Dawn your wizard cloak, prepare your spells, and roll for initiative because Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access is here to give players their first taste of Larian Studios‘ newest adventure. Fresh off their success of Divinity: Original Sin 2 in 2017, Larian Studios looks to impress again with the newest addition to the Baldur’s Gate franchise that dates back to 1998. Despite only being early access, adventures got the chance to experience over 20 hours of content that 46, 000 lines, 600 characters, 146 spells and actions, 80 combats, and massive areas to explore in Act 1 of this expansive role-playing game (RPG). Couple all of these initial features with an adapted Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) 5th-edition rule set, players may find themselves quickly exceeding the boasted 20 hours of content.
After an eerily beautiful opening cinematic, Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access starts players off with a fairly extensive character creation process. The process follows very closely with creating your character in traditional D&D. Players start with a background that not only can help with role-playing but also gives your character different bonuses. The standard races from D&D are present (human, dwarf, half-elf, elf, halfling, tiefling, drow, and githyanki) as well as their subraces to choose from.
Each race comes with its own racial bonuses and traits that players may take into consideration when picking their class or their style of play. Standard D&D classes are also present (cleric, fighter, ranger, rogue, warlock, and wizard) and like the races, come with their own subclasses to give players the freedom to play their own way. Baldur’s Gate 3 does a decent job of explaining what each component does and how it changes your character. Players with a base understanding of fantasy RPG mechanics shouldn’t be too overwhelmed even if they aren’t experienced with D&D.
While the races and classes with all of their spell customization may take a decent chunk of time to complete, many adventurers may spend the majority of their time on the appearance customization. The control that players have to create their perfect character is extensive. While the ability to change physical body size is nonexistent, Larian Studios make up for it as players are able to change just about everything else. The color palettes and hair designs really let you create your perfect character.
As a dark-skinned Latino with curly hair, it can be difficult to find the correct skin tone and hair that makes me feel like I am playing someone who I think I resemble. Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access nails this for me and I would certainly imagine many people of color will find solace in not being shoehorned into one shade of brown or black, there is such a variety to choose from. For those looking to create their perfect fantasy character will also have many options. Want to be a female dark-skinned half-elf with blue eyes, blonde hair, a full goatee? Done. Want to be a male dwarf with green skin, tattoos, eye-liner, and a female voice? Easy. If you can dream, you can make it.
Speaking of dreams, adventurers also create a character “they dream of” and “attracts you”. This character has no effect on the romance options of your party as he/she is part of the questline. All of the same options for creation are available so look to spend the same amount of time in creating your own thirst trap.
While you’re waiting for your dream woman or man to show up, you will be grouped with truly beautiful and layered characters. All characters have romance options regardless of gender but given their personalities, you have to play your cards right throughout gameplay and interactions. If romance isn’t for you, you can still expect deep conversations about their backstories as well as the option to clearly turn down their advances. Outside of the characters in your camp, the non-playable characters are also very compelling. The gorgeous character models through the Divinity 4.0 engine coupled with fantastic voice acting really makes every character you meet its own special interaction.
In Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access, the central story (at least in Act 1 in the early access) is centered on finding a remedy to the tadpole that resides in your skull threatening to turn you into a mindflayer at a moments notice. Baseline, that is the mission. How players get there to the end of that mission is largely up to them. With D&D based mechanics, Baldur’s Gate 3 give adventures more or less the tools to play in the sandbox. However, those tools may or may not work based on the roll of the dice.
Almost every aspect of the game whether it be combat, exploration, or interactions with NPCs will have some type of d20 dice roll to determine success. The percentage for success varies depending on character stats and abilities. While a character who is proficient in persuasion may choose to peacefully talk their way out of a fight, it doesn’t mean that the same character can try their luck at intimidating the enemy into submission at a lower success rate. Is an enemy right on top of you as a caster? Well, expect the success of your fire bolt to be lower than if you had the high ground.
Despite a character’s high perception, it is entirely possible to fail the perception check on that spike trap on the floor. The introduction of the dice rolls really makes any situation unpredictable. Forget about every player have a different experience. My own experience changed from save to save if I was unable to overcome my enemies in combat or if I didn’t quicksave before the very few instances of the game crashing.
Given these mechanics, strategy can mean success or failure in any situation. Outside of your own character, players will be joined at most three members of your camp to accompany you in Faerûn. Each character has their own class and as you build them out (only up to level four in early access) you can have them supplement your shortcoming. I often had the rogue, Astarion, leading the way to see traps or to pick pesky locks. Given my warlock’s lack of self-healing, I tailored the cleric, Shadowheart, to be my emergency button when the potions of healing had run out. You can even have these characters lead conversations with NPCs if they are better are persuasion or intimidation.
In combat, the placement of party members is essential as well. The AI in Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access is relatively intelligent. If an NPC is slighted by the player before the start of combat, the NPC will relentlessly attack the player despite other party members in the area. The environment is abundant with opportunities to gain height advantages, sneak behind the cover of boxes or boulders, or even cleverly activate traps. While adventures have the opportunity to utilize these environment mechanics, so too does the AI. This requires players to balance a chess match in every combat which adds an extra layer of complexity that few RPGs can boast.
Given that time is of the essence in the story with the tadpole, players cannot just easily reset their health and abilities after each encounter by resting in camp overnight. There becomes a delicate balance between using powerful spells to end fights quickly and holding on to those abilities for a potential battle down the line. Remember, if you lose the battle, it is very unlikely that it will play out the same way twice.
To say that Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access is a beautiful game is an understatement. Much of my time during early access was spent just exploring the various environments. Despite only being a small part of the map that is advertised to be in the official release, there was certainly enough to know how in-depth these areas will be. No area feels the same whether players are in the crumbled wreckage of a mindflayer ship, in the lush green of the Druid Grove, or in the dark luminescence of the Underdark. While time is of the essence with tentacles threatening to burst through my face, I could not help myself but look through every fog-covered area of the map. At times, this paid off with secret goblin staches of loot or an interesting lore book. Others lead to fights that I was clearly outmatched for. Regardless, it was time well spent even if jumping off a cliff lead to more fall damage than my character could handle.
The more players explore in Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access, the more they will understand the countless hours that Larian Studios has put into a world for players to get lost in. Rushing through the questline is something that players can certainly do as Baldur’s Gate 3 gives players the skills to do so. However, after discovering a myriad of side quests and puzzles that did not directly affect the main story, I would advise players to take their time come the official launch. Players who may not be familiar with the creatures of D&D can really get the full experience if they take the time to take the road less traveled or to help that caravan or even go on a murder spree. Regardless, the world set forth in Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of to get lost in and explore.
While I thoroughly enjoy my first playthrough in Baldur’s Gate 3’s early access, there are things that I had gripes with. For starters, the inventory management is a bit of a mess. While Baldur’s Gate 3 is largely designed to be a sandbox, I quickly found myself overwhelmed with the items that I could pick up. Many things such as rope don’t have the same intuitive usefulness one would come to expect in a game where you can through a jug of water to put out a fire.
Given that vendors are easily accessible, offloading your junk for some extra gold isn’t the best solution for this. Searching for things also leads to a lot of empty vases and crates which takes away from the flow of the game a bit. Especially when you accidentally pick up an entire wooden box that weighs you down your movement. With no easy way to sort inventory either, I would lose track of new items that I know I picked up by mistake or needed to transfer over to another member of my party. Being able to select multiple items at a time or button that auto organizes would be amazing.
From my experience, combat went smoothly with the exception of a few NPCs stalling on their turns while they “plotted their next move” or an enemy ragdolling into a million pixels. That has more to do with early access, I wouldn’t knock Larian Studious for working those kinks out. However, combat can be improved. My biggest suggestion would allow for more freedom in the reaction phase of combat.
While D&D 5th-edition is incorporated well, the reactions that characters take are lacking. Making an enemy flee with a spell or attempts to knock someone unconscious as they run is almost useless if your character automatically takes an attack of opportunity without first prompting the player. In that same vein, with the absence of warcaster, my warlock would sheepishly swing his staff and miss where a nicely timed spell could have ended the fight.
The character creation is certainly in-depth. Honestly, one of the most in-depth I have experienced in an RPG in a long time. However, it would be disingenuous f I didn’t circle back to the lack of body type options. While I am able to make my face skin color, hair color, and hair look like me, I am slightly disappointed that my half-elf couldn’t match my build. I am fully aware that fantasy characters all have their own typical design. Dwarves are short and stocky. Wood elves and small and nimble. Drow are grey-skinned and slender. With that said, in a game where I can make my drow have golden skin, I don’t think adding in body type would be too out of the question to truly allow players to make their character the exact way they want with body types.
Finally, players who choose non-combat options to progress through the story should gain experience in line with those players who choose to shoot first and ask questions later. While I am personally a big fan of combat, I can certainly see players dedicated to a non-violent playstyle quickly fall behind the experience curve. In a game so in-depth with its interaction with NPCs, it is my hope that Larian Studios would reward players for utilizing all the options available to them, including the diplomat ones. Either reward players for passing those hard skill checks or reward experience based on quest completion and not combat. In this way, I believe players of all styles can feel that sense of accomplishment.
Overall, I can’t wait to get back into Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access. Despite only being early access, I am eager to try a different playstyle, choose different romances, and experience the 20 hours of content all over again. The environment, the characters, the mechanics, and the D&D inspired elements make for a game that is truly my brand. While the issues I have are minimal and I am sure there are more that can be brought up, I very impressed with Larian Studios’ ability to listen to its player base even in early access. They are quickly releasing major and minor hotfixes for early access. Larian Studiosis taking the time to do it right and while we do not have an official launch day just yet, I am eager to see how early access improves.
Baldur’s Gate 3 releases in Fall 2023.