Baldur’s Gate 3: The Kotaku Australia Review

Baldur’s Gate 3: The Kotaku Australia Review

It’s not often you play a game where the experience is so immersive and well-crafted that you have almost nothing negative to say, particularly when reviewing said game. After all, it’s part of the job to find and identify those annoying little bugs or pacing problems — but Baldur’s Gate 3 has held up under scrutiny, crafting a gargantuan, and somehow neatly wrapped, RPG package. 

Like it says on the box, the game is Dungeons & Dragons in video game form — but in a way that previous titles like Neverwinter Nights and earlier Baldur’s Gate entries were never quite able to reach. The magic of sitting around a table with your friends, embodying a character altogether different from yourself, and adventuring through a shared, imaginary world with all the emotional highs and lows (and downright goofy shenanigans) is captured at a resolution I’ve never seen in a game before. 

While, of course, a game cannot hope to fully replicate the infinite possibilities of multiple human minds coming together for collaborative storytelling given the constraints of game development, Larian has cleverly crafted Baldur’s Gate 3 in a way that seems to almost mask these limitations so they’re invisible to you as the player — in the same the way a Dungeon Master might obscure the rules and maths that drive the game in an IRL play session. 

Your choices seem endless — how will you traverse the mountain pass or get around a horde of goblins? How might you escape a tense encounter with an aggressive NPC? With combat? Or without? Could you steal that expensive item, or barter it down with the shopkeep? And to some degree, it feels like these choices are endless — and the game is all the better for it.

Humble beginnings

Baldur's Gate 3
Image: Larian Studios

The level of freedom Baldur’s Gate 3 provides can seem almost overwhelming at times — the game is expansive in both playtime and overall scale — but there is a level of guidance (not the cantrip) at any given moment that will keep you on track. This begins in character creation, with Origin characters for those not so keen on making their own build, or a wealth of options for those keen to create their perfect PC (or “Tav”). 

The UI is unobtrusive and is clear enough to navigate as you build the character you’ll be spending over a hundred hours with. The hair, eyes, and additional feature options allow you to really customise your character to your liking — although my one complaint in this regard is the lack of granularity in facial features like noses or eye shapes beyond the pre-defined face options. Despite this, I managed to create a Tiefling bard (typical) with split-dyed red and black hair that felt like a version of myself transported into Faerun, Sword Art Online style. The level of detail in your own character and that of NPCs — gnarled faces, disgruntled sneers, and joyful grins alike — brings them all to vivid life in a way other RPGs often strive for but rarely reach.

Beyond character creation, the beginning of Baldur’s Gate 3 really evokes a classic first session of D&D, bringing together the slowly forming party with a story hook, providing a reason for this motley crew of adventurers, misfits, and scoundrels to willingly set out on a life-altering journey together. In the case of Baldur’s Gate 3, that hook is becoming infected with a tadpole parasite that will shortly turn you into a mind flayer unless it can be removed. This shared trauma is the binding glue between you and a handful of your compatriots.

Baldur's Gate 3
Image: Larian Studios

Once you’ve fully formed your party, the story continues to twist and turn down unexpected forks — many guided in completely different directions based on your choices and actions, others slightly more railroaded — with each Act feeling like its own fulfilling story, filled to the brim with all the silly side quests and minor characters that make the world feel full, alive, and thriving, with or without your meddling.

The big bads of the game feel truly terrifying — at many points, the game leans into outright horror that could rival Call of Cthulhu — which makes it all the more impactful to defeat them (or, depending on how you’re playing it through — ally with them, or conquer them). Even minor villains or enemies have their own motivations, some of which you may learn, some you may never discover should you go in guns (or magic missiles) blazing.

A faithful recreation, but an equally outstanding strike out on its own

I keep returning to the clarity with which Baldur’s Gate 3 manages to recreate experiences I’ve had in my own pen-and-paper D&D sessions — whether that’s poorly orchestrated attempts to romance NPCs with hilarious results, or trying to open a locked door in increasingly more inventive ways. Even down to the dynamic turn-based combat and tactile dice rolling (modifiers and all), BG3 nails the source material in multitudes of ways. 

Larian could have skated by on a recreation faithful, and no-one would have blamed them for it. However, Larian has brought something entirely new to Baldur’s Gate 3 that feels less iterative and more like its own beast.

A lot of this comes down to the characters you meet on your journey — all of whom have their own desires, goals, and flaws that may clash with your own (and those of your party members). The fully voice-acted and motion-captured performances add a level of weight to the game and story itself that really makes Baldur’s Gate 3 feel less like simply “D&D but digital” and more like a sprawling, in-depth world you can entirely inhabit and explore. The stern cleric, Shadowheart, became a favourite of mine in Early Access (despite rebuking my affections during that playthrough), but other Companions like the tiefling Karlach, wizard Gale, and Halsin (yes, the one who can turn into a bear) all bring their own brand of humour, or intimate story moments that really add to the overall experience.

Almost perfect

Baldur's Gate 3
Image: Larian Studios

Baldur’s Gate 3 brings the magic of tabletop storytelling to the digital world in a way I’ve not yet seen another game achieve, and despite the mind-blowingly grand scale of it all, manages to pull it off with minimal issues. Sure, there were some minor bugs here and there — and the issue of perhaps too much freedom at some points when I found myself a bit lost on how to proceed across the map — but for each small drawback, there are major benefits. It might be presumptive to call it a ‘masterpiece’ or a classic so soon after release, but it certainly feels like Larian has taken their winning Divinity: Original Sin formula and brought it up about ten notches, creating something truly special. There is just so much to see, do, fight, and discover — and even more to love about this game. 

I’ve waxed lyrical before about fond memories of sitting around a D&D table with friends and the joy this brings. I’ve also spent many conversations arguing that no digital format can ever conjure quite the same feeling of being at the table. Baldur’s Gate 3 comes pretty damn close. I’ve spent more hours than I care to count delving into the story of Faerun and how I and my companions have changed it for better or worse, and expect that I’ll continue to come back for a long time to come, hungry to find more little details and major plot points that I’ve likely yet to stumble upon. Even as I write this, I have only just discovered that bodies of those you’ve killed will be unwilling to talk to you if you cast Speak With Dead — although, should you Disguise Self first, you can get around this. It’s one of many little additions that make the game feel as if, while it was crafted on a massive scale, systems development has also drilled down to a molecular level and truly considered every little thing to bring realism to a story that is deeply rooted in fantasy.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is up there with the greatest RPGs ever made. It is a truly genre-defining game that I, and many others, are likely to be talking about (and obsessively replaying) for some time to come.

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