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Baldur’s Gate 3 dev dishes on mods, upcoming epilogues, and Xbox Series S struggles

Larian Studios has an absolute hit on its hands with Baldur’s Gate 3. The Dungeons & Dragons-based CRPG sold millions of copies, has legions of fans, and we called it a “staggering CRPG with a level of player freedom that makes its possibilities feel endless” in our review. It’s currently being considered a “Game of the Year” frontrunner ahead of this December’s Game Awards — a massive feat considering stiff competition from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Starfield, Resident Evil 4, and more.

Digital Trends met up with Swen Vincke, CEO of Larian Studios at PAX West 2023 to discuss the game’s success. In a wide-ranging conversation, Vincke offered transparency on how the team approached open-ended player choice, the specific challenges of bringing it to Xbox Series S, and what sort of new content they’ve already started working on. The team may say it’s resting after a long development journey, but there’s much more work to do.

The half elf shadowheart stares pensively in Baldur's Gate 3.
Larian Studios

Digital Trends: Both critical and commercial responses for Baldur’s Gate 3 have been enormous. Is this at all what you expected?

Swen Vincke: No, this is better than expected. We knew we had a good game in our hands. We knew that from the reactions in Early Access already. That allowed us to actually make the crazy investments that we did in this. Look at the amount of content I mean, it’s 170 hours of cinematics and very high-quality levels.

And three full years of early access.

Yeah, but it needed it. We weren’t ready, we just needed that time to do it. I mean, it was longer than we expected. But it’s also because of the community reactions during Early Access. There were moments when this game was rating 70% because people were not happy with the choices that we were making. So we have to adapt. But that takes time.

That’s what I liked about Early Access. You get that loop going on with your community where you can have that “okay, well, we tried that you didn’t like it.” Then you adapt. And sometimes it takes more time. Sometimes it takes less time.

Series S, if we can make it work on split screen, we will make it work.

How was preparing for a console game different from preparing for PC?

Well, there’s a whole bunch of preparation steps that you have to do that you don’t have to do on PC because you have to submit it to Sony. And Sony then has to say, “Well, this is okay, this is not okay.” So it takes much more time. It has the benefit that it’s one piece of hardware, you don’t have to worry about all the platforms, which makes it easier. So then obviously, we have to adapt the control scheme, which is completely different than a mouse and keyboard. We already have control support on PC. So that made it easier.

The other big console topic of conversation has been an Xbox version. There’s been rumblings about some behind-closed-doors conversation at Gamescom with the Xbox team, can you share any insights about that?

We both wanted to bring it to Xbox, and we needed to figure out how to do it. The solution that we found, I think it’s the best one because that allows us to bring it to the [Xbox] players faster. So it’s going to come to Series X and S this year. We’re trying to do it as fast as possible. We were fairly far in the process already. So the only reason we’ve held it is because we had this problem with split screen and Series S. It won’t have a split screen on Series S when we launch it. We will keep on optimizing it, Microsoft is really being helpful with that, so we’ll just try and see where we get.

We don’t make any promises, because there are certain limits that we may hit. The game is very intense, it requires a lot. Even on PC, we’ve had to do a lot of optimizations and continue to do those optimizations. So I think the Xbox version will be good. Series S, if we can make it work on split screen, we will make it work.

A character menu with various combat spell options for the mage class in Baldurs gate 3.
Larian Studios

Is there a specific technical limitation on the Series S that makes split screen difficult?

It’s the memory. It’s all about memory. In split screen, we have to simulate two parts of the world. And so not only that, but if you’re playing multiplayer, the consoles are also the host. It has to simulate four parts of the world when you split your party, and that’s where the difficulty is. And then in the game, you can have an army behind you that’s following you, all kinds of zombies if you do a necromancer build, then the other guy is gonna be like, in a fight with everybody in the city. If you add it all up, it’s even tight already on the Series X and PS5.

The internet is full of hilarious videos of people coming up with all sorts of ridiculous solutions to in-game problems. What sort of unexpected things have you seen from the community that have stood out to you so far?

I have a great example. I got a message yesterday from a streamer, and she was super excited about what she had done. There’s a place in the game where you’re dealing with a really hard boss sitting in the Underdark. And there’s a hammer that comes down that you can trigger from a distance with the lever. And so she got herself with the boss who was following her under the hammer, she dropped the healing potion on the floor, she shot a fireball at the lever, which triggered the hammer, which killed her, killed the boss, but because the healing potion broke the fluid came out, and the healing potion gave her the HP that she needed to survive the hammer. So she walked out of it alive. It’s fantastic.

A character launches an attack at an enemy over a pit in Baldur's Gate 3.
Larian Studios

How, as a game developer, do you plan for things like that? Is it just a lot of playtesting? Is it the extended Alpha period? Or do you see what they come up with, and figure it out from there?

To be honest, it’s a mix of all of those. You build your systems, and you try to make them work like clockwork, but you can’t think of everything because you’re human, and you have a limited brain, and things go wrong. There’s a lot of testing. The game was in Early Access for three years, which helped a lot. A lot of the core systems were solidly tested. Then we had very long playtesting internally that was going on also. But even then, there are things that we don’t see, otherwise, we wouldn’t be patching.

And the game is very long also. So any test session that you start takes a very long time. If there’s something that broke because of something you did, and you only get it at the end of the of the game, it can take a long time for us to figure out it’s actually even a thing. That’s because you do a lot of choice-and-consequence. But you have to take it with it, otherwise, you can’t make these types of games. It’s the same thing for every single big RPG out there and will always be like that.

What are your feelings on mods?

I love it, but it makes my life complicated. When we launch a patch, the very first thing that we hear is “Oh, it broke! Your patch broke the game.” Well, maybe you want to update your mod or remove that mod. That’s always instantly the first conversation with mods. But other than that, I love it. We’re gonna do better mod support over time. We’re working on that, that will take some time.

We are adding in extra epilogue stuff. It’s actually underway. Actors are being recalled, writing is happening on that.

This most recent patch had an expanded epilogue for Karlach. Is that a sort of update that we can expect to see in the future?

Yeah, we said that we’re going to. We have a tool that allows us to render permutations of the videos that you look at. These videos of the ending were like 18 minutes long. We said, “that’s getting really long guys, this is gonna be going on like the end of The Lord of the Rings.” So we said, maybe we should trim it. And that was a mistake, clearly, because a lot of players were upset by that. They actually wanted that. So Peter Jackson was right.

So we learned from that. We brought back Sam (Béart), who’s the actress for Karlach right away. She went into the studio, I think, within the first week. We said okay, let’s give an updated ending. An optional ending, because they are all the other ones for Karlach. So we are adding in extra epilogue stuff. It’s actually underway. Actors are being recalled, writing is happening on that. But it’s not (cut) content that existed; it’s something that we are going to create new.

You’ve said that you aren’t currently working on any DLC, expansions, things like that. How set in stone is that?

We, as a team, peaked toward this release. So we’re gonna take a break. That actually is it. We’re tired. It’s been a long, long, long journey. It’s been six years of us only thinking about his game. So we need to refresh ourselves. And then we’ll see.

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Justin Koreis
Justin is a freelance writer with a lifelong love of video games and technology. He loves writing about games, especially…
Baldur’s Gate 3 drops Series S splitscreen support to release on Xbox in 2023
Jaheira in Baldur's Gate 3.

Larian Studios promises to release Baldur's Gate 3 on Xbox Series X/S later this year after pushing the game back because of performance problems on Xbox Series S.
Baldur's Gate 3 is available now on PC and will come out for PS5 on September 6, but an Xbox Series X/S version won't be available for a little bit longer. In a July 2023 community update, developer Larian Studios explained that this is because it needed "to ensure that the game is performing without compromise across the entire Xbox X/S ecosystem, in multiplayer and with split-screen. The Xbox Series X version was running fine, but the Xbox Series S version of the game was struggling a lot more. The Xbox versions of Baldur's Gate 3 didn't have a release window until now, when Larian Studios co-founder Swen Vincke took to X to confirm it'd come to Xbox platforms before the end of the year. That said, it will exclude one notable feature.
"Super happy to confirm that after meeting [Phil Spencer] yesterday, we’ve found a solution that allows us to bring Baldur’s Gate 3 to Xbox players this year still, something we’ve been working towards for quite some time," Vincke wrote. "All improvements will be there, with split-screen coop on Series X. Series S will not feature split-screen co-op, but will also include cross-save progression between Steam and Xbox Series."
Thankfully, it looks like Xbox players won't have to wait too much longer to play this excellent game, but it will be one of the first games to notably drop a major feature between the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S versions. This follows comments by Head of Xbox Phil Spencer where he said he doesn't believe Microsoft will drop support for Xbox Series S in the foreseeable future. "I want to make sure games are available on both, that's our job as a platform holder and we're committed to that with our partners," Spencer told Eurogamer. "And I think we're gonna get there with Larian. So I'm not overly worried about that, but we've learned some stuff through it. Having an entry-level price point for console, sub-$300, is a good thing for the industry."
Baldur's Gate 3 is available now for PC, launches for PS5 on September 6, and will finally come out for Xbox Series X/S before the end of 2023.

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I beat Baldur’s Gate 3 in 30 hours (and killed everyone in the process)
Gale talks to the player in Baldur's Gate 3.

Baldur's Gate 3 is such a long game that even though millions have played it, far fewer have seen the ending. Only 0.4% of players have gotten the Hero of the Forgotten Realms achievement for beating the game at the time of this writing, according to Steam. It's a game someone can put dozens of hours into, with no end remotely in sight.
That is. unless you beat it way earlier than you were supposed to.
During the climax of Act 2 in Baldur's Gate 3, I accidentally reached a premature ending -- one that my party members weren't too happy about. The ramifications of the ending definitely weren't good for the Forgotten Realms, but finding a way to wrap up Baldur's Gate 3 early just gave me an ever deeper appreciation for how personal each player's journey through this game can feel. 
Note: This article contains major spoilers for Act 2 of Baldur's Gate 3.
One last gust of Weave
Anyone who has played Baldur's Gate 3 probably knows Gale, the smooth-talking wizard who you can pull out of a portal early on in Act 1. Throughout that Act, I had to keep giving him magical artifacts to satiate some sort of curse he has, although their positive effects on Gale dulled with each new item. After doing this enough, I learned the truth: Gale was cursed by the God Mystra after betraying her. At the start of Act 2, though, Gale's former mentor, Elminster, arrives and tells Gale that Mystra has a new task for him: destroy the "Heart of the Absolute" with a Netherese Orb Blast that will essentially nuke and destroy everything around him.

This option appeared alongside Gale's other spells in menus throughout the entirety of Act 2, although using the Netherese Orb Blast early typically results in a message that said my party had been defeated and tasked me with reloading. But there is a real opportunity to use it and end things at the end of Act 2. Most of this section of the game is spent finding a way to defeat Ketheric Thorm, a Baldur's Gate 3 villain voiced by J.K. Simmons. I confronted him on top of Moonrise Towers with the help of Nightsong, who I freed, but before I could beat him, he retreated to a massive Illithid Colony underneath Moonrise Towers. Obviously, my party followed, ultimately stumbling upon Ketheric and two other villains -- Lord Enver Gortash and Orin the Red -- activating the Elder Brain that seemed to be the "Heart of the Absolute" that Gale needed to destroy.
Gale told me that this and asked me me for permission to explode and destroy everything. The first option is to tell him not to, which makes sense; there's still a whole third of the game left to play! But seeing that every major threat in Baldur's Gate 3 was here in one room and knowing how much the game had already taken over my life in a week, I told him yes.
After saying, "One last gust of Weave. One last gale to end them all," Gale blew himself up, and there was nothing else I could do as my Dream Visitor shouted, "No!" Gale blew up, killing Ketheric, Orin, Gortash, and the Elder Brain and granting me the Hero of the Forgotten Realms achievement you're supposed to get for beating Baldur's Gate 3. The post-explosion dialogue paints a gimmer future for the Forgotten Realms, though.
"Beneath the smoking ashes of Moonrise Towers, the elder brain lies destroyed," the narrator says. "But what of the tadpoles it commanded? Freed of the Absolute's control, they will complete their transformations. A plague of illithids will soon descend on the Sword Coast, enslaving all they do not affect." Credits rolled as I blankly stared at the screen, processing that this was the ending I'd worked toward.
An imperfect ending
This definitely isn't a good ending for Baldur's Gate 3; it's pretty terrible, actually. Still, the fact that I could do that speaks to a wider strength of the adventure. The best thing about Baldur's Gate 3 is how much choice it gives players. It's not just freedom in completing set objectives, but freedom to circumvent them entirely. The most fun I had with Baldur's Gate 3 was finding ways to avoid major boss fights or set pieces. Instead of picking a side in the attack on the Druid and Refugee camp, I destroyed the bridge Minthara could use to escape in the Goblin camp, killed her before having a conversation with her, and then pushed Dror Ragzlin off a ledge to kill him.

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Baldur’s Gate 3 and Hades have made me an early access believer
Astrion holds his chin in Baldur's Gate 3.

Until recently, early access games -- which allow players to buy, play and provide feedback on games during development -- still had a bad rap in my mind. Half-baked games that took advantage of the process (like DayZ, Godus, and The Stomping Land) are what still came to mind whenever I'd see an early access label on Steam or the Epic Games Store. I'd refused to even play many early access games because I was worried they’d go unfinished or not live up to expectations.

I'm finally coming around though, and that's thanks to two recent success stories. Hades, one of my favorite games of the past decade, and Baldur’s Gate 3, the Dungeons & Dragon RPG currently taking the gaming industry by storm, both started as early access games. Each came out of early access as such fully formed, enriching experiences that it’s begun to reshape my perspective on how powerful a tool early access can be.
The benefits of early access
I remember actively not being that interested in Hades back when it was announced in December 2018, and that was because it was an early-access title. The joke was on me; I felt like quite the fool when I finally got around to playing it at launch in 2020, and it became one of my favorite games of all time. I was in a similar boat with Baldur’s Gate 3, which I originally got access to on Google Stadia but didn’t play that much until its August 3 launch. Fool me twice and all that.

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