Conversations around video games are always hotly contested. With so many different genres and ways to play, those conversations are even harder when thinking about Game of the Year (GOTY). The Game Awards defines its GOTY as “Recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields.” Looking across all games, all studios, and all platforms, no other game that embodies the GOTY criteria as much as Baldur’s Gate 3 from Larian Studios.
The wonder of Baldur’s Gate 3 comes as early as character creation. The character creation process, aligned with traditional Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), provided a level of representation and personalization rarely found in gaming. As a dark-skinned Latino, the character-creation process was a revelation. To be able to match my complexion and curly hair as a high elf is something I have never been able to do before and marks a step towards inclusivity often overlooked in the gaming industry. While they may be pixels on a screen, seeing myself, not just someone who looks vaguely like me, immersed me before the first loading screen.
Once players enter the world, the immersion continues through Baldur’s Gate 3’s art direction. Set in the world of D&D, there are a wide variety of classes, magic, races, creatures, and environments to interact with. Nearly every aspect of the game’s environment can be interacted with or used in some capacity. This leads to the attention to detail is evident in every corner of the game world. Using abilities feels rewarding as the animations give a true sense of what it is like to drop a fireball spell on a group of goblins. The character models, even for background characters, are crisp, unique, and frankly, hot.
Baldur’s Gate 3 distinguishes itself through outstanding creative vision and an innovative game design that allows players to shape their destinies. The level of autonomy provided, akin to that found in MMOs, is a testament to the game’s commitment to player-driven experiences. Despite every playthrough starting in the same area, no one playthrough is the same as the next. Whether it’s playing alone across different saves or with friends in their campaigns, there’s always something different to experience across hundreds of hours of playtime.
Baldur’s Gate 3 takes the concept of player agency to new heights, transforming the narrative into a living, breathing entity shaped by individual choices. While the overarching story remains constant, the player’s decisions and actions drive the unfolding tale. This dynamic storytelling approach creates a level of immersion rarely seen in other games. The player becomes an integral part of the narrative, and the consequences of their decisions carry genuine weight, ensuring a deeply personal and unique experience for each player.
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One of the standout features leading to the impressive game direction and narrative in Baldur’s Gate 3 is its faithful recreation of the excitement and heartbreak of a D&D session. Dice rolls influence every aspect of the game, altering NPC reactions, storyline progression, and even the fate of companions. These rolls mirror the unpredictability of a true D&D experience, where a single roll can lead to triumph or doom. Further, the ability to quick save at any moment enhances player agency, allowing them to explore various outcomes by either accepting the dice rolls as they come or becoming the makers of their own fate.
While it may be overshadowed by the gameplay, the audio design of Baldur’s Gate 3 immerses players in a world that is not only visually captivating but also sonically rich. The carefully crafted in-game sounds, rooted in D&D, add depth to the immersive experience. There is always something to hear, whether it is the click of a trap being sprung, the roar of a griffin, or the sound of a successful dice roll. Coupled with the stellar voice acting cast, there is an argument to be made that Baldur’s Gate 3 should have been nominated for Best Audio Design as well. With so many different possibilities in the dialogue, the undertaking for the voice acting cast can not be understated. Neil Newbon’s portrayal of Astarion, while noteworthy, is part of a larger 240-person cast, showcasing Baldur’s Gate 3’s commitment to excellence in not just gameplay but the overall experience for the player.
While some might argue that Baldur’s Gate 3 can be difficult to get into for those unfamiliar with D&D, it’s precisely this connection to the D&D universe that renders the game appealing to a broad audience seeking a narrative-driven experience—reaching everyone as a GOTY should. At its heart, D&D revolves around community, and Baldur’s Gate 3 captures this spirit. Beyond the initial tutorial, players can access a wealth of guides, mods, and patch notes, ensuring that the game remains inclusive and approachable to anyone eager to partake in the adventure. Moreover, the game’s user-friendly drop-in multiplayer feature assists newcomers or those unfamiliar with RPG mechanics, fostering a supportive environment for all players.
Ultimately, Baldur’s Gate 3 excels as a remarkable combination of RPG, action/adventure, strategy, and multiplayer gaming checking multiple elements from the GOTY list. The game’s RPG and action/adventure components shine when each playthrough promises unique elements, resulting in hundreds of potential hours of gameplay. As players progress, the combat mechanics emulate the turn-based nature of a D&D combat round, requiring meticulous strategy. Players navigate the challenge of balancing their four-person party against a diverse array of AI enemies, all governed by the same rules. This extends beyond combat, with dialogue choices influencing interpersonal dynamics and offering alternatives to certain conflicts. With the added convenience of drop-in multiplayer, conducting full D&D campaigns with a group of up to three friends becomes effortlessly accessible, providing extensive playtime for aficionados of the RPG genre.
Having spent around 200 hours in the world of Baldur’s Gate 3, it is a masterpiece. Despite its minor imperfections, the depth of storytelling and the freedom it offers to players make Baldur’s Gate 3 undeniably worthy of the title of GOTY. As the city of Baldur’s Gate looms as a distant sight for players, new and old, the anticipation for the next adventure, NPC encounters, or character-driven moments remains too irresistible not to get lost in. Baldur’s Gate 3 shines as a beacon of excellence, setting a standard for immersive, unpredictable, and memorable gameplay in a world filled with high fantasy and RPGs.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is available now on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S.