• Baldur's Gate 3 - a First Look Review

    Baldur's Gate 3 - a First Look Review
    by Alwyn

    Arieth wakes up in a pod

    Arieth woke, to the sound of a howling gale and coughed, as she inhaled acrid smoke. Memories returned ... running through a street, feeling a sudden blow from behind and then darkness ... waking trapped in a pod, and watching a mind flayer approach another pod. The mind flayer, a tall humanoid creature whose face ended in tentacles, reached out and put some kind of little worm onto the face of a githyanki woman. The worm wriggled into one of the eyes of the woman, as she twisted her body to one side, trying to get away, and disappeared. Then Arieth remembered the mind flayer picking up another little worm, and walking towards her own pod. Oh no ... I have one of those creatures inside my head, too, Arieth remembered.

    After creating your character and watching the opening cutscene, this is your situation at the start of the game

    Some adventuring parties gather at an inn, and choose to work together. Others are thrown together by the situation they're in - which happens at the start of Baldur's Gate 3. Your character has been abducted, and it looking for a way to escape. Fortunately, the flying ship which you're in - a nautiloid - is under attack, distracting the mind flayer. Unfortunately, the nautiloid is also on fire, and the attackers are just as willing to attack you as the mind flayer who captured you.


    Magic is impressive, but now Minsc leads. Swords for everyone!
    - Minsc, Baldur's Gate (the original game)
    The game includes pre-created Origin characters; you can choose to play as an Origin character or create your own custom character. When creating a custom character, there are plenty of races, sub-races and classes available. When creaying a custom character, you also select a background - such as a criminal or outlander - and can customise your character's appearance. Arieth, my character in the screenshots above, is a wood elf ranger.

    Origin characters (other than one used by the player) can be found and persuaded to join your party. Baldur's Gate 3 has no alignment system, which was strange at first, but I like the way that this encourages players to get to know the members of your party and to find out what they're like. The player's actions will gradually affect how Origin characters perceive you - fortunately, it's easy to keep track of the attitudes of these characters (on their character sheets.)

    In character creation and when your character levels up, players who are used to the previous Baldur's Gate games or Neverwinter Nights, which were based on earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, are likely to notice some differences. Instead of prestige classes (which were available to characters who met the requirements), every character chooses a sub-class within their first few levels. As Arieth is a ranger, she could choose between Hunter - gaining abilities such as firing a volley of arrows quickly, or Beast Master - able to summon an animal companion - or Gloom Stalker, an expert in stealth and ambushing. In earlier games, I was sometimes envious of clerics - who could choose a specialist domain which would give them extra spells - now every character has a similar opportunity to specialise.

    You can help a bard to find the right words for a song to remember her mentor

    If you've ever played a campaign in which non-player characters (NPCs) spend their time waiting to do one of the usual things with players (fight them, give them quests or trade with them), it can be satisfying, in Baldur's Gate 3, to encounter an archer guarding a gate who is troubled by the death of a goblin she killed, a bard struggling to come up with the right words for a song of lament, or a shifty child who is offering to sell you a ring of Being Really Invisible. These details help to make the setting feel more than a series of locations to fight in - and provide a nice change of tone, with moments of humour or sadness.

    Barcus Wroot is looking for a missing friend, but he isn't going to wait around while some adventurers he just met go search for him

    There are some nice moments when non-player characters respond in a more realistic way that you might expect. For example, when I encountered two brothers who were looking for their missing sister, I offered to look for her. In a similar situation in some older RPGs, the brothers might have waited passively while the player carried out the quest. In Baldur's Gate 3, the brothers are - understandably - not willing to leave the fate of their family member in the hands of an adventurer who they have just met, so they continue their search. Similarly, Barcus Wroot (shown above) is looking for a missing friend, and he's going to search himself rather then waiting for adventurers he doesn't know to do this for him. Another feature which helps to make the setting feel more authentic is that your actions today can have consequences tomorrow. For example, if you help a tiefling child to escape a dangerous situation, the leader of a gang of young tiefling rogues will be grateful for this.

    Managing your party

    You must gather your party before venturing forth
    - Instruction to the player in the original Baldur's Gate game

    You can see the inventories, spellbooks or character sheets for your whole party

    After escaping the nautiloid, you're likely to look for companions. Baldur's Gate 3 allows the player to use a party of up to four characters at any time - any additional characters remain at your party's camp, ready to re-join the party when they are needed. While you're adventuring, you can see the inventories, character sheets and spellbooks of your party (in both singleplayer and multiplayer), which can be really useful for managing your team of adventurers.

    When you're in the camp, the player will acquire the ability to respec your characters by talking to Withers (who will appear in your camp, sooner or later - if you'd like it to be sooner, it's possible to go and find him in one of the dungeons that you're likely to explore early on) - so, if you started as a rogue but decide you'd rather be a wizard, you don't have to start a new game, and you can respec any member of your party (not just your own character). At the time of writing this, there are limits to this - you can change your class but not your appearance; Larian Studios said in a community update that they plan to allow players to respec their appearance in future.

    The quote above - "You must gather your party before venturing forth" - would appear in the original Baldur's Gate game, if your party were trying to go through an area transition and if they weren't together. One nice feature of Baldur's Gate 3 is that you don't have to do this anymore. If you're playing multiplayer, and if one of your party wants to visit a shop while another would like to try to get information from a non-player character in a different area, you can do this. Of course, this would be risky to do in an unfamilar area, because you could find yourself in combat without your full party! (In theory, you might even do this deliberately, for example if you wanted to distract some guards with a brief skirmish while your rogue slips past them in the shadows).

    When you play a multiplayer co-op campaign, the player who hosts the campaign has the save games and can allocate characters to players. When a player dropped out of a multiplayer game, initially it wasn't possible for the remaining players to replace that player's character with different one - however, following Patch 2, this can be done.


    Go for the eyes, Boo!
    - Minsc, in the original Baldur's Gate game
    Combat in Baldur's Gate 3 involves making the most of your party, the terrain and any resources available (things carried by you, such as a flaming torch, as well as objects around you, such as a barrel of oil). In Total War games, I enjoy using combinations of units to maximise their effects (such as holding enemies in place with pikemen, and flanking them with skirmishers or cavalry) - and combinations of characters can work well here too. For example, if one of your characters casts a Grease spell (covering a large patch of ground with oil and making it slippery) and if another member of your party uses a fire spell, you can set an area of the ground on fire.

    When it's your turn to move in combat, you can see how far your character can move, and the chance of an attack to hit

    Combat is turn-based - which can feel strange for people used to RTS games, but which works well when managing a D&D party of four characters. In each turn of combat, you can move (the game will show you how far), use an action (such as casting a spell or using a weapon), and use a bonus action (such as jumping, or dipping your weapon in something nasty, or shapeshifting if your character can do that). Each character acts in a sequence based on their initiative roll (rather than moving simultaneously). In singleplayer, the player chooses the actions for every member of your party as if they were your own character - so you won't get a situation where a member of your party casts buffing spells on themselves for several turns, only to join the fight when it's over. In multiplayer, each player chooses the actions for their character and any other party members they're controlling - for instance if you have two players or three players and four characters.

    There are one or two details which can be initially confusing, for a new player. For example, initially I didn't equip the crossbows or shortbows which I found, because I hadn't found any bolts or arrows - I didn't realise, at first, that you effectively have unlimited ammunition for any ranged weapon you can use. Magic arrows exist in the game and appear in your inventory, but ordinary ammunition doesn't appear in your inventory - it's simply assumed that you have as much of it as you need.

    Like the original game in the series, Baldur's Gate 3 does not scale encounters to the size of your party and the level of your characters - if you stumble into a situation that your party can't handle, it's up to you to make a swift retreat, improvise a way to win or (if necessary) re-load your save and explore somewhere else. This can be frustrating for a new player - particularly if you're expecting a game with some easy dungeons at first where you can just walk in, kill monsters and take their treasure without needing to think about tactics. When you get past the tutorial section on the nautiloid, the game isn't like that. In Baldur's Gate 3, there are often different ways to resolve difficult situations. For example, if you encounter a small army of goblins and find that your party is overwhelmed - when you try again, you might find a way to talk yourself past the guards and achieve your mission without killing everyone. Alternatively, you might notice that the goblins use war drums to warn their friends when you attack - which might give you ideas about sabotaging the nearest war drum, so that you can fight one group at a time. Even this isn't guaranteed to work - so you may well find yourself trying out different tactics, to see what works. There's even the possibility of hiring an ogre mercenary, Lump the Enlightened (and his two ogre sidekicks) - a self-described gourmand who is entertaining (and quite scary) to talk to, when you're a low-level character!

    Overall, my experience of combat is that it works well. There are a lot of dice rolls when you're in combat in classic pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons; in Baldur's Gate 3, these happen in the background in Baldur's Gate 3, allowing you to progress further in one gaming session. There's plenty of room for improvisation and this can make a significant difference to the outcome.

    Bows, Battlements and Badgers

    Every game has its shortcomings and, of course, different players prefer different things. If you're a fan of historical accuracy, there are aspects of combat which can seem strange. In the game, bows have a maximum range of 18 metres (about 60 feet) which seemed absurdly short, considering that the best longbows used in warfare had an effective range of between 140 to 300 metres (450 to 1,000 feet), according to Britannica. A human can move 9 metres per turn in Baldur's Gate 3, so an archer facing a melee attacker wouldn't get many shots before they found themselves in melee range. Even worse for an archer is the fact that, when an enemy gets close, an archer enters a Threatened state. When you're Threatened, your ranged attacks are made with a disadvantage (instead of rolling a standard d20 attack roll, you roll two d20 and take the lower number of the two).

    To be fair, even though I'm playing a character who uses a bow quite a lot, range usually isn't a problem in practice. Also, compared to the original game, Baldur's Gate 3 has more emphasis on different heights in battle - archers can extend their range by being higher than their targets - and gain a bonus to accuracy. Of course, while height provides a useful advantage, height plus cover would be better - for example, standing on a wall behind battlements or balustrades.

    The upper level of the goblin camp gives you opportunities to fire at the goblins below with better accuracy

    In the goblin camp in Act I, I was surprised that, in some parts of the upper level (shown above) it didn't seem possible to use cover (such as battlements) while firing at enemies below. The game seems to indicate that the character would need to move to an area where the battlements are broken down to floor level. Your character can fire from such a position, with a bonus to accuracy from cover, but will not have any cover. To be fair, sometimes your line of sight to an enemy is blocked by part of a building, and this explains why the player can't fire on an enemy below - even allowing for this, it's sometimes difficult to use partial cover when firing from above, at least in some locations.

    Success in Baldur's Gate 3 is often about improvisation - such as moving crates and barrels, settings things on fire or using illusions to distract enemies - so it's a shame when occasionally something seems like it should work, but doesn't. For example, the game includes rope, yet there don't seem to be any opportunities to use it - for example, to scale down a cliff or to create an improvised trap. Occasionally your characters will notice a mound of dirt - if you have a shovel, you can dig up some treasure. If your party includes a druid who can shapeshift into a badger (who can burrow into the ground and emerge at a chosen location), your badger can't dig up treasure from a dirt mound, which surprised me (at least, they can't do this at the moment - maybe this will be added later.) To be fair to the developers, it's difficult to anticipate every possible improvisation which players might think of - and the game often provides different ways to achieve an objective.


    These are the minimum and recommended requirements for a PC to run Baldur's Gate 3.

    Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
    OS: Windows 10 64-bit
    Processor: Intel I5 4690 / AMD FX 8350
    Memory: 8 GB RAM
    Graphics: Nvidia GTX 970 / RX 480 (4GB+ of VRAM)
    DirectX: Version 11
    Storage: 150 GB available space
    Additional Notes: SSD required

    Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
    OS: Windows 10 64-bit
    Processor: Intel i7 8700K / AMD r5 3600
    Memory: 16 GB RAM
    Graphics: Nvidia 2060 Super / RX 5700 XT (8GB+ of VRAM)
    DirectX: Version 11
    Storage: 150 GB available space
    Additional Notes: SSD required

    Baldur's Gate 3 has a PEGI-18 rating, which might cause concern for those who were hoping to play this game with younger people. One of the first options the game gives you, after installation and when starting your first campaign, is to play with nudity turned on or off. Even so, if you're unsure of whether the game is suitable, it's a good idea to try it first.

    Overall First Impressions

    Instead of a sedate tutorial section where your character is fetching a book or clearing rats out of a basement (the sort of thing which happened in the tutorial stage of the original Baldur's Gate game), Baldur's Gate 3 offers dramatic scenes from the start - as you explore a flying mind flayer ship while it's under attack. There are good opportunities to customise your character, for example by choosing your background and sub-class.

    At times, the game can be unforgiving to a new player - for example it's easy to stumble into an encounter that your party can't handle yet. Even so, the game offers different ways to solve difficult encounters - you may be able to talk yourself past, use the terrain or resources to win, return at a higher level - or even hire an ogre mercenary to help take your enemies down. If you're looking for enjoyable Dungeons & Dragons adventures which re-create that feeling (in pen and paper D&D) when you get yourselves into a dangerous situation and somehow find a way out of it, my first impression is that you're likely to find this in Baldur's Gate 3.
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. isa0005's Avatar
      isa0005 -
      Brilliant review Alwyn! Very informative and genuinely wonderfully written. I enjoyed your analysis on the historical inaccuracies of how archery works in the game. I'm of a similar mind, especially when it comes to having all of one's weapons simply floating on ones back in game. There is a mod that appears to solve that out there though thankfully!
      I'm personally loving the game. It is clearly created by fans of the genre and in an age where games are often released as bug ridden steaming piles of owlbear dung BG3, released in the state it was an exceptionally refreshing change for sure!
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      Nice and detailed review. It does seem to be a rather pleasant release state as ISA mentioned, something else to be relished.

      Thanks for all the care and attention to detail.
    1. BerryKnight's Avatar
      BerryKnight -
      Your paragraph at the start was a great touch.
      Also, loved how you mentioned this "You must gather your party before venturing forth." It really takes me back to the original Baulder's Gate. I'm surprised how many of the phrases I remember from that game to this day.

      This, along with minute, but just as important details mentioned were something I originally overlooked. Having only played a little of BG3 so far, I'm inspired to dive back in, and really give the world and characters more time. Let things grow on me, and not rush through it.

      Thanks for the great review Alwyn!