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Baldur’s Gate 3 spit in the face of every modern gaming trend. And it paid off

When you picture a “bankable video game,” what comes to mind? That answer will probably elicit some wildly different answers depending on who you are.

As budgets have grown bigger and projects have become more financially risky, executives have struggled to turn video games into a reliable science. We’ve seen companies like Blizzard completely morph into something unrecognizable as they try to find new monetization streams. Square Enix has strayed away from its turn-based RPG roots in order to chase Sony’s more action-focused, blockbuster vision — a style that Sony itself is taking a step back from as it explores the unpredictable world of live service games.

Everyone seems to have a different idea of what makes a successful game in 2023, but I can’t imagine many studio bigwigs saw Baldur’s Gate 3’s success coming. The newly released CRPG is 2023 biggest surprise, as it has burned up the Steam charts since it got its 1.0 launch on PC early this month. It’s so successful that it’s been firmly planted in Steam’s top three most-played games since its release, fighting for the top with the likes of PC titans like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and DOTA 2. That momentum is already having an impact on its upcoming PS5 version as pre-orders are spiking on the platform.

It’s a hit, but one that stands in direct opposition to everything we’ve been led to believe makes money over the past decade. Baldur’s Gate 3’s success may be an anomaly that isn’t easy to replicate, but it offers some insightful lessons to anyone treating creativity like a math equation to be solved. Sometimes the only thing players are hungry for is a damn good video game — though it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Going against the grain

Though Baldur’s Gate 3 is a surprise hit to some extent, it did have a huge leg up out of the gate. For one, it’s an IP-driven project in a beloved RPG franchise. That alone gave it a sizable, built-in audience. It also got a boost thanks to its developer, Larian Studios, who had built up an incredibly strong reputation with fans after 2017’s outstanding Divinity: Original Sin 2. The 1.0 version had a head-start too, as it started its life with a successful early access launch in 2020 that allowed Larian to listen to fan feedback and build strong word of mouth. All of those circumstances make Baldur’s Gate 3 more of a variable than a constant in the world of game success stories.

Even so, the CRPG’s current popularity is staggering when you consider how much it spits in the face of modern gaming trends. While it does feature cooperative multiplayer, it’s largely a single-player experience. That alone stands in opposition to the industry’s current obsession with multiplayer. PlayStation, for instance, is beginning a harder pivot into multiplayer. During Sony’s last PlayStation Showcase stream, most first-party games featured were multiplayer-focused. This fall’s Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 may be the last of a dying breed as the company gambles on titles like Marathon and Fairgame$.

A trio wearing monkey masks attack another crew in the Fairgame$ trailer.
Haven Studios

Those projects are all part of an aggressive push into the wild world of “live service” games, which is another pitfall Baldur’s Gate 3 avoids entirely. Rather than giving players an evolving world meant to keep them engaged over time, Larian launched a fully featured 100-hour RPG. That stands in stark contrast to another PC game this year, Blizzard’s Diablo 4, which has worked hard to maintain its initial player base amid a seasonal content schedule and a slew of controversial balance tweaks.

As a cherry on top, Baldur’s Gate 3 features no extra monetization to speak of. There isn’t a monthly battle pass or a slew of cosmetic items you can buy with real money. Players get what they pay for and then some here, which is becoming increasingly rare in the industry. Just this week, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick told investors that the company is aiming to monetize 100% of its mobile gaming audience, whether through microtransactions or ads. While Zelnick’s comments are focused on the mobile market, that aggressive attitude can be found in full-priced Take Two console games like Lego 2K Drive and WWE 2K23.

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

Even the basic structure of Baldur’s Gate 3 goes against the grain. Though it does feature some epic cutscenes, it’s not the kind of cinematic third-person action-adventure game that some studios have been chasing ever since The Last of Us. It’s a top-down RPG that goes heavy on menu management instead of “total immersion.” On top of that, it’s a turn-based game — a genre that even pioneering RPG studios are moving away from. Earlier this summer, Final Fantasy XVI fully committed to real-time action in an attempt to appeal to Western audiences. Producer Naoki Yoshida explained the pivot in clear terms during a press event Digital Trends attended earlier this year.

“Creating a Final Fantasy is such an endeavor where your development costs can go upwards of $100 million just to create one game,” Yoshida said. “To recoup that development cost, you need as many people playing your game as possible. While a lot of older fans are used to the Final Fantasy of the past, a lot of young fans grew up playing first-person shooters. Games like Grand Theft Auto where you press a button and something happens immediately … To get that group to come in and introduce them to the series, we decided to go down this road. Action was pretty much the only way to go.”

Despite that attempt to chase a broader appeal by abandoning an old-school style of play, Final Fantasy XVI has yet to meet Square Enix’s sales expectations. After a recent earnings report, which revealed the company experienced a 79% dip in profits, Square Enix president Takashi Kiryu noted that the hit still wasn’t performing as expected, blaming the numbers on the “slow adoption” of the PS5.

Baldur’s Gate 3 and Final Fantasy XVI certainly aren’t a one-to-one comparison, but Yoshida’s comments ring false when looking at their successes side by side. It’s hard to argue there isn’t a large enough appetite for a turn-based game that could justify a AAA budget when Baldur’s Gate 3 is currently smashing records.

What does it mean?

There’s an idealist read of all this that might make players feel some vindication. After years of live service gambles, battle royale cash-ins, battle passes, and Hollywood storytelling, there’s undeniably something cathartic about the success of Baldur’s Gate 3 (its own creators are even surprised by how well it’s overperforming). It feels small and rebellious, like David taking down Goliath.

It’s important to keep some perspective though; Baldur’s Gate 3 is still very much a goliath itself. It’s a staggeringly enormous project made possible thanks to a AAA budget, hundreds of workers, two big IPs in both Baldur’s Gate and Dungeons & Dragons, and more. Before the game’s launch, game developer Xalavier Nelson Jr. preemptively urged players to keep all this in mind before taking its success as a new standard.

“In an era of megagames, Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the largest attempted, built by a specialized group of people using mature tech specially built to make this specific game, reinforced by invaluable mass player feedback AND market validation ahead of its launch,” Nelson Jr. tweeted. “This is not a new baseline for RPGs — this is an anomaly. Trying to do the same thing in the same way, especially without the same advantages, could kill an entire GROUP of studios.”

Like a lot of people, I'm deeply excited about what the lovely folks at Larian accomplished with Baldur's Gate 3, but I want to gently, pre-emptively push back against players taking that excitement and using it to apply criticism or a "raised standard" to RPGs going forward

— Xalavier Nelson Jr. (@WritNelson) July 8, 2023

That point should be a stern warning to any studio looking to capitalize on Baldur’s Gate 3 by chasing its audience. It’s not a sign that people are hungry for more games like this so much as it’s a testament to Larian Studios and its ability to deliver the best possible version of what it does at such a high level.

There’s still a lesson to learn here, though. While the top players in the video game industry love to chase trends engineered to maximize profits, the idea that a creative medium can be boiled down into a profitable formula is wishful thinking. A lot of modern studios wouldn’t be caught dead trying to make a game like Baldur’s Gate 3. And yet, a wildly complex, single-player-focused RPG with turn-based combat and no extra microtransactions is currently keeping pace with the undefeatable Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

It’d be laughably naïve to say that the only real secret to success is making a great game. But recent hits like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Elden Ring another financial barn burner that was initially written off as niche — show that players are more open-minded than companies seem to think. With a strong creative vision and the resources to bring it to life, even some of the most unexpected games can open up the public’s imaginations.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
Baldur’s Gate 3 Patch 1 improves the game in over 1,000 ways
Karlach in Baldur's Gate 3.

Larian Studios released Patch No. 1 for Baldur's Gate 3 today, almost a month after launch and following several hotfixes. It brings over 1,000 gameplay improvements and bug fixes to the highly successful RPG.

Baldur's Gate 3 has been a massive success since its August 3 release on PC, but it definitely hasn't been free of bugs and some other weird quirks. Four hotfixes have addressed some of the most pressing issues, but these patches are much larger in scale when it comes to what they add and fix. Larian says Patch 1 is primarily focused on game balance and flow tweaks, as well as bug fixes. There's nothing too glamorous or game-changing, but it should make playing Baldur's Gate 3 an even smoother experience. 
A couple of these fixes have to do with the game's romance system. A bug causing the conclusion to Shadowheart's romance to not activate properly has been fixed, and animations have been added so taller characters don't awkwardly kiss or hug shorter ones anymore. Fixes have been made in preventing bugs at the Morphic Pool, an issue where loot wouldn't appear on corpses in multiplayer, and some Game Over screens problematically appearing where they shouldn't have. There are way too many tweaks and bug fixes to list here, so we recommend going to the Baldur's Gate 3 website to check out the full list.
Unfortunately, game performance improvements aren't part of Patch 1, as Larian Studios is saving those for Patch 2. But it says that we "won’t be waiting long" for those. Baldur's Gate 3 is available now for PC, comes to PlayStation 5 on September 6, and will launch on Xbox Series X/S before the end of the year.

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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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