The Importance Of The Baldur’s Gate Series And Where It’s Headed Next

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Baldur’s Gate 3 has very big shoes to fill.

Although the Baldur’s Gate fantasy series hasn’t seen any new releases for over last 15 years (the most recent one, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, was released in 2004), it’s still hard to overstate the impact that the series has had on computer role-playing games.

In order to understand why Baldur’s Gate 3 has a very good chance of being similarly important, we’ll need to take a short detour to explain one very distinct difference between a role-playing game (RPG) and a computer role-playing game (CRPG).

CRPGs are missing the most important component of any role-playing game: The Dungeon Master (DM).

The DM performs many duties throughout a RPG. A DM will often be responsible for creating the whole adventure, which can also include the entire world (or setting) in which it takes place. There must, obviously, be a playspace (or ‘map’) for the players to have their adventures in. The DM will also need to act as Non-Player Characters (NPCs), which often includes the many enemies that the players will face.

Sometimes, the group will use a pre-made adventure, known as a ‘module’. While this obviously allows the DM to ignore world/character creation and concentrate on the game itself, there’s another important role that the DM fills which can’t come pre-packaged: That of a referee.

Similar to a sports referee, a DM must know all the rules in order to enforce them, rewarding or penalizing players where necessary. CRPGs are excellent at this, and are arguably superior to human DMs in this regard.

A DM must also know when to bend – or outright ignore – the rules. CRPGs are terrible at this.

(Unedited) Dungeon Master image from Wikimedia Commons taken by user Diacritica, shared under the CCASA3U license (as can be seen here)

Imagine the following scenario:

Your two-person party has been attacked by three ferocious enemies. After killing one of the enemies and severely damaging the other two, the party is low on health (and they have no gear or spells that can help them heal).

Blocked by the remaining enemies, the weaker party member tries to flee. One of the enemies notices this, and takes the opportunity to attempt an extra attack on that party member. The attack succeeds, and downs the weaker party member.

It is now time for the remaining party member to act. They have no way to heal, so they need to avoid close-range combat. However, they have no ammunition for their ranged weapon.

Situations like this show us the importance of human DMs.

With a human DM, your options are still open. You could throw a rock at an enemy. You could throw a rock past both the enemies, hopefully distracting them for long enough to escape. You could try to communicate with the enemies. You could examine the area to see if there’s somewhere to hide. You could, if you’re a magic user, create a magical floating hand which you can use to attack the enemies or perhaps pick you up and float you away.

All of those things probably won’t work. The human DM will make you roll dice for it, and there’s a large chance you’ll fail – even if the DM is feeling generous. But at least you can try.

Compare this to similar situation with a CRPG: You’re dead. That’s it. The end. Game over.

Unless, of course, the game designers have cleverly thought of this situation, and designed for it (as opposed to against it). The best CRPG game designers understand that they are the DM, and allow for as many options as possible.

Which brings us neatly back to the Baldur’s Gate series.

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition

The Impact of Baldur’s Gate

The Baldur’s Gate series takes place in The Forgotten Realms (specifically, the continent of Faerun), which is by far the most common Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) playspace – it’s the one that most of the official D&D CRPGs take place in. For the uninitiated, it’s essentially the Lord Of The Rings universe except some of the races are renamed – D&D’s Halflings are clearly analogous to Tolkien’s Hobbits, for example.

The player would create a character by choosing which gender, race, class/career, and alignment (Lawful Good, Chaotic Evil etc) they’d like to play. The story then begins in their home, a small castle named Candlekeep. Over the course of the series, they’d adventure far and wide to solve the murder of their adopted father (or perhaps avenge his death), collecting many party members and magical items along the way.

Eventually, they come face to face with the killer, and would find they had something in common. They could, if they wanted to, even team up with the killer in the expanded version of the second game, Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal.

Perhaps the player might choose to have the killer join them so they could both face the ultimate big bad of the series, or perhaps they might choose to kill them the moment they saw them. The game didn’t care either way – it was almost impossible to break the game.

Sure, the player couldn’t randomly pick up a rock and throw it at an enemy, but they could do a lot of things that were new to CRPGs. They could romance most of the party members, which might even change the alignment of the party member from bad to good (or vice versa). They could join a guild, which would give them a base of operations, but might also affect how certain game characters treated them. They could kill almost everyone who gave them a quest. They could try to help everyone, even those that didn’t give them quests.

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition

While the characters were all 2D sprites, they were designed and shaded to feel 3D. The backgrounds/maps, by comparison, were often gorgeous hand-painted landscapes created and digitized for the game.

It’s hard to describe the impact that the original Baldur’s Gate series had on CRPGs.

For the first time in an official D&D CRPG, there was an open world to explore, full of interesting characters and sidequests. That kind of thing is par for the course nowadays, but back then it was mindblowing, as was the quirky-yet-realistic vibe given off by the well-written and fully-voiced party members – all of whom were completely optional.

All of this added up to an extremely immersive experience.

Simply put: Although there wasn’t a human DM at the wheel, it certainly felt like there was.

That’s the magic of the Baldur’s Gate series, and that’s what Baldur’s Gate 3 has to live up to: It needs to feel like there’s a human DM.

The thing is – that’s not unlikely. Here’s why.

Larian Studios logo

Enter Larian Studios

Larian studios are best known for their work on the Divinity series, a collection of six (seven if you count the Enhanced Edition of Divinity: Original Sin) wildly successful and widely acclaimed CRPGs.

The most recent two games, Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin II, are spectacular examples of CRPGs in a fully-3D world that feel like they’re controlled by a human DM. The range of things you can do is, frankly, staggering.

The thing is, that’s not immediately obvious – especially to old-school CRPG players.

The perfect example of this is the difference between the D&D skill called ‘Grease’ and the Divinity: Original Sin skill called ‘Midnight Oil’, which both have similar effects but can be used differently in both settings.

Divinity: Original Sin

Casting Grease on the ground in Baldur’s Gate will make the terrain difficult to navigate, which is usually shown by anyone in the newly-Greased area (friend or foe) slipping and falling over, thereby losing their turn for that round. Casting Midnight Oil on the terrain in Divinity: Original Sin will do the exact same thing, but has an added advantage: Casting a fire-based spell on the oil spill with set the oil alight – along with anyone caught in it.

Divinity: Original Sin

Of course, having set the ground alight, you might not want to wait until it burns out naturally. This problem can be solved by casting a water-based spell on the ground, which will extinguish the flames.

This will, in turn, create a harmless cloud of steam in which the players (or their enemies) can hide, thereby giving attacks against them a penalty due to low visibility.

It’s even possible to use fire to remove gas clouds, and to use ice-based spells to freeze spilled liquids – including blood. Even better, all of these surfaces/clouds exist in the gameworld and can be interacted with in the exact same manner regardless of their origins (player or environment). ‘Player versus Environment’ indeed!

Larian Studios have already created multiple games which surpass the famed Baldur’s Gate series for interactivity. All they need to do is make the switch to a D&D ruleset with the same willingness to make the playspace full of options, and the game might just turn out to be considered the best modern CRPG ever made.

They seem to be doing well so far. Do you remember the combat example that I used to explain why humans DMs are superior to CRPGs?

Baldur’s Gate 3 Gameplay Reel

That example actually came from footage of the first official Baldur’s Gate 3 gameplay demo.

The player threw one of their boots at one of the enemies, which killed it. Sadly, the remaining enemy avenged his fallen comrade and wiped the player party, but at least the player had options.

Minsc and Boo

Baldur’s Gate Series Has Memorable Characters

One of the best things about the Baldur’s Gate series so far is the list of memorable characters. The most famous of these is probably Minsc, a whacky bald Ranger. Minsc has a pet hamster, Boo. Boo is, in Minsc’s words, a ‘miniature giant space hamster’. This is genius, because one of the D&D settings, Spelljammer, has a race of giant space hamsters, which can be bred in miniature form.

Is Minsc delusional or not? He certainly acts like it. Although he’s a Ranger, he has the stats of a Fighter and he acts accordingly. But he also has a heart of gold, and he features heavily in both of the Baldur’s Gate PC games (if you let him join your party) He’s also voiced by the inimitable Jim Cummings, who most people will recognize as the voice of Disney’s Winnie The Pooh – and Tigger, too.

There’s also many other interesting characters, such as a Drow (Dark Elf) Cleric who comes from the matriarchal Underdark (the Drow live underground), and a Human Mage/Thief who tries to use her wealth and influence to help the less fortunate – but often makes things worse due to not understanding the bigger picture.

This is the only place where Baldur’s Gate 3 might let us down, but the Divinity: Original Sin series also contains many interesting and quirky characters, both as party members and as NPCs.

Although you can create your own character in Baldur’s Gate 3, you can also choose to play certain premade characters – or have them join your party. This is a design choice Larian Studios have already implemented to great effect in Divinity: Original Sin II.

So, who are our characters in Baldur’s Gate 3? Let’s meet them, via their official character bio pages on Larian Studios’ website.

Baldur’s Gate 3 Official KeyArt

Baldur’s Gate 3: Playable Characters

Astarion (Rogue)

Astarion prowled the night as a vampire spawn for centuries, serving a sadistic master until he was snatched away. Now he can walk in the light, but can he leave his wicked past behind?

Shadowheart (Cleric)

One of Shar’s dark disciples, Shadowheart was sent on a suicide mission to steal an item of great power. While wrestling with her faith and strange, untamed magic, Shadowheart has enemies on all sides – and a long-buried secret to uncover.

Gale (Wizard)

Gale has one ambition: to become the greatest wizard Faerun has ever known. Yet his thirst for magic led to disaster. A Netherese Destruction Orb beats in his chest, counting down to an explosion that can level a city. Gale is confident he’ll overcome it, but time is not on his side.

Laz’el (Fighter)

Laz’el is a consummate warrior, ferocious even by the standards of a Githyanki creche. Facing with transforming into the very monster she’s sworn to destroy, Lae’zel must prove herself worthy of rejoining her people – if they don’t execute her first.

Wyll (Warlock)

Noble by birth, Wyll made his name as the heroic ‘Blade of Frontiers’. He keeps his pact with a devil well-hidden, and is desperate to escape the hellish bargain – even if that means rescuing the seductive creature that made the deal.

Baldur’s Gate 3 Gameplay Reel

Baldur’s Gate 3 : Character Creation

Players may also choose to create their own characters.

The Character Creation section for Baldur’s Gate 3 looks like everything it needs to be – and more.

The player begins by picking a gender, and then a background (Noble, Criminal etc.) or create their own history. They then choose a race, a class, choose where to put their ability points (Strength, Dexerity, Intelligence etc.), and finally, they choose which skills they want to use.

Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3: All The Races Available At Launch

The launch-available races are as follows:

Dwarf

Dwarves are a race of people who are short in stature, but big in personality. They know how to hold a grudge.

Ability: +2 Constitution Score

Racial Features: Darkvision, Dwarven Combat Training, Dwarven Resilience, Tool Proficiency, Stonecutting

Subraces: Hill Dwarf and Mountain Dwarf

Drow (Dark Elf)

The Drow are a race of matriarchal Elves (see below) that live in an underground city known as The Underdark.

Ability: +1 Charisma Score

Racial Features: Cantrips, Darkvision and Drow Weapon Training

Subraces: N/A

Elf

Elves are a race of people who often (but not always) have a connection to nature. They’re usually tall and thin.

Ability: +2 Dexterity Score

Racial Features: Darkvision, Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry, Trance

Subraces: High Elf, Wood Elf

Githyanki

Githyanki are brutal and warlike, and come from another plane of reality

Ability: +1 Intelligence Score and + 2 Strength Score

Racial Features: Decadent Mastery and Martial Prodigy

Subraces: N/A

Half-Drow (Drow/Human hybrid)

Often despised by Humans and Drow, Half-Drow are usually loners.

Ability: two ability scores of player choice increase by 1

Racial Features: Cantrips and Darkvision

Subraces: N/A

Half-Elf (Elf/Human hybrid)

Usually accepted by both Human and Elf society, Half-Elves are commonplace across Faerun.

Ability: +2 Charisma Score and two other ability scores of player choice increase by 1

Racial Features: Darkvision, Fey Ancestry and Skill Versatility.

Subraces: N/A

Halfling

Halflings are a race of short humanoids who often remain playful throughout their lives.

Ability: +2 Dexterity Score

Racial Features: Lucky, Brave, Halfling Nimbleness

Subraces: Lightfoot, Stout

Human

Humans are varied in their appearance and their personalities.

Ability: +1 Intelligence Score, +1 Strength Score, + 1 Dexterity Score, +1 Wisdom Score, +1 Constitution Score and +1 Charisma Score

Racial Features: + 1 Additional Language

Subraces: N/A

Tiefling

These demoniclooking people are from another plane of reality.

Ability: +1 Intelligence Score and +2 Charisma Score

Racial Features: Darkvision, Hellish Resistance and Infernal Legacy.

Subraces: Asmodeus Tiefling

Baldur’s Gate 3 Gameplay Reel

Baldur’s Gate 3: All The Classes Available At Launch

The launch-available classes are as follows:

Wizard – a magic-user who can cast arcane spells, meaning they have trouble casting while wearing armour.

Cleric – a magic-user who can cast divine spells, meaning they need to choose a god to worship but armour doesn’t affect them.

Fighter – a hardy warrior who specializes in combat.

Ranger – a wandering warrior who doesn’t hit as hard as the Fighter, but makes up for it by learning low-level nature-based spells and is often accompanied by a companion animal.

Rogue – a thief who is skilled at hiding in the shadows and striking from behind.

Warlock – a magic-user who has signed a pact with a devil in order to gain superhuman abilities, usually magic-based.

Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3: A Few More Things To Know

Baldurs’s Gate 3 will feature Twitch integration, which will allow a streamers audience to vote on certain things. While obviously not the same thing, this is similar to the impact that a human DM can have on a RPG. While the game doesn’t appear to have the ability to feature an actual DM as a player (as was seen in the Neverwinter Nights series), it’s good that the game can be influenced by others.

It’s worth mentioning again that, if the player doesn’t want to make their own character, they can simply use the pre-made ones. Not only can the player then avoid juggling variables in their head, they’ll also get to experience the game through the pre-made characters point of view. This should increase the replayability of a game that’s already going to be highly worthy of a replay – that’s part of the D&D brand, after all.

Longtime D&D CRPG fans may have noticed a distinct lack of certain races at launch, such as Orcs and Gnomes. These races will most likely be released somewhere down the line – you can’t very well have a D&D game without Gnomes in it, after all!

Baldur’s Gate 3

This seems a good time to mention that Baldur’s Gate 3 will release in Early Access, meaning the game won’t actually be finished at launch. In fact, anyone who plays it at release might be surprised to find that the game currently only contains the first Act.

The game is releasing at full price (USD $60), which is odd considering that Divinity: Original Sin only cost USD $45 (on PC, it was full price on consoles). This is most likely because Steam isn’t keen to let developers change the price of an Early Access title, even after the full release of the game.

Michael Douse, Director of Publishing for Larian Studios, is aware of how strange the pricing of the unfinished release might seem to a casual gamer, hence the following tweet:

Did you ever think you’d hear a director for a games company say not to feel pressured to buy their product? Further, that 25 hours is for one single playthrough. If you play this game and you enjoy it, you’ll most likely play through it again, multiple times. Early Access is often abused by game developers, but Larian Studios seem to be one of the companies who are using it in an ethical and appropriate manner.

Baldur’s Gate 3 might have very big shoes to fill – but it seems that Larian Studios are well and truly up to the task.

Baldur’s Gate 3 can be found here on Steam.

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