Heading out on an adventure in Baldur's Gate 3
Image via Larian Studios

Baldur’s Gate 3 Review | Welcome to the Party, Paladin

Embrace the luck of the dice.

Reviewing a game can be a complicated exercise sometimes. With Baldur’s Gate 3, what are we really reviewing? Many of the game’s mechanics are so closely entwined with Dungeons and Dragons that I could easily open any fifth-edition book and see the same information. 

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The game itself is set in The Forgotten Realms, a very famous setting, and features many of the races, classes, and places that a diehard fan of the system would expect. As such, what actually makes sense to consider when reviewing a game like Baldur’s Gate 3 is the developer’s intent. It is clear that Larian Studios has tried to give us eager gamers the best D&D adaption ever. It is also clear that their purpose is to entertain and enthrall us, providing an experience that warrants to be replayed over and over again. By weaving together the disparate systems of a game to create something wholly unique, Larian Studios has provided us with a game that matches the esteem they clearly have for the source material.

Lofty goals, and ones that have humbled many a confident team of developers over the years. It is with a happy heart, then, that I can say the team has rolled a Critical Success.

Is that a tadpole in my eye, or are you just happy to see me?

Baldur’s Gate 3 opens, as all things do, with a walking cephalopod putting a tadpole in your eye. This tiny creature becomes both catalyst and impetus, giving us cause not just to embrace the story but also to learn the complex systems that lurk beneath it. I am traditionally reluctant to get too deep into story details in a review, as I wish to avoid spoilers at all costs, but there will be some hard choices to make as you progress. It should not come as a spoiler that the game will provide conflict and challenge your notions of greed, evil, and honor.

Characters do battle with a Spectator in Baldur's Gate 3
Love is in the eye of the Specator. Image by Larian Studios

The squid man, known as a Mind Flayer, doesn’t realize at the time that he is creating a great hero or a brutal villain that can change the lives of anyone they meet. Yet, as you play through the game, you will discover an endless cast of characters, gather together a motley crew of similarly tadpole-infected compatriots, and then dive into endless hours of adventures, capers, and even a few shenanigans. How you go about that and who you are while doing it is entirely up to you.

While all this is shaping up, you are gently introduced to the mechanics of Baldur’s Gate 3, and this is where things might get a bit scary for new players with little experience of tabletop games. There is a lot to take in, both mechanically and narratively. 

This issue can hit straight away for the complete neophytes. As you create your character, you find yourself picking from a range of races, subclasses, and other options that are difficult to understand without some kind of prior exposure. The trick on your first playthrough is to aim for the fun. Learn as you go, then return for another playthrough armed with knowledge and an intent to min-max, should you wish. 

I traditionally play brutal close combat warriors in my D&D campaigns, but knowing I wasn’t committing to a three or four-year run with one character led me to experiment and spin up a Dragonborn Druid instead. I suspect other D&D vets will embrace this same freedom to explore and experiment with characters.

The best thing is that your player characters don’t even need to be your primary carry in combat. Many people will aim for something high charisma like a Bard to take advantage of potential dialogue options, avoiding combat as much as possible. It is this freedom, echoes from the source systems, that new players are invited to embrace.

Bonus actions have consequences

I love a lady with a giant axe. Image via Larian Studios

The infuriatingly dismissive way to describe D&D is that it is a people-powered, “things happen” generator. So, because Larian is attempting to recreate the dynamic of multiple people sitting around a table, weaving together a story, they have made it so most encounters can be resolved in various ways. Perhaps you charm your way through or fight to the death. Maybe you make a friend or an enemy. Maybe you kill a character and lose access to a quest. It is even possible to kill or drive away would-be party members, depending on what you do. Imagine the hilarity of waking up one day at camp after snuggling up with a member of your party, only to find your favorite caster has skipped town because you bedded his crush.

No matter what you opt to do, the writing is of an excellent standard. Yes, this is a fantasy game, but you will find yourself falling in love with the world and its denizens. Histories and personalities are rich, and you will be fit to burst with a desire to help some folks and hurt others.

There is also little protection from consequences, or handholding, in Baldur’s Gate 3, only an invitation to explore and set your own boundaries. Some people will accept whatever the game sends their way, while others will go back to a previous save file should a beloved party member suffer one of fate’s indignations. Either route is fine, as you get to act as not just the player, but your own Dungeon Master. You make the rules, and you decide what is fun.

Larian has decided to treat its audience as adults, but this can occasionally lead to a gulf between what you know and what the game assumes you know. The good news is that curiosity and experimentation are rewarded. You will surprise yourself with the interesting and creative solutions that you can come up with. You may also infuriate yourself if you fail to move the story in your desired direction. It’s easy to turn friends into enemies, sometimes.

The feather feeds both quiver and quill

Dramatic dungeon settings in Baldur's Gate 3.
Nothing bad has ever happened in a dungeon built out of lava. Image via Larian Studios.

If Baldur’s Gate 3 is one big design flex, knowing when to lean hard into the system it is based on and when to give players some leeway, then the narrative that Larian has developed is the limbic system nestled at the center of all the meat.

With somewhat surgical precision, the team has developed a cast that you will love, or loathe. From a large red-muscle mommy to a pretentious caster who is too in love with himself, and everything in between, you are given the chance to learn who the characters are. How they interact and respond to each other can be complex, so you might find yourself torn between two characters that you like as you do an awkward moral dance to try and keep them both happy.

If you do too much to impress one, it might push another one away. It is entirely possible to drive someone from your party completely, then run into them across the battlefield further down the line. There are countless NPCs to meet with quests for you to complete or secrets to find. What you do, who you help, and who you kill, is all up to you.

Like all good roleplaying games, Baldur’s Gate 3 will hum along, providing you with situations to overcome, battles to survive, conversations to have, and places to explore, but it will do everything it can to not pigeonhole you into certain actions. It is not possible for a video game to have the malleability and elasticity of a human driven campaign, but it is actually intimidating how close Larian has come to making that happen.

Where tabletop veterans might run into an issue is that, ultimately, they will be given control of the entire party. While you do have a player character, no doubt lovingly created after hours of tweaking, you also control everyone else in your party. Personally, I enjoyed this power in a game where so much of what happens is actually unknowable until after the fact.

Newer players, to both RPGs and D&D in general, might find the freedom intimidating. If you are used to a more on-rails narrative experience, then choice paralysis might be a problem. There is so much to do and see, and players who overly worry about doing things the optimal way will need to embrace what makes Baldur’s Gate 3 great. That we are just a feather in the wind of this narrative engine.

“If Baldur’s Gate 3 is one big design flex, knowing when to lean hard into the system it is based on and when to give players some leeway, then the narrative that Larian has developed is the limbic system nestled at the center of all the meat.”

Casting Judgement

A massive dragon in Baldur's Gate 3.
You’ve seen a dungeon, now meet a dragon. Image via Larian Studios.

Playing on PC, everything runs like butter. I’ve run into zero performance issues and have yet to encounter any of the reported bugs. The graphics are wonderful and detailed, bringing to life all manner of different environments, from brightly lit church courtyards to dank crypts. Cave systems and enormous castles are equally as striking, and if you zoom in on any character, you will find a delightful surplus of details. 

The voice acting is superb, with a passionate cast of actors bringing each character to life. There can be a lot of conversation in this game, so listening to talented voice actors who are clearly enjoying their work is a blessing. 

Frankly, there is little to say about Baldur’s Gate 3 that could be negative. The game is dense, but so is the system it is based on. As an RPG, it is likely to be the best game we get this decade, and it is definitely my favorite turn-based RPG of the last ten years. When the dust settles, it is likely to end up as a contender for the best RPGs of all time. 

If you are undecided on D&D in general or unsure if you even like the genre, then you will never find a better game to jump in with. I’d suggest getting off the fence, rolling for initiative, and just getting stuck in. One of the most enthralling gaming experiences in years is waiting for you.

Baldur's Gate 3
With a firm grip on GOTY, and a valid consideration for the best RPG of all time, Baldur's Gate 3 excels at every turn, and enthralls with every twist.
  • Incredible narrative design.
  • Well developed and intriguing characters.
  • Based on one of the most refined RPG combat systems out there.
  • Baldur's Gate 3 comes with the Expert Design Legendary Action, allowing it to automatically pass all Constitution saves.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC.

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Aidan O'Brien
Aidan has been playing games for over three decades and has been writing about them for about five years. When not getting stomped on by the creations of Hidetaka Miyazaki he enjoys spending too much time in Warframe, Destiny 2, and any ARPG with a solid grind. When not writing, he is doing inexplicable behind-the-scenes magic.