At what point does a piece of entertainment become the greatest of all time? Critical acclaim? Fan reception? Massive numbers? Having charged ahead like a berserk barbarian and having checked all of those boxes listed above along the way, it is no wonder that Baldur’s Gate 3 has taken control of the conversation of what constitutes the greatest role-playing game ever made. It certainly is no hyperbole as Larian Studios has genuinely created a new zenith for a genre that has already seen some truly magnificent games make a case for their own.
The third main game in the Baldur’s Gate series, which is based on the tabletop role-playing Dungeons & Dragons franchise, there is simply something for everyone in the Forgotten Realms. Cinematic storytelling that delivers impactful twists and turns with the players at the heart of it all, unparalleled freedom in its sandbox world that paves the way for innovative solutions, and, of course, the bread and butter of tabletop role-playing goodness that used to be the stuff of dreams. This is a massive undertaking that has blown our expectations out of the water, with nary a weak point to be found in its fantasy armour.
Broken up into three distinct acts that are filled with memorable encounters, varied and interesting quests, and scenarios that can be tackled any way you wish, the stakes are high straight from the off. With the knowledge that your character will eventually be transformed into a mind flayer courtesy of a parasite, Baldur’s Gate 3 lets players loose on this world and roll the dice, where decisions are yours to make as time progresses regardless. Armed with multiplayer elements, players can experience everything solo, or form a party with friends for a persistent campaign, just like a real D&D game.
Even as the environment and general tone change drastically, you will still be getting yourself busy with exploring and taking in the sights. A collection of now-iconic companions are out there waiting to be discovered, wooed, trusted, or betrayed, as are quests that can veer from traditional combat encounters to more involved, branching tales that can lead to unimaginable surprises. The choice is entirely up to the player, which is not something new, but the breadth and flexibility afforded are pleasantly ridiculous.
There aren’t many games that actively entice a parasitic victim to give in and embrace the manipulative powers of a mind flayer, or to join the supposed evil side and rain down destruction on the forces of good. More importantly, all of these choices come with tangible consequences that are not always obvious, and it is a testament to Larian Studios that everything still eventually comes together almost seamlessly. Rather than fantasising about an adventure, you will be living one, immersed in the trappings of this wonderfully crafted creation.
That level of immersion is also amplified by the intricate writing and storytelling that takes place in Baldur’s Gate 3. Epic tales of conflict and strife are matched with intimate, personal stakes that demand players be invested, constantly pulling you more and more into the struggle of the entire world, without necessarily needing you at the centre of it all.
The obvious examples are that of your companions, who are living, breathing personalities that never fall into the trope of being supporting cast members just there for the ride. A party seldom exists in perfect symmetry, and throughout the story, expect to see plenty of conversations, discussions, and disagreements that can drastically change the nature of your relationships with them.
It is not hard to see how some may get along, while others will always butt heads; such is the autonomy that the game provides them as well. Even when there are so many quests that can take up your time, and you should try to do as much as possible, it is the companion’s personal quests that should always be pursued. Not only does it give players a better understanding of who these people are, but also their importance to the main plot, making and breaking friendships, as well as intimate relationships, like reality does so often. This may be a fantasy land, but it is utterly grounded and believable at every turn.
That magic can also be found in characters outside of your main party; such is the prowess of the developers in making us care about everybody who makes an appearance. When games talk about a world that feels organic and immersive, this is the standard that they must now hit to be considered in that conversation.
Now that it’s established that Baldur’s Gate 3 is teeming with life, what about the gameplay itself? True to form, the amount of fun you’ll have is only limited by your imagination, whether it be in combat, puzzle-solving, traversal, or anything in between. This is Dungeons & Dragons in its purest form, where creativity is a true skill, and curiosity may kill the cat, but it’s all worth it.
Characters can make full use of their physical and mental faculties to overcome obstacles. Pick a lock to open a door, or blow it up using magical spells. In combat, the answer’s not always sharp swords and blunt hammers; using the environment makes for more entertaining ways to end things. And when it is possible to talk to animals and discover another layered dimension to an already gargantuan sandbox, it is here when you’ll realise just how deep the game can be if you just dive in.
It would have been much easier for Larian to limit players and put in place arbitrary rules, but instead, the studio decided to plump for the other end of the spectrum, elevating player choice to an unprecedented level and allowing left-field solutions to be possible, whether it is for your party’s benefit or for the enemy to bring you down a peg.
The turn-based combat lends itself well to such a setup, where good planning is always better than the more traditional real-time slant taken by other RPGs. Think of enemy encounters as puzzles that can solved in various manners, and yes, that includes the good old method of slicing and dicing with a sharp object. What that sharp object is, however, is up for interpretation.
Magical spells can turn otherwise harmless objects into powerful instruments of death, and anything you see in the vicinity can be used to your advantage. A fire spell might just burn one enemy, but sling it at a pool of acid, and you get yourself a fiery AoE explosion. The party is also capable of smart movement, using height as an advantage, or using all sorts of throwables from the inventory to level the playing field.
The sky’s the limit when creating your own Rube Goldberg machine of monster killing, but effective elimination is also highly recommended in Baldur’s Gate 3. Some of the fights that stick more in the memory are not the ones where utter decimation awaits the foolish that accosted our party, but those that required risky gambits that somehow paid off handsomely.
There may be considerations that a lot of these amusing experiments can only occur after playing a significant amount of the game, but that is not true. With a low-level cap of only 12, there is a multitude of ways in which the game encourages players to role-play and develop their party to suit a play style. Rather than hyperfocus on stats and the need to minmax, it is more about finding new ways to play with gear, spells, and items, even if you are a lowly warrior trying to make a name for yourself at the start. Respeccing is also a breeze; as long as there are coins in your purse, change is just one conversation away.
And if all of this sounds daunting, that is the way it is supposed to be when it comes to this level of adventuring in Dungeons & Dragons. For seasoned tabletop pros who step into Baldur’s Gate 3, there is still a learning curve that can take some time to get used to the way things happen on the Sword Coast. It won’t be a surprise to learn something earth-shatteringly useful halfway into the game, giving rise to the notion of restarting the entire quest just to give yourself more of an edge. Just like the game, the choice is yours, and either way, hundred of hours of another amazing adventure awaits.
A timesink aside, it is remarkable just how well Larian Studios has gotten the state of things in. After two full campaigns, there were hardly any crashes or bugs that were major causes of concern. Coupled with all the post-launch patches and updates, things have only gotten better, and if you have a powerful rig, the game is gorgeous to look at whether there is action or when it is just another enthralling exchange between beloved characters.
It is not often that there is a game of the size and magnitude of Baldur’s Gate 3 that manages to capture the zeitgeist of an entire genre, but to do so with such skill and expertise is a major achievement that cements the studio’s place amongst the greatest to have worked in the industry. Compared to the other greats, that niggling thought at the back of the mind to kick off another campaign is what sets this game apart; like a true mind flayer getting its hooks into us, we are more than happy to serve as a vessel for all eternity.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a godsend for any fan of the RPG genre, and even after hundreds of hours, you’ll keep wanting more.
Gameplay - 10/10
Story - 10/10
Presentation - 9.5/10
Value - 10/10