Save the Date for Baldur's Gate
Earlier this year, we were reintroduced to Baldur's Gate with a powerful and gorgeous cinematic opening. The video spread like wildfire across TTRPG and D&D corners of the internet and played on repeat for everyone in my D&D group. We waited with bated breath for more, and three months ago, Larian studios showed off some of the gameplay to satisfy our hunger.
Excitement has continued to grow since then, and this week we were treated to a whopping 90 minutes of live-stream gameplay footage. What was shown during the stream was incredibly impressive (even in its unfinished stage), and it was also only a fraction of the massive world and story that this game holds. After seeing this footage, I am hopeful and optimistic that this may be the D&D videogame we have been waiting for.
For those who are not familiar, Larian Studios is a Belgian video game developer and publisher. The studio made another role-playing video game series, the award-winning Divinity Series, and is now picking up the famous Baldur's Gate property. The latter of these series is based on the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing system. I'm pleased to tell you that while I encourage people to play all the games in the Baldur's Gate series, you won't need to play the previous installments in order to play or understand this game.
The first game in the Baldur's Gate series has players exploring the city the game is named after and its various political intrigues. From battling roadside brigands to attempting to thwart the potential rise of a new God of death, this classic gem captures both the grandiose storytelling and player immersion common to the tabletop game.
The sequel, Baldur's Gate II, occurs in the merchant city of Amn just south of Baldur's Gate, where players find their character from the first title trapped and being experimented on by a nefarious wizard. With the help of some new and returning companions, players escape but plan to return to save their childhood friend from this villain, all while battling demons of their own. Baldur's Gate II is filled with adventure, intrigue, and a powerful narrative that continues to build on the original game's events providing a rich and rewarding RPG experience.
That brings us to this newest installment. An ancient evil has returned to Baldur's Gate, intent on devouring it from the inside out and corrupting its inhabitants' minds. The fate of Faerûn lies in your hands, just out of Mind flayer's grasps.
So, what can we expect from Baldur's Gate III? For starters, the game is a return to the silent protagonist and contains dialogue options that the character will respond with verbatim. This is a great feature as there are RPGs and decision-based games where you will pick a response, and the dialogue will be different from what you chose or have a much different effect or consequence than desired.
The gameplay footage shows two interesting examples of dialogue options and choices. As a Githyanki traversing a Goblin camp, you come face to face with a particularly rude Goblin who suggests you should kneel and kiss his feet. You are given a group of dialogue options that will stem into further conversation, a fight, or you could take a chance in using Illithid tadpole placed in your mind to influence the Goblin and the outcome of this exchange. The more you tap into this dark source of power, the more your character will be affected.
Another player your character encounters is a devil in disguise who offers him a deal to remove the tadpole from his head. The dialogue and action options during this meeting have an effect not only on the character and his future but with his party members as well. They are suffering from the same dark force, and how you react even after the meeting is finished can possibly sow the seeds of doubt among your fellow party members. From what has been shown so far, the dialogue options seem more fleshed out, and knowing that they are verbatim will help guide the player to the correct actions that they wish to take.
Technically, the game improves upon its predecessors in every way, from voice acting to magic systems. The entire terrain has been upgraded to a 3D space, including realistic verticality. This means that characters and enemies can fight on rooftops and jump to and from ledges or cliffs as they would if you were playing a traditional game of D&D.
Physics will also play an integral part in the game's spell mechanics, opening more room for creativity and strategy regarding spell use. For example, you can use a spell like Thunderwave to knock an enemy back and off a ledge. You are not simply limited to hurting an enemy and sending them back a few feet.
Actions and spells in Baldur's Gate III are also directly from D&D's 5th Edition (This is the current edition praised for its streamlining for new and old players alike). Attacks and spells share the same names as their campaign and supplement book counterparts, and unseen dice rolls occur as you do these actions. These are shown as percentages on the screen (ex. 80% likelihood to hit the target) rather than show the target's AC (armor class) or other stats that you would typically deal with in a tabletop fight.
Most fantasy RPGs (even when influenced or inspired by D&D) usually end up doing their own thing with a few D&D aspects mixed in. The previous Baldur's Gate games were tied closely to D&D as well but focused on the 2nd Edition D&D rules, which did not always translate into gameplay smoothly. Initiative has also changed. Instead of one group initiative versus another in a fight, you now have individual actions. This allows you to switch between characters during the fight and make decisions on the fly. This is where Baldur's Gate III really shines. You aren't just playing another D&D-Esque RPG; you are literally playing 5th Edition D&D as a videogame. Rules, physics, races, rolls, it's all straight out of the handbook.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Sure this game has dialogue options and stats that will determine various outcomes, but can't I just max out something like persuasion and trick or intimidate people to reach my goals like I can in other RPGs? My answer is you can max out anything you want, but it does not mean you'll get whatever you want. Just like in real D&D, everything comes down to rolls and checks. You can have an amazing modifier, but that won't matter if you roll low. You can't always talk your way or frighten your way out of a situation. The game manages to balance itself through ability checks. The idea of chance and the many possible outcomes regardless of how proficient you may or may not be is what continues to make D&D an exciting gaming experience, and Baldur's Gate III reflects this.
The few NPCs we've seen so far seem to have some depth and backstory. Instead of opting for a bunch of fetch quests, you see aspects of the NPCs personality, values, etc. and are given an exciting or engaging mini-story as a quest. The side quest feels important and has some weight, like when a DM makes you really care about a character or story that isn't your party's primary goal.
In the live-stream, the player encounters a Deep Gnome who shows you the bloody medallion he found that belonged to his friend. He knows his friend would have never parted from it willingly. It's implied that he would do anything for his friends, and you can infer that he would do the same for you if you help him and befriend him after the quest.
There is another moment when the player is drawn to a meeting with a seemingly normal man named Raphael, who later reveals himself to be a devil wishing to make a deal with you. Once again, the character feels fleshed out, nuanced, and interesting. I found this exchange to be very engaging, and I wondered how the player should go about responding. Is it smart to insult or try to attack him? Should you play it safe but maybe run into him again later? Should you agree to his deal to finally be rid of your suffering? Or should you just turn to the feast he has laid out and fill your plate nonchalantly while he rambles on? All of these options are worth hearing the character's response, and I found myself hoping you get to see Raphael pop up to tempt or taunt you again later in the game the more desperate you get. A great NPC is always the one you hope to see again, good or bad.
Another aspect of gameplay worth noting was the difference in dark vision and normal vision when switching between characters of different races. This is a fantastic touch that will have the character adapt to the environment, depending on their character. For example, being in a dark basement, cavern, or tunnel as a human will require you to find or create light sources to see more comfortably. If you play a character race with dark vision (Ex. Elf), you will innately be able to see these areas in a brighter contrast without light sources. Movement has also received an upgrade in scaling/jumping from various heights/ surfaces, as well as the option to stealth. While attempting stealth, your line of movement will also indicate when you are fully covered, partially covered, or out in the open and, therefore, in a potential line of sight of an enemy.
Multiplayer will also be an option. Even if you are playing as a single-player, you will have the ability to split your party and switch between characters to coordinate attacks, cover more ground and search areas.
Finally, the game just looks gorgeous, even with the gameplay shown not being the final product. I feel like I'm playing D&D, like I'm in a goblin camp or making my way through the Underdark and fighting strange creatures. It's beautiful, engaging, and if previous games are any indication, the music will be fantastic. This is a game I will be keeping my eye out for. According to the studio, early access will be in August 2020, so stay tuned!