Baldur's Gate III
Image via Larian Studios

Review: Baldur’s Gate III Is a Promising Revival of a Beloved Franchise

Baldur’s Gate. What can be said about Baldur’s Gate? It’s a series that defined a generation of RPGs, setting the standard for writing for upwards of two decades. I can remember purchasing Dragon Age: Origins after catching a glimpse of “From the creators of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn” on the box. Its brand power was, and still is, strong. While Baldur’s Gate III had been in Early Access since October 2020, what Larian Studios created is perhaps one of the most ambitious RPGs I’ve ever played. It set out to create a worthy successor to one of the most famous RPGs of all time. While it starts off strong, it truly emulates the quintessential tabletop RPG experience in more ways than one.

Recommended Videos

Editor’s Note: This review contains major spoilers for Baldur’s Gate III

Gameplay is a fairly stock and standard affair if you’ve played any of Larian Studios’ previous games. It’s Divinity Original Sin 2 with a few extra bells and whistles, but nothing that the studio hasn’t done before. There’s more refinement there, but is nothing like the previous games in the series outside of whether or not your attacks hit based on dice rolls. It’s true that Baldur’s Gate III more closely emulates the tabletop experience and abides by the rules of Dungeons & Dragons 5e, which is mostly fine. Characters can only use a specific amount of actions per turn and have mostly limited movement. Because this is so much like Divinity, there is a level of experimentation not afforded in previous Baldur’s Gate games. You can use your environment to your advantage, even shoving enemies off of cliffs to their death. One of my favorite encounters involved taking Gale with me, surrounding my enemies with Cloud of Daggers, and watching them die in a flurry of blades they’d need to pass to actually reach me. I cheesed a lot of encounters like this and using Counterspell (a passive casters can learn) to mitigate a lot of incoming spell damage. Baldur’s Gate III rewards experimentation, and it really forces you to think outside of the box.

I was playing the game alongside my friends, and watching their approach to things showed me how different combat encounters could go. It wasn’t just pause and play combat or saving before encounters to buff up my party with spells before I’d swarm the enemies in the next room. One friend played a Barbarian and was insistent on throwing enemies at each other to kill them. Another used a Warlock and was all about countering attacks and spells with the extremely powerful Eldritch Blast or using a specific forbidden spell they had Gale learn from a random book that nearly one-hit a red dragon. You can, of course, brute force everything too. That’s what I ended up doing during my second playthrough. I’d smashing through enemies with heavy weapons and rely on Astarion to sneak up on enemies and stab them with brutal efficiency while Karlach raged and swung her axe with reckless abandon.

Baldur's Gate III

Image via Larian Studios

Character customization is decent enough. You can pick from a total of eleven races, not including various subraces, and twelve classes. Subclasses are made available to specific classes at the start or become available as you progress the game. These can be negligible or can actually impact what innate abilities your character will have. You can use them for tactical purposes or to reinforce the role-playing aspect of the game.

Character races and classes can also play into your general interaction with the world. My first character, a Human Wizard of noble birth, was able to have expanded interactions with Gale and Wyll. This wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t pick Wizard as my class or noble as my background. Additionally, players can select voice, identity, and their genitals as separate customization options, which I actually really appreciated as a trans man. I could decide what pronouns the game would use for me, which wouldn’t be dictated by my voice.

However, I was a bit disappointed when it came to facial customization for the more humanoid races. For example, I actually couldn’t have Asian features as masc Half-Elf, but I could if I chose to be femme. It honestly feels a little weird that certain real life features are locked behind specific races in Baldur’s Gate III. Outside of this, you can also make non-lore compliant Drow, Elves, Tieflings, and even Dragonborn, in terms of skin and eye color. Also, while you can’t fine tune certain features, Baldur’s Gate III’s character creator feels expansive enough to let players live out their fantasies or create their own original character.

Regarding its story, Baldur’s Gate III throws you into the thick of things. You begin the game in the very same way you did during the Early Access period. That is, as a captive on an Illithid Nautiloid ship. There you encounter Lae’zel, a Githyanki warrior, and Shadowheart, a Half-Elven Cleric. After escaping the ship, you wash up on the banks of the Sword Coast. Thus begins the first act of the game. You acquire your companions relatively quickly, as they are scattered around the map and can be encountered without so much of a hitch. Gale can be pulled out of a swirling purple waypoint (that you can use to fast travel), Astarion is skulking about in the sun, Karlach is hiding from would-be crusaders, and Wyll just appears at your camp if you rest long enough after hitting specific triggers. You can mix and match them at your leisure, only ever taking three of them with you at a time.

Image via Larian Studios

The early game is where Baldur’s Gate III shines, as it is the most dense and fleshed out part. Choices feel significant, as one wrong dialogue option or missed roll can result in a character dying and a massive battle occurring. Thankfully, the game does allow you to save while in the dialogue window so you can save scum often or see what immediate consequences can be. As someone who played the original Baldur’s Gate and even Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn at release, I did this a lot! That’s just the kind of things these games facilitate. Larian did a fantastic job of creating a real sense of freedom. I saw consequences based on the actions I did (or didn’t) take within the first 20-30 hours. But as I left the Druid Grove, having saved Halsin, protected the Tieflings, destroyed the goblin camp, and finished a few side quests, the game slowly began to unravel at the seams.

Player choice became exceedingly less important. While I could choose to save or kill certain important characters, sometimes these repercussions couldn’t be felt. Sure, I could save or kill the Nightsong, a woman tied to second act villain. But her life or death felt more impactful in terms of Shadowheart’s personal storyline than it did with severing that antagonist’s immortality. It was clear that Baldur’s Gate III needed me to move along as content became more sparse as I neared the third and final act.

Now, for the sake of seeing what I could do, I decided to ally myself with Enver Gortash, chosen of Bane, the God of Tyranny, after having slain Kethric Thorm and taken his Nether Crystal for myself. Gortash was an easy ally, though it affected the overall story very little. Act three felt like it passed in the blink of an eye, lasting roughly ten hours so. (Act one and two took me a total of seventy hours combined.) Everything wrapped up in a flash as I investigated a series of grisly murders pulled right out of the tabletop RPG “Murders in Baldur’s Gate”. While the quality of writing and the impact of my choices dwindled considerably, the game also began to break.

I encountered issues where Baldur’s Gate III wouldn’t load textures or entire assets, sometimes preventing me from leaving areas unless I restarted the games. Entire characters would go missing in cutscenes, represented by floating weapons. Text pop-ups alerting me whether or not a companion approved or disapproved of a choice I’d made would blink by without me actually being able to read it. I also experienced some gameplay issues where enemies would hit me through solid terrain, instantly killing me or my party member. The save file I was playing literally vanished into thin air. Sometimes my saves would also delete themselves at random, which may have something to do with the Larian launcher’s cloud saving system that will no doubt come into play when Baldur’s Gate III comes out on the PS5.

Image via Larian Studios

But I think what bothered me the most was how my choices ultimately didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that I chose to side with Gortash and confront the Netherbrain with him. Regardless of what you roll, he will die instantly after trying to wrest control after a failed attempt. I was attempting to see if the same would happen to Orin if you sided with her, but I was too invested in becoming the Slayer and fulfilling my duty as an avatar of Bhaal as a Dark Urge Oathbreaker. So I never got to see if she would end up meeting the same miserable end as Gortash.

I hated that every choice I made and every ally I rallied to my cause, only resulted in an Avengers-esque ending sequence. I climbed the ruins of some great tower in Baldur’s Gate to get to the final encounter where I could summon them to fight alongside me in what is ultimately a “just OK” fight. Sure, I saved an Owlbear cub from starving to death in the wilderness after I killed its mother. Which only resulted in allowing me to I summon it to fight a massive red dragon atop a pulsing squirming mass of brains. Or I could summon a small collection of Harpers to serve as fodder, because of my actions in the second act, as my main goal was to simply use a powerful artifact to open a portal to get to the real fight.

As I mentioned previously, that final act moves fast, and some of these options can completely be missed if you don’t do specific personal side quests. But the end result is the same. Either you become the hero of Baldur’s Gate or an unstoppable tyrant. There is a slight variation to the Dark Urge ending, but it hardly feels satisfying. As the stakes of Baldur’s Gate III are so monumental when compared to Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, it feels unsatisfying.

It was only the scene after the ending that held my interest. Withers, the optional character you can recruit to change your class, is shown standing before some ancient mural of Bhaal, Myrkul, and Bane, imparting some vague, cryptic knowledge about their chosens having been destroyed before the game cuts to credits. It made me infinitely more interested in what the future of the Baldur’s Gate franchise has in store. I live for the lore of The Forgotten Realms, as generic as it’s become with Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro making it the Dungeons & Dragons template for all things commercial at this point. So while Baldur’s Gate III’s ended on a somewhat disappointing note, I’m still curious to see what Larian Studios will do if given the opportunity to create another story set within The Forgotten Realms, be with the Baldur’s Gate series or not.

Image via Larian Studios

But perhaps the strongest part of Baldur’s Gate isn’t its main story, side quests, or tactical combat that feels too reminiscent of Divinity Original Sin 2 for me to really feel impressed by it. It was writing for the game’s companions. While each of them is more important than the last, taking the time to get to know them is rewarding. I also appreciated the friction I had with certain party members. I got along with Shadowheart, Gale, and Wyll the most. I ended up in fraught love triangle with the later two before I eventually decided on romancing Gale. Lae’zel and Astarion were mostly indifferent towards me, and Karlach proved to be a solid friend. I genuinely feel like these characters and the quests attached to them are the best parts of the game. The moment-to-moment writing is the strongest it gets in Baldur’s Gate III. My only gripe is that your companions end up lacking any kind of agency regarding the resolution of their individual narratives, as you decide what path they ultimately take.

In Shadowheart’s case, her narrative mirrors that of Viconia DeVir from Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II, and she even makes an appearance. A lot of characters from Baldur’s Gate do, but always to very little effect. (It feels like fanservice for the sake of fanservice.) You can choose to guide Shadowheart down the path of becoming Shar’s chosen or help her down what is obviously the path of reconciliation and healing. The same largely happens for Astarion as well, with the decision to break a cycle of abuse that’s lasted hundreds of years falling to your shoulders and a dice roll. It would have been nice to see choices I’d made with these characters along the way affecting their endings. I understand that this would be frustrating to players, but something more in line with the “Friendship” or “Rival” system in Dragon Age II would have at least presented the illusion of agency for its colorful cast. However, you can also totally miss out on integral conversations with them if you don’t rest enough or they end up falling for you too fast, which I hope ends up fixed via hotfixes and patches.

Ultimately, I think this was the hardest game I’ve ever had to review, and not because of the very narrow embargo. I loved parts of Baldur’s Gate III, but when the narrative doesn’t hit, it completely misses its mark. I’m starting yet another playthrough, but find it hard to recommend to established fans or anyone that wants a stable experience. No doubt, the game will be far more functional down the line with more patches. As it stands, it still needs a lot of work in that final act.

I’m still conflicted with how I feel about Baldur’s Gate III, and I probably will be for a while. While it carries on the legacy of perhaps one of the most influential CRPGs of all time, I’m not sure if it’s better than the first two games that preceded it. It is a different story by a different team and, while it’s deeply connected to those first two games, it is a promising start to more new adventures set in a familiar world that I’ve always loved.

Baldur’s Gate III is immediately available for PC and will release on PlayStation 5 on September 6, 2023.

7
Baldur's Gate III

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a story-rich, party-based RPG set in the universe of Dungeons & Dragons, where your choices shape a tale of fellowship and betrayal, survival and sacrifice, and the lure of absolute power. PC version reviewed.

Baldur's Gate III may miss some marks, but it's a great start to what could be a strong revival for one of the most influential series of all time.

Food for Thought
  • Companion characters may seem over important at first, but getting to know them is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game.
  • The score is gorgeous, and the original theme of the game does show up!
  • Baldur's Gate III can be deliciously addictive, it almost made me consider getting a Steamdeck just to play it on the go.
  • I took to calling Gale “Purple Elminster” among my group of friends, due to how closely his backstory mirrored the literal self-insert for the creator of The Forgotten Realms, Elminster Aumar.

Siliconera is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Which Hyperdimension Neptunia Game Did You Enjoy the Most?
Which Hyperdimension Neptunia Game Is the Best
Read Article I’m Desperate for Little Kitty, Big City DLC  
I’m Desperate for Little Kitty, Big City DLC
Read Article How Kaiju No. 8 Explores Maturity, Regret, and Giant Monsters
Kaiju No 8
Read Article One Piece Chopper Tamagotchi Feels More Like a Friend Than a Pet
One Piece Chopper Tamagotchi Feels More Like a Friend Than a Pet
Read Article Review: Library of Runia Is a Challenging Switch Experience
Rating: 7
Library of Runia
Related Content
Read Article Which Hyperdimension Neptunia Game Did You Enjoy the Most?
Which Hyperdimension Neptunia Game Is the Best
Read Article I’m Desperate for Little Kitty, Big City DLC  
I’m Desperate for Little Kitty, Big City DLC
Read Article How Kaiju No. 8 Explores Maturity, Regret, and Giant Monsters
Kaiju No 8
Read Article One Piece Chopper Tamagotchi Feels More Like a Friend Than a Pet
One Piece Chopper Tamagotchi Feels More Like a Friend Than a Pet
Read Article Review: Library of Runia Is a Challenging Switch Experience
Rating: 7
Library of Runia
Author
Kazuma Hashimoto
Senior staff writer, translator and streamer, Kazuma spends his time playing a variety of games ranging from farming simulators to classic CRPGs. Having spent upwards of 6 years in the industry, he has written reviews, features, guides, with work extending within the industry itself. In his spare time he speedruns games from the Resident Evil series, and raids in Final Fantasy XIV. His work, which has included in-depth features focusing on cultural analysis, has been seen on other websites such as Polygon and IGN.