Games this Week… Baldur’s Gate 3 (Early Access)

I purchased and downloaded Baldur’s Gate 3 this weekend and consequently spent 14 hours fighting mind flayers, hunting goblins, and aiding a band of tiefling refugees, all the while trying to find a cure for the illithid tadpole currently stuck in my head. 

Announcement Trailer (Warning: it's a bit gruesome) 

First impressions of the game are good, overall, considering it is an early access version.

The best the game has to offer is that it’s a cinematic version of Dungeons & Dragons, with immersive dialogue and action choices, stellar graphics and voice acting, and a perfectly digitized version of 5th edition D&D (with all the good and bad that comes with that). Character customization is pretty robust, though not as intricate as Elder Scrolls, where you can customize everything from the tilt of your ears to the size of your booty. It’s more like the current World of Warcraft character customization, where you can choose faces, hair, eye color, and some other choice features wholesale, based on whatever race/subrace you choose.

I created a Tiefling Fighter named Agni, who is fiercely devoted to her people, not willing to put up with anyone’s attitude, cautiously suspicious of others, yet willing to trust them if the need is dire, and with a strong sense of justice and fairness. I’m up to level 4 so far and chose Battle Master as my subclass specialty. 

The story so far is exceptionally enthralling (heh heh) as you wake up on a mind flayer’s nautiloid ship, receiving the generous gift of a parasitic brain worm that will inevitably turn you into a mind flayer yourself. The opening cinematic is especially baller, as the same ship tears through different planes, indiscriminately gathering subjects for this terrible experiment.

 Opening Cinematic


There is very much an open world sense to the game, much like a robust Dungeons & Dragons campaign, with options to go where you feel is most important and skip the things you don’t care about. I spent a lot of time this weekend rooting out a goblin force in order to save a group of tiefling refugees that were about to be turned out of a druid grove, but you could very easily skip that entire collection of quests and do something else entirely. There are some other things and locations that I’ve skipped and would like to return to later, perhaps. And because I’m playing the game by myself, very unlike a usual D&D campaign, I can decide when and where I want to go, whatever my companions might say. 

The controls took a little getting used to on PC, as you use your mouse for most things, rarely pushing any keys except to pan the camera around or open inventory. There might be possibility for customizing your hotkeys, but honestly, with the turn-based system, you don’t really need quick reflexes for spells or potions or anything.

Combat itself becomes relatively straightforward once you understand where everything is. There wasn’t a tutorial at all, and I don’t know if that’s something that will change or not between Early Access and the official release, but it is easy enough to figure out. Movement is very fluid, not restricted to “squares” as you might be in a tabletop situation with miniatures. Whenever an attack is selected, you are provided a visual range for that specific attack, with a visual area of effect, if applicable, and a percentage chance for whether the attack will hit the target or not.

It’s very crunchy and strategic, just like D&D. Rather than high-speed hack-and-slash combat, you’re allowed the time you need to set up scenarios across multiple turns and characters, just like you would sitting around a table with friends. One character can throw a jar of oil at a group of enemies, and the next character in combat can hit it with a fire spell, igniting it underneath your foes. I really enjoy it because it requires more thought and strategy than your usual RPGs.


That said, while the game encapsulates all the good of Dungeons & Dragons, it also contains the system’s flaws. D&D relies heavily on RNG (Random Number Generation) through dice rolls. You can mitigate the randomness a little bit with modifiers and bonuses, but only a little. If you roll bad, there’s not anything you can do except roll with the punches and hope you don’t die. In a real-space tabletop situation, you have the benefit of a human Dungeon Master who can fudge difficulties, rolls, and other things to make the game more enjoyable for players who might be plagued with a night of bad rolls. In Baldur’s Gate, however, you have the disadvantage of playing with an unerring, unforgiving Dungeon Master who never deviates from the rules for any reason.

On the one hand, this gives every choice, every action, every skill check that your character makes an uncertain outcome that could help you toward your goals, or ruin everything you so carefully planned, which lends toward a deeper immersion as a player character, because every little thing you do could change the outcome in your favor, or not. On the other hand, it sucks when you really really need a success, because you want things to go a certain way, but you fail the check. On multiple occasions things have gone from bad to worse for my character because of failed checks. Sometimes, it makes the gameplay super interesting to fail, and other times, it just devolves into a drawn-out combat encounter that I would have rather avoided altogether.

The one saving grace that you have as a player is that you can save the game as often as you wish, and create multiple save files. So if things don’t turn out the way you want, you can reload an old save and do it all over again, differently, or with better results. Personally, I don’t like to do this, because it feels like cheating, but other players may not have my reluctance to change the outcome of a scenario, even if it ends badly. The only time I reload a save is if the whole party dies, which has happened a few times, and because I forgot to save frequently, I’ve had to redo certain story parts that changed slightly because of better skill checks the second time around, or I presciently decided to avoid the certain area where I recently died because I do not care to do that all over again.

Even with the RNG annoyances and sometimes things not going my way, I still really enjoy the gameplay because I honestly have no idea what is going to happen next. There is no way to know until it happens. And I absolutely love that. I love not being able to predict what is going to happen and fully placing myself in the hands of the story writers, game developers, and my own dice rolls. Some people may be frustrated by this kind of storytelling, but it is exactly the thing I love about a fully realized D&D campaign.

Now, all that said, the game itself, as an early access version, has a lot of flaws. Parts of the game are incomplete, though I do not know how much is still missing (though I have already encountered one placeholder image for a supposed cinematic). The worst of it though, is that there are a lot of bugs that can affect gameplay, from mildly amusing body physics, floating characters, dialogue through closed lips, and camera glitches to more annoying inconveniences like being teleported to the wrong location after camping or random hotkeys disappearing in the middle of combat, to infuriating combat breaking bugs where a character can do literally nothing except pass their turn, even if they have actions left. I had to reload the game several times in one dungeon because I essentially lost a party member in a crucial fight. 

Playing a game riddled with bugs is never a great experience, but I knew what I was paying for going in. I only wish there was an easy way for me to report the bugs as I come across them.

Yet, even with the bugs and glitches and bad dice rolls, I’m having a hell of a time playing the game. It’s the kind of game I can lose myself in and forget the outside world. Which is exactly the kind of game I love best.

If you are interested in playing the buggy, incomplete Early Access version, the game is available for $60 on Steam, Stadia, and GOG. If bugs and glitches are a total dealbreaker for you, I’d wait until the complete game releases, likely sometime late next year.