Baldur's Gate 3: First impressions of a dice-filled fantasy
The makers of Divinity: Original Sin step into this classic PC gaming franchise and make it their own.
Dan AckermanEditorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications.
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The questions came over Slack almost immediately. When you tell people you're going to see a couple of hours of prerelease live gameplay from Baldur's Gate 3, you quickly find out who the old-school fans of CRPGs (that's computer roleplaying games for you Gen Zers) in the office are.
To answer the most burning big-picture question, based on the first hour-plus of gameplay I saw at a recent demo session in New York, the game is about 20% Baldur's Gate and about 80% Divinity: Original Sin 2. That's because game developer Larian, maker of both the latter, a hit 2017 RPG, and this new game, is doing what it does best -- building a fully 3D fantasy world where a team of adventurers take on quests and battles from an isometric view. No idea what that means? Turn in your nerd card right now (or read more about Original Sin 2 here).
Here are some of the details I gleaned during this eyes-on but hands-off demo session.
Is the game real-time or turn-based?
In Baldur's Gate 3, combat is strictly turn-based, much like in Divinity: Original Sin and its sequel. There's no option for real-time-with-pause, another popular style of RPG interaction. Differing from Divinity, when a fight starts, the game provides clearer information on which party has the initiative (which means who gets to go first).
In one interesting addition, you can switch into a turn-based mode outside of combat as well, allowing you to set up stealth attacks and dodge traps with a high level of strategy. As currently implemented, you can map out six in-game seconds' worth of movement, at which point the game plays out those six seconds in real time.
How much does it feel like a D&D game?
Since Baldur's Gate is an official Dungeons & Dragons property, it's going to have a lot of nods to the source material. So far, Larian has discussed having a choice of 15 D&D races and eight character classes, with more promised. Like dice rolling? You got it, with a lot of in-game skill checks represented by a literal on-screen roll of a 20-sided die. Interestingly, some RPG fans I talked to weren't crazy about this and asked if that d20 visualization could be turned off. I don't know the answer to that yet, but I didn't mind the game being a little more transparent about what's happening under the hood.
Is there multiplayer?
I didn't get to see it in action, but Larian says Baldur's Gate 3 will have "four-player online multiplayer and split-screen couch co-op for two players."
How challenging is the game?
Keep in mind this is from a very early demo session with a lot of rough spots, but I've never seen a game developer get shellacked by their own game as much as I did here. Attempts at stealth were easily spotted, characters died and required resurrecting regularly, and even a huge number of simple dice rolls failed. Just bad luck in some cases? Sure. But I appreciated seeing the people who made the game having a few tough fights on their hands.
Baldur's Gate traditionalists may want to stick with the various versions of the classic game if they're not in the mood for something a little more modern-feeling. A newer game like Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire has a bit more of that old-school feel, which may be why it didn't do as well. For me, I liked what I saw in BG3, even in its early, rough state. I didn't mind that it departed from some of the classic Baldur's Gate gameplay, especially since Baldur's Gate 2 was released way back in 2000.
Baldur's Gate 3 is coming to Steam Early Access for PC gamers later in 2020, with other platforms and release dates still unknown.