PC Gamer released an article where creative forces behind series like Fallout, Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls, and Pillars of Eternity reacted to Baldur's Gate 3.
I'm still making my way through Act I content, but I think I've seen enough to form some basic thoughts. The production values are crazy high, especially for a party-based D&D CRPG of this scope. I can see their dialogue trees in my mind's eye and even if a lot of the cinematic setup for those conversations are automated, it's a massive amount of work to stage them.
At its core, it still very much feels like an evolution of Divinity: Original Sin 2 using the 5E ruleset. The tone of the story and the companions feels pretty spot-on for a Baldur's Gate game: mostly light and fun with dark elements thrown in for a gleefully wicked edge. As with D:OS2, the level of interactivity in the world is extremely high and being able to work yourself out of (or into) tight corners by fiddling with the rules is a lot of fun.
I think there are only two areas of real criticism I have. One is that the UI can feel clumsy and clunky for a lot of actions. There are so many contextual actions you can perform on objects that the menus can get overloaded—and a lot of those actions are never tutorialized. The camera also continues to be a weak spot. I admit it's a personal and professional bias, but when I'm fighting the camera just to navigate a space or avoid mis-clicking on a faraway location, it's not an enjoyable experience.
The other is a bit more pervasive, but the way things like conversations and other interactions work in singleplayer feel significantly compromised by supporting a specific type of untethered multiplayer experience. For example, the lack of a straightforward, easily-accessible pause button in singleplayer is extremely jarring, especially considering how easy it is to accidentally start characters pathing toward a distant location via a dangerous route. Also the way that conversations can be entered, with lagging characters hovering in the background because they were a few steps outside of the radius, feels unnecessarily penalizing for someone who's just trying to go with the flow of the singleplayer campaign.
One more thought: I really like how consumables (eg, scrolls) and spells that can affect dialogue are incorporated into dialogue checks. It's something I've always wanted to do and I think it works really well in BG3.
What is the most striking to me is how Baldur's Gate 3 has taken part in the wave of plague narratives embraced by fantasy games in the last year, particularly among RPGs. While Baldur's Gate 3 was in development long before the pandemic, the concept of mass infection and its consequences cannot help but be recontextualized for this generation of players. At their core, plague narratives contrast the possible loss of life with the loss of our personhood.
The abundance of dialogue checks reflects this idea of loss amid infection immediately. In many RPGs, it is common to see no more than one or two checks in a dialogue choice bank, which often leads players to select them by default. Some games temper this impulse by ensuring that selecting a unique option does not always guarantee a positive result. However, BG33 pulls back on this impulse and then proceeds to tip it over the edge. Larian provides an avalanche of ways to persuade, intimidate, and use your experience as a specific species or class in each choice bank of all significant conversations. This accurately reflects the narrative BG3 has woven. Infection and plague happen in more than one way. It is physical, psychological, and relational. As Jill Lepore wrote so aptly of plague narratives for the New Yorker in 2020, "Reading is an infection, a burrowing into the brain: books contaminate, metaphorically, and even microbiologically." And as players, that infection is something we want. The conversations of BG3 make us feel powerful. It is the same experience our character is having as they embrace or resist the infection burrowed within them. In this way, BG3's conversation system reflects the story it tells. Like all plague narratives, the crux of your experience in the game is a choice to risk your physical life, or risk who you are as a person by succumbing to the power and control you hold.
And the game makes it clear—who you are as a person is understood by the relationships you choose to build. Your companions demonstrate this through the reactivity you see to the choices made throughout the game. It's my personal opinion that reactivity is the most pointed when characters the player has spent the most time with are impacted. This forces the player and the companion to reorient their relationship to reflect the player's actions. Whereas many would assume reactivity to the larger in-game choices or regional decisions a player made feel the most impactful, Larian reminds us it's the companions' reactions to smaller-scale choices made in side quests or world content that deal significant blows, because our companions were watching. After all, our choices carry the most weight when they impact the people we love.
My expectations for Balder's Gate 3 could not have been higher. I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons, DMing campaigns in musty basements for most of my upbringing. After getting my master's degree instead of looking for a job I obsessively played Baldur’s Gate 2. I'd wake up in the morning, order Domino's Pizza and four liters of Diet Coke and proceed to play for 16 hours straight… for eight days straight. Within an hour of booting up BG3, Larian had not only met my unrealistically high expectations but far exceeded them.
Baldur's Gate 3 is a masterpiece. I am constantly astonished by the level of detail, the choices, the tactical decisions in combat, the attention to the character models, the VFX, and the way everything comes together. It's a marvelous, magical masterpiece that immediately suspends my disbelief every second I'm playing. I'm as obsessed with it as I was with Baldur's Gate 2. I'm running a solo campaign as well as a separate campaign playing co-op with my wife. In both campaigns, we're playing as mostly good characters, and despite that—because of the way the persuasion system works and the amount of subtlety in the decisions you make—we are experiencing vastly different games. These aren't just "pinch points" that are common in most RPGs, these are vast differences that build up over time. It's a real marvel to behold in a master class of RPG design.
An example of this sprawling spiraling branching decision-making is something that happens about halfway through Act 1. So if you haven't gotten here, this is a massive spoiler alert!
At this point in the story, you're confronted with a goblin camp. Most of the D&D I played was second edition, where you were taught that you go in spells blazing screaming "Kill 'em all!" However, if you do that in BG3, you end up in a precarious situation that usually ends in a party wipe. Learning this the hard way, I decided to proceed with caution. I've talked to several people and there are so many ways to approach this camp, but I decided to walk up to the front gates and charm my way in. Despite succeeding on all my rolls, the goblin asked me to do something. He asked me to rub shit on my face. Not only shit, but Worg shit. So, grimacing, I proceeded to do so and then my character model for the next several hours had a big schmear of crusted turd running down his face. Not only that, but I proceeded to be ridiculed and mocked by every goblin in the camp. This level of detail and thoughtfulness is put into every corner of this game.
I'm thrilled by wonderful RPGs, am thrilled that this game exists, and I cannot wait to play more. Larian deserves all the praise and success being heaped on them.
Check out more reactions in the article (by Brian Fargo, Mike Laidlaw, and Jeff Vogel).
Hello all, Since launching last month, a lot of tweaks and updates can already be seen in Baldur's Gate 3. Over the past few weeks we've chased down bugs, polished up some cinematics, and used your feedback to help organize our thoughts and inform our plans going forward. The first major patch...
Baldur's Gate 3 developers Larian Studios are promising major fixes for Minthara, who accidentally had more than 1500 lines of dialogue blocked out by what director Swen Vincke calls a "very, very stupid bug."
I'd like to look at these bits critically because I am not happy about the language they use and the reasoning.
On July 18, 16 days before the game release, the Internet was hyping the 17k endings discovery, and this was supported by the Larian messaging as well.
Larian has worked pretty hard to make sure you never get the exact same ending twice.
Hundreds of media outlets wrote about it, and it helped to increase the hype (when BG3 was #1 as the top-selling game) to sky-high levels.
Turned out, it was a lie. No endings, no epilogues.
Now the Community Update says:
"We’re pretty strict with ourselves and our ideas. If it isn’t good - if it isn’t fun to play - it doesn’t make it into the game. One of the reasons why we trimmed the epilogue is because we were afraid the ending cinematics were becoming too long and would detract from the epicness of the experience. But clearly, not everyone agrees with us! So we’re going to do something about it."
What is that even? How? And how does it correspond with the previous expectations they have given players and rode their popularity with? I'd say it's to be expected to see epilogues after a 100+ hour adventure. There are multiple other games that provide a rewarding conclusion after hours and hours spent with your companions and other characters.
On July 31, 3 days before the game release, Larian released a Community Update about tadpoles and using them.
"While these creatures may be a source of great power, all that they offer comes with a cost. As the parasites' hosts, you must make a choice. Will you resist the powers and the corruption that comes with them or will you embrace them, risking your body, mind and soul to save the Realms... or destroy them?
The deeper you go through the illithid skill tree, the more powers you'll discover. But nothing comes without cost. While your companions can also consume parasites to gain their powers, not everyone in your party will agree to it, and your companions' perception of you can undergo a significant shift based on how you approach this opportunity."
Turned out, it was a lie. Companions don't mind you using tadpoles and consuming them. There are no consequences, unless you get to the 3rd tier of those abilities (and thus consume a lot of tadpoles actually).
Now the Community Update says:
"Baldur’s Gate 3 is a game with many release dates, and despite us moving its launch up by around a month, it’s still a couple years late. It was late because we grew teams, ambition, and ideas in function of it being the best game it could possibly be. Thankfully, not every idea makes it into the final launch. It wouldn’t be the game you enjoy if they did."
So does it mean the current situation where me not using any tadpoles in Act 1 when there is no consequence for using them is more fun? Does it mean that it's the best it could possibly be?
The Community Update says:
"What’s been datamined is not really cut content but content that we didn’t want to release because we didn’t think it worked."
Does that really say that cut content is not cut content? Then why later in the Update it says: "But that’s not to say Baldur’s Gate 3 didn’t see cuts just as every game."
And finally, about the Upper City.
"It’s just important to know that what ultimately shipped was planned long ago, in function primarily of making Baldur’s Gate 3 fun to play, not for us to close development quickly."
Well, on June 12 another update from them said:
"This weekend, we unveiled the city of Baldur's Gate for the very first time, with a glimpse behind its walls and around its familiar labyrinthine streets. It's been about 20 years since we last had a pint in the Elfsong Tavern or crawled through the sewers beneath the city streets and, as you might have spotted during the PC Gaming Show, many of these locations are back, and many news ones are waiting to be discovered for the first time - giving you a chance to explore the menacing roads of the Outer City, the opulent estates of the Upper City, and the dark alleys and pubs of the Lower City."
This huge section of the city was mentioned specifically by Swen in the final Panel From Hell on July 7, just four weeks before the full release.
So was it planned long ago to trim it? Read more about the Upper City's importance for companion quests and just the general story here (spoilers, though):
I feel like everything newsworthy about BG3 has been sorta hearsay from the start of EA till now lol. I had so many BG3 articles coming at me the last few months, and unless they were interviews, lot of times it felt like something between robots culling reddit or their official forums to just kinda rehash whatever speculations were percolating there. I was never able to watch a full Panel from Hell, but the Niara cliffnotes were usually amusing for counterpoints. I do feel like for stuff that was sorta promo'd or winks or teases from the higher ups about what they're hoping to achieve for patch whatever carries a little more weight. To me what they didn't really do is build out an independent place, or hire a few mouthpieces to do the PR circus stuff, like all their moderators are volunteers on those home boards which still feel very Divinity themed, and it's like they've just always got their heads down or something. For me this game and everything about it has a lot of super charged emotions and my expectations are so high, cause BG, of course. I think I got a couple thousand hours out of my 65 bucks, so I can't really complain, but what I really want from them is something like a commitment to an expansion/sequel so we know it will have legs in the afterlife.
I feel like their choice to do an EA and invite feedback there, means that now that they've released it, pretty much everyone is in on the EA now. Like had this been the thing we'd been playing for 3 years, it would be pretty clean by this point I gotta imagine. It's a really nice template, it just needs like another couple hundred million dollars worth of content on top, and some sprucing for the UI and things like mod tools to get the unlock. Like a legit Sunday, all the toppings hehe. They should really set up a stand alone set site for BG3, and try to build that out to keep their community/playerbase cohesive, even when it's split across platforms.
Speaking of which, has anyone played on the PC using a controller? I forgot to try that, but might have to give it a go to see what the PS5 and eventually XBOX players are likely to get. I heard the UI has a different feel there. I just want to see them crack open some of those features so the peeps on Nexus can go to town. I think I might be at the point where I want to start trying to bust things up with mods, even though I still haven't completed the third Act hehe
Ps. Seems patch 2 just dropped, like a couple hours ago. That was rather sooner than I was guessing lol. Downloading now to see what's new
I mostly ignore everything that is said about any game before its release. I always decide if I like a game or not AFTER it's released, and we see the real product we got. That's why it's very rare for me to pre-order a game.
I saw the same thing floating around on the Larian boards the other day, though I'm pretty sure it was just because everyone was at that same gaming convention, apparently the first time they were all together in the same room at once? Kinda crazy to think how much work must have been done remotely for this game. There will be another one of these in mid October for the Comic Con in London, where 10 of the VA principles are signing autographs and whatnot. I wish I could imagine them heading straight from the conventional hall to the mocap recording studio.
Another potential issue is that SAG-AFTRA members will vote on whether to authorize a strike for video games in a week here on Sept 25th. Doesn't mean they'd immediately call for a strike. I'm not sure who they'd be negotiating with in this case. The LA times article I just read says...
"The industry bargaining group of signatory video game companies includes Activision Productions Inc; Blindlight LLC; Disney Character Voices Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions Inc.; Epic Games Inc.; Formosa Interactive LLC; Insomniac Games Inc.; Take 2 Productions Inc.; VoiceWorks Productions Inc.; and WB Games Inc."
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, saying that “right now is the time to show our solidarity,” is urging her members to authorize a strike against the video game industry. The guild, wh…
So yeah, doubtless, EA there for sure lol.
Larian might still be independent enough, or 'across the pond enough', that it may not affect their development plans much, but either way, media in 2024 is going to be pretty rough once we start feeling the after effects of all these production delays.
The main sticking point, like with the other screen actors' and writers' strikes, seems to be around the use of AIs to replace creatives and creative work. I can see this being very consequential for video and computer games. Absent some sort of general binding contract, studios would probably jump at the chance to digitize their actors' voices and faces and then just never call them back into the studio again to save on production costs, which would be absolutely terrible for the artform.
The concept artists and illustrators who have taken a hard stand against generative AIs, have been pretty successful at moving the needle on this one in the public perception, least for still images and title sequences. Publishers and individual artists who have used image making AIs, have been thoroughly shamed and scandalized for allowing stolen and uncredited work to skate in. The results are always pretty shoddy, and the practice is pretty indefensible once it's called out. Like a real black spot on the reputation.
I could see the same for something like a generated voice or motion captured performance in a video game. All it would take is for some VA actor to say, "hey wait, I never read that line!" And the house of cards would come tumbling down over night. Game Studios shouldn't even try to go there! Just get on the right side of it here, sooner rather than later, would be a much better plan for them hehe.
Developers and experts in CRPGs give us their takes on why Baldur's Gate 3 and RPGs in general seize the public's imagi…
A few snippets:
Felipe Pepe, who recently put out the expanded edition of his gorgeous non-profit tome with Bitmap Books, tells a story of playing the very first Baldur’s Gate with his brother years ago. A certain quest lets you craft armour from human skin, but only wear it if you roll an evil alligned character. “I could do the quest, but I couldn’t wear it, and that made me almost drop my save and start a new one,” he says. He recently learned how BG3 lets druids in cat form hop through cell doors, while I just found out I can have Karlach yeet my gnomes up ledges they can’t reach. “See, even between us, talking about the things we’re finding. You don’t get that in any other genre,” he points out.
For Pepe, BG3’s presentation is what’s allowed it to catch on in such a huge way. “We were playing and loving Pathfinder: Wrath Of The Righteous. It’s a similar ruleset. In terms of reactivity and crazy things that can happen, they’re basically the same game,” he says. “The difference is that presentation. It combines the complexity from traditional CRPGs with the presentation of a Witcher 3 or Dragon Age. It wouldn’t work if it was isometric. We have very well written isometric games, but they don’t land the same way.”
“In the years we’ve been discussing RPGs, there was always an example: you take a very traditional roguelike and compare it to Mass Effect, you have freedom, but you basically don’t have graphics,” Pepe continues, “and I think it was a BioWare developer who said the graphical fidelity in those games prevented, say, a grapple maneuver. But then you see Larian pulling this off. You can literally grab a man and hit an enemy with it, and you have animations for it! It’s just something we didn’t think was viable. So it really feels like you’re combining lineages, and bringing together the two audiences.”
Darrah says that, if the games industry learns anything from Baldur's Gate 3, he hopes it’s that “perfecting visuals is kind of a death cult.” BG3, he says, has a lot of the sort pops and hitches that would be filed by a QA team and fixed in most AAA narrative games. “And, honestly, probably better spending your money somewhere else.” Rather, he says, Baldur’s Gate 3 represents something close to a triple A budget being spent in an AA way. It’s a formula that rings true for last year’s Elden Ring, too. “Games like Zelda, like GTA, ultimately end up being not very influential on the marketplace because they’re not really things that can be replicated. But when you look at something like Elden Ring, or BG3, there are lessons to be taken there. Having scrappier people competing in this space is good for the space… You get a lot of AA for AAA prices.”
So it really feels like you’re combining lineages, and bringing together the two audiences.”
I've noticed this, much. my son is in several bg3 campaigns. He's 22 years old and likes awesome graphics over some other elements. Larian captured some kind of magic in a bottle to get him and the hard core rpg fans the same yummy grub of video games they both wanted.
Baldur's Gate 3 narrator Amelia Tyler has 17 different "voices" in the game, saying lines differently depending on your character.
"A lot of people that are on their first playthroughs don't realise there are distinct narration styles, depending on who you're playing as," says Ameilia Tyler. "So we ended up with 17 completely different narration styles, depending on what's happening [and] which character you're playing.
"If you're playing a Shadowheart, it's much [more] higher pitch. It's much lighter, it's a little more emotionally tense. If you're playing as The Dark Urge, it's like full-on 'I want to tear you apart and ruin your life'."
From the Isle of Islay to the realm of Dungeons and Dragons, Tracy Wiles discusses her character Jaheira in long-awaited game sequel.
"It took over a year and a half of preparation and sessions in the volume studio for all of Jaheira’s lines to be recorded.
“I have never done any acting gig in my life for 19 months, but it was such a joy that Jaheira was the one I got because I just love the character so much. It was a joy to play her.
“She is passionate, old, wise, and full of grief for her murdered husband, whom she loved so much.
“But she is also hilarious and very funny. One favourite line of mine is when she says to a bunch of drunk guys, ‘He who keeps his manners, keeps his teeth’.
“Ruairí Moore has done a brilliant job writing these joyous quips, lines, and speeches.”
However, it was not always set in stone that Tracy would work on Jaheira.
“I have not voiced the character in the first two games, and I think a lot of people were hoping that the brilliant Heidi Shannon would reprise the role.”
But with the previous voice actor unavailable, Tracy was chosen as the best for the role, and after 19 months of becoming one with the character, she was finally able to see Jaheira in action from YouTube videos after the game was released.
“To see what my character actually looked like – how they modelled her head, her body, and her clothes – it was extraordinary, the level of detail just astounds me,” she said.
Baldur’s Gate 3 gets Patch 5 this week, and developer Larian has promised it will fix issues caused by Patch 4.
"In Patch 4 we introduced a fix that would prevent the Scrying Eyes in Moonrise Towers from immediately calling the guards on you when stealing, even if you were sneaking, or invisible for example," Larian said.
"This fix had the unintended consequence of causing unnoticed thefts and acts of vandalism to remain stuck forever within the ‘did anyone see me’ pipeline, rather than timing out and moving on, as is intended. Essentially, your dungeon master — in a real-world sense — constantly thinks about the acts of theft and violence the player keeps doing, without ever moving on or verbalising them. Mulling on it ad infinitum.
"These unnoticed and eternally-active acts of theft and violence eventually bogged down the game. The more a player commits those acts, the more the game is trying to keep that all up to date and in memory, and so the more slowdowns start happening. Essentially, the dungeon master becomes unable to operate. By Act 3 this caused slowdown issues, which after some sleuthing we’re extremely happy to say we’ve solved in Patch 5, which is in testing and scheduled to release this week."