Baldur's Gate III is, as you know, in Early Access. Even though there is a story here with hundreds of characters to talk to, many battles and so on, the game is not complete. You should view this as a recommendation to see whether it's worth throwing yourself into the game today, or if you should wait. Otherwise, we will return to the game when there are more updates, changes, and will provide a full-scale review when the game finally reaches version 1.0.
The game begins with our character, one we can either create ourselves or one with a previously formed background as in Larian Studios Divinity: Original Sin 2. In the current version released, we have six different classes to choose from, with six more planned. All of these classes then have different benefits, abilities, and basic stats that determine how good they are at what they do. My favorite class, Paladin, is unfortunately not included here, but I have instead tried two other classes during my time with the game; priest and Warlocks. Both have the ability for both melee combat and magic attacks (like Warlock's Eldritch Blast I used almost all the time).
We also have eight different breeds that all have their advantages and disadvantages. People are good at just about anything, Githyanki are naturally knowledgeable with most types of swords, and Halvlingar are by their short nature good at sneaking. All these classes and races also have subcategories, such as different gods for priests, and we can also choose different backgrounds. These can have an impact not only on who our character is in the world but also on our conversations and the relationship between us and the characters we have with us during the journey.
It is immediately noticeable that there is a basis for great depth and that Larian Studios has not been lazy with the different choices we have with our characters and the design of them. During my two playthroughs of Baldur's Gate III's previous chapters, I noticed how I could extract different amounts of information from many characters based on my background. All of these things can also affect our chances of the game's many, many different dice rolls.
Baldur's Gate has, as I said, its roots deeply rooted in pen-and-paper role-playing games. There are many choices we can make, in both conversations and in special scenes, where we have a literal dice on the screen we get to click to roll. There we will try to come across a certain number, which in turn is based on our character's unique abilities and statistical strengths. I appreciate these little touches of chance even though I also get some post-traumatic stress and cold sweaty XCOM memories of failed dice rolls.
The choices are many and there are plenty of consequences for these. We can choose sides between different factions. Do we want to help refugees by defeating local weasels that threaten their safety, or do we want help from the weasels to understand our problem and the mysterious cult that is slowly spreading in Faerûn? Shall we kill an injured Mind Flayer who can then perhaps reveal to us when the mysterious cult uses dark magic to talk to the corpse? Lots of missions and choices are tied together and who we let live or die can change our path in both small and large ways.
Another thing I also appreciate is the presentation. If we ignore the fact that there is unfinished material with missing animations and camera bugs here and there, then there are times the game undoubtedly looks fantastic as an isometric tactical role-playing game. The developers have really worked hard to achieve what in another world could have been a modern Bioware standard. Character models are detailed, faces look well-created and many of the animations in conversations, even in their slightly unpolished stage, are almost on par with Witcher 3 in terms of empathy. I am without a doubt impressed and look forward to the finished game when everything is in place.
The gaming world is also impressive and a big boost to the perhaps a little more stylised style in the Divinity games. Despite its isometric style, the gaming world is large and intricate. There's a lot of verticality, nooks, and crannies to explore and the lighting is sometimes very impressive. To stand on the height of a small hill and look down towards a narrow forest with winding paths with a small water castle at the far end undoubtedly looks impressive. Everything feels a little more handmade and works very well for this type of game.
However, a debated issue many fans have had with Baldur's Gate III is the battles and their turn-based nature. Old Baldur's Gate, like many of Bioware's older games, had real-time battles we could pause to instruct our magical warriors on their next move. Larian Studios has departed from this model and instead has turn-based battles. There are pros and cons to both, but I personally had no problem with the turn-based battles. It's easier to have a little more overview of the battles and planning, which can be a little friendlier for new players, I think.
The battles themselves are satisfactory. As mentioned above, all classes have different abilities and a smartly formed group of different characters can complement each other quite well. A priest can be a group's healing spine, while a warrior can wildly wave a two-handed sword to decimate enemies. An extra level of complexity found in the game is the need for rest. The longer we explore and fight, the more abilities we use, and these abilities can often only be used a few times.
But the most interesting addition to the game is undoubtedly the improvisation made possible by a few simple elements. In addition to attacks, spells, and the like, we also have physical actions. These are really simple things like jumping, throwing things, or even pushing stuff around. I was stuck in a place where I tried to defeat Dror Ragzlin and his local lackeys for a long time. In the end, I realised that I could simply ... push him. From his steadfast faith, he flew straight down to a nearby abyss and just ... died. Then my group was free to kill his surrounding bodyguards more easily. The downside is that I lost the possible goodies he carried with him, but I avoided a big hurdle and managed part of an assignment by improvising and it was terribly satisfying and reminiscent of classic pen-and-paper role-playing games.
But what about the issues then? One of the most elaborate problems I have, in addition to bugs, is how unnecessarily fussy it is to do simple things. Some are based on the game's navigation and group controls. Old Baldur's Gate, as well as many other games in the genre, had us simply select the characters we wanted to move either by clicking or just dragging a box around. Larian Studio's game, however, has all the characters in a group basically sit together and follow the designated leader we control.
Another complaint is also related to what our characters carry with them in all their backpacks. There's no single option to sell gold to a merchant collectively for your characters, and instead, you have to select each character's inventory individually. Why there is no common ground in trade confuses me immensely and just feels like an excessive pastime. These are my only slight issues with Baldur's Gate III, and whilst they may seem small, I still hope that Larian Studios takes and looks at this before the game leaves early access.
Is it worth playing today? It's one of the most interesting role-playing games I've played since Pillars of Eternity, but, as I said, it's also not finished. I probably would not recommend the game in its current state to anyone other than the most die-hard fans who want to be involved and give feedback to the developers. One reason why is that the game is crammed with technical problems and bugs.
My first save file of roughly eight hours of play-time disappeared after the big update that came when the game was released and several of my missions have crashed completely. An entire boss fight just disappeared because the enemy simply did not load properly. Several updates have been released the past week and stabilised the game a lot, but the bugs are still many and the game's potential is not quite there yet.
It remains to be seen where the path leads, Larian Studios has an enormous amount of potential on its hands, but also an enormous amount of work ahead of them. If they fix some design flaws and add more of what is missing with the same quality as the best parts of this version, then we have what may be one of the better role-playing games in recent years ahead of us. Only time will tell if this one is destined to be a masterpiece.
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