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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

Baldur's Gate 3 - Elven Enby Bardic Dickgirls (Review)

Baldur's Gate 3

Released: August 3rd, 2023

Developer: Larian Studios

Publisher: Larian Studios

Systems: PC (reviewed), PS5, Xbox Series S/X

Note: screenshots taken on the Steam Deck with its default settings because I was on one at the time

It’s not hard for a game to get a 9/10 review score.

If you look at the sheer volume of videogames averaging 9/10 or even 10/10 scores from professional reviewers, it doesn’t look like much of an accomplishment, does it? Critical acclaim is so common, so liberally dished out by critics, it’s practically a low bar. If you believe this business, the majority of big budget games are close to perfect.

The majority of them.

So when a game like Baldur’s Gate 3 comes along, a game that stands so exceedingly above those ostensibly in its league, exactly how can you represent its exceptional nature numerically? Well, if you routinely dish out top marks to Bethesda, Ubisoft, and Activision games… you’ve really painted yourself into a corner.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the rarest and most precious games you could hope to see in the mainstream space - one that has not only been awarded the highest scores available, but actually deserves it, too. It’s enough to make a mockery of the shallow “AAA” fluff that are so casually labeled outstanding.

The depth, breadth, and love Larian Studios has poured into this production make for the kind of experience that comes along once a generation. Among the dozens of games a year that release to critical acclaim, you’re lucky to find one that will be talked about twelve months after its launch, and among those, you’ll only occasionally encounter a title that’ll be held in high regard for decades…

… this is the gem that is Baldur’s Gate 3.

One of the most impressive adaptations of a tabletop game ever made, Baldur’s Gate 3 does so much more than stuff an intellectual property into a bog standard RPG.

This is a stunningly authentic reproduction of Dungeons & Dragons’ 5th Edition. It plays by the same rules, making a few tweaks as needed to fit a videogame format but nonetheless coming so close to the real thing that the fact I’ve played D&D 5th Ed means that, for once, I didn’t find myself completely overwhelmed by the wealth of options and systems Larian’s games are known for!

Now that’s an achievement!

It’s worth noting that when I talk of 5th Edition, I specifically mean the base version of the game, but anything you could remember from that original player’s handbook is almost certain to be found. Every character class is available, complete with choice of race and background. Practically every spell is obtainable and behaves as any D&D player would expect. Same goes for all the skills and their associated checks.

Rolling a character is fun in and of itself, especially given how many videogame versions of tabletop RPGs are far more limited than their source material. The fact I can even make a bard to begin with is just plain delightful, a delight further sweetened by my being able to make them a non-binary dickgirl.

At last, the elven enby bardic dickgirls get their representation!

Playing Baldur’s Gate 3, if you go with it, can be like playing a reactive, adaptive D&D campaign, which is ideally the exact experience most RPGs based on the license should be aiming for. There's an atmosphere of spontaneity - a spontaneity that isn't really there, but is nonetheless believable through crafty forgery and a heck of a lot of creative groundwork.

The writing is especially excellent, certainly some of the best I’ve seen in a videogame. Funny when it wants to be, compelling when it needs to be, and packed with memorable moments (that “surgery” scene will certainly stay with me), it's kept me thoroughly engrossed throughout.

The large and diverse voice cast has made a fine bride for the terrific script in a marriage that’s produced a fantastic range of characters. Whether it’s the haughty and cruel Astarion, the warmly affable Gale, or the crude but good hearted Karlach, almost every party member encountered is unique and brims with personality. I’ve had a hard time choosing an active party while playing, simply because I want to spend that time with so much of the group. They’re just fun to be around.

Then there’s Shadowheart.

Moving on.

As noted, one of the best aspects of Baldur’s Gate 3 is how hard it works to create the sense of playing a tabletop campaign that responds organically to your choices. This illusion is deftly maintained by a narrator who details your actions and their results with the kind of aloof confidence you’d get out of a particularly self-satisfied DM. Her vocal enthusiasm for descriptive storytelling - especially when things go tits up - drapes an extra layer of flavor over one's adventure.

Similarly, the sheer wealth of options and decisions set before the player showcases a notable thoughtfulness on Larian’s part. Baldur's Gate 3 does its damndest to anticipate everything an adventurer might want to do in a given situation and provide the opportunity to do it. Combined with the comprehensive replication of spells and skills, the potential to approach scenarios in a large number of ways is, at times, jaw dropping.

These choice-laden situations are carefully placed in the world to give each encounter a sense of natural discovery. This is the kind of game where you can poke around in a boring-looking hole in the corner of a cavern and emerge thirty minutes later as the God of a tribe of fish people. This isn’t the kind of game where you’ll be sent back and forth by nondescript NPCs on self-contained formulaic fetch quests - so many tasks in Baldur’s Gate 3 lead to places where new adventures organically unfold, all of which are far more elaborate than simply, “go to X, kill Y, then come straight back.”

Every quest is a story, and many such stories become journeys in their own right.

Combat is, like everything else, faithfully lifted from the systems Wizards of the Coast acquired and corporatized. Any class you choose fights almost exactly how expected. As a Bard, I’ve loved throwing inspiration at my party members while Astarion sneaks attacks from the shadows and Karlach’s Barbarian skills pretty much wipe the floor with fucking everything because Karlach is perfection.

The translation isn’t strictly 1:1 because, as good as BG3’s efforts may be, a videogame can only do so much to account for a roleplayer’s creativity. As such, some spells I’ve relied upon heavily in my tabletop days have been less useful here. To pull an example, the Heat Metal spell, while still a fun trick, is more like a straight damage attack than something I’d historically use to troll a DM with.

Upon starting a fight, progression shifts to a turn-based affair (a mode you can use outside of battle too, if you hate yourself). Considerations for movement speed, environmental hindrances, and tactical maneuvers all come into play, though like with so much in the world of D&D, ultimate success hinges on dice rolls. It’s expected of such a game, and it can be thrilling to leave a crucial move in the fickle hands of chance, but y’know… sometimes it’s just an unpleasant kick in the girldick when your marksman archer rolls a 1 and the mage you were just about to kill gets an extra turn to toss a big fuck-off fireball at your whole crew.

Same goes for skills outside of battle. While it’s absolutely the nature of the game and dice are part of the franchise’s very lifeblood, setting off traps or failing a dialog check that would have led to genuinely interesting story beats just hurts sometimes. In a proper game of Dungeons & Dragons, you can at least laugh at your fellow players when they critically fail a roll. Every failure in Baldur’s Gate 3 is yours, and you rarely get funny results.

Larian included an optional feature that manipulates the dice a little to stop excessive win/loss streaks, but honestly? I’ve found no personal shame in reloading a save file when I want to persuade a devil to kill his own henchmen - that’s an experience any player deserves to have.

As much as I adore Baldur’s Gate 3, I’m not blind to its stumbling points. By far my biggest criticism is the sprawling inventory menu that only gets more overwhelming to navigate as your party’s pockets fill up with weapons, treasures, scrolls, books, and random bits of unwanted shit you picked up by clicking on it accidentally. It’s a hassle to trawl one’s way through all the clutter, especially since the auto-sort options don’t seem to work right - items randomly show up outside of the group they should inhabit and nothing can be fully organized.

There are bags within your main pack for storing camp supplies and alchemy ingredients, though such items may still end up in the main menu anyway. Meanwhile, with every character having their own inventories, there’s an inevitability of tedious swapping and it’s easy to lose track of specific objects. It’s nice at least that you can send items to your camp’s storage chest at any time, but after dozens of hours and just as many possessions I’m loath to part with, the inside of that box is more disorganized than my life.

Also, this is just a minor personal gripe, but when using dyes to recolor clothing, I’d appreciate a preview option. The color descriptions aren’t always reflective of the result and sometimes aren’t descriptive at all (mellow fruit!?). Even more annoying, headwear seems to follow its own recoloring rules and rarely changes to an appropriate color, often just turning an ugly shade of brown and failing to coordinate with more vibrant apparel.

Look, I just like my cosmetic shit, and those dyes are neither cheap nor abundant. Having to save scum when recoloring clothes is just silly.

As impressively lavish as Baldur’s Gate 3, it has to be said that a ton of the polish and content is front loaded. That first chapter takes place across a memorable, diverse map packed with classic adventuring content, all of which runs very well. Chapter Two’s map, while still full of stuff, is a depressing grey realm that’s pretty universally unremarkable in its drabness, making for an immediate and harsh comedown from where the experience was. Chapter Three, while bringing back the colorful exploration, is where performance starts to tank as the framerate dips and the bugs become more common.

The latter end of the game is still very enjoyable, and the first half isn’t exactly bug-free, but there is a bit of a slide as the game unfurls its ocean of content. All that said, it does run well for much of its playtime, and when you consider Chapter One is bigger and deeper than most so-called "AAA" games several times over, you more than get a bang for your buck.

With medium settings it works very well on the Steam Deck until that third act, when it can get choppier than a butcher who's paid by the pig. On a related note, traditional controller options work surprisingly well for a game you'd expect to rely heavily on a mouse and keyboard. It's just a shame the spell/item selection wheels are a mess and require constant reorganization.

Along with expansive content, excellent writing, and engrossing combat, Baldur’s Gate 3 has the visuals to back everything up. As well as its high quality graphics, what really stands out is the extravagant character animation. Motion capture has been used throughout and I can't name many games that do it so well - expressive in a general sense and distinct to the cast members individually, with body language that's truly readable. This animation extends to all dialog, a far cry from the mannequins and talking heads that usually make long speaking sequences a visual chore.

I don’t think I’ve ever loved a videogame character just from the way they move before, but Gale’s warmth is magnetically evident just from his calm head turns and the subtle way he leans toward the player with disarming friendliness.

We’ve already mentioned the top notch voice acting, but I’ll do it again - the voice acting occupies a notch at the top! There’s a really lovely soundtrack to boot, especially if you rolled a bard - the selection of songs you can perform at any time are absolutely lovely, with The Power being a personal favorite tune.

In case you couldn’t tell, I fucking love this game.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is truly exemplary, one of the few videogames in history that wholly deserve the universal acclaim heaped so freely upon releases above a certain marketing budget. The choices offered to the player in terms of both crafting an adventurer and influencing the story do an incredible job of translating Dungeons & Dragons to a form of interactive software that surpasses the loftiest expectation. The script is incredible, the gameplay beneath it downright luxurious. There won't be another like this in a long, long time.

Nothing I’ve said had been influenced by how much I want to bang Astarion.



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