A legend is reborn
Baldur's Gate is a name with some significance in the Western RPG world. Baldur's Gate is a city that stands along the Sword Coast, part of the setting of Faerûn, now almost synonymous with D&D. Bioware in 1998 launched what is perhaps his most loved game by fans: Baldur's Gate. Great success that launched the Canadian house towards new heights. It had a sequel, the sequel had an expansion, and recently, in the wake of the remasters, an expansion to the first game was released, set between the two episodes.
Wizard of the Coast decided to give this franchise a further follow-up, this time relying on the current kings of classic Western RPG: the Larian Studios, which with Divinity Original Sin 2 have proven to have it very long. Baldur's Gate III is currently available in early access su Steam at the photonic price of 60 €. And the finished game is a good year and a half away, considering the elongated technical times due to Covid, in addition to the usual floods that seem to affect Larian's studies.
So I want to take the discussion on this game a little bit off by discussing various aspects of this production. Let's start with the first-hair Internet complaint: this is not a Baldur's Gate. So it was said. Looking at it, most of the complaints seemed to focus on the combat system. The first two episodes of the series sported a Real Time with Pause, RTP system, while the Larian product has a turn-based system. In my opinion it is the wrong approach to the problem. If we look at the source material, Dungeons & Dragons, over time has changed its rules in a very drastic way as in the passage from the 3rd to the 4th edition. However, the setting remained the same. Taken and used by thousands of Dungeon Masters around the world.
Master of evil, lord of the dark
I myself as a player have led several adventures on the Sword Coast. And so we have to see a new Baldur's Gate, or in general a new game based on paper RPGs. It takes the whole set of rules, the whole story of a setting with thousands of years of history and you give it to a new Dungeon Master. And the real difference is here. Each DM has his own way of interpreting the game, inserting his ideal vision of the game, reworking it according to his needs.
Steve Jackson produces the role-playing game GURPS, which is judged by many online users as complicated, full of rules and minutiae and hard to swallow. According to all the players who have had the opportunity to try GURPS under my direction, they found it light and immediate. Because I have my own way of handling it, filtering a lot of the fat. And that's exactly what Larian did at the 5th edition of Dungeon & Dragons in Baldur's Gate III. Again I don't understand the complaints that they wanted a 1: 1 re-adaptation between the table rules and a video game. Do you all have boring Dungeon Masters who apply the rules as they are, never thinking about what's funny, without looking at what works and what doesn't?
With this line of thinking in mind, what is the thing that Larian has proven he can do well, especially with his latest hits like Divinity Original Sin I and II? Interactivity. Systemic Mechanics. Choice by the player on multiple levels. And just by looking at this Early Access, the work is excellent and away from all previous attempts to capture some of the essence of a paper role-playing game. When we play at the table, there are two crucial elements that make Pen & Paper so unique. Failure is fun and experimenting is very important. The limit is the mind of the Dungeon Master, and in a video game the limits are more due to how much time you have to program everything.
Forgotten realms, magick spells
Spells like thought reading, those of the school of enchantment, talk to the dead or with animals e disguise himself they find their strength in the ability of a DM to invent answers on the fly, to guide or mislead players, to reward their inventiveness. IS Baldur's Gate III succeeds in making them work. To bring the player's experimentation to the center of the adventure. To move everything animated not from the next step of the story, from the next level, but from the curiosity, with the desire to discover. By perfecting the process already started with Divinity Original Sin. Accidentally killing someone who was needed alive and then questioning them dead, disguising themselves as being of another race to make a conversation friendlier, asking wild giant spiders for help for a fight are just a few examples. And they remain etched in our memory because they are obtained by reasoning, not following a predefined path.
To these are added two very useful commands: the jump and thrust. The jump allows us not only to disengage when we are in close combat (mechanics that I would prefer to see decoupled from the jump), but to be able to take advantage of the verticality of the environments. One mistake you can make with Baldur's Gate III is to approach it like all isometric RPGs, so as if it were in 2 dimensions. No mistake can be more serious. The game is extremely vertical. Teleporting to a roof behind an enemy and then convincing him with a push to meet the ground at terminal speed is not only a valid tactic, but recommended to get the better of the encounters. Outside of them, these movement skills allow for marked manipulation and exploration of the environment. In general, it seems that there are many explosive barrels in this version of Faerûn.
Take a chance, roll the dice
The other aspect that I think is transported well is the representation of the 20-sided die. the D20. In Baldur's Gate III you will be called to two types of shots: passive and active. In the active the dice will be present in the center of the screen and will be rolled by the player, with a target objective to be overcome in plain sight. I would like some math a bit more prominent to be clearer to the player, but the thrill of watching the data roll is strong, as well as shouts of joy or blasphemies based on the result. Passive rolls, on the other hand, are automatically launched while exploring or during the dialogues themselves and allow the player to increase their perception of the world. A passive arcana roll successfully passed while talking to a magical creature could insert a line of dialogue from the narrator explaining some extra details and open up new possibilities for dialogue. And Perception is always useful for finding that trap before stepping on it and ending up KO.
In all this failure is always behind the angle and in a video game with saves it is really difficult to balance. If a conversation doesn't go smoothly for a failed roll, I can always reload. Not so on the table. We proceed forward. And this is unfortunately something that developers have little influence on. Baldur's Gate III continues to move forward despite the failures, except those who see the total defeat of the party in battle of course, and the player must find the strength to accept them, so as to have to get out of increasingly complex situations and have to solve problems in an always more inventive and less direct. Having a balanced party is a must, because when diplomacy fails, it's better to know how to fight too.
What I see in Baldur'd Gate III really is the desire to bring the heart of Pen & Paper into an electronic game, more than in the past. The 5th edition regulation is transposed quite faithfully, with the appropriate adjustments as I recalled a few paragraphs ago. In addition to the introduction of an environmental interaction derived from Divinity, which however is closer to the paper reality than you think, critical points of the 5th edition have been retouched.
We are the pathfinders, we are the travelers
For those unfamiliar with D&D, the game allows you to create your own avatar choosing from different races and classes and in the final game you can start with pre-built characters with a more defined background and character. Each breed in addition to being aesthetically distinct offers different mechanical characteristics, making them more or less suitable for certain classes. In addition to the classic humans, dwarves, halflings, elves and half-elves, we have the more exotic drow, tieflings and githyanki. The selection of classes for early access are Cleric, Warrior, Ranger, Rogue, Warlock and Mage. Any gaps will be filled in the final version of the game.
Larian went to tweak the things that didn't work in the board game. Everyone was very disappointed with the Ranger, which was also reworked by Wizard of the Coast itself. Well, here the Ranger is a not indifferent war machine, perhaps even too much enhanced in my opinion. The Thief in his rogue specialty has also been tweaked. Let's say that all of these shades you will appreciate or not based on your familiarity with the 5th edition of D&D. In the video game, the feeling is that everything works globally even if it needs several steps of rebalancing and improvement.
At the moment being higher than an enemy is much, too advantageous and the encounters against enemies if started in a normal way, see the party in a situation of monstrous disadvantage and therefore you have to make an effort to try to perform an intelligent engagement. Doing it sometimes is fine, but not always. But if stealth is abused as it is conceived, almost every fight is trivialized. The rest mechanic is a bit odd too, as you can return to your camp to rest even in the middle of an enemy fortress that's teeming with enemies.
Net of balance and high difficulty, the gameplay side is fun. Except when all hit rolls fail and enemies only start hitting with critical hits, but well, THAT'S XCOM, BABY! I would say that the time has come to talk about the narrative side. Luckily we know that Wizard of the Coast has no responsibility in this regard. Shrewd.
Is this Hell or Paradise?
Despite the large III in Baldur's Gate III, we are faced with a followed at a distance and not so much to previous games in the franchise, but to an adventure released by Wizard of the Coast for the paper game. Let's talk about Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus. 100 years before BGIII, a bit of a mess took place in the region. A city disappeared from the material plane and found itself captured and dragged to the first level of the Underworld: Avernus.
Needless to say, the story gets messed up quickly, with the party of players holding the fate of several people and as always a final ending is left to the adventure that is created by the players. In Baldur's Gate III we are immediately in trouble. All the protagonists are on a ship of the Illithids (Mind Flayers if you prefer), cthuloid creatures with psionic powers that reproduce in a particular way: they insert a tadpole of their species in the eye of a victim and once reached maturity triggers a process known as Ceremorposi. The creature transforms into an Illithid. This ship is attacked by the sworn enemies of the Illithids, the Gythyanki, and on the run also ends up in Avernus briefly. After a disastrous landing, the player then finds himself in the material plane, on the Sword Coast, near Baldur's Gate.
With a Illithid puppy in the brain. And so all the various members of the party, united by this fate. The approach is similar to Larian's previous works more than to previous Baldur's Gate or even Neverwinter Nights and other RPGs, that the story center on the protagonist and the party unite for the most disparate reasons. This was done to allow for better multiplayer integration. All with the same problem and goal: to avoid turning into an Illithid.
But things are not what they seem, given that the transformation delays and gives not indifferent telepathic powers. With each use of these powers, an evil influence appears to grow within the player. The choice is therefore simple: take advantage of these powers for their benefits or avoid using them because you don't know what you are playing with?
You will also find several figures gravitating around these strange powers. A group of cultists who serve the Absolute are moving to do something, but what? And who is the Absolute? I really enjoyed the set up and the evolution. The game clearly conveys the intention to never be sure that what you are doing is right and the amount of information hidden in the levels is extraordinary. Whole quests can be turned upside down, jumped, solved in different ways and your perception of the world will be extremely altered. Several times I have found myself re-evaluating my previous choices based on new information gained. And I like.
What would D&D be without a good party?
The various companions of Baldur's Gate III help a lot in the single player game. Their personalities are well stereotyped and stand out, bringing you to like or dislike quickly according to your tastes. They have several layers to sift through their dialogue trees, and you'll have to grace them by taking related actions throughout the adventure. They cover a good spectrum of classes, races and types for now and will all join your adventure if you so wish. The operational party is for 4 people, a classic number for D&D 5th edition.
And it's a joy to talk to everyone because the game has a system borrowed from Dragon Age Origins, taken to the extreme. Once you have undertaken a dialogue action with a character, you will have a cinematic dialogue camera to allow you to admire the quality of the faces and the beauty of the clothes of each interlocutor. There is a feeling of making Baldur's Gate III an AAA game. Obviously for now many cutscenes are missing, the transitions are terrifying, the lipsync in some scenes is absent and the animations are not at the top.
The bugs are many, it will be necessary to reload saves at full speed. But it's also normal, we're talking about Early Access. An Early Access for € 60. Why such a high price? Because of the 20-30 hours of content? Due to the overall quality, which is better than some games at launch? In my opinion they had aimed at a high price to discourage a little. It is a very complex game and raising the barrier of entry would have allowed us to have "few" feedback. This was not the case, with the game among Steam's best sellers.
Is it worth buying it? As much as I enjoyed it, both alone and in co-op, you must be aware that this is a method of giving feedback to the developers and you will only experience the first act of an adventure that will have a lot to say. You will be with the stories just opened, all without a conclusion, with a mad desire to continue without power. So not a recommended purchase if you want something now. It is a pre-order done well in advance and without discounts. But it is a preorder of a game that shows its greatness from its inception. And I can't wait to land at Baldur's Gate.