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Baldur's Gate 3 Review: Dungeons & Dragons & Bonus Action Potions

  • Choices matter right from character creation
  • Strategic, varied combat
  • Story isn't afraid to get weird with "D&D" lore
  • You need to search the options menu to find the most intuitive UI settings
  • Fantasy prejudice is not everyone's preferred default
  • Would be fun to see the Artificer class and more recent subclasses

A PC code was provided to ZaaZ for this review. "Baldur's Gate 3" is availble now for PC.

The most fearsome BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) for any "Dungeons & Dragons" party is the almighty schedule. Dragon breath can be dodged, and a lich's spells can be countered, but scheduling conflicts have the power to stop a group from even playing in the first place. Yet the schedule must be conquered, for there is no way to experience "D&D" without other people. That is, until the mighty wizards of Larian conjured up "Baldur's Gate 3." While nothing matches the energy of sitting around the table with friends, "Baldur's Gate 3" delivers the depth and choice of "D&D" in a massive package.

From the opening cutscene, "Baldur's Gate 3" captures the mystery, action, and sheer wildness of the "D&D" world of Faerun. Trapped in a spaceship manned by tentacle monsters, the main character is implanted with a brain worm that enters through the eye. Then, after a quick aside for character creation, yellow aliens riding dragons attack the ship and chase it through Hell. Lore nerds are going to love the explosion of references that run from Spelljammer to "Descent into Avernus." Everyone else will still find a badass tutorial as they hack through a menagerie of weird creatures.

Yep, that's D&D

Character creation is a smorgasbord of options including classic fantasy choices like dwarves and elves, but also robust sliders for hairstyles, makeup, scale color, tails, and ... other body parts. Each of the available classes also come with at least three subclasses. Most of these are the standard options from the 2014 "Player's Handbook," meaning some classes are missing out on their coolest updates (sorry, Monks). Overall, it's a wonderful selection that reminds one of just how fun it is to make "D&D" characters. Subclass choice extends to NPC party members as well, in addition to the eventual option to respec everyone, so there's an extra layer of strategic choice available that brings replay value.

A word of warning when it comes to character, however. "Baldur's Gate 3" is true to established "D&D" lore in that some races are discriminated against. Tieflings, in particular, are often met with hostility due to their hellish nature, and Githyanki are treated like monsters due to being an uncommon sight. Fantasy prejudice has been a hotly debated topic for the last few years as the tabletop community itself becomes more welcoming and diverse. The typical conclusion is that such themes should be discussed and agreed upon by everyone at the table before a campaign starts. "Baldur's Gate 3" doesn't give this option, so some players may find their fun hindered by having to regularly deal with the very things they play video games to escape from.

A 'Forever DM's' dream

The chance to build up a whole adventuring party and play using a cleverly streamlined version of tabletop rules is the makings of any great RPG, but one group will be especially served by "Baldur's Gate 3": forever DMs. Being a Dungeon Master is a lot of work, and so many groups end up deciding to keep one person in that role. This results in the DM creating a bunch of characters that they never actually get to use. So getting to command and progress four characters from level one is a real treat.

DMs can also take some valuable lessons from the design of "Baldur's Gate 3." Combat happens just like in tabletop, with heroes and baddies individually taking turns. Even in the first few hours, "Baldur's Gate 3" offers an array of battlefields with different approach options. Ranged attackers are rewarded for getting to high ground, a new "jump" action offers a strategic way for everyone to move, and the shove action is actually useful due to a rules tweak. The new rule is that shove and jump distance are based on the Strength score, a famously underutilized stat in tabletop "D&D." Fighters and Barbarians have exciting new ways to engage as a result.

The game also provides ample opportunity to avoid fights, or start them, by offering dialogue choices for persuasion, insight, or mind reading. Those playing the classic Bard will find an unbelievable selection of paramours await if you put enough charisma into it. Plenty of dialogue is even tailored to your character's class or race. Choice is freely given in every aspect of "Baldur's Gate 3." And yes, the player-favorite house rule of potions as a bonus action is the norm here.

The magic is sometimes dispelled

"Baldur's Gate 3" is almost a 10 out of 10. The amount of choice and interactivity present in every gameplay session is astounding. Larian deserves praise for managing to strike an impressive balance between the reactivity of tabletop and the sheer amount of meaningful content that's only possible with the work of a huge development team. One thing that stops it from achieving perfection (aside from fantasy prejudice) is the way the UI tries to fight you at times.

There are several inconvenient menu options that are turned on by default. None of them are anywhere near game-breaking, but they stand out when everything else about the game is so enjoyable to interact with. For instance, all of your character's gold is gathered in one inventory slot. Yet when you visit a trader, there's no way to only take out the 104 gold you need to buy an item. You have to figure out how much gold you need, back out, open your inventory, split your 104 gold into a new inventory slot, then revisit the trader. Or, you could just turn on the "Always Show Item Stack Splitter" option that should've been available from the start.

Ready for adventure

Other UI annoyances boil down to subjective preference, but can still ruin a combat round. if you're prone to misreading hitboxes, this can lead to more than a few moments of planning a move only to realize that the player character is just shy of being able to reach an enemy even though the character models appear close. Or accidentally attacking an ally because the mouse click hit them instead of the small goblin they were fighting. You can click a character portrait to target that individual instead, but the reflex is to click on the active combatant on the battlefield. There are camera options to help, but like the gold example, they're not mentioned in the tutorial. You have to dig around in the options on your own accord.

The fun of "Baldur's Gate 3" is the fun of "Dungeons & Dragons." You create your unique fantasy hero and go on a fantastical adventure where you're free to tackle challenges as you please. The amount of freedom provided is truly amazing, especially when stacked up to its roots of human beings making things up on the spot. Even in a year with "Zelda", "Final Fantasy", and "Spider-Man", "Baldur's Gate 3" is a strong contender for Game of the Year.