Where do I even begin to write about the epic story of Baldur’s Gate 3, and the even more epic story of playing Baldur’s Gate 3? There’s just so much to talk about. See: Some two hundred hours of videos I’ve uploaded.
Baldur’s Gate 3 has been my main game since August, so I spent nearly half a year with this game, not counting a two-and-a-half month break where I didn’t play much of anything.
I think overall I’d say it’s the best turn-based CRPG I’ve ever played, and certainly the best licensed D&D game ever made.
It’s not that surprising that only 17% of players (at press time) have finished the game, because it’s a long game. Even if you blitz through it on Explorer difficulty, I’m sure it would take quite a while unless you take a straight-line path. My Steam time is some 275 hours, and that’s only for one playthrough, where I missed a ton of story options (but I tried to do every quest I found). One of the companions was barely even in my game, because they died very early. There must be hours and hours and hours of recorded dialog and scenes that I missed.
I think The Witcher 3 was probably the previous record-holder for longest RPG, but Baldur’s Gate 3 smashed that record about fifty times over.
Despite being that long, it was still the best CRPG in a while. Usually the combat mechanics in an RPG become boring and repetitive by the end of the game, but somehow Baldur’s Gate 3 managed to make every combat encounter unique from beginning to end. The story wasn’t the greatest ever (I mean it’s no Last Of Us), but it wasn’t terrible, either. Somewhere along the lines of a Marvel blockbuster.
I’m so glad they decided to go with turn-based combat instead of the abomination that was the original Baldur’s Gate “real time” combat. Every recreation of the Infinity-style combat from recent Kickstarter titles has been really nostalgic, but they’ve also been really imprecise and random and frustrating. It’s really annoying to have to keep pausing the game every 2 seconds to keep your party from milling around like lost ants getting themselves killed.
The combat in BG3 is meaty and intellectual and felt like every encounter on Tactician difficulty was a grand master chess match. Good stuff.
I played about 95% of BG3 on Tactician difficulty, except for a period in Act 2 (after the catastrophic debacle at the Adamantine Forge) where I switched back to Balanced difficulty. And I gave up on the last fight with the Netherbrain on Tactician and switched to Explorer just to see the ending I wanted. (What I have to assume is the “standard” ending circumvented that last fight entirely. I mean why wouldn’t you use the “insta kill” option at the end of the game?) The difficulty of any given encounter was anywhere from easy to crazy hard, and you never knew what to expect.
The idea that they added an even more difficult setting (Honor Mode) is somewhat shocking to me, because I thought Tactician was already a bit over the line of unfair at times.
All through the game, I had a love-hate relationship with the Tactician difficulty setting. I like the idea of the game using advanced combat techniques and/or adjusting the encounter sizes, but I absolutely hated that they added hit points and armor class and bonuses to the enemy rolls for higher difficulties. I’m not a fan of enemy health or power scaling with the difficulty setting, because it feels like the least interesting way to vary difficulty. I greatly prefer adding more or different enemies, or changing the combat tactics.
Still, I kind of want to see how far I can get in an Honor Mode playthrough, with a different party composition. The combat encounters are likely to be totally different, so it should be a completely fresh experience. I imagine the early game will be the hardest, because it’s so easy to get yourself killed at low levels. (A couple of test runs has borne this out as I died at level 2 and 1 in my first two attempts, respectively. I wasn’t taking it seriously enough.)
I enjoyed the story in Act 1 and Act 2, but I felt like Act 3 took a weird turn, dragged horribly, and I wished it had been a lot shorter. I actually thought the game should have ended at the end of Act 2. That’s why I took a two and a half month break from the game; I got so bored wandering around aimlessly in Act 3, not fighting anything or progressing, feeling like I was playing an entirely different game, and not knowing how to reach the end.
The only quest in my journal that I didn’t complete was the one about finding Dribbles the Clown’s corpse. I found three pieces of it, but that was it.
How My Story Turned Out
The companions in my game had a pretty high mortality rate.
My base party for the majority of the game:
- Tavi, a Halfing Lore College Bard with mainly crowd-control spells and a veritable mountain of scrolls. Didn’t use any illithid powers until a random impulsive romantic encounter with The Emperor in Act 3, then she gobbled up all the tadpoles and turned half-illithid, then she turned into a full Mind Flayer for the end (which turned out to be useless because I gave up on the last fight). Cull the Weak was an amazing passive power toward the end.
- Karlach, a Wild Magic Barbarian and killing machine. Basically the entire party was built around getting Karlach into the face of enemies to tank incredible amounts of damage and, using either Haste spells or Potions of Speed, to deliver 4 crushing hits per round. And sometimes an extra Great Weapon Master bonus action hit, too.
- Shadowheart, a Trickery Domain Cleric (I genuinely don’t remember making a decision to go Trickery Domain) who turned to Selune. Just a good all-purpose class that can tank, heal, sneak, do damage, and do some crowd control as the situation demands.
- Gale, an Evocation Wizard and classical glass cannon. Mainly there for Counterspells and AoE attacks. Frustrating class. Sometimes amazing and perfect, but usually kind of a dud. I think the magic classes in D&D are generally better suited for solving problems in imaginative tabletop games rather than rule-based computer games.
The majority of my gear came from Act 1 drops, and I never got much of any upgrades for the entire rest of the game. I almost never had enough gold to buy magic items; only healing potions or food. It was far too much of a hassle to sell junk loot to get gold for purchases.
Prior to whatever level Gale got Counterspell, Astarion was usually in the party instead of Gale. After Gale had Counterspell, he became a permanent member and Astarion and the rest just sat in camp for the majority of the rest of the game.
Before Karlach became a permanent member, Lae’zel (or Lae’Z as I called her) was the tank, but I found her frustratingly unreliable.
Lae’zel. Murdered in the night by Shadowheart in Act 1, when I didn’t intervene in their struggle. I found her pretty irritating at the start of the game, but I heard somewhere that she has one of the best story arcs. I thought it was a bold story choice to murder one of the companions so early.
Wyll. Banished to hell or something because I pushed the wrong button and killed his patron Mizola in the Mind Flayer Colony under Moonrise Tower. Pretty irritating that pressing one unlabeled button killed a companion off-screen, but it wasn’t a big loss, since he never did anything but stand around in camp drinking. I found the Warlock class difficult to use effectively so he was constantly getting killed and not contributing much in battle.
Gale. Blew himself up to kill the Netherbrain to save the world. As soon as I found out Gale had a nuclear bomb in his chest (somewhere in Act 1), I thought that would surely be the most dramatic story ending to work toward. (Turns out it was also the most practical and expedient, seeing as how there’s no more need for him mechanically after that point. It’s not like there’s more to play after the last fight.) But then at the beginning of Act 3, when the game asks you what your personal goals for the Karsus Crown are going to be, during that one camp, I impulsively decided to try to betray everyone and conquer the world, and spent all of Act 3 trying to maneuver toward that instead. (I decided early on that Tavi’s main character trait was impulsivity.) Turning into a Mind Flayer myself instead of letting The Emperor do it, etc. But as it turned out, the final fight is pretty ridiculous on Tactician difficulty, and after two failed tries I just had Gale blow it up to get to the credits, which made much of my Act 3 maneuvering pointless. (As it turned out, the “conquer the world” story ending was pretty lame and unsatisfying anyway.)
Karlach. Her infernal heart gave out in the end. There were numerous opportunities to try to fix it, but I accidentally killed the infernal mechanic way back in the Grove, I accidentally killed Mizola in Act 2 (who I think might have been able to fix it), and I couldn’t find anything useful in the Steel Watch Foundry in Act 3, where I thought there might be a fix. There were breadcrumbs everywhere but they never led anywhere. I don’t know if that was railroading or I just played it wrong.
Tavi. That’s me, my character, a Halfling Bongo Bard. Survived, but since she turned herself into a Mind Flayer to try to take over the world, with the last vestiges of her former happy-go-lucky Halfling Bongo Bard humanity, she decided to lock herself in prison, where her soulless shell will forget everyone and everything. She’ll probably die a slow and painful death without any brain nourishment.
Astarion. Astarion survived and replaced Cazodor as the Vampire Lord of Baldur’s Gate. He turned into quite an evil chap, killing children, exploding thralls, murdering Gur, and cackling about how much revenge he’ll be exacting on his enemies now that he has absolute power. He read the whole evil Necromancy of Thay book too. He always comes up as the adorable mascott of Baldur’s Gate 3 but he was a murdering psychopath in my game. Not the kind of person I’d want to hang out with.
Shadowheart. The only one (other than Gale I suppose) who made it through a somewhat redemptive story arc. She rejected Shar (her decision, not mine), defeated the Mother Superior (barely.. stupid Darkness spells), recalled her memories, and … um … well, killed her parents. But, you know, that’s what they wanted.
I had one romantic tryst with almost everyone who wasn’t dead, except Gale, who I punched in the stomach, and Wyll, who I thought was kind of sappy. And Shadowheart, who steadfastly ignored me the entire game. That includes The Emperor, who convinced Tavi, whose defining characteristic throughout the game was impulsivity, to embrace the illithid lifestyle. I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t an option for Tavi and The Emperor to ride off into the sunset together as a Mind Flayer couple.
In a lot of ways, it felt like they barely finished the game, and a lot of the ending scenes were minimum viable products because they didn’t have time to fully flesh it out. (Then again, only 17% of people apparently got there so what’s the point.) I imagine they could have easily taken another full year to polish off the rough edges of this game. They’ve done six months of patches and there’s still plenty of bugs.
The party left some carnage in their wake.
- Literally Everyone In The Grove. Dead. Except for the one kid we saved from the Harpy encounter, who stands around by himself among all the rotting corpses and blood-stained ground of his former home.
- Owlbear Cub. Dead.
- Druid Halsin. Dead. (Offscreen, weirdly.)
- All the people trapped in the fires at Waukeen’s Rest. Dead.
- Auntie Ethel. Vanished?
- Isobel at the Last Light Inn. Dead.
- Jaheira at the Last Light Inn. Dead.
- Everyone else at the Last Light Inn. Dead. (Undead, actually, then Dead.)
- Whatever kid was trapped in the Shadowlands. Dead, or still trapped.
- Shadowlands. Still Cursed.
- Duke Ravengard. Dead.
- Most of the Gondians imprisoned in the Iron Throne. Dead.
- Minsc. Dead. (Boo. Survived! But sad.) (Incidentally, I killed Minsc immediately in my game of Baldur’s Gate 1 Extended Edition too.)
- Gondian Gnomes. Dead. Heads exploded or drowned.
- Zhentarims. Dead.
Things To Fix in Baldur’s Gate 4
The number of bugs and flaws and annoyances in Baldur’s Gate 3 are numerous. Innumerable, even. Every game session, I encountered issues that I had to work around, and the inventory system is one of the worst in RPG history.
The closer you get to the end of the game, the more pronounced the problems get. I imagine the end of the game must have been a train wreck at launch time, but it’s at least playable now. I hope they fix all of this stuff if there’s a Baldur’s Gate 4. I assume there will be, after the massive success of this one. It’s just a question of whether it will be another labor of love like this one or a quick cash grab rushed out the door quickly.
- A more intuitive third-person camera for mouse-and-keyboard.
- It’s “kind of” there but it’s so different from any other game it might as well not be there. Basically I want the same style of camera from the controller version with mouse-and-keyboard.
- Inventory system. Dear god, the inventory management was such a hassle.
- You have to physically find and travel (walk!) to vendors to sell things. Ugh. So 1980s. So old. So boring. So repetitive. Put a permanent vendor in camp at the very least. Put fast-travel points next to vendors. Or put some sort of agent in camp you can give your excess junk to, and have them go out and sell them so you have gold for the next day. It was such a time-wasting chore that I basically never sold any loot I picked up, unless I absolutely had to.
- Books! OMG the books. Each book or note is a physical item that sits in an inventory slot. There are thousands of them! So antiquated! Like playing a game where you connect to a mainframe over TTY. Put them automatically into a library or codex that you can access and browse via. a menu. And for the love of god, add a search feature, too. It’s literally impossible to find a book that has key information in it that you picked up a hundred hours ago.
- There’s a primitive feature to tag junk loot for selling, but I didn’t even understand how it worked until almost the end of the game. In any case, you can’t press a key to mark an item as junk, you have to right-click and find it on a context menu every single time. The correct thing to do is never put junk loot into the game in the first place, but a lot of gamers and developers are weird about liking that. (I think they actually teach that in game developer school… something something “it’s actually good to have wasted down time in games! It’s important to the gaming experience!” Whatever.)
- Tactical grid.
- I doubt they’ll change this, because it’s the foundation of all their CRPG games, but a tactical grid of squares would have been so much better than the free-form sort of pathing that they use. See Solasta: Crown of the Magister. It’s so much easier to figure out attacks of opportunity and positioning with a grid, rather than the random guessing game of whether you’ll be able to reach your destination or not. The number of times something bad happened that I didn’t expect because of the lack of a grid was innumerable.
- D&D rules.
- I mean, they bent the rules of D&D a lot, and I’m not even that knowledgable about D&D rules. If you’re making a licensed D&D game, it seems like it should get the rules right. I suppose they can just claim it’s “homebrew” rules, so they don’t have to say “yeah it was just too hard to add flying up into our game engine so the Fly spell is actually useful.”
I don’t want to spend another 200 hours with this game, but I can’t think of anything else I’d rather play. I’m just sort of waiting for Dragon’s Dogma 2 now I think.
If I make an entirely different party, make different decisions, use different combat tactics, a second playthrough could be an entirely different experience with little or no overlap from the first playthrough.
I haven’t yet experienced much of:
- Lae’zel’s story
- Wyll’s story
- Monk (I want to try one because they always seem crazily overpowered when I encounter them, both in BG3 and Solasta, and there’s a ton of monk gear drops in BG3)
- Paladin (also very formidable enemies with those Divine Smites)
- Not to mention different variations of Barbarian, Cleric, Rogue, and Bard.
And there’s an Honor Mode now. I have to at least try it once, right? I’m sure I could get to at least the end of Act 2 in an Honor Mode, where the first beast of a boss fight waits (the Avatar of Myrkul).
Update: I’ve tried Honor Mode six times now. Two ended on the first Intellect Devourer fight on the beach, which is incredibly dangerous, and two ended with the fight in the Refectory, which is also pretty hard if things go wrong. (I nearly died in both of those fights in my first playthrough on Tactician difficulty, too.) The other two have reached the vicinity of the Blighted Village. (I have one on the PS5 with a Druid main character and one on the PC with a Monk main character.)
And yeah, I bought Baldur’s Gate 3 for the PS5 so I could play it lounging around on the bed with a controller. The controller controls for BG3 are surprisingly good, at least for exploration. I kind of wish I’d known about it for my first playthrough. One of my complaints about BG3 all along was the lack of a third-person-style camera, but with the controller, it does use a third-person-style camera.