Baldur’s Gate III preview (PC)

One of the most eagerly anticipated RPGs at this time is Baldur’s Gate III, Larian’s project that is currently in Early Access. Time to take a closer look.

What we know

The excitement surrounding Baldur’s Gate III within the RPG community is easy to understand. The game combines the legendary status of the Baldur’s Gate franchise with Larian Studios’ critically acclaimed skillset – something that most recently shone through in Divinity: Original Sin II. Expectations are sky high, Larian is introducing a brand new engine and game recently launched in Early Access, where it’s expected to stay for at least a year.

The current build weighs in at an 80GB download, but only contains the first of what eventually will be three acts. Although our guess is that we’ll eventually see a port on next generation consoles, it’s a PC exclusive for now. Save games from the Early Access version are said to not be compatible with the final version as well, so that’s a word of warning for those who can’t wait to jump in – Larian’s been pretty vocal about the fact that this version is meant for those who enjoy co-creating the game with them and don’t mind that the later chapters aren’t available yet.

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What we saw

Without trade shows to attend this year, our first opportunity to see the game in action was the launch of the Early Access version, which we’ve been playing for the past few weeks.

What we thought

There’s little doubt in our minds that Baldur’s Gate III is going to be another milestone achievement in the RPG genre, but that’s just the ultra short version of it. Everything in the game already feels very polished and reeks of quality, starting with the character creation process that precedes the adventure before jumping into a spectacular opening sequence where you find yourself on board a flying ship where a bunch of Mind Flayers are inserting a DNA-alternating bug into your brain through your eyeball. It’s pretty grueling stuff, but it immediately puts you in a mindset where you want to escape the second that the ship is attacked.

While RPGs tend to ease you into their world and mechanics, Baldur’s Gate III goes full throttle right away and plunges you knee-deep into its adventure, which still takes place inside the Forgotten Realms, which you please fans of Dungeons & Dragons and high fantasy adventuring in general. And as with many games that have been inspired by D&D, the luck of the dice roll is a crucial factor in how your interactions (both in and outside of combat) play out. You don’t simply level up an abilty until it’s “good enough” to perform a task, there is always the luck of the roll. So even though your chance of success increases as your skills do, there’s always a chance you’ll fail.

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That mechanic takes a bit of getting used to if you’re coming from another RPG, but ultimately it feels fair and realistic despite initially being frustrating when something goes wrong that shouldn’t have. If San Marino beats England, it’s upsetting – but ultimately the (slim) chance of that happening is also part of the charm of the sport. Baldur’s Gate III works in a similar way, and if you find yourself on the other side of the medallion where something works out against the odds, it’s an unexpected delight.

There’s a lack of control involved in that, and that’s something that’s especially apparent while in combat, where the luck of the dice determines your ability to hit someone, how much damage you’ll do, etc. Character progression and clever positioning are still your friends in combat, but one of Larian’s biggest challenges will no doubt be to balance our luck and (tactical) skill in these combat situations.

Although still clearly a product that’s in development, Baldur’s Gate III is visually gorgeous – the new version of the Infinity engine really providing a step forward to Larian’s RPG games. Obviously you’ll still run into a few missing or unoptimized assets at this point in time with animations that aren’t always quite as fluid as you know they will be, but you can already tell this is a level beyond what Original Sin 2 gave us in terms of detail and lighting – and that’s talking about what is still one of the better looking RPGs out there.

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Speaking of Original Sin 2 – Larian has already implemented voice work and music in the current build of Baldur’s Gate III, and it’s of the same high quality we saw in their last game. Music seems to dynamically change based on the situation and your surroundings, and that includes instances where the music builds on familiar and melodic themes you heard before. Voice and music sometimes even blend together, as NPC character can be found making their own music while still feeling like proper characters you can engage with – very immersive stuff where no character is a simple prop in the environment.

The hardest thing about Baldur’s Gate III is having to muster the patience to wait for development to conclude, which perhaps might not even happen in 2021. What we’ve been able to play so far has been a wonderful sample of what will no doubt be a great game, and its Early Access build is best suited to those who want to be an active part of the community.

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