Baldur's Gate 3 (Early Access) Review
Reviewed on PC
Baldur’s Gate 3, the latest addition to Larian Studios’ catalogue of games, is great on the surface. The concept of a rich fantasy adventure in the vein of Dungeons and Dragons is appealing to many I’m sure, and in many ways, it succeeds at everything you’d want a DnD-inspired game to do. It has a detailed world full of interesting characters and encounters, genuine consequences for choices and pretty deep character building that affects many different aspects of the experience.
However, in its current early access form, Baldur’s Gate 3 just isn’t there yet. It’s understandable, as being in early access obviously means the game isn’t finished, but I can’t recommend it to players looking for a great RPG to sink their teeth into just yet. With a game like this, I want my first experience of this world to be full of excitement and wonder, but technical problems soured my time with it and made me reluctant to continue.
From the opening cinematic cutscene, I was instantly hooked on the premise. I’ve never played a Baldur’s Gate game before, and I had no idea what was going on, but it was pretty mesmerising. The creepy mind-flayers make for excellent villains in the opening, and exploring their unsettling ship as it hurtled through the sky was a great opening, but it didn’t take long for my immersion to disappear like dust in the wind.
Sadly, the in-game cutscenes are generally buggy and plagued with stiff animation, broken dialogue and visual pop-in that ruins a lot of the experience. For a huge game like this, it must be difficult to animate every single character and keep the same level of quality throughout, but this definitely missed the mark. At times characters will freeze during a conversation or have their dialogue cut off, destroying any immersion there might have been. This was a persistent problem for me, not just the odd cutscene here and there. It really takes you out of the moment when the quality of these scenes is this inconsistent, and they're a large part of the game. With so many scripted sequences this early in development, Larian Studios may have bitten off a bit more than they can chew until they can apply the necessary polish and make them bearable. If you can stomach glitchy cutscenes and wonky animation, you'll probably enjoy this a lot more than I did, but when every single scripted moment pulls you away and makes you think your PC might be crashing it doesn't make for an entertaining adventure.
Luckily, the gameplay is enjoyable enough to keep me interested despite the overall glitchy mess of the dialogue and cutscenes. If you’ve played Divinity: Original Sin II, this is pretty much more of the same. Characters take turns to battle against a variety of different fantasy enemies, and there are literally hundreds of strategic options for you to use in fights. From simple damaging moves like sword slashes, arrows or fire magic, to poisoning enemies, shoving them off high surfaces and interacting with the environment to damage them – every battle is unique. You have to carefully consider your plan too because it’s easy to lose if you’re not thinking properly. I learned pretty quickly that it’s important to auto-save often because losing a fight results in your party being killed and you’ll probably have to restart because you can't always revive them easily. You can play the game in co-op too, but I played solo for my adventure so I had full control over everyone in my party. Generally, I had a fun time with the combat once I got used to.
The voice-acting and interactions between characters are great, mainly because they’re well-performed and their reactions are totally believable. Encounters can play out in a number of ways and it’s up to you how you approach certain scenarios. Depending on what kind of person you want to be, you can tackle problems through peaceful means, violence, or something in between. You won’t always succeed though. Every time you make a decision you have to roll a dice to see whether you pass the appropriate skill check, and this makes for an engaging experience where you never know what the situation might devolve into. Once, I was talking to some ogres who really seemed like they wanted to devour me, but a lucky 20 roll made sure I got out of that situation uneaten. Other rolls will determine whether or not you have to fight your way through a horde of enemies or simply walk through unscathed.
This isn’t the only random aspect of Baldur’s Gate 3. In combat, attacks depend on a percentage chance of success. You can do things to increase your accuracy – high ground will make your bow attacks more effective, for example. Weirdly, it seems like attacks miss more often than they hit, even if you have a 60%+ chance. It was pretty frustrating early on, and I’m not sure if it’s intended or if I was just unlucky. Either way, expect your attacks to fail pretty consistently unless you can pull off a perfect approach.
I did have trouble getting a consistent frame-rate, though this is hopefully something that can be fixed in future updates. The game looks great visually, and the world has a lot of potential. But when I entered particularly highly-populated zones I noticed the performance took a pretty big hit. I also encountered a bug where all my item icons disappeared, so I had no idea which items were which in my inventory. I fixed it by verifying my files on Steam, but it was annoying. Hopefully, the major bugs can be ironed out.
Overall though, Baldur's Gate 3 is a mixed bag at the moment. Over time it'll be a worthwhile pick-up if Larian Studios can polish it and add more content, but right now I can't recommend it at full price. However, I'm keen to return once the game is out of early access because it has a lot of potential and the gameplay is very solid. I'm cautiously optimistic that this can become a brilliant game over time, but we'll have to wait and see.