When I wrote my review-in-progress of Baldur’s Gate 3, I concluded by saying I was looking forward to being intimidated by the adventures to come. And I was, at the time. And even in the many, many hours since then, there have been times where I’ve been fully enamoured by that sense of striding into the unknown and facing trials I couldn’t predict. But also, just as often, I’ve felt a little beaten down by Baldur’s Gate 3.
I should clarify by explaining that, while I’m in love with this game and this world, I’m not a D&D player so my knowledge of the lore and – more essentially, the rules – is limited. I don’t know if that’s been a hindrance or not, but what I do know is that I’ve had to rely wholeheartedly on the quick-save mechanic more than I have in any other game. See, Baldur’s Gate 3 allows you to quick-save and quick-load at any time, even during combat and dialogue.
At one point I realised how often I was using it, and challenged myself not to. In the very next combat encounter a mid-sized group of gnolls used my party to bloodily redecorate a section of dusty road because three of my characters missed 70+% attacks in a row and I was quickly mulched. I reloaded, abandoned my camaraderie, and save-scummed my way to an easy victory. Well then, I thought, why make it harder for yourself?
But here’s the thing: there’s something inherently off about save-scumming in an RPG. An RPG should be about rolling with the punches, sticking to your character’s convictions and abilities. And in Baldur’s Gate 3 you can absolutely have a rewarding time not save-scumming dialogue and skill checks during narrative moments. But in combat you often can’t come back from one or two mistakes or, worse, one or two bouts of unavoidable bad luck. In that case it’s often save-scum or die, and then you try something else or, more often, the same thing but this time you get better luck. It happened too often in combat at the standard difficulty level, and after a while I began to feel that combat was a bit of a chore.
Yes, I often felt clever combining grease and fire or water and electricity. I drew enemies into choke-points and pre-emptively placed explosive barrels. But I almost always had to quick-load at some point to make it all work. And fine, maybe that’s a skill issue, but there’s no getting around the fact that Baldur’s Gate 3 has a ridiculously deep and complex combat system that simply doesn’t care for your experiments. If they work, great; if they don’t, who cares? Just hit quick-load. Sometimes I just wanted the power fantasy of being a group of badasses, and I don’t think Baldur’s Gate 3 is great at providing that. I’m not even saying the combat is bad, it just feels like it’s often there only to roadblock the other experiences.
For example, there’s a ridiculous amount of freedom in this game. You can build a ridiculous number of different characters and every time you even walk anywhere there’s a chance you’ll meet another NPC with a story or side-quest, or that you’ll stumble directly into another storyline. Even within each conversation, there are multiple ways to proceed, based on dozens of factors. I have genuinely never played a game with so much content that feels bespoke to you. I’ve never seen so many different paths around problems, so many ways to get from A to B. And yet, to my knowledge, you can’t play a pacifist character.
You can avoid killing, but not fighting altogether. There are absolutely times where you get into shit because you have to, whether you want to or not. More importantly, whether your character would or not. There are moments where the roleplay façade crumbles and you have no choice but to fight someone, no choice but to make a choice, which may ultimately damn another character. Complete freedom may well be impossible, but Baldur’s Gate 3 will often force a particular narrative beat whether it makes much sense or not.
It’s also an incredibly horny game. Every NPC seems to want to jump my bones, to the point that most romances feel kind of trivialised. I remember playing through Mass Effect and having to put in the work to romance a crewmate, whereas the criteria for romance in Baldur’s Gate 3 is usually that you’re both present. It’s great you can have a relationship with anyone, but there aren’t many barriers in the process. All I had to do with Asterion was let him bite me a few times and he was putty in my hands.
Which is not to say all the character stuff is so simple. The companion quests in Baldur’s Gate 3 are some of the best RPG content I’ve played, period. The companions are so deeply nuanced and well-written that you’re not always sure what the best course of action is. There are very few binary choices, and some decisions can have horrific consequences. I made a choice regarding Wyll quite late into the game that went spectacularly wrong and really upset me. Of course, I loaded an earlier save and fixed it, but for a while I was genuinely put out. There are still elements of the narrative that can surprise you, there are events that can easily spiral out of control with a few simple decisions, but there isn’t much you can’t undo.
I’ve already gone on record as saying that Baldurs Gate 3 raises the bar for CRPGs and it’s a statement I stand beside. This does for its genre what Elden Ring did for Soulslikes, or what Tears of the Kingdom does for open world adventure games. It’s a sweeping, engaging, mind-blowingly deep role-playing experience that won’t be bettered for some time, but without the ability to quick-save so freely it loses almost all of its massive playability and malleability. It’s a fantastic game that feels personal, that feels tailor-made just for you, and that continually rewards experimentation with its world and its systems. But it’s not a game where consequences really matter, and that can absolutely hamper your immersion and enjoyment at times.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a huge, sprawling, challenging and often magnificent fantasy adventure with some of the best writing and voice acting I’ve ever seen. It’s never less than superbly creative, and there’s an unmatched depth to its myriad systems. But it also has combat governed by rigid rules that will often require multiple retries to circumvent, and an in-built option to give yourself endless mulligans that removes the weight from a lot of narrative decisions.
That said, there are times when you could absolutely believe this world would be fine without your input. Characters remember events and will chat about them; sometimes one long rest too many can lead to entire events occurring off-screen that lock off questlines or possible tangents. You might miss out on dozens of hours of content because you’re not taking the time to pick every lock, interrogate every corpse, or chat to every animal you come across. Larian has built one of the most intricate virtual worlds I’ve ever seen and, despite a few hiccups, Baldur’s Gate 3 remains the finest example of its genre available today.
Vast, intricate world
Incredible writing and voice acting
Unprecedented player choice
Punishing combat feels at odds with the role-playing
Incredibly dense for newcomers