‘Baldur’s Gate III’ early access review: a rewarding RPG that reflects the creative potential of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

Larian Studios teases an exciting future with a superb, imaginative opening act

RPGs are ultimately about creative freedom, and so far, Baldur’s Gate III has proven itself to be a fascinating sandbox of imagination. After spending the bones of an hour in character creation crafting a gorgeous Tiefling Rogue, I caused a critical failure within my first 30 seconds of playtime that left him writhing on the floor, ultimately succumbing to a gnarly death. Sounds frustrating, but this is exactly what I was hoping for.

If you’ve got a set of polyhedral dice, you’ll know that there’s something very intimate and special about sitting around a table with your friends and breathing life into a character that doesn’t exist outside of that room. Magic happens in Dungeons & Dragons when you flavour these avatars with your own experiences, and use them as a vessel to explore new personas, embarking on impossible adventures with your intrepid troupe of pals. It’s also equally exciting when you’re put on the spot by your Dungeon Master and have to make up absurd anecdotes to get yourself out of (or into) ridiculous capers, that may or may not result in your doom.

Baldur's Gates III
Baldur’s Gate III. Credit: Larian Studios

Baldur’s Gate III understands the dichotomy of Dungeons & Dragons deeply. It’s dynamic, incredibly silly and tons of fun. For my money, it’s the closest a game has come to replicating the modern D&D experience. You can use all of the typical tabletop bonus actions to jump, hide, throw, shove and knock enemies unconscious. At one point in my playthrough of the game’s opening act, my co-op partner snuck behind a devilishly placed dwarf, shoving them from a precarious plinth onto the hard concrete below. In the ensuing mania, I then used my bow to shoot a sketchy rope and drop a surprise millstone onto a burly ranger’s noggin, which crumbled the ground below and took two enemies into the mines of Moria.

The setup made the payoff sweeter than honey. But as fate would have it, I subsequently fell down the very hole I had created and reset our progress in a tricky dungeon. So it goes. I mention all of this to illustrate just how Baldur’s Gate III rewards the very same absurd lateral thinking that oozes out of most Dungeons & Dragons play sessions. If you’re a fan of the tabletop experience, this game is going to make you very happy. If you’re a fan of Larian Studios’ other games, such as the acclaimed Divinity series, this is once again a no brainer.

The new Divinity 4.0 engine really works to make the game’s environments pop. The starting area of the game is the ship of a Mind Flayer, where the thoroughfares and doorways are slick and viscous with slime and brain goo. They open like… well, it would be too graphic to really get into but let me tell you, it’s tremendously disgusting in the best possible way.

Baldur's Gates III
Baldur’s Gate III. Credit: Larian Studios

I’m yet to see the end of the act, but so far, the game’s narrative is full of intrigue as you battle the Mind Flayer’s tadpole that is boring into your brain, binding you to your companions in a desperate search for healing. Your playthrough will be complemented by several pernicious moral quandaries and a solid gallery of great gags as you dig into the backstories of characters and understand the problems plaguing the towns that orbit the city of Baldur’s Gate.

Speaking of characters, I’m already completely obsessed with Astarion, the foppish High Elf Rogue who has made a home in my party. I don’t care that he is hundreds of years old and may or may not suck my blood – I’ve made it my mission to make him my life partner. Building a team out of the many companions on offer is great fun, especially when you get far enough into the game to start preparing spells and figuring out item builds. There have been situations where I’ve found a random throwable projectile or explosive in one of my colleague’s bags that has completely changed the tide of a battle. The game is so reactive and exciting in combat, constantly providing thrills as the smart enemy AI adapts and unravels your cunning plans.

The main issue with Baldur’s Gate III is that some of the cutscenes aren’t finished yet. There are a few visual glitches beyond that and some texture pop-in issues that pull you out of the moment on occasion too. Don’t expect fluidity in cutscenes and be vigilant with your saves if something goes horribly wrong. But really, this is all to be expected as part of the game’s early access debut.

Larian followed this strategy for both Divinity: Original Sin games, and to say it worked would be an understatement. The studio has made its ultimate intentions for Baldur’s Gate III loud and clear, which is why even in its current state, the game is such a success. I’m willing to look past the lack of visual polish when the game’s mechanics feel so limitless, and I’m sure any major issues will be quickly dealt with close to launch.

Baldur's Gates III
Baldur’s Gate III. Credit: Larian Studios

I’m mostly excited to see what modders can do with the systems put in place by Larian with Baldur’s Gate III. I’d love it if the game went open-source and allowed players to customise every aspect of it. Imagine the potential of custom player-built campaigns within Larian’s world to create real life role-playing sessions? The mere idea has me all excited.

And even though the game is technically unfinished, it certainly doesn’t feel like it in terms of hours spent. The opening act will take you at least 12 to15 hours to complete, and that’s if you’re rushing through it, which you certainly shouldn’t because there’s heaps of detail to uncover. Remember to hold ALT as you’re walking around to uncover all kinds of nooks and secrets, and be sure to save every few minutes. You might be halfway into a battle before you realise that you can disarm your enemies ahead of time, or approach it in a more satisfying fashion. There’s no shame in reloading in Baldur’s Gate III. I’d argue it makes the game more interesting to follow your brain – it wants you to lean into your most creatively romantic ideas to make the most of its incredible systems.

‘Baldur’s Gate III’ early access is out now on Google Stadia, Steam for PC and Mac, and GOG.com for PC.

Our Verdict

Even though it’s in early access, there’s so much content to dig into with Baldur’s Gate III’s debut that I’d be shocked if anyone experiences everything before the next expansion of meaningful content drops. It’s an ambitiously built, well-written tale of adventure framed by lovable companions and stunning fidelity. If you’ve got a busy imagination and consider yourself to be a fan of RPGs tabletop or digital, this game should be an instant purchase. I’ve never played a Baldur’s Gate game in my life, but this feels like a hell of a good place to start.

Pros

  • Dynamic, creative D&D gameplay
  • Lovable characters and fantastic set pieces
  • Gorgeous graphics and inspired environments

Cons

  • A decent dose of bugs as part of the early access release
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