On the bloodstained cobblestones of a crypt, four adventurers lie dead. Their killer isn’t the shambling skeleton that stands over their bodies, or the pool of acid that bubbles under their arrow-riddled bodies. It’s the inconspicuous 20-sided die of fantasy role-playing game Baldur’s Gate 3, which has landed on the number nine. A series of dice rolls decided whether the party’s Rogue successfully shoved an undead magician into a ravine, how much damage our Wizard’s Ice Storm wreaked, and if our bumbling Barbarian slipped on the spell’s resulting frost. When all of that was determined, it decided how they died.
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But for every failure, there’s magic waiting to happen. Baldur’s Gate 3, currently available on PC (the PS5 version launches next month), is set in the world of board game franchise Dungeons & Dragons – a tabletop universe where anything can happen. Developer Larian Studios’ tale begins when your character is infected with an Illithid tadpole, a parasite that promises to violently transform its host into a tentacled monster called the Mind Flayer, erasing their personality and memories in the process. Your job is to find a cure, and every choice you make shapes the adventure. Power-hungry villains scheme and backstab their way through the world, while do-gooders should expect to be waylaid by every sob story this side of the Chiontar River.
The world of Baldur’s Gate is made to be broken. If a player doesn’t like where one quest is going, they’re encouraged to find another route or make their own. Where one player may sweet-talk their way into a towering fort, another might just stack tens of crates until they can hop over its ramparts. A fight to the death can be avoided by sneaking around your foe, but it can also be brought to an anticlimactic end by pushing them out of a window.
In most games, this freedom would make everything laughably easy – in Baldur’s Gate 3, it just evens the odds. All manner of powerful monsters haunt the Forgotten Realms, and you can rarely side with one faction without making enemies of another. It’s a long road to evicting your tadpole tenant, and there are countless side quests and misadventures to get caught up in along the way.
No two quests are alike though: one moment you’ll be saving a colony of sentient mushrooms from their vicious Drow neighbours, another could see you sifting through the titular city of Baldur’s Gate for the scattered limbs of an unfortunate clown. There is a wealth of captivating stories to uncover in the Forgotten Realms, but the real brilliance lies in how much freedom players have in completing them. Who needs Sherlock Holmes to solve a murder, when an enterprising necromancer can simply ask the victim who killed them?
Those endless possibilities are also present in combat. There are 12 classes to choose for your character, ranging from spell-slinging Warlocks to musical Bards, and travelling with three party members means every battle plays out very differently. Even so, fights tend to come down to out-of-the-box thinking, and chance can foil the best-laid plans. You’re frequently forced into using unorthodox tactics, whether that’s turning an enemy soldier into a sheep or smashing a chair over a wizard’s head because their spell made you drop your sword. It’s phenomenally executed – largely because your foes can pull the same dirty tricks you can – and the result is one of the most dynamic turn-based battle formulas ever created.
Though branching dialogue means you can talk your way out of many fights with the right dice roll, conflict is inevitable. There are numerous factions fighting for power, control or mere survival in the Forgotten Realms, and none of them look kindly upon fence-sitters. When it comes to picking sides, there are plenty of rewarding paths for both heroic and villainous playthroughs, and all are elevated by a cast of memorable characters.
The best of these are your six party members, a charismatic and lifelike bunch who have all been infected with Illithid tadpoles of their own. Romance is on the cards if you get to know one of them well enough, but you can just as easily get into an argument that could result in a party member leaving permanently. Releasing a hag in exchange for an all-powerful item will please Astarion, your power-hungry vampire companion, but upset the party’s vigilante Warlock Wyll – in tandem with the game’s web of quest outcomes, these consequences begin to add up quickly.
Eventually, you may not recognise the story you started with. This isn’t a game where you can control every outcome, and Baldur’s Gate 3 thrives on imperfection. That can be a gut-punch consequence for a decision you made 30 hours ago, or scrappy battles that come down to a single shove. Often, it’s the crypt filled with dead adventurers thanks to a missed dice roll. Baldur’s Gate 3 is happy to let you believe you’ve cheated its systems, but there is little it hasn’t accounted for – and the further you travel into its immersive fantasy, the richer Larian’s triumph becomes.
Baldur’s Gate 3 rewards imagination above all. Built to survive every curveball players throw at it, Larian’s latest role-playing spectacle boasts unmatched worldbuilding, freedom, and scale. The scope of Baldur’s Gate 3 should be impossible – but time and time again, it proves there’s no such thing.
- Nearly every decision or action you make is supported
- Enthralling main quest and side stories
- A rich, beautifully-realised world
- Infrequent cosmetic bugs, particularly in cutscenes