Baldur’s Gate 3 is proof games need early access

Jessica Filby
Baldur's Gate 3 Cast

From the deeply beloved Lethal Company to the disastrous A Day Before, early access defined 2023, proving just how imperative it can be to a game’s release, and Baldur’s Gate 3 has demonstrated that more titles could do with some early access treatment.

When a game enters early access, it forms a sort of agreement with its playerbase. In return for an early glimpse into the game, the community promises to take into account the notion that the game’s far from finished — often helping to provide feedback and bugs to the developers.

As such, features like early access and betas are extremely popular. Not only do they give an insight into the success and needs of a title, but they also provide players with a great way to satiate their hunger for its upcoming release.

However, it can also contribute to a game’s success, which was the case for Baldur’s Gate 3 — proving the inherent need for other titles to begin following suit.

Baldur’s Gate 3’s primary reason for success was its early access

A screenshot from the game Baldur's Gate 3
Baldur’s Gate 3 lends much of its popularity to its lengthy early access period.

Baldur’s Gate 3 was in early access for three years before being fully released, and it’s hard to argue that the game wasn’t so much better for it. Sure, Larian offered a ton of content during that period, with over 25 hours of content and a plethora of races, classes, and multiplayer capabilities, but this provided the perfect space for players to feel like they had a say in how Baldur’s Gate 3 was developed.

One key example of this is through the character creation — arguably one of the best elements of BG3, while also being one of the biggest overhauls between EA and the full release. The original design was a distinct homage to Dungeons & Dragons character creation. Each race gave certain bonuses to the character, meaning you needed to choose wisely if you were looking for power and balance. Then, you were given a fair few options for skin color, eye color, hair, and more.

However, the primary frustration amongst players was its basic nature, with many wanting more variety, and the ability to avoid scrolling through hundreds of hairstyles. After early access, Larian listened and created the vast and inclusive character creation we see today. If it wasn’t for early access, this would have never been rectified.

Ultimately, early access allowed Larian Studios to polish Baldur’s Gate 3 to perfection, carefully crafting the player feedback into the game and producing an RPG shockingly close to faultless.

Naturally, plenty of Baldur’s Gate 3’s success lent itself to the talent of those who created the game, and that’s correct. However, the team wasn’t able to spot key bugs, glitches, or certain companion loves without that early access. Making it as extensive as this posed a key strength for BG3, even if it was able to bounce off the success of the original Baldur’s Gate games, and the growing love of Dungeons & Dragons.

The case for Starfield

Starfield landscape image
While Starfield was still popular, it was certainly lacking in certain features.

The case can be made that, just because Baldur’s Gate 3 was an unrivaled success thanks to its early access, it doesn’t mean other games will benefit from implementing the same feature.

However, we’ve seen fantastic early access or beta success in the last few years, with games like The Finals, Multiversus, and more thriving before fully released. On the other hand, some titles could have likely benefitted from this feature, like Starfield.

The case for Starfield’s early access addition is a tricky one, as it’s all about discussing what could have been, which is great with the help of hindsight. That being said, it’s entirely likely that if the majority of players knew about the lack of exploration or the “tedious” puzzles before the game came out, then Bethesda would have time to either address those issues or reevaluate how those issues can be solved.

It’s not always ideal

The Hollow Man looks over RedfallRedfall was smothered in difficulties, which could have been aided by an early access period.

While those Starfield issues could have been solved before the game’s full release, you can’t ignore the amount of effort, time, and skill it takes to make a change as large as some of the key complaints in Starfield — as such, early access may not have been the best choice for a larger game like it.

Ultimately, with such a wide variety of genres, styles, sizes, and communities to consider, simply stating that every game could benefit from early access feels a little overstated. Sure, it’ll help the community feel involved in the creation process, bring in extra funding before the full release, and allow the title to essentially get a dummy run before the fact, but it’s just not suited to every title.

Games like Redfall would have greatly suffered under an early access period, especially given the dramatic differences between our preview experience and the final release. Early access isn’t a direct factor in a title’s success, but it’s impossible to ignore the aid of the community.

Early access is mostly perfect

Whether it’s proven or not, it’s hard to argue that one of the key contributing factors to Baldur’s Gate 3’s success was its long early access period. Those three years allowed Larian to shape the game around its players, while still providing a thrilling expansion past the original Act One. It also invited thousands of dedicated players to the experience, and as they fell in love with the story and characters, they quickly rushed back when it was fully released.

Sure, some games have and will continue to thrive without the help of betas or EA, but when there’s so much to gain and so little to lose, it begs the question: Can we expect to see more early access titles in 2024 and beyond? Only time will tell.

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