Baldur's Gate 3 pushes the player's freedom to the absolute limit. This unparalleled level of freedom can be found in practically every aspect of the game, from character creation to combat, and after two full playthroughs and a dozen ongoing campaigns, I've barely scratched the surface. 

No two experiences are the same, and each character I create feels unique. Although the game can't always match the spontaneity of a real-life Game Master, it manages to offer plenty of agency, while ensuring that its vast web-like narrative is engaging from start to finish.

Baldur's Gate 3 review and scores

Baldur's Gate 3 begins in the bowels of a Nautiloid, a Lovecraftian spaceship piloted by a squid-like race known as illithids. After creating your avatar and choosing a class, you are infected by a parasite that slowly (and painfully) transforms its host into a brain-tentacle mind flayer. You and the other affected members of your party must find a way to remove the parasites before the transformation is complete. 

It's a wonderfully dark setting that allows Larian Studios to bring together an eclectic set of characters with a wide variety of beliefs, dispositions and backgrounds and give them a common goal. These characters aren't adventuring out of friendship (most of the time), but out of necessity. In many cases, it's an unstable alliance full of drama and internal conflict.

Baldur's Gate 3 regularly puts its characters first, and it's for the best. Although the narrative on its own isn't that interesting and basically boils down to "purify the parasite and save the world", the diverse cast of characters makes the experience much more memorable, creating an extra layer of subtlety that grounds the whole experience with more personal stakes. 

Karlach is a hot-tempered Tiefling barbarian with a heart of gold, Astarion is a pompous and flamboyant rogue with enough charm to win you over, and Lae'zel is a hardened warrior who puts an interesting spin on the fish-out-of-water archetype. There are 10 potential party members in total, and each one is backed up by sharp writing, impeccable acting and engaging animations.

Astarion

What's most impressive is how these characters react and evolve according to your decisions throughout the game. The way you play your character affects your relationship with the group. For example, Astarion can be sadistic and ambitious, and you can either nurture these dark tendencies or skillfully try to push them away. This allows Astarion to act as a dramatic counterpoint to a kind character or as a sinister confidant to a more chaotic character.

No matter how you choose to play your character, you'll make friends with some characters and enemies with others, and if you come into conflict with a member of the group, they may abandon you altogether. This is part of what makes Baldur's Gate 3 so reactive. Although the story and setting remain the same over several playthroughs, the party dynamics and character interactions continue to surprise with each new playthrough.

Characters and interactions

What also keeps the characters and interactions fresh is the game's sense of humor. Baldur's Gate 3 is funny and, if you embrace the absurd, it can be hilarious. The comedy works so well because it stems from your unsuccessful dice rolls, bad decisions and unpredictable combat interactions. This means that these light-hearted moments are unique to you and your group.

Of course, some are written into the script, like convincing a goblin to kiss your feet in Act 1, but the funniest moments seem accidental. For example, my character had a touching moment with Lae'zel as she came to appreciate a sunrise she had previously despised. However, I forgot to wash off some clown makeup I bought at a circus, which kind of undermined the moment.

These scenes and relationships are supported by impeccable presentation. For a game with so many variables, each conversation feels carefully crafted, thanks to the cinematic approach Larian Studios has taken to the dialog. All the lines, except yours, are fully dubbed, the characters are expressive, and the camera cuts seamlessly between actions.

While this approach isn't groundbreaking, few games, if any, have done it on the scale of Baldur's Gate 3. Presentation isn't everything, but in the case of this game, it makes every move, no matter how ridiculous, seem planned and intentional.

This impressive level of reactivity extends to combat. Although combat is based on the rules of 5th edition D&D, Larian Studios has taken some liberties to make it more accessible in a virtual environment. The result is a rich and complex combat system that plays out like a turn-based tactical RPG.

Initially, each character has an action and a bonus action. Attacks and spells usually require an action, while secondary skills such as jumping or using an item require a bonus action. There are exceptions, but in general, most of your damage-causing moves require an action. Combat itself is calculated by means of hidden dice rolls. As in D&D, this adds a little uncertainty to the equation.

Specific features of the game

What sets Baldur's Gate 3 apart from other tactical RPGs is how flexible its combat mechanics are. The game rarely, if ever, says "no", even in some of the most critical fights. In fact, the more you evolve, the more the combat becomes absurd and unpredictable. For example, I turned a particularly challenging boss into a goat using a polymorph spell and made our tiefling goddess, Karlach, kick him into an abyss. 

In Act 3, the friends I was playing with discovered that the "Hero's Feast" spell makes the entire group immune to poison damage until the next long rest. This meant that our mage could cast the "Deadly Cloud" spell anywhere, while our warrior and paladin-mage cleaned up suffocated enemies, ignoring the spell's deadly effects. 

Acceleration and Extra Action

Even something as simple as casting "Acceleration" and "Extra Action" on a level 11 warrior so that he could attack nine times (ten if he had a bonus action attack) in a single turn seemed like bending the rules to execute a clever move that could dramatically change the course of the battle, and the game encourages it.

Combat is so flexible, especially towards the end, that a well-optimized party can defeat even some of the game's toughest enemies. However, even when the battles start to seem a little easy, they never become monotonous.

Each spell interaction, environmental trap or clever maneuver seems like a stroke of genius that only you and your group could have conceived. During a fight, some traps would launch smoke dust bombs that would explode after one turn and send whoever was in the blast area flying.

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October 15th, 2023