I don’t know where to begin when talking about Baldur’s Gate 3. Do I start with the illegible user interface, numerous technical glitches, or the lukewarm introduction to the narrative? Maybe my headline has already said more than enough in summarizing my experience with Larian Studios’ entry to the Baldur’s Gate series. Baldur’s Gate 3’s Early Access is disappointing.
While “early access” has a broad definition, varying from a moderately incomplete game to one that may actually never reach completion, this title feels half-baked even in these early stages. There are bugs aplenty, as anyone would expect, with characters popping in and out of the map at any given time, glitched dialogue, and the occasional combat encounter just outright freezing. These things I can mostly tolerate, since I assume that they won’t be in the final release of the game, whenever that may happen.
What wears me down is the narrative in and of itself. The premise is simple, which is fine; the original Baldur’s Gate games weren’t exactly novel–though they might have been in the late 90’s. And I promise it isn’t my general distaste of anything involving Mind Flayers (or Illithids as they’re referred to both in the game and in The Forgotten Realms table-top scenario), but more or less the motions the story begins to go through after the prologue.
You start off as a random individual–adventurer or not, it doesn’t really matter since you’re limited to a singular backstory in Early Access–who has been abducted by Illithids and implanted with a tadpole. Once that worm-like creature has reached maturity, you too will turn into one of your abductors. After completing the prologue, you’re thrown out of the ship and on your own, at least for a short period of time.
Running into the companion characters isn’t entirely direct, which I didn’t expect it to be. I met Shadowheart, a mysterious, Half-Elven cleric of Shar, and eventually the mostly unremarkable wizard Gale. It wasn’t until a few hours later when I eventually made my rounds on the map that I ended up meeting my other companions, the foppish vampire Astarion, the human warlock Wyll, and the Githyanki Lae’zel.
I had already run into Lae’zel during the prologue missions, where we fought through the smoldering Illithid ship alongside an Intellect Devourer I had managed to coerce into helping us. But there was an instance on that ship that foreshadowed how my experience with Baldur’s Gate 3 would begin to pan out.
In the prologue, you find Shadowheart inside of a Illithid pod and begging for help and freedom from her prison. I made the decision to help her, using the Arcane Knowledge option to try and free her and add her to my roster of characters. I rolled below the necessary score and was unable to save her. I ended up trying it again a few hours later and discovered that regardless of what you do or roll, the game locks you out of being able to help her in that instance.
That was when I knew that there would be a level of predetermined unfairness in Baldur’s Gate 3 that left me unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong, I know these games are supposed to be difficult. I died to pack after pack of wolves when leaving Candlekeep in 1998. I don’t mind dying; I don’t mind retrying and seeing how a scenario might have played out in any other circumstance. But coupled with horrendously long loading screens of over two to three minutes, there are instances in which Baldur’s Gate 3 makes it seem like you are destined to fail.
Rolling natural 20’s in conversations didn’t feel like a triumph–they felt like a relief in the way that you’d just like something tiresome to be over with. And these moments seemed like the only instances in which the dice mechanic mattered. You can open the action window, but none of the dice rolls are displayed. The information that is displayed there is somewhat transparent and so small that I was unable to read most of the text.
That can be said for the entire user interface, however. Icons are small, almost impossible to decipher, and oftentimes unclear. I would be clicking around on the hotbar trying to figure out what icon would take me where for at least a few minutes, with some prompts partially unresponsive. I had the worst time trying to sell things to vendors. I would have to click on items several times to even get the game to register that I wanted to drag them to my section of the barter section in the shop window, which as you can imagine became frustrating.
But that’s really it. Baldur’s Gate 3 is frustrating. It’s unfinished and in sore shape, even for an early access game. Maybe my frustration comes from the perspective of someone who grew up playing these games, who spent hours upon hours in The Sword Coast fighting against their father’s legacy or vanquishing vampires in the titular city. Maybe my disappointment stems from Baldur’s Gate 3 being nothing like Baldur’s Gate series narratively or mechanically.
Who knows what will happen over the next few years? Maybe Baldur’s Gate 3 will shape itself into one of the best Western RPGs of all time, following in the footsteps of its predecessor to cement itself as a defining keystone in the genre. That would be the best case scenario, and the one I want for Baldur’s Gate 3. I want to feel moved and invested in the characters I’m interacting with—I don’t want to trudge through the same narratives that have become common in the genre, and if I have to I at least want it to be engaging and thoughtful.
Baldur’s Gate 3 has a long way to go in more ways than one. Hopefully over the next few years of development, or however long it will take for Larian Studios’ to iron out these issues, will create a more meaningful experience. Or at the very least, one that is easy to read and understand.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is immediately available on PC and Google Stadia.