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 Ackerman Editorial 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. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
3 min read

Be sure to practice your elf vampire conversation skills. 


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).


Traps can be dodged using turn-based strategy. 


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. 


You can fight any way you want, as long as it's turn-based. 


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. 

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