Baldur’s Gate 3 review – One of the best RPGs ever made

Patrick Dane
Baldur's Gate 3

Our Baldur’s Gate 3 review has been 125 hours in the making, but it’s finally here. The RPG is everywhere and everyone is talking about it. However, does the it live up to the hype? Well, in a word – yes.

Every once in a while a game comes around and something shifts. It’s hard to define what factors have moved, but there’s this undeniable sense that something has changed. That the pantheon of gaming has a new title that will be referenced and revered for years to come. A new automatic entrant onto any Top 100 Games of All Time list.

We’ve seen this in recent years with games like Elden Ring, Red Dead Redemption 2, Breath of the Wild, and The Witcher 3. The parallels between Baldur’s Gate 3 and CD Projekt RED’s fantasy epic are fairly staggering. Both come from a European developer releasing their third major fantasy RPG, after making two beloved but nicher games. Then, with the arrival of their third entry, they exploded into the mainstream.

However, Baldur’s Gate 3 felt like it had even more hurdles. Would audiences embrace a proper cRPG, a notoriously finicky and PC-focused genre that hadn’t seen a major title release in it for years?

I’m writing this, and you’re reading it, with hindsight. The answer is an unreserved, yes. However, Baldur’s Gate 3 is more than just a flavor of the month flash in the pan. It’s one of those titles that’ll shape the industry in the future and will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on players. To give up the gold early in this review – Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the great RPGs of the entire medium.

Baldur’s Gate 3 – Key details

  • Price: $59.99 USD | £49.99 GBP | $89.95 AUD
  • Developer: Larian Studios
  • Release date: August 3, 2023
  • Platforms: PC

So, what is Baldur’s Gate 3?

Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t so much a throwback to a long-dormant genre, as it is a wholesale revival. cRPGs were popular around the turn of the century with games like the previous two Baldur’s Gates, as well as the early Fallouts. The pulled-back nature of the camera made it so what was on screen wasn’t overly demanding, but these worlds were still enormous. They valued storytelling and player choice the most. They were essentially designed to function like a tabletop game, except the dungeon master and dice rolls were handled in an instant, rather than having to spend hours working out numbers-laden actions.

Baldur’s Gate in particular has always been a franchise tied to those tabletop roots. That’s because it’s literally tied to Dungeons & Dragons. In many ways, that’s the way to look at Baldur’s Gate 3 – your very own D&D campaign, except this is a deeply curated experience helped in tandem by a freeing system that handles all the annoying things about actually playing a tabletop. It encourages you to try things out, come up with unorthodox approaches to problems, and, importantly, be goofy.

This sense of exploration and play is at the heart of Baldur’s Gate 3. You’re empowered with a vast array of actions and it’s up to you to see what reactions come out of your devious imagination. It’s a delightfully freeing generator of watercooler-type stories as you and your friends who’ve played all talk about the various and ridiculous escapades you and your crew got up to the night previous

The best D&D campaign you’ll ever play

An screenshot from Baldur's Gate 3.
Things start bad for you and then get exponentially worse.

That’s the technical, but it’s only a part of what makes Baldur’s Gate 3 special. Indeed, the thing that’ll likely stick with you most throughout your time in Faerun is the intricate and malleable story that Larian has crafted. Again, this is a game that puts the player at the center of its action. The world can twist and contort in huge and significant ways.

“A game where your choices matter” is a phrase that almost feels meaningless at this point. It’s a line that’s been echoed at countless E3 conferences and trotted out in various marketing materials to the point of feeling empty. However, it’s truer here than perhaps ever before. Baldur’s Gate 3 is a story where you’re consistently given decisions to make, while contending with various factions, all who think they have the answer you’re searching for.

You start your journey captured by the tentacled-faced Illithids, and infected with one of their parasites, that in normal circumstances would have you turn into one of them in a matter of days. Baldur’s Gate 3 starts you there, and what unravels is an adventure that has you trying to stop a world-ending threat by any means necessary. How you’ll do that is very much up to you – and there’s a very real chance you’ll end up messing everything up along the way. That’s the beauty of it though. Your playthrough, which at a minimum, will take you around 80-100 hours, will have the feeling of being uniquely yours.

One aspect that I think is important to note here is that perhaps what makes Baldur’s Gate 3 really work is that it’s distinctly weird. This could have been a straight-laced fantasy adventure about a gang of heroes trying to overcome a big evil. However, Larian has imbued the game with a joyful strangeness that has this very tangible DNA to it. You’ve likely heard about the bear sex scene, but that’s a drop in the ocean of eccentric situations you can get into. This is vital to the game’s success. This is a game that is playful, representative, and not afraid to put you in situations where you say, “Wait, can they do that?”. Because yeah, they can do that. What’s more, it shows other games should be more fearless in their promiscuousness and gleeful mischief.

Party time

Screenshot of Karlach in Baldur's Gate 3
Karlach is a standout and is one of the best video games characters ever written.

Making up your time in Faerun are your companions who are as important as the story itself. Hell, I’d argue even more so. This group of characters is a delight to exist around. You’ll form various relationships with the characters, sometimes adversarial, sometimes romantic. However, no matter how it goes, it becomes a real delight.

I had a better time with some than others, but I appreciated the nuance. If I had loved them all equally, it might have felt a bit one-note, however, there’s a wonderful variety. For instance, I grew to dislike Gale, but he added a nice wrinkle to my story. On the other end of the spectrum, Karlach is one of my favorite characters ever from a video game. She ended up becoming more the protagonist of my story than me – and I loved that.

Larian has put together the best group of RPG friends to hang around since Mass Effect. Even then, it’s close. They’re all so different with their own complex problems. It’s a joy to experience victory and defeat alongside them. When you finish a game, and you realize you’re going to miss hanging out with the digital pals you’ve made over the last 100 hours, you know the development team has done an excellent job imbuing their characters with a heart and soul.

Baldur’s Gate 3’s combat is a janky delight that may turn some off

Baldur's Gate
Dangers abound in Baldur’s Gate 3.

Where many might stumble in Baldur’s Gate 3 is the game’s combat systems. In Larian’s defense, this is a beautifully expanded version of both their previous work on games like Divinity: Original Sin 2, as well as trying to adapt Dungeons & Dragons 5e’s combat system.

If you’ve played a tabletop game before, you know that combat can be a finicky affair. It’s turn-based, and while you can get very good at these systems, it never stops being just a little awkward. It can be all too easy to click the wrong thing, skip your turn, hit your ally, or some other blunder. There also isn’t a great way to practice your abilities. Many times, you are casting something for the first time and don’t know what’s going to happen. And there are a lot of spells, depending on your class, you’ll likely need to get your head around.

The other issue is that at times, Baldur’s Gate 3 can be pretty frustrating. It can even be unfair. For example, you could be ready to fight, and then on the first move, you find out you’re too close to an environmental hazard right where you had to enter the room. Then it explodes and two in your party are down straight away. Baldur’s Gate can at times withhold vital information about a fight and can feel a little cheap.

Don’t get it twisted though – your agency comes alive in fights

A screenshot from the game Baldur's Gate 3
You’ll come up against all kinds of dangers in Baldur’s Gate 3.

However, this also can work in your favor. These systems allow you a lot of creativity in your approach. Baldur’s Gate 3’s player freedom is felt in the combat system. For instance, early in the game, I had a tough battle that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to win. Instead of a fight, I instructed all my companions to sneak around in the rafters above. I then projected a Mage Hand. Once it was in position, I pushed the big boss down a hole. Then I jumped down from the rafters, away from the other enemies and quickly traveled out.

That kind of player freedom is rare, and it can be a real joy to mess around with. Combat feels janky and loose, but that does leave you a lot of wiggle room. While it can lead to some unfair situations, that you have to save scum your way out of, it also leads to those aforementioned water-cooler moments. There are these avenues to sit and talk to your friends about how a situation went for you. They’ll likely have tackled it differently. Or maybe they hit a spell that had a 5% success rate to kill a big boss. Or maybe they didn’t even have that situation due to their prior choices. Again, it all feeds into this sense of your playthrough being distinctly yours.

A once-in-a-decade fantasy RPG

A screenshot from the game Baldur's Gate 3
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a joy to explore from start to finish.

Baldur’s Gate 3 does something very rare. I’ve not felt it since Mass Effect 3 – it’s a life-affirming game. It reminds you what camaraderie is, the benefit of friendship, the sinews of life. I know I’ve checked in with friends since playing. In the real world, especially as you get older, where it becomes harder and harder to remain tangible with those you consider friends, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a game that reminds you of that importance.

On the other side of the coin, away from the sentiment, it is a game based on a janky edition of DnD and sometimes suffers due to its dedication to the systems that bind it. Combat can evolve in amazing ways, but it can fall apart similarly when things feel cheap or deeply unlucky.

By the time I reached the end of my journey though, I felt fuller. In the end, is that not the point of the art we consume? As long as games like Baldur’s Gate 3 exist, we can be sure that video games are a fulfilling pursuit. That’s a lot of heartfelt sentiment, but Baldur’s Gate 3 is worth the superlatives. It’s a once-in-a-decade game and something you owe it to yourself to play, even if you don’t love fantasy settings or systems-heavy combat. It’s simply put, an experience that’s worth the drawbacks and is the definition of essential.

The Verdict – 5/5

Larian has made a truly special game that will be talked about for years. It’s not only probably the best game in a year full of contenders, but it’s one of the best RPGs in a decade.