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Baldur’s Gate 3 review

New industry standard

 

Baldur’s Gate 3 appeared on PC back in August, but our editors were able to get to it only after its release on PlayStation 5. The process of completing this huge game took a long time, but in the end, I was able to study not only the console version but also the options for Windows and macOS.

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As a fan of Larian Studios and its approach to RPGs, I had a rough idea of ​​what to expect from the new RPG, but Sven Vincke and his team managed to impress. Already at the character creation stage, you can notice a large number of different details and interactive properties that should influence the player’s adventures. It is important to note that the choice of class is not as critical as it seems at first glance because, at a certain point in the first act, you can complete a quest and get the opportunity to freely change your combat profession. 

The classes themselves use the Dungeons & Dragons system, in which there is no mana, and skills are tied to various action points and rolls of all sorts of unusual “dice” like a twenty-sided “d20”. The balance between classes also seems very video game-specific. Here, warriors and barbarians, although they have a very limited set of techniques, with proper development will almost immediately powerfully slash at the enemy, but for magicians, it is much more difficult, especially at the beginning, when there are no strong spells, and after several volleys of fireballs the sorcerer will need rest.

Having completed the creation of his character, the player finds himself on the airship of the illithids – octopus-headed monsters with telepathic abilities. They infect intelligent creatures with their larvae, which gradually turn the victims into the same illithids. The main character is a prisoner who is infected with this parasite. At the same time, the ship is attacked, and he manages to escape, meeting several of the same infected. Finding themselves on the ground after a ship crash, the characters realize that they must find a way to get rid of the parasites. It is precisely this vague statement of the problem that encourages you to explore locations and look for ways to solve the problem.

As in the studio’s previous games, here almost all quests are somehow related to the main events. Even banal secondary tasks to find this or that character ultimately result in a whole story, which along the chain can intersect with other plots. Because of this connection, the world of Baldur’s Gate 3 feels alive and very interesting to explore. The global plot is very skillfully twisted, and sometimes there are intriguing and unexpected turns in it, just like in good TV series. The central narrative is closely intertwined with numerous side activities, and it is in them that interesting nuances and details regarding characters or specific events are often revealed.

One of the features of Larian Studios games is high variability when completing quests. Divinity: Original Sin 2 delighted fans with its variety, but Baldur’s Gate 3 took it to a completely different level. There are simply a huge number of opportunities to perform certain tasks. Locked locks can almost always be picked with a master key, broken by force, or just simply found for the key. In addition, almost any object can be examined, moved, tried to be set on fire, or, conversely, extinguished. All of these capabilities allow you to solve more complex problems in a variety of ways. Do you need to enter a restricted area, but you can’t negotiate with the guards? You can go around the area on the other side and climb over the fence using improvised objects piled up in a heap – the main thing is that no one notices this. The developers have worked through many scenarios, but the gameplay itself is structured in such a way that sometimes it is possible to generate your own stories even randomly. As an example, I’ll tell you about a quest related to goblin raids on a local shrine. I will try to describe everything without unnecessary spoilers, but in any case, this is only a small fragment from the beginning of the game.

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This quest can be completed by playing completely different roles. For example, there is the option to simply and straightforwardly kill all the goblins or secretly penetrate the camp and eliminate only the leaders, but most importantly, there is the opportunity to join the gang and rob that very grove. The most interesting thing is that the player is free to change his decisions during the game and can promise one thing and do something completely different. I was able to complete this quest in a very funny and random way. Having convinced the goblin guards to let a group of heroes into the camp, I began to examine the surroundings. It turned out to be easy to eliminate the first leader quietly, and then we had to think about how to defeat the rest now. Standing by a bridge with a cliff and examining the scattered things in the room near the second boss, I accidentally kicked one thing (I pressed “throw” instead of “inspect” and automatically confirmed the action). At this moment, the “boss” ran up to the detachment and began to make claims for damage to property and theft. Standing at the edge of the abyss, I couldn’t think of anything better than throwing my opponent into the cliff. It would seem that the job was done, but a small goblin saw this and ran to raise the alarm. They had to catch up with him and throw him into another pit – this time with spiders. The arachnids were very happy about this and they started a fight. Other goblins came running at this noise, but it was not possible to sneak past them on the sly… As a result, through a chain of such random incidents and attempts to end it all, our squad accidentally started a fire in the camp, and while trying to escape from the fire, they came across the remaining leader, who successfully stopped near a fuel barrel and was blown up. After such an impromptu sabotage, the group led by the main character barely escaped through the underground caves. Only after this did it become clear that the quest had been completed. It was a lot of fn, because these are the kinds of stories you want to retell later to your friends, who probably went through this episode somehow differently.

Baldur’s Gate 3 generates plots like this regularly, especially if you try to play without using obvioustraightforwardrd solutions or reloading your save after every failed d20 roll. Such random plot twists, created due to a non-trivial approach, cause indescribable delight and arlikeed no less than well-written script moves and dialogues.

It is worth noting that even global quests can have radically different ways of completing them. Playing a second or third time, you can get completely different results and see different consequences. These moments may remind you of Dragon Age: Origis, in which entire layers of the entire world changed due to some player actions. However, the variability in Baldur’s Gate 3 is so high that sometimes even “failure” in some quests leads to separate stories and interesting situations. In general, there are almost ny losing options here. For example, we can mention the meeting with the Hag in the first act. It has a lot of interesting features and decisions that can ultimately have far-reaching consequences, although, going through the first act, you may not even know about it. This level of detail in the scenarioy takes Baldur’s Gate 3 to the next level among RPGs.

Some may remember more budget projects like Disco Elysium or the old Planescape: Torment, where, in essence, the player reads an interactive book, but still here we are talking about a large AAA-class RPG with a lot of voiced dialogue, a deep combat system and decent graphic design. Of course, the authors benefited from the experience of two Divinity: Original Sn, and this is not only about the gameply but also about the competent management of the studio. It seems that the management team has grasped the right balance well and correctly distributed the budget, knowing where they can save money, for example, by not voicing the main character’s lines, and where they need to show their project from the best side and spend money on excellent development of the main character’s companions and their facial expressions, voice, es, and dialogue delivery.

ONE OF THE FEATURES OF LARIAN STUDIOS GAMES IS HIGH VARIABILITY WHEN COMPLETING QUESTS. DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN 2 DELIGHTED FANS WITH ITS VARIETY, BUT BALDUR’S GATE 3 TOOK IT TO A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT LEVEL.

By the way, memorable heroes in a party RPG are the key to success. Here the characters turned out to be varied and for every taste. Fans of the first Baldur’s Gate games will certainly be happy to see Jaheira and Minsk, but in my opinion, the newcomers seem more interesting. Conversations with companions reveal their characters and motives, and personal relationships can reach intimacy. Some of the characters turned out to be slightly caricatured, but overall realistic. For example, conversations with Laezel reminded me of an acquaintance who was also afraid of showing “weakness,” as a result of which she seemed very angry to others. It is also important that heroes can change over time – for example, Shadowheart’s quest seriously affects her character. In addition to companions, the game has plenty of colorful villains and other very non-trivial minor participants in the story, like Mizora or Volo. The authors have done a good job with the visual images, and even minor companions are well remembered when they first appear and are easily recognized in the future.

If you set your mind to it, you can complete Baldur’s Gate 3 with very little combat, but the combat system is quite interesting and I wouldn’t recommend skipping any of it on your first playthrough. Battles are completely built on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, where the success of all actions is determined by the roll of various “dice”, and the characteristics of the characters act as modifiers that add or subtract the final points. I won’t go into all the nuances, I’ll just mention once again that the game does not have a mana system or anything like that. Skills and abilities are tied to action points and special magic cells of different levels. Depending on the class and leveling, simple skills can be used one or even several times in one turn, and the most powerful and demanding spells and skills can be used only once or twice, and after that, the character will need to rest. Thus, it is necessary to competently plan forces for several battles in advance and measure the power of the spell with current combat situations. Sometimes it is better to save strong magical attacks, because in the middle of some quests, there may simply not be an opportunity to rest. 

It is important to note that battles often turn into a bit of a puzzle, and their planning sometimes encourages the player to experiment and try different options, often restarting the fight several times. Some spells and abilities that seem useless or strange can turn out to be decisive at some point. The combat mechanics and interaction with the environment will be familiar to those who played Divinity: Original Sin. Here you can also combine elements and it is important to interact with surrounding objects. The developers tried to design the system so that it provides even more opportunities than before, and at the same time feels fresh. For example, the banal “push” option, as it turned out, brought a completely different approach to combat situations. In addition, you can conceive a grandiose plan that combines a chain of interactions with a torch on the wall, a broken bottle of oil, and other objects, but at the same time almost miscalculate and fly into the abyss yourself after everything breaks out. However, in those moments when complex plans come to fruition, there is a feeling of satisfaction comparable to defeating a difficult boss in Dark Souls

Another important layer of impressions concerns the technical part of the game. For those who have read various reviews and watched enough tests, it might seem that the game has poor optimization on consoles, but this is not entirely true. I immediately remembered “ The Witcher 3 ”, which slowed down in Novigrad, and frame drops in the swamps became no less legendary than the game itself, but despite this, it was played comfortably. It’s about the same here.

The graphics in Baldur’s Gate 3 are very modern, but not outstanding in terms of technology. Visually, the picture is very pleasant and interesting, but this is achieved primarily through design and natural facial animations during close-ups. The characters are well-detailed and seem quite neat, even if they aren’t the most attractive races like the Githyanki. Of course, trolls and goblins are ugly creatures in any case, but they are beautiful precisely from the point of view of the artists’ work. Separately, I would like to mention a large number of beautiful clothes and various types of equipment, which at first are not very striking, but over time it becomes clear that here, too, the developers did their best. 

The technical condition of the console version of the game is quite decent, and it turned out to be better than I imagined after tests from Digital Foundry and other specialists. The third act of the game turned out to be the hardest for hardware. The area around Baldur’s Gate is a busy place, and at some points, there may be a lot of characters walking around on screen. In such cases, performance tends to drop to 30 frames per second, even in the mode of the same name.

By the way, there are two versions of the game on PlayStation 5. The first is the “quality” mode, in which everything works stably at 30 FPS and with a resolution of 1440p. Even in the third act, there are almost no significant drawdowns, and the image seems clear and smooth. The second option is “speed”. With this option, the frame rate increases to 60, and the resolution becomes dynamic. During the test, I spent most of the time this way, and I was quite comfortable. The picture does not deteriorate much, although in some moments slightly less clear outlines of objects appear, and shadows and some of the special effects are a little simplified. In particularly intense situations, the number of frames per second may drop somewhat, but if your screen supports VRR, such stuttering will be almost unnoticeable. Although already in the third act I switched to the “quality” mode, because in the city FPS fluctuations often go from 60 to 30 and back, which makes the picture less comfortable than at a stable 30.

As for the version for personal computers, on a machine with an RTX 4080, of course, the situation is much better – the game runs with maximum settings in native 4K resolution, and drops in frame rate below 60 are rare.

We ran the macOS version on a Mac mini with a base M1 processor and 16GB RAM. This option is also quite playable with FSR enabled at medium-low graphics settings, but the performance and visuals are significantly inferior to the version for the PlayStation 5. However, on Apple devices with more powerful processors, the situation is much better. Even on the M1 Pro, not to mention the second and third iterations of the chip.

It should be noted that the game supports cloud saves and transfers them between platforms. This is very convenient – after switching to play on PC, I didn’t have to start over.

The only unpleasant surprise was that it took a long time to launch the game and load saves – over the years of the PlayStation 5’s existence, I had already gotten used to the fact that they can take about 40 seconds. In truth, this seems like a very strange flaw, given how this process is implemented in the vast majority of modern games on devices with SSDs. On PC the situation is better than on PS5, but the engine does not seem to be optimized to work with fast drives, especially on consoles. I hope that this will be fixed in one of the patches.    

During testing, I did not notice any serious or critical bugs. The game is quite comfortable on any of the systems I tested.

Another important question that arises among potential buyers of this masterpiece is control from a gamepad. Players who missed Larian Studios’ previous projects on consoles are intimidated when they see the numerous radial menus. Although everything is quite convenient. The controls are based on the system tested in Divinity, and I like it. If you are used to playing similar games on a PC, then, of course, this aspect may seem difficult when you are not used to it. However, in such large and complex games, such a pile-up of functions is quite justified and is found even in more friendly projects, like GTA V. Let me remind you that in the action movie from Rockstar Games, at first glance, there is a completely unintuitive range of actions – “left” on the d-pad switches radio stations, “right” turns on the headlights, “up” activates the phone, and “down” changes the character. In Baldur’s Gate 3, many actions are done through radial menus, of which there can be several, which is scary if you’re not used to it, but in reality, it’s very convenient.

In addition, the selection of certain objects can be done in different ways, for example, with a cross. If this seems inconvenient, then in the settings there is a special option for the left or right stick, which allows you to select the desired object more smoothly. In addition, the cursor automatically highlights the objects that the hero is looking at. Well, the ability to select an entire area around the character has been preserved, which allows you to quickly indicate the desired target or object if they are very small or piled up in one heap. The most interesting thing is that each of the control types is good in its way, and personally, when I moved to the PC, I noticed that wandering through locations and inspecting densely crowded interiors is easier with a gamepad, but managing inventory is much more convenient with a mouse. The version for personal computers allows you to quickly switch from mouse to gamepad and back, at the same time the interface changes.

A good role-playing game, in addition to character leveling and development, usually combines components from other basic genres. The authors from Larian Studios harmoniously supplemented their design with elements from “adventure quests”, dialogue novels, and turn-based tactics. Thanks to the quality development of these aspects, Baldur’s Gate 3 is an absolute delight. Those small flaws that exist here are more than compensated for by the overall elaboration of the world, the variety and depth of game mechanics, as well as a very interesting story, within which the player has many forks. This game can be restarted many times, and each new playthrough will be different from the previous one, revealing more and more new nuances. In my opinion, Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the best role-playing games in the history of the industry, and I wish it had the same impact on RPGs as The Witcher 3 or the Souls series did.

Larian Studios’ creation truly sets new standards in the genre, and I hope that after such success, major studios will no longer be afraid to make expensive RPGs with a turn-based combat system. I would especially like for Square Enix executives to notice and appreciate this.

Sven Vincke’s studio has been working towards this success for a long time, and Baldur’s Gate 3, without exaggeration, is worthy of all the laudatory epithets and awards that it has already received.  

 

The game was played on PlayStation 5 and PC. The first 38 screenshots in the gallery were taken on PlayStation 5, the rest were taken on PC.

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