Larian Studio’s entry into the classic Baldur’s Gate series launched this week. Join us as we examine the game – and the launch.
I don’t know about you, but I love me a good fantasy universe. I also love me some videogames. So it seems strange to me that I find so many fantasy computer videogames – well – boring. There’s only so many times I can start an apparently-new game as an amnesiac, or in captivity *cough*ElderScrolls*cough* or on a beach, before I just start getting trope-fatigued into boredom.
But do I have to deal with that here?
A lot of people on various online forums (such as Steam or Reddit) have noted the similarity between Baldur’s Gate 3 and their directly-previous game, Divinity: Original Sin II.
Here’s a comparison between the opening scenes of the two games, shared by the Steam Curator ‘Shitlisting Service’:
“DOS:2 — You wake up captured on a ship. Your character and others gets gimped by a plot device. The boat eventually goes FUBAR. The boat crashes. You end up on a beach with an objective to ungimp your character.
Baldur’s Gate 3 — You wake up captured on a ship. Your character and others gets gimped by a plot device. The boat eventually goes FUBAR. The boat crashes. You end up on a beach with an objective to ungimp your character.”
Fortunately for me, I haven’t played Divinity: Original Sin II yet (I’m currently playing through the first one), so Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t feel overshadowed by it, for me at least. In fact, despite the many issues which can reasonably be expected in any title bearing the brand ‘Early Access’, I’ve had a lot of fun with it.
Let’s look at that first.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access: The Good
Before I’d even thought about buying the game, this quote from a tweet by Michael Douse, Director of Publishing for Larian Studios, pleased me:
‘…the price will be $59.99. Don’t feel pressured to buy it during EA. It’s not going to disappear, and neither are we.’
Not the price – obviously. Asking full price for an unfinished game, regardless of how normalized it’s become, is tacky, unprofessional and unethical (said the man who writes about superheroes and videogames for a living). No, what impressed me was what followed that. Larian, to their credit, are wilfully ignoring many of the trappings of so-called Triple-A gaming and not exploiting the fear of missing out (aka FOMO) that so many gamers feel.
The game doesn’t have microtransactions, lockboxes, Day One DLC, or any DLC for that matter.
They were also upfront about it not being the full game yet – Baldur’s Gate 3 launched with only the First Act of the game available. Whether or not that correlates to ‘the first third of the game’ remains to be seen.
As for the game itself? I’ve found it quite enjoyable, even if the performance has its quirks. I’ve found the story interesting. The world utilises the licensed classes and races of Dungeons & Dragons to great effect, and much of the game seems quite well-presented for an Early Access title.
The combat, while very time consuming (more on this in the next section), can be very satisfying.
The dialogue is fine. The writing is good – it’s somehow less verbose and yet more descriptive than, say, Divinty: Original Sin. The voice acting is excellent. It’s honestly some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in a very long time, and it seems to have been well-directed as well (all the inflections are in the right places).
The graphics are, as you can see in this article, stunning. More than once I’ve stopped playing just to look at the game, and I’ve taken many screenshots that I intend to use as desktop backgrounds. I haven’t felt compelled to do that since I first played Guild Wars, so that’s – what – well over a decade ago?
I really like the way that Larian has implemented simulated die rolls in the conversations and dialogue, but I can see a lot of people getting frustrated at this and feeling like they need to reload.
While a lot of the community doesn’t seem to like them so far, I find myself truly fascinated with the characters in the game. There’s a mage that’s literally power-hungry, a Githyanki supremacist, and a cleric with a secret background. Not pleasant characters by any means, but certainly interesting. This is a bit of a departure from the Baldur’s Gate series, which has thus far relied on likeable (if somewhat irritating, *cough*Jaheira*cough*) comrades.
Having said all that, I can see why some people are comparing it to the Divinity: Original Sin series. Mark my words: People will call this game Divinity: Original Sin 3. What’s more, some of them will even do it on purpose.
The thing is, it doesn’t feel like Divinity: Original Sin 3, not to me.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access: The Bad
It also doesn’t really feel like Baldur’s Gate 3 either.
In fact, this game is, for all intents and purposes, Neverwinter Nights 3.
That comparison was bound to pop up eventually, and I’m honestly surprised that the first time I’m seeing it said is right now while I’m writing these words. This is because Neverwinter Nights was the first fully-3D Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) Computer Role-Playing Game series, whereas Baldur’s Gate was 2D.
So it’s quite fitting that a lot of the issues surrounding Neverwinter Nights II’s launch are also plaguing Baldur’s Gate 3.
Performance-wise, the game ranges from ‘smooth’ to ‘near-unplayable levels of stuttering/locking’. The implementation of many of the D&D skills have a vocal section of the early adopters, shall we say, unimpressed. The unfinished feel of the game overall adds to an overwhelming feeling of ‘Is this it? Is this the game?’
In Larian’s defense, at least they aren’t pretending it’s a finished product – Neverwinter Nights 2 can’t say the same.
Then there’s the whole Windows 7 debacle. See, according to the Steam and Good Old Games storepages for Baldur’s Gate 3, the minimum operating system required to run the game is Windows 7. According to the Official Baldur’s Gate 3 website, it requires Windows 10.
How does such a thing even happen?
Larian have been contacted for comment, but they’ve neglected to respond yet – which is probably fair enough, they’re no doubt getting thousands of emails per day. Still – one would think that this very basic question would be answered in their FAQ: Can the game run on Windows 7 or not?
The answer is: It’s probably not technically supposed to, but it can.
Which brings us back to the whole ‘combat taking so long’ thing. As a Windows 7 user (I’ll change to the inferior Windows 10 the moment I absolutely have to and not a damn second before) I’m finding the game a true test of my patience.
Imagine you have a pizza that you want to share with your – hang on, just wait for 10 seconds – friends who are in the other room. What are your – hang on, just wait for 10 seconds – options there? You could call them into the room you’re in. You could – hang on, just wait for 10 seconds – go into the room they’re in, or you – hang on, just wait for 10 seconds – could do some other third thing.
Oh, and one last thing: Hang on, just wait for 10 seconds.
That’s you, Baldur’s Gate 3 – that’s how you sound. That’s what it’s like playing you.
And before anyone asks: Yes, I updated my graphics drivers. That didn’t make any difference. I don’t know if it’s any different on Windows 10, but I assume so – or else people would be complaining about that as well.
And you’d better believe the community is complaining about this game. I actually feel bad for Larian Studios. Sure, I’m being somewhat critical of the game, but I’m not attacking Larian at all here (no I don’t want a cookie, what a bizarre question!), and certainly not about completely irrelevant crap.
One guy, and I hope he was a troll, was complaining on the Steam forums that the game is narrated by a woman. Yes, really. I mean, I commented how I hoped they got Kevin Michael Richardson back to narrate it, but that was because he narrated the first two Baldur’s Gate games, not because he doesn’t have girl parts.
After you get out of the first area, the stuttering/locking becomes less severe. Over time though, the game will still decide that you’re having too much fun and that – hang on, just wait for 10 seconds – well, you get the idea.
Along with the stuttering, the graphical clipping is quite prevalent, and often the characters’ mouths don’t move during the cutscenes.
And the combat – OH BOY, THAT COMBAT.
Let’s just say it’s not very forgiving, and assume that this is probably because the developers are trying to emulate the often unfair nature of tabletop gaming.
More frustrating than that, however, is that the game often does this thing where the enemies take a very long time to decide what to do during their turn. This, coupled with the whole hang on, just wait for 10 seconds thing means that it’s possible to wait upwards of 10 minutes before you get another turn in some of the larger battles.
Also I took the week off during Sept 30th (the original launch date) so I could casually play the game, but they moved the date to 6th October.
That’s not really a mark against the game, but it does raise another issue I wanted to address before I start being positive again: AMERICA IS NOT THE WORLD. USD $59.99 is not the same thing as AUD $59.99, and 6th October (the official release date) is not 7th October (when it actually released where I live). Sure, I can do the conversion math myself, but I shouldn’t have to – that information should be relayed by the people who get paid to inform us of the release dates, not by their customers.
For the record: Yes, I know those last two problems are personal issues I have with the launch.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Early Access: The Future
One thing that has impressed me is Larian Studios’ willingness to step up to the plate (yes I just complained that America isn’t the world and then used a baseball idiom, sue me) and support the game so far. They have already, after only 3 days, released 2 hotfixes. That’s like 3 month’s worth of hotfixes for certain other (and much larger) gaming studios which will remain nameless.
Although many classic D&D options were missing at launch, such as the Paladin class and the Half-orc and Gnome races, Larian Studios assures us that they will be added at a later date.
And I’m glad they pushed the release date back. In an age where scummy videogame corporations are more than happy to use their social leverage to force their workers into soul-destroying crunchtime, gamers should be more willing to wait for their games to come out, finished.
On a completely unrelated note, I will be making a personal effort to play Baldur’s Gate 3 on the day that Cyberpunk 2077 releases.
Ultimately, while my patience for Larian Studio’s unfinished masterpiece (hang on, just wait for 10 seconds) will probably run out sometime over the next few days, I must admit being cautiously optimistic for the future.
If you’d like to see what to expect from the very first area of Baldur’s Gate 3, here’s an article on that very topic.