Baldur’s Gate 3 is everything a Dungeons and Dragons game should be. Rich storytelling combines with clever and creative combat to cast one heck of a charm spell. Stunning visuals and voice acting immerse you in a world where your choices open thousands of possible doors. This is the best a D&D game has felt in decades, and it’s one of the best-looking CRPGs there is (insert joke about critical hit here).
When we first shared our review-in-progress, we were pretty confident BG3 would be a game-changer. And, after nearly 200 hours and multiple playthroughs, we’re even more certain that Larian’s latest CRPG brings something special to Baldur’s Gate. Read on for our well-marinated thoughts on the game, inspired by a range of Baldur’s Gate 3 romances, BG3 party compositions, and Baldur’s Gate 3 builds.
Developed and published by Divinity: Original Sin’s Larian Studios, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a roleplaying game that uses the setting and mechanics of D&D, the world’s oldest tabletop RPG. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of shared DNA with the Divinity series, both visually and mechanically. Baldur’s Gate offers another four-character-party, turn-based RPG that mixes tactical combat scenarios with custom character creation and branching storytelling.
Despite being a licensed game and the third title in a series, there are no barriers to entry with Baldur’s Gate 3. Everything you need to know about how to play Dungeons and Dragons is explained with ease, and the story isn’t a direct sequel to Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2.
Baldur’s Gate 3 begins with a detailed character creation session – one players have already spent 88 years mulling over. Here’s where the first major decisions of the campaign are made.
If you want to play a custom character (recommended for your first run), you can customize everything from your eye color to your genitals. It’s not the most advanced we’ve ever seen – there’s hardly a slider in sight, and you’re stuck with pre-set face and body shapes – but there’s still a lot to play with here.
You’ll also choose one of the 12 Baldur’s Gate 3 classes, which cover a range of playstyle and complexity preferences. Spellcasting classes get plenty more customization options, while martial classes like the Fighter and Baldur’s Gate 3 Barbarian are simpler to pick up (hit hard, do tasty levels of damage). Each of the game’s classes has a unique list of features to pick up as they progress from levels one to 12, meaning you’ll grow in power – and combat becomes even more satisfying to play out.
Alternatively, you could see the story through a different pair of eyes, playing as origin characters like Shadowheart, Astarion, and Lae’zel. Plus, you’ll also need to design a mysterious second character to pair with the one you’ll play as. Your choices impact the game from the get-go, so it’s no wonder Baldur’s Gate has at least 17,000 endings.
The story begins proper with your player-character escaping a DnD Mind Flayer ship – though not totally unscathed, as the Illithid have inserted a potentially lethal, potentially world-ending tadpole in your brain. That’s pretty much the only part of the game set in stone – everything else is up to you.
Choose whether to embrace your tadpole or try to cure it. Choose which Baldur’s Gate 3 companions you save, shun, or snuggle up to by the fire. Choose persuasive conversation over combat when facing danger. Choose an ultra-optimized ‘Owlbear from the Top Rope’ build or choose the DnD Dragonborn because it’s the prettiest Baldur’s Gate 3 race.
Every decision opens (and closes) doors, introducing unique cutscenes, skill trees, and endings to explore. These days, it feels like every videogame promises a world where your choices matter – with varying degrees of success. But in Baldur’s Gate 3, the pipe dream is real. This is a world of grand adventure where the fates of the smallest creatures and the universe itself are in your hands.
We’ve helped everyone from local rats to grand lords. We’ve helped and humiliated companions in equal measure, prompting them to bond with or abandon us based on their individual personalities and moral codes. The options truly are immense, and, remarkably, none of it feels like padding.
We savor the slow moments where we follow a small story trail away from my main quest. Even when there isn’t an interesting bit of loot to bag, the story itself leaves you feeling rewarded.
Excellent writing extends from the smallest pieces of environmental storytelling to the major quests themselves. Baldur’s Gate 3 has multiple high-stakes storylines to juggle at one time, and it does so with a flourish. The amount of content gets less dense as you move further beyond Act One, but the stakes of encounters get higher, leading to a grand final battle that folds in the consequences of many of your decisions up to that point.
Most characters you meet along the way feel they really matter, whether they can join your party or not. Then there’s the character romances to pursue (those custom genitals might come in handy soon). We’ve not had time to court every member of my party yet, but we’ve already had a few highly entertaining dialogue scenes – whether it means being rejected or accepted. Astarion may find us repulsive on this playthrough, but that’s just as fun to roleplay as when he’s smitten.
Combine this with highly interactive environments and the huge range of abilities your Baldur’s Gate 3 party can adopt, and you’ve got varied and strategic combat encounters every time. Almost every item, from mundane water flasks to the most potent DnD magic items, can be factored into a combat or roleplaying scenario.
Seriously, try throwing water over an enemy before shocking them – or over Karlach when you want to cool her down. Plus, Larian throws iconic and unique DnD monsters at you from the get-go, proving that a fantasy setting from the 70s doesn’t have to feel stale.
Baldur’s Gate 3 has three difficulty levels to cater to different play styles. If you’re a seasoned D&D player, you won’t have much trouble with the first two difficulty settings – tactician mode aims to add the extra oomph needed for the strategic mind.
The fights can get pretty challenging (especially if you waltz into an area you’re not adequately leveled for). But the turn-based combat gives you plenty of time to mull over your moves. The balance of luck and strategy offered in every scenario means there’s no love lost by replaying a fight a few times. Maybe this time you’ll shoot a fire barrel beside your foe, or you’ll send your Rogue up high for advantage on their sneak attack.
It’s not all fighting fantasy, though. When you’re not dabbling in swords and sorcery, Baldur’s Gate 3 offers puzzles to unravel and secret treasure to unearth in a small army of side quests. None of these have been overwhelmingly tricky and they’re totally optional – making these a welcome but not intrusive nod to the puzzles often found in tabletop D&D games.
Baldur’s Gate 3 has spent three years in Early Access, slowly feeding more content to the community. As well as adding a final class and more DnD races to DnD character creation and filling out the story, Larian has done plenty of fine-tuning.
Familiar battles are more balanced in the final version, and new skill trees and story beats flesh out the early game. We also finally get to find out who that mysterious second character we make at the start of the game is. The studio hasn’t rested on its laurels post-release, either; it’s already promising to fulfil fan requests in BG3 patch 2, and actively considering BG3 DLC, something it previously ruled out.
It’s nice to see a game this large and this significant given room to breathe. Every gradual update has further polished the experience, meaning this version of Baldur’s Gate 3 is more approachable, more in-depth, and more fun than ever before.
The tutorials are more in-depth than we remember them being years ago, and boss fights are less easy to cheese. And with all the added cutscenes and dialogue options during downtime, there rarely feels like wasted space as you play.
Granted, nowhere in the game feels quite as expansive as Act One, and this is one of the popular critiques aimed at the game now we’ve all had more time to play. Well, that and bugs; we acknowledge Larian has had plenty of work to do patching the game, but, as we miraculously encountered next-to-no serious bugs in our review playthrough, it doesn’t feel appropriate to factor these into our score).
As for the game’s funnel-shaped structure, though, we feel it makes perfect sense – an epic fantasy that doesn’t rush its setup to give each character and concept time to blossom, then narrows its focus to guide everything to a grand finale. We are glad to hear the ending cutscenes are being extended in the latest patch though – more time with our favorite companions sounds ideal.
Some of our favorite dungeons and characters are also found in the second two acts of Baldur’s Gate 3. Larian juggles wastelands, dungeons, and sprawling cities, offering a range of stories in different genres. Horror, romance, and political intrigue all cameo in this high fantasy adventure.
We’d love to wax lyrical about the content beyond Act Two, but even though spoilers are spreading across the internet like an army of goblins, we’re still reluctant to say more. The real magic was the surprise of seeing unique new things or beloved callbacks. And to make sure you have the same experience, you’ll need to go in as spoiler-free as possible.
Baldur’s Gate 3 ticks every box for D&D fans. Its world will win the heart of longtime d20-rollers, and it expertly tinkers with the rules of fifth edition to welcome newcomers into the fold. DnD owner Hasbro thinks BG3 will pull in more cash than its last decade of movie releases combined, and – if it realises its power as a gateway to the tabletop RPG – we can totally believe it.
Play it, and play it again. Play it alone, and then play it multiplayer with your friends. The tadpoles command it.
A heroic feat of gaming
We’ve never played a D&D game quite like Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s gorgeous, compelling, and highly replayable – when we reach the end, we immediately want to start the experience all over again.