The wait is over. Well, almost.
It was in June that Larian Studios announced that Baldur’s Gate III early access will launch sometime in August. The release was cancelled and developers promised a launch date reveal on August 18th. But what’re a few weeks delay to those who’ve waited patiently for 20 years!
When it came out in 2000, Baldur’s Gate II not just built upon the success of its 1998 predecessor, but cemented the franchise as the quintessential role-playing video game. Derived from the traditional tabletops, the game featured a dice-roll system and player agency found in Dungeons and Dragons.
Larian took over from Bioware for the third entry, and it couldn’t be a better match. The Belgian developers have cultivated their own legacy through the impressive Divinity RPG series and are expanding upon the game in exciting ways.
So sit back, grab on to your D6s and D20s, and roll on with this article.
A Class Act
While the first two games were based on the modified versions of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition, Baldur’s Gate III is being developed in direct partnership with Wizards of the Coast — the publishers behind the D&D franchise. BG3 is based on the 5th Edition and takes full advantage of the accessible ruleset which has caused a resurgence in the boardgame’s popularity.
All 12 classes from the 5th Edition rulebook will be featured in the game, and players will also be picking a specialised archetype. The six classes included in the early access and their archetypes are Fighter (Battle Master, Eldritch Knight), Wizard (Evocation, Abjuration), Rogue (Arcane Trickster, Thief), Ranger (Hunter, Beast Master), Cleric (Life, Light, Trickery) and Warlock (Fiend, Great One).
In addition to the combat, the classes can also be expected to influence dialogue choices, with their special abilities and story beats.
A New Dimension
While groundbreaking for its time, the original Baldur’s Gate games look prehistoric by today’s AAA standards. Its direct sequel thus shares the DNA with the modern RPGs like the Divinity: Original Sin series.
The original Baldur’s Gate games ran in the 2D engine, which means while the environment added to the aesthetics, it didn’t serve much purpose gameplay-wise. As the games unfolded on the same plane, there were no verticality or environmental interactions. The combat was direct in that you swung swords and cast spells at the enemies.
BG3 borrows a lot more from the Divinity series where you could use environmental design. You could push an enemy off a ledge, or climb up and drop stuff onto them. You can turn water into steam and pools of oil into damaging fire through the strategic use of spells.
The game, however, goes a step further. Yes, Divinity had elevated areas, but the combat was still restricted to a 2D grid. In BG3’s 3D world, the elevation becomes a much sharper tool. You can send a party member up into the rafters, another underground to attack from below while your warrior rushes into the enemies for a three-pronged approach. You can stack up crates to create your own elevation.
Manipulating the objects adds a new dimension to the proceedings.
A Fresh Perspective
Combat can make or break an RPG. Understandably then, Larian is still fine-tuning how skirmishes play out in BG3.
The team initiative system featured in the earlier previews — wherein the player’s party and enemies will take turns attacking simultaneously — was found to be unbalanced and has already been modified. While party members with adjacent turns can still queue up actions to break into sweet combos simultaneously, each character has a set initiative and order of
In a Reddit AMA in March, creative director Swen Vincke told fans that “one of the big themes of BG3 is the focus on party over individuals.”
“…we want to explore the mechanical subtheme of allowing the entire party to benefit from each member’s personal excellence in some area. The same way an eloquent Bard can lead their entire party through a tough dialogue check, a swift Rogue should be able to give their party the best shot at going first in combat,” said Vincke.
Combined with the interactivity mentioned above, team-based attacks could mean cinematic badassery. Enter a flexible camera.
While the traditional isometric view still reigns over the combat, BG3 includes a new dialogue-driven cinematic camera and a third-person option for exploration. You can zoom into an-almost over the shoulder perspective, and take in the scenic level design.
A Shade Of Grey
In the same Reddit AMA, Vincke assured fans that the game will link up to the previous entries even though they came out 20 years ago under a different developer.
“We really don’t want to spoil anything but we wouldn’t call it Baldur’s Gate III if there wouldn’t be a link. Let me just say that we touch upon the story of BG 1 & 2 in meaningful ways, there are returning characters and what happened in BG 1/2/[Throne of Bhaal] leads to what happens into BG3. You won’t necessarily see that at the start of the adventure but you will quickly understand once you get further into the game,” Vincke said.
The game will also speak to gamers who want to play beyond the good versus evil archetypes. Much like the board games which are moving beyond the traditional alignment system, players decide to be lawful, neutral or chaotic through their actions and not a choice during character creation. Free of restrictions or penalties, a character can resolve dilemmas on a case-by-case basis.
Speaking of characters, you can skip the presets and create a custom adventurer like in Divinity. But while custom characters were decidedly inferior to Divinity’s originals which had personalised dialogue and elaborate backstories, BG3 custom characters “have a much stronger connection to the world and the main arc of the story” and “you won’t feel short-changed in terms of narrative breadth and depth if you choose to play as a custom character.”
Larian has given voice to the custom characters, literally.
In the Reddit AMA, senior writer Adam Smith confirmed that “they’ll have full voice acting, just like origins!”
Though there might be a grey coating on the characters, you will still be battling the terrifying ancient forces from the Underdark such as mind flayers, tadpoles and other traditionally ‘evil’ races.
Baldur’s Gate III
The name Baldur’s Gate carries legacy, but also immense baggage. After a long wait, fans of the original just wouldn’t be happy with a run-of-the-mill RPG.
Baldur’s Gate III, however, seems to be in safe hands. Not merely a dose of nostalgia, the game features a glut of changes which should cater to the evolved taste of hardcore gamers. The malleability of the environment, the freshness of its combat and morality of its campaign and characters also make it accessible for newcomers.
It is shaping up to be more than a sum of its parts, and if the developers pull it off, Baldur’s Gate III could be an exemplary RPG just like its tabletop cousin.