It is no secret the rights to Baldur’s Gate has been the prize many RPG developers have sought since Black Isle Studios folded. With the success of the Divinity Original Sin series, Larian Studios was chosen to be the Baldur’s Gate 3 developers, and it seems like a match made in heaven. While Larian Studios has skipped their preferred fund raising and publicity platform Kickstarter, Baldur’s Gate 3 has just launched on Steam Early Access. The first act of the game is out, alongside six player classes and nine races/subraces.
The story in Act One is solid so far. The main plot moves at a fast pace and offers lots of branching story paths. The five origin characters cannot be selected as the main character at this time. They can all be recruited as party members, so players can get an early look at each character’s personal stories. So far, the origin characters are a diverse lot. Most aren’t shallow good or evil types, rather having a more nuanced personality.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition adapted to Divinity Original Sin 2’s mechanics. It is by no means a perforce 1:1 adaptation, but closer to a reinterpretation or a hybrid. For example, weapon stats are more similar to Divinity Original Sin 2, likely for gameplay balancing. However, Larian Studios makes every effort to remind players constantly they are playing a D&D video game by doing things like displaying weapon damage as dice rolls and using long and short rest mechanics.
In the spirit of Dungeons & Dragons, combat is not the main focus of Baldur’s Gate 3, but rather a tool in the box for players to use as necessary. There are lots of situations where players are outright discouraged from engaging in combat due to overwhelming numbers or higher level enemies. Players almost always have the option to use non-combat skills or stealth solve the problems. While charismatic characters will have an advantage using less violent approaches, the developers have been very good so far about providing other types of characters some non-combat options too.
Combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 is strategy heavy and can be punishing at times for the casual player. Like Divinity Original Sin 2, elemental surfaces and their associated combos are powerful tools that players and enemies alike can use. Positioning is incredibly important in the game to prevent damage, increase the chance to hit, and avoid being swarmed by the enemy. The AI is usually an enjoyable challenge for the average gamer, even though only normal difficulty level is available at this time. I noticed the AI struggles with pathing at times with multi-layer maps with holes in the floors, but the issues seem to be minimal.
As with any early access title, balancing is a work in progress for Baldur’s Gate 3. Adapting the D&D 5th edition rules for the Divinity Original Sin 2 engine is a big task, and Larian Studios still has a lot of work to do. I found casters to be underwhelming compared to both physical combat characters in Baldur’s Gate 3 and their spellcasting compatriots in Divinity Original Sin 2. The switch from a cooldown-based system to D&D’s spell slot system hobbles spellcasters endurance, requiring frequent rests between battles to get the most of out of casters. Hybrid melee spellcasters like Shadowheart the cleric are the hardest hit, with her melee abilities nowhere near powerful enough to compensate for her flaccid spells. Ranged rogues on the other hand seem to swing too far in the opposite direction, easily able to dart into range to fire a powerful arrow and then dash to safety all in one turn.
The controls have not changed much since Divinity Original Sin 2. They are very practical and work well for users who only want to use a mouse and those interested in using shortcut keys too. My only issue is how easy it is to accidentally drag abilities off the hot bar. While there is a hot bar lock to prevent accidents, I believe increasing the minimum distance an icon needs to be dragged before it moves out of its slot would be a very practical solution for those looking to keep their bars unlocked.
The graphical experience is solid so far. The art style is realistic fantasy that fits well with the Dungeons & Dragons source books. The humanoid and monster animations are solid. The animal animations on the on the other hand are statuesque and amateur looking. Watching the dog move is absolutely jarring.
The early access build has an incredible amount of audio already. The soundtrack is excellent video game fare. The sound effects are solid. The voice acting is excellent, and there is so much of it. An actor has performed almost every line in the first act, and the narration is very good.
I am impressed with the Baldur’s Gate 3 Steam Early Access build. While it is obvious the game is still in development, the first act is already enjoyable. Larian Studios still needs to do a lot of balancing, but the patches have already come out at a machine gun pace since the Steam Early Access launch. While the full game is not expected to be released for another year at least, I suspect a lot of impatient fans will be starting new games of Divinity Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition while they wait. I know I have.