Baldur’s Gate 3 review in progress – a beautifully complex D&D RPG

Our Baldur’s Gate 3 review tells of an RPG that gives you the tools to be the adventurer you’re meant to be - even if that is a bit of a pain sometimes.

Baldur's Gate 3 review: four heroes stand side by side, two in armor, one with two horns, and a large barbarian woman with a single horn protruding from her forehead.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to walk in on two rather mismatched monsters being intimate, then boy, do I have the game for you. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a top-down, mostly turn-based RPG set in and around the titular city, as well as the magical land of Faerûn. A dark cult is growing in power, threatening to take over Baldur’s Gate 3‘s expansive free world with its armies of brainwashed fanatics, and only you can save the day. Oh, and there’s a pretty disgusting parasite that has made your head its new home.

This tadpole parasite is inserted into your eye socket by a Mindflayer, a lanky, pale-faced abomination who looks like he took a particularly greedy mouthful of spaghetti. Once it’s squirming around happily in your grey matter a disembodied voice fills your consciousness. Who are you?, they ask. It’s a prompt for the character creation screen, but also it’s the question that’ll stick with you during your many, many hours wandering Faerûn.

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Who are you? Baldur’s Gate 3 generally gives you the freedom to be who you want to be, and do what you want to do. My playthrough has been fairly short in the grand scheme of things (I’m around 30 hours in, towards the end of the first act), but in that time I’ve infiltrated a murderous gang, wandered a shadow realm, and had more than one evening’s worth of dirty talk around the campfire.

My character, my creation, is Fitch. He’s a dashing rogue who grew up on the streets of Baldur’s Gate. He learned to get by on his quick wit and even quicker fingers, and – and I can’t stress this enough – he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. He’s the de-facto leader of a world-saving party of weirdos, and somehow keeps them together, despite both their overt and sometimes hidden agendas. We’ve got a range of companions including a wizard who, in a Jason Statham, Crank-like situation, has to consume magical artifacts periodically or something bad will happen, a goody-two-shoes warlock who has a pretty intense ex-girlfriend, and a sweary Tiefling with a heart made of infernal machinery who just really, really wants a hug (who is of course my favorite).

Baldur's Gate 3 review: a red-skinned woman with a single horn protruding from her head looks sad.

Each of your party members fills a niche both in and out of combat. You can take three of these ragamuffins with you at any one time, and you’ll want a fairly balanced team in order to bash as many heads as possible – but it’s also important to take people with you that you get on with. The road is long, the dialogue is plenty, and if someone (Gale, I’m looking at you) really does your head in, it’s probably best to leave them at your camp. You can return there at almost any time if you want to chat, go on a long walk, or whatever else it is people with malignant brain parasites do.

The camp itself acts as your gang’s home base; it’s where you’ll retreat to rest and heal, but it also acts as a hub for the interesting folk you meet along the way. Your companions set up their little tents, decorated in a fashion to show off their own personality. Vicious warrior Lae’zel has a target dummy, dandy rogue Astarion has a bunch of fluffy pillows, and I expect druid Halsin has more than one copy of Bear Monthly laying about. I enjoyed seeing how my camp would be set out each time I rested, as it makes a home in whatever environment you’re currently blundering through.

Baldur's Gate 3 review: a creepy looking surgeon and his undead assistants look on at four heroes clad in armor.

When you’re on the road you’ll find the combat is a fairly standard turn-based affair, based on the official D&D ruleset, as is everything in Baldur’s Gate 3. While day-to-day you must roll a digital die to succeed at disarming a trap or persuading a goblin they should leave you alone, at the start of a fight each participant rolls for initiative. This dictates their number in line, and when it’s your turn you can move, use actions, and cast spells. The sheer amount of abilities at your disposal could be a little intimidating for those not familiar with D&D, with an increasingly-elaborate set of fancy lights streaking the battlefield the deeper you get.

But beyond the turn-based system, combat is also dynamic, with surfaces and objects playing as much of a part in the proceedings as your own explosive arsenal – which should be familiar to anyone who played Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin games. You can set oil slicks alight, create makeshift weapons using whatever’s in reaching distance, and freeze the ground beneath your enemy’s feet – all of which I achieved mostly on purpose. I struggled with an early fight until experimentation revealed I could move an explosive barrel to a chokepoint, sneak my rogue up to lead the bandits on a merry chase, and get Gale the wizard to evaporate them with a firebolt aimed at the barrel when they got near – a simple solution, and as it turns out a really effective one.

Baldur's Gate 3 review: a trio of evil-looking people, one old man in a suit of armor, a grey-skinned demon woman, and a fancy looking smarmy man.

I did find that once the battles get larger in scale, the subtlety of your own tactics can get a little lost in the mass migrations of the enemy. The area will quickly turn into an absolute mess of fire, ethereal tendrils, and blood, and a lot of the time you have to react to your enemy, rather than force your own will on your foes. My band of weirdos have reached level eight, and they all have a kit that barely fits even into the expanded UI. I find myself leaning on the same two or three spells just so I don’t get overwhelmed. I do feel like I’m missing out on some of the more spectacular aspects of combat sometimes, but hurling fireballs and splitting heads is fun, and thankfully, never really goes out of style.

Baldur's Gate 3 review: a devil-looking woman with wings holds a contract, written in blood on a scroll made from human skin.

While I do stay on the safe side when it comes to combat, the freedom of choice I’m afforded when it comes to my own character, my companions, and how I interact with the world has made Baldur’s Gate 3 a truly special experience so far. You never quite know what will happen when you wake up in your camp and head out, but, for better or worse, it’s always interesting. At the time of writing, I’ve just reached the city of Baldur’s Gate, which, as you’d expect, is a sprawling mess of buildings old and new. It astounds me just how much effort has gone into creating these areas, as even the smallest cave seems to house some kind of story element or mystery, and the larger areas are layered with their own secrets. There are times you’ll wander from the beaten path, meet somebody, and wonder just how easily you could’ve missed out on that experience – like the time I held a drinking competition with someone until they burst, or accidentally wandered into a barn, where I was greeted by a bugbear and an ogre having intimate relations. They didn’t appreciate my intrusion.

Baldur's Gate 3 review: A rugged blond haired man on an orange background next to a white quote

Yep, I’ll tell you, I’ve seen some things in my first 30 hours of Baldur’s Gate 3. The first act had a bit of everything, and I harbour my own regrets for missed opportunities, but I’m looking forward to seeing where my gang will go – and the glaring mistakes I’ll inevitably make in an effort to save everyone from the tadpole menace. Baldur’s Gate 3’s world is beautiful, layered and complex, and challenges you to attack it how you want. And though this is what makes it a little daunting, it’s also what makes me eager to dive back in and see where the adventure is going.