When I got the chance to play Baldur’s Gate 3 in early access, I jumped on it—I’ve been a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast for roughly 40 years, going back to Blue Book Basic D&D as a small child in the late 1970s. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve played every licensed D&D and AD&D computer RPG ever made. They haven’t all been winners, but the original Baldur’s Gate was probably the most widely loved of the franchise—it boasted an expansive, interesting world with bold voice talent and characters.
The new entry in the Baldur’s Gate series is, unfortunately, not cut from the same cloth. The game’s rendering engine is incredibly beautiful, but the characters it renders are shallow, trite, and frequently downright hateful—and the storyline, at least for the first 15 hours, is pretty similar.
What this game misses the most is tabletop camaraderie—even the ersatz version you get from a good computer RPG. Even if lawful good and chaotic neutral characters butt heads on the other side of a DM’s screen, an adventuring party should feel as though it has real bonds and a unified purpose. That sense of togetherness didn’t emerge in the first 15 hours of Baldur’s Gate 3—and maybe that matters more to me than to you, but I imagine I’m not alone in wanting a D&D quest to feel like a shared experience.
I’ll try to avoid any serious spoilers, but it’s impossible to talk about the storyline’s issues without at least a couple of minor reveals—which I’ll limit to the first two hours or so of gameplay.
You are in way above your paygrade
I went into Baldur’s Gate 3 effectively blind. I knew nothing about the storyline and just sort of hoped for either the return of Minsc and Boo or a worthy successor to their colorful antics, along with a rich Dungeons & Dragons setting, presumably largely urban. I waffled over character creation—I’ve always preferred to play magic-users, but the first few levels of a wizard’s life are incredibly painful due to their lack of hit points, quickly exhausted spells, and inability to wear decent armor or hit the broad side of a barn with their silly little newbie staves.
Fighters, on the other hand, tend to be a bit boring—wear the armor, swing the weapon, hit the baddie—but they’re much heartier initially, particularly in games that start you off without a party. Ultimately, I decided to put on my robe and wizard hat. Being a level-nothing wizard isn’t as bad as it was in earlier rulesets—you have inexhaustible cantrips available to you now, which do damage pretty close to a starting-level fighter’s. At level one, you’ll still lose almost any fight to any other level-one character class, but at least it is a fight.
Normally, the first couple of levels of a D&D game that begin with level-one characters have you taking on rats in a sewer or maybe a few particularly unathletic wolves. Baldur’s Gate 3 decides instead to put you on an Illithid Nautiloid, surrounded by mind flayers and intellect devourers, in the midst of a three-way fight between the Illithids (mind flayers), red dragon-riding Githyanki, and the occasional cambion.
For perspective, think of Star Wars Episode IV, but imagine that it opens with Luke waking up in Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer—and instead of Imperial lackeys, every crew member is a Sith with mind control powers. It’s under attack by a Mandalorian fleet, which hates you as much as they hate the Sith. And you don’t have Han, Chewie, Obi-Wan, or even C3PO to help.
When your wide-eyed, clueless wandering is interrupted by Leia—ahem, I mean, Lae’zel—she’s more than snarky. Her hatred is palpable when she describes what she wants to do to your character: “[slice] you from navel to nose.”
Oh, and there’s a time bomb in your brain, too. If you could ask C3PO for advice, he’d probably suggest a new strategy: letting the Illithids win.
Listing image by Larian