Last week Larian Studios finally opened up a little about their highly anticipated role-playing game through a livestream from PAX East showing off the first gameplay of Baldur’s Gate 3. Set in the Dungeons & Dragons campaign world of The Forgotten Realms, Baldur’s Gate 3 is the long-awaited third entry in the Baldur’s Gate franchise. Studio head Swen Vincke was at the helm for the playthrough and he treated us to what appears to be the first few encounters in the game. Normally, when a developer gives a live presentation of their game in everything goes according to a script. It always leaves me wondering how much time and effort was put into making sure that gameplay goes smoothly and whether the final product will be as polished (hint, it rarely is).
This wasn’t the case last week. There were multiple times during Swen’s playthrough where you knew the events happening on-screen didn’t perfectly match up to the developer’s intended scenario. A party wipe a few minutes in, an enemy going up and down a ladder in an endless loop, and Swen’s unfiltered reaction of “Oh shit” probably didn’t come out of a marketing brainstorming session, but it’s all those little mishaps that showed the presentation wasn’t on rails to highlight only the positives in an attempt to get me to buy into the Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access coming later this year. But this transparent look at the current state of the game has me wanting to do just that, for along with the critical fails by Swen and the game engine (a session ending bug closed out the playthrough) the gameplay did show off what looks to be a good adaptation of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition ruleset. It is obvious Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t in a release worthy state yet, but I did glean 6 takeaways from the gameplay that has me hyped to try out Baldur’s Gate 3 when it finally enters Early Access.
Many people enjoy RPGs because of the combat, and although I love to hack and slash with the best of them, I expect my D&D games to come with a strong story as well. We got our first taste of Baldur’s Gate 3’s story last year with the transformation of a soldier into a mind flayer in the announce teaser, and last week’s gameplay kicked off with the awesome opening cinematic of BG3. I fully expect an epic story to unfold as we race to remove the Illithid tadpoles before our party is consumed by them.
5th Edition D&D Character Generation
Githyanki, Drow, and Half-Drow were three of the race options shown in the reveal along with the more common Human, Dwarf, Halfling, Elf, Half-Elf, and Tiefling. In Early access, we will be able to choose from the wizard, warlock, fighter, cleric, rogue, and ranger classes. The 5th Edition D&D ruleset allows for a wide range of character classes and, with Swen saying more races and classes will be available later, it appears that Larian Studios will be packing in as many as possible.
Along with the player-created characters, there will be several origin story characters, some of which were seen in the opening cinematic. Astarion, a High Elf with a vampiric background was chosen for the playthrough. It sounds like all of the origin story characters will have an interesting background that will drive their motivations beyond the primary goal of removing the tadpole from their head, possibly creating some conflict within the party.
At the core of every D&D fight is a turn-based combat system, and I was happy to see that Larian Studios have decided to leave the real-time with pause fighting of BG1 and BG2 in the past. Real-time combat can be great but it just doesn’t give the feeling I want from a D&D game. It’s not because you have unlimited time to plan out your move; turn-based with pause gives you that same option. It’s more about getting the most out of each character by combing through all of their abilities to find the perfect way to spend their action points.
One of the biggest draws of D&D combat is the flexibility afforded to the players when deciding how to handle a group of enemies. Swen’s first attempt at combat was a bit reckless and ended with both characters dying. After a quick restart from the beginning (the save feature is currently broken), Swen was back into the action, this time using the turn-based movement to position Astarion before starting off the fight with a couple of well-placed attacks on an unsuspecting foe. The fight was over quickly and showed how a little planning would be required by players if they wanted to keep their party alive.
In a later encounter, Swen went even further by showing how the party could be broken up into multiple groups, allowing you to set characters in place before actually entering combat. There is even the option to switch to turn-based movement outside of combat to help you with this. This type of freedom probably won’t come with every encounter but it is great to see players will have at least some control of the battlefield.
Taking The High Ground
Right along with good planning, a successful D&D fight often requires the quick assessment of the battle in progress, finding an advantage wherever you can. This can be as simple as gaining Advantage by taking the high ground and being able to roll twice for each attack and using the better of the two rolls. In a fight with some unfriendly profiteers, Swen pushed people off of ledges and threw crates on them from above. He even ignited his arrows on a nearby fire source and launched one into a powder keg, easily dispatching the enemy he was facing. These types of tactics are a staple of D&D combat. I can’t think of a single RPGer that doesn’t have at least a few stories of how they changed the tide of battle (for better or worse) with some MacGyver-like use of the items laying around. It will be interesting to see what crazy antics gamers come up with while playing BG3.
D&D Can Be A Little Dicey
Back when I had the time to play pen and paper D&D with my friends I brought my fair share of dice to the table (what real geek doesn’t?) but I have to admit all that dice rolling can slow things down. Like many computer-based RPGs, Baldur’s Gate 3 takes most of the die rolls out of your hands and quickly manages them in the background. Action outcomes like initiative rolls, a critical hit or failure, and damage amounts are displayed on the screen and, for anyone who really wants to know the numbers, Swen did mention all the rolls and calculations are viewable in the lower right corner of the screen. There were a few points in the presentation where the action stopped and the die rolls were put back into the hands of the players. This included rolls that would affect the player, such as perception checks, ability rolls, and the like. Best of all, we saw that rolls of natural 20 are given the special treatment they deserve.
So how about you? What did you see during the Baldur’s Gate 3 livestream that has you excited to jump back into the Forgotten Realms when Baldur’s Gate 3 is finally playable? Or was there something I missed that has you shaking your head in disappointment? Let me know in the comments below.