

At the end of the day, while it's not perfect, it's a marvel at how few issues I had in my entire playthrough, especially considering the sheer weight of the game itself. Nothing was ever game-breaking, and even some of the more boneheaded issues could be resolved with a quick reload of the save file.

A New Benchmark

As I said before, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a modern masterpiece. It’s as deep as it is wide, complex but never more than it needs to be, never feeling as though it will crumble under the sheer weight of its own possibilities. It allows for a freedom that games promise, but very few realize in their runtimes, yet BG3 pulls it off effortlessly. Every action, every decision culminates in its final conclusion in a way that is satisfying to watch unfold, as well as experience along the journey.

It feels like Larian Studios at the height of their powers, each of their previous games simply proof of concepts for what would eventually become Baldur’s Gate 3. Wizards of the Coast could not have picked a better studio to pick up the mantle of the Baldur’s Gate franchise.

As a result, it feels like we’re at a landmark moment in computer RPGs - a point in time where we will define things as “before BG3” and “after BG3.” It's all I can think about since rolling credits on the RPG. I want to see the story play out differently and explore just how much my decisions can affect the world around me. I’m curious to see the stories I missed entirely, especially the ones I didn’t know were there.

There’s just so much in Baldur’s Gate 3 that I feel like I’ll spend years exploring it, finding something new each time. It's one of the truly robust RPGs that merits multiple playthroughs if that's your thing.  It’s been a while since I reviewed a game that truly made me excited to play it again, especially after it has dominated my life for the last month. But that is the allure of the world and Baldur’s Gate 3 characters. I want to interact with the ones I barely scratched the surface of this time around. 

Throughout the entirety of my runtime, I felt transported, compelled to help find a way to save myself and the companions I had grown to love over time. And it’s a world I don’t want to leave, at least not yet. Baldur’s Gate 3 is, simply put, the greatest RPG I’ve ever played.

Now, to watch it all burn - maybe an Evil Oathbreaker playthrough this time around? As a Drow, of course.

Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PC.

10.0 Masterpiece
  • Incredible player freedom and flexibility
  • Best realized adaptation of 5E in video games
  • Spectacular writing and world building
  • Characters themselves are some of the best in RPGs to date
  • Expertly crafted dungeons make each encounter feel unique and challenging
  • Performance and cutscene issues in act 3, especially on PS5


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore