It’s been a long road for Baldur’s Gate 3. When Larian Studios announced that they had secured the Dungeons and Dragons license, and even the rights to make a title in the beloved Baldur’s Gate franchise, a bit of euphoria erupted from gamers who would finally be able to return to the Forgotten Realms following the near-cataclysmic events of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. And then when Baldur’s Gate 3 was released to Early Access on Steam back in April of 2020, with one big part of the first chapter available to explore, there was even more excitement. For the most part, the Early Access version was fun to play, and it gave a great hint at things to come. Yes, it was a little buggy, and at the times did not fully follow the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset, but there was also a ton of potential which was easy to see.
However, three years in development is a long time, so gamers could be forgiven if they had forgotten about Baldur’s Gate 3 or uninstalled the Early Access version to reclaim the 100 or so gigs of space the title required. However, when it fully launched on August 3, there was definitely cause to celebrate once more. Not only were most the bugs removed since the beta, but the rules of Baldur’s Gate 3 now carefully align with Dungeons and Dragon’s Fifth Edition. There was also a massive amount of content added to it, and not for just the later chapters in the story. Larian Studios even went back and added a bunch of new features, characters and adventures to the first chapter to the point where even if you had played the Early Access version of the game on Steam, you probably will still be surprised at all the new content.
Given how massive Baldur’s Gate 3 is now, it was almost impossible to get a review posted close to when it was released. For example, the city which serves as the namesake of the game, Baldur’s Gate, does not come into play until after most players have already sunk 50 to 100 hours or more into it. And while there is a main quest that will occupy players for a long time, there are also hundreds of side quests and adventures, some of which are simply stumbled upon as you explore the vast world of the Forgotten Realms – all before you even see the gates to the so-called Lower City of that fantasy metropolis. And your companions, including a new one who was added since the Early Access version, each have their own problems and quests which you can also explore as you play.
We at GiN are going to break down each element of Baldur’s Gate 3 as best as we can given the massive scope of the game, but wanted to say upfront that with only a few brief caveats, this is easily one of the best RPGs ever made. It gets very close to that amazing feeling of sitting around an RPG table with real people (yes, you can also play Baldur’s Gate 3 with up to four friends, although we only did single player for this review) and going on a well-crafted adventure. It also follows the Fifth Editon rules very closely now, so Baldur’s Gate 3 does not seem like part of Larian Studio’s Divinity: Original Sin series, which is also good, but is not a Dungeons and Dragons game. Baldur’s Gate 3 certainly is now.
In terms of caveats to our “One of the Best RPGs” proclamation, the one thing to know is that Baldur’s Gate 3 really leans heavily into the Fifth Edition rules, and does not always explain everything in terms of that system to players. I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for years, and I still had to look up various feats and powers from time to time to try and understand how certain magic items or powers worked. Also, the title tends to be extremely challenging in terms of the combats. The turn-based combat gives players time to think, so you will never feel rushed, but you will likely need to learn how to maximize as many advantages as you can to come out on top of some of the fights. For example, using a free action before your turn’s main action to enhance your next move is often critical. For spell casters, learning how to quicken, extend and otherwise modify basic spells – or how to combine them with other spells and abilities – is going to be a key to success. Even reducing the difficulty level of Baldur’s Gate 3 to its casual setting leaves a lot of difficulty intact, so be prepared for a challenge in its world.
Most good role-playing games start with detailed character creation, and Baldur’s Gate 3 has got plenty of that. There are millions of cosmetic choices for players to experiment with and also many options when it comes to generating a starting character. For my first playthrough, I ended up inside the character generation engine for several hours before I finally had made the “perfect” dragonborn sorcerer with red dragon-like parents, but a black dragon ancestor. That in turn gave me the grease spell for free, which sorcerers normally don’t get (it was changed to a wizard-only spell in Fifth Edition). That allowed me, starting at second level, to cast grease quickened to coat the area in flammable liquid as a free action to possibly knock combatants prone. And then I followed up with the powerful produce flame cantrip as my action, dealing direct damage and setting the area ablaze for even more destruction. That combo got me through many of the early fights in Baldur’s Gate 3.
You can also multi-class your characters starting at second level. I gave my dragonborn sorcerer a level in rogue for help in picking locks and the ability to backstab, both of which proved incredibly helpful. There are almost no restrictions placed on character creation either, so you don’t need to be a human to play a paladin for example. In addition to a custom character, you can also play any of the five pre-made main characters which can become your companions if you don’t. Their starting abilities and appearances are set, but you can level them up however you wish. And there is also a mystery character called The Dark Urge if you are looking for a unique and special challenge, but I would not recommend taking them on your first playthrough.
The world of Baldur’s Gate 3 is vast and packed with adventure. More than once I saw a side trail or some other interesting landmark and headed off in that direction, only to find both big and small adventures and quests waiting for me both at that destination and along the way. Baldur’s Gate 3 rewards players who explore every nook and cranny of its world. That is how something like a relatively simple “fetch” type quest to an abandoned village can quickly end up turning into a grand adventure involving a displaced fungal sovereign fighting for their homeland in the Underdark. Like with a pen and paper RPG adventure, it feels like anything is possible in Baldur’s Gate 3.
But, of course, an RPG would not be complete without combat, and Baldur’s Gate 3 has got lots of it. The tactical fights can be extremely challenging, with enemies that understand how to find advantages on the battlefield like employing their special abilities or even climbing up to higher areas to take advantage of the terrain. Players will need to respond in kind if they hope to emerge from most battles intact. Many times, I had to reload a fight when my party was getting wiped out, so don’t be afraid to do that and try a new strategy the next time around. Even going back to camp and selecting different companions (something you can do at will) might be effective if you need more magic or muscle for difficult encounters.
The landscape is always highly detailed. Even the gloomy and cursed areas seem real and are interesting to explore. And then when you finally get to Baldur’s Gate, it takes things to a whole other level graphically. Don’t be afraid to just step back and gaze at that incredible cityscape. Baldur’s Gate is beautifully designed with lively streets and plenty of NPCs that make it feel like a real place. For the most part, if you can see something in the city, then you can reach it and explore it. The developers have also done an incredible job of incorporating lots of small details into the city’s design. Baldur’s Gate is alive on so many levels to the point that whether you look up or down, or right or left, you are going to see what appears to be a real fantasy city and its people going about their daily lives.
Rounding out the presentation is the music, which is also incredible in Baldur’s Gate 3. It really sets the mood as you adventure, and the main theme song, “Down by the River” will stick with you long after you are done playing. Here too, Larian had some fun with it. After raiding a thief hideout, I looted a music box and when I wound it up, it played the game’s theme song. Towards the end, the music box’s tune even slowed down as it ran out of power, a wonderful touch that made me laugh. I kept that box on me for most of the game, occasionally playing the song when I needed a lift.
Baldur’s Gate 3 can be challenging, even when set to the easiest difficulty level, but you would be hard pressed to find another RPG that offers such a stellar experience. To say that Baldur’s Gate 3 will be the standard by which most future RPGs will be judged is an understatement. Players now know what is possible with an RPG, and they won’t be satisfied with lessor titles moving forward. Just like when the original Diablo came out all those years ago, RPGs from this point on will either be up to this new standard, or they will fall short and be known simply as Baldur’s Gate 3-like in nature, but not in quality.
Baldur’s Gate 3 earns 5 GiN Gems, a perfect score for the new gold-level standard in computer RPGs.