Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access Review in Progress – First ImpressionsOctober 12, 2020
Having played through the first several hours of Baldur’s Gate 3’s Early Access version (which developer Larian says contains roughly 20 hours of content that should be played multiple times to fully appreciate), I can tell you already that this is probably the closest a single-player video game has come to emulating the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons in a live group. The verbs I can call on at any given time – jump, climb, lift, throw, and so on – allow me to do exactly the kind of clever but ridiculous things I would ask a human Dungeon Master if I can do. It harkens back to ‘90s adventure games in that regard as well, which is awesome. Rather than the simple “no” you would get from most RPGs when you ask if you can skip a combat encounter by blasting your way through a residence to create a side path, Baldur’s Gate 3 will tell you to roll for it.
This flexibility allows each playable class the chance to shine in ways they normally wouldn’t. For instance, my elven wizard always had a spell prepared that triples the target’s jump distance. While this would be a very situational ability in most games, not really worth spending a spell slot on, in BG3 it can allow you to reach hidden treasure, gain a vantage point to rain down destruction (high ground gives you an advantage on attacks), or even bypass obstacles entirely by taking to the rooftops. I ended up having to remind myself to take a few combat spells because I was so excited about all the interesting ways I could use the utility ones in combination. I like to play my wizards as sort of mystical Swiss army knives on the tabletop, not the glass artillery pieces they are in most digital RPGs, and I’m so thrilled to be able to do that here. Larian treats level design and environmental interaction as part of how you win battles and solve puzzles, and it works brilliantly in their envisioning of Faerûn.
Roll for Initiative
The turn-based combat is also well done, though. It feels faithful to the 5th Edition D&D rules, but also knows when to deviate to avoid being slavishly accurate to a fault. Having one move action, one bonus action, and one main action per turn was very easy to get my mind around, although at the lower levels I often found there wasn’t anything worthwhile to do with my bonus actions on most turns. It’s a bummer to feel like you’re wasting that resource. I guess I’ll shove this goblin backwards just because I have nothing better to do? If my knowledge of the system is reliable, this will probably be corrected later on once I gain more abilities and class features.
Baldur’s Gate 3 – Character Creation Screenshots
The use of turn-based combat is also a blessing. Many of the classic D&D-based games, including the first two Baldur’s Gates, did themselves a disservice trying to force the square peg of real-time fights into the round hole that is the d20 system: combat in tabletop D&D has always been turn-based, and this is how it should be. Initiative rolls to determine who goes first really matter. It’s much more pleasant to take stock of the situation and marshal your resources while contemplating how to control the environment. Sure, real-time combat can work, especially in games where you’re mainly controlling one character, but this type of game works so much better and feels so much more faithful to its tabletop inspiration with turns.
Dark Wings, Dark Words
Baldur’s Gate 3 has also done an amazing job of grabbing my attention from the very beginning. One issue I had with Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin games (particularly the first one) is that they start out very slow and meandering before picking up steam. The first hour of this adventure, on the other hand, seems like the designers heard that criticism and went, “OKAY, IS THIS ENOUGH ACTION FOR YOU, LEN? DO YOU NEED MORE DRAGONS?” I won’t spoil the specifics, but it goes from zero to 60 pretty quick and doesn’t let up for a while. By the time I finally did get my feet planted and found time to explore and do some lower-stakes side quests, it was almost a relief. They’re clearly going big with this story and I’m eager to discover more of it.
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On the other hand, I was fairly disappointed that there are only six classes available in Baldur’s Gate 3’s Early Access version, and they’re (somewhat understandably) the most “basic” ones: Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, Rogue, Ranger, and Warlock. My favorite base D&D classes – Barbarian, Druid, Sorcerer, and Paladin – are nowhere to be found. I imagine more will be added as we get closer to the full release, but for the moment I’m out of luck there. To make up for this, though, the list of playable races is fairly extensive. Three different kinds of tiefling? Half-Drow? Larian has gone above and beyond the obvious here, especially since NPCs out in the world will absolutely react to your character’s background.
As of now, I’m starting a fresh character to try to see as much of Bladur’s Gate 3 Early Access as there is to see without some of the bugs and unfinished cutscenes that were present in the press version we got to mess with over the weekend. Expect a full Early Access review later in the week.
Leana Hafer is a contributor to IGN. Talk strategy games and/or history with her on Twitter at @AsaTJ.