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Baldur’s Gate 3 review: staggering RPG opens up a world of possibilities

A party of heroes stands on a cliff in Baldur's Gate 3.
Baldur's Gate 3
MSRP $60.00
“Baldur's Gate 3 is a staggering CRPG with a level of player freedom that make its possibilities feel endless.”
  • Deep character creation
  • Multilayered story
  • Rich world
  • Incredible player freedom
  • Impactful choices
  • Underwhelming finale

After pouring over 150 hours into Baldur’s Gate 3, I can’t wait to start all over.

Larian Studios’ megasuccessful CRPG is so engrossing that I could not stop thinking about its endless possibilities while it was in my hands. All of the character builds I wanted to try, all the companions I needed to spend more time with, and all the choices I did not make still gnaw at my mind like a tadpole burrowing into my cerebellum. And judging by audience reaction over the past month, I’m not alone. Baldur’s Gate 3, a daunting game in a genre that was previously easy to write off as “niche,” has become the latest watercooler video game.

And I just think that’s magical.

Choose your character

To create a strong foundation with which to build a massive RPG, Larian Studios excelled at converting the 5th Edition ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons into Baldur’s Gate 3 with very little deviation. All of the 12 base classes are present, with at least three subclasses per class, as well as 11 races, along with their own subraces. This is where your adventure actually begins; not with your first roll or first conversation, but with creating your own character. Customizing your avatar in Baldur’s Gate 3 can possibly take two hours for some people to do. Players are given a dizzying amount of options to choose from, and many of them are not locked behind binary notions like gender either. This gives players complete freedom to create exactly the character that they want to spend the next 100 hours with.

Karlach in Baldur's Gate 3.
Larian Studios

If creating a custom character is not something you are interested in, there are six pre-generated characters to choose from, all with their own personal backstories and desires. There is also a seventh origin character, but they are really just a custom character with a premade backstory. These six characters are the foundation and spine of Baldur’s Gate 3 — they are the reason to keep playing, and the reason for potential heartbreak.

All characters that you can speak to, especially the origin characters, are beautifully voice-acted, as well as motion-captured by the actors themselves. Everyone oozes with personality and personal ticks and quirks that make them so believable and alive. Each of them has their own reasons why they stick together, and it is up to the players to find out who they really are. Standouts for me personally are Astarion, the sassy elf vampire who always had something witty to say, and Karlach the tiefling who would have a heart of gold if it wasn’t replaced by a literal bomb from the Hells.

Following their stories was my main motivation while playing. I wanted to see where they would end up after all of this, I wanted to hear them express their opinions on what was happening before them, I wanted to fall in love with them. And, yes, I did.

Ever wonder why we’re here?

The story of Baldur’s Gate 3 runs parallel with most campaigns found in Dungeons & Dragons. It starts slow and simple, and then explodes into something grander. The player character is survivor of an abduction by a mysterious race known as the Illithid, creatures with psychic powers and tentacles on their faces. They have implanted a tadpole into the hero’s brain that is supposed to turn them into an Illithid, but for some reason, that process has been halted. With a crew of colorful companions at their side, it’s up to them to jump down a rabbit hole of mysteries and save the day.

That premise blossoms out to a variety of factions of varying trustworthiness, new major characters popping in and out in each act, and some deep philosophical conundrums. The layers can feel overwhelming at times, but many of them are strongly connected to fantasy archetypes that make them easier to grasp if you have a basic understanding of the genre and its storytelling tricks.

Minsc exclaiming there's no gold in the mimic.
Larian Studios

Act 1 is basically a 30-hour tutorial level — and I don’t mean that as a slight. The first act of Baldur’s Gate 3 drops (literally) players into the countryside right outside the acclaimed city. It’s sprawling, almost a full game all its own, and yet it gives a taste of everything still to come. Even as an introduction, I can’t imagine many players having the exact same story.

The second act, on the other hand, is where the hand of the Dungeon Master comes in to stop the party from goofing around. It’s a stark contrast to Act 1: directed, focused, and very plot-heavy. This is when choices and actions matter. Dire consequences happen here and can literally change the rest of your characters’ stories. It’s a refreshing change of pace after spending seven levels and 50 hours in the Sword Coast. Everything that I learned, every tactic I tested, and every piece of loot I earned (or stole) from Act 1 was put to good use in Act 2.

It all comes to a head in a sweeping final chapter that brings in even more layers in. There were many times I was out following one quest and I bumped into two other quests I was going to do later, all the while accidentally completing another quest that I hadn’t even known I started. It can feel overwhelming, but it’s also where Baldur’s Gate 3 is at its most rewarding. This was when my character was at its strongest, and where all my build planning was finally put to proper use

Three warriors fightingg a giant snake monster with eyes.
Larian Studios

It’s huge, and the one place you might experience some performance struggles. My PC struggled to keep up at times, crashing once during the final stretch. Not bad for a 150-hour game, all things considered.

It all builds to a finale that doesn’t quite feel as grand as the adventure leading up to it. There’s a properly cinematic final boss to vanquish, but some final revelations leave some logical questions that already have the game’s community torn. Though what’s more disappointing is how it all unceremoniously ends after the final fight. There is a brief — and I really mean brief — moment with your party before the credits roll. There is no time for a proper goodbye or even an epilogue. I spent countless hours with these characters. Despite all the high-stakes plot points, they’re the real heart of the story. So it’s disappointing that they only get a chance to take a quick bow onstage right before the curtains swiftly fall and the houselights turn back on.

Roll for initiative

Baldur’s Gate 3 uses the rules of Dungeons & Dragons to build out the core combat and skill checks. It’s not a complete mirror of the tabletop game, but it is one of the closest I have seen that still understands that it is a video game. Some tweaks have to be made in order for some of these classes to feel better with a mouse and keyboard (or a gamepad, as the controller support is surprisingly well-built here) instead of dice. This means that any class you choose will have a variety of options for you in and out of combat. It’s done wonders for the Monk class and allowed the Thief subclass to really shine.

Larian doesn’t penalize a player who wants to think far outside the box.

With all of its complex systems working in tandem, Baldur’s Gate 3 feels like it has countless choices and opportunities. The whole world can be shaped by the player to a great extent. It supports a more standard approach if you just want to run up to a goblin and smash them with an ax, but it also gets incredibly creative. Players can interact with crates and barrels to create chokepoints ahead of battles or as an improvised platform to gain elevation. Spells or items can be used to create a puddle of water that can be electrified or frozen to do devastating damage to your foes.

When playing, I’m able to get creative in ways that most games would never allow. I can shoot a teleporting arrow to the top of a keep that is filled with guards and traps instead of walking through the front door. Most bosses can be immediately defeated by having a rogue place 10 explosive kegs around them and then detonating them with a wizard’s fire spell. Sorry, no dramatic villain speech for you; it’s Wizard Time.

A party in a cave jumping across a gap.
Larian Studios

Baldur’s Gate 3 fully understands that many people will play this way and welcomes them to do so with open arms. Ask any Dungeon Master and they will tell you wild ways that their players overcame their challenges. Similarly, Larian doesn’t penalize a player who wants to think far outside the box. You will get the same amount of experience points from duking it out old-fashioned style, or from rolling a high charisma check to convince the enemy to give up. At every challenge, there’s a full toolbelt of options to choose from. It is up to the player to figure out the solution, as simple or impractical as it may be.

You have chosen wisely

There are a wealth of choices to be made throughout the adventure to shape the story. When you compare your playthrough with a friend, you might find that your world is very different from theirs. Your party members can even be drastically different from other playthroughs. Not just in the sense of who lives and who dies, but who they become. Shadowheart, Astarion, Wyll, and the rest are all going through critical moments of their lives. They are trying to better themselves to the best of their abilities, but they can easily be led astray, and they can end their journeys worse off than when they started. Sometimes they can fall down a dark path by your suggestion, or by you not intervening to stop them. Baldur’s Gate 3 does not give you a binary “Good Ending” or “Bad Ending” for everyone.

It’s an adventure meant to be shared.

Not every choice completely changes the wider world; sometimes they just reinforce the character you want to be. During my playthrough, I encountered a nasty necromancer, filled with ego and self-righteous importance, who demanded that I do a task for him. Playing a necromancer myself, I decided to attack him on the spot in a moment of territorial control. Sure enough, he blasted my party with a powerful poison spell that immediately killed two of my party members. But not my undead comrades; they’re immune to poison. The skeletons walked through the miasma of poison to finish off the necromancer and his undead cronies. Looks like I was the better necromancer after all!

Days later, I was talking to my brother, only to discover that this necromancer was not only an incredibly hard fight for him, but that he also played a pivotal role in the main narrative in the game. A scene that Larian Studios planned out for me was completely missed because I got caught up in a bone-measuring contest with that necromancer. And I don’t regret my actions for a second.

A wizard charges a spell to hit a minataur.
Larian Studios

That’s where the true joy of Baldur’s Gate 3 is found. It’s a huge game filled with secrets, scenes, and moments that are impossible to see in one playthrough. To learn about them all, you need to talk to your friends about how you killed the hag or how you found a legendary weapon hidden deep inside a monastery. It’s a collaborative narrative that has already become a beautiful focal point for players to gather around and have a social moment together. It’s an adventure meant to be shared.

Baldur’s Gate 3 was reviewed on PC.

Editors' Recommendations

Andrew Zucosky
Andrew has been playing video games since he was a small boy, and he finally got good at them like a week ago. He has been in…
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