STAFF REVIEW of Baldur's Gate 3 (Xbox Series X)

Friday, February 16, 2024.
by Heather Webster

Baldur's Gate 3 Box art Let's go on an epic adventure together into the forgotten realms with a story of survival, teamwork, and the ultimate lure of complete power! Welcome to Baldur's Gate 3, the adventure game of 2023! The third installment in the series is based completely on the real-life tabletop game called Dungeons and Dragons. Baldur's Gate 3 was developed by Larian Studios over 7 long years and is finally here for all players to enjoy.

A whole lot of you may or may not know, but Baldur's Gate 3 came about because the developers were invited for a drink by the Wizards of the Coast (D&D creators), and in this meeting there was one question posed to the Larian folks "Will you take us back to Baldur's Gate?". It was a request they couldn't refuse. I was lucky enough to get to review Baldur's Gate 3 and given the Deluxe edition that came with some pretty sweet bonus content, including but not limited to, the complete soundtrack, beautiful artbook, as well as character sheets! I'm not a regular player of D&D and I had never played any of the previous Baldur's Gate titles, so I found Baldur's Gate 3 to have a huge leanring curve for myself. Finding the Custom difficulty mode was a great help in this endeavor because it gave me the ability to adjust the gameplay to my gaming style.

When my wife found out that under the custom game mode players can adjust various settings to improve their experience, including how enemies react/respond, proficiency bonuses for those that aren't experienced players, showing or hiding prompt reactions, NPC health, failed perception rolls and passive rolls in dialogue, her interest in the game was piqued. She then said to me "Playing in the Explorer and Balanced difficulty levels was still frustrating for me. So learning that I could adjust these parameters helped reignite my interest in playing the game.". Another really cool feature is the ability to choose from three difficulty settings to decide how challenging you want the game to be, this gives you things like the ability to use weighted dice to help you get the advantage, or play tactically for hardcore style challenges.

When you begin the game you start with the task of creating your character, and because of the multiple options to choose from this can take quite a bit of time. You get options such as D&D archetypes like Teifling, Wood Elf, Human, etc. You also get to pick if you want to have hemochromatic eyes, tattoos, freckles, as well as how intense you want them to be seen. You choose a guardian and customize their look as well and this can take a long amount of time depending on how detailed you want to get. Having a lot of customization in character builds is always an enjoyable, however a time-consuming process in great RPGs! In Baldur's Gate 3 I enjoyed that they used a sliding scale adjustment for each option because the precision is more accurate in my opinion. I do however wish there were more options for body type, height, and weight. I found it cool that if you start playing the game and you're not happy with your look, there is a magic mirror you can visit that gives you the ability to make changes. You can choose between 12 classes and 11 races directly out of the D&D handbook to create your own in-game identity, and if you don't want to spend the ample time it would take to create who you want you can choose an origin character like Karlach the Teifling. She is an absolute beast.

What do you say we talk a little more about the character choice process? With 31 sub-races above and beyond the 11 base races (Human, Githyanki, Dragonborn, Halfling, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Tiefling, Dwarf, Elf, and Drow), 46 sub-classes that branch out from the 12 classes you can choose from as well. With more than 600 different actions and spells in the game it gives you true freedom and near-limitless ability to interact with your environment in the hand-crafted world that has been given to us. Your legacy is completely yours to create and leave behind in the game. By the way, max level is 12, so while you may feel like you're playing forever, there is an 'end' eventually.

If you have never played D&D but are still interested in the game and want to see the intriguing story, then I suggest at the start to pick one of the seven origin characters because they already have a full backstory and storyline available to play through. Each has their outlook on the world, traits, and goals that they are set to achieve. The active narrative will guide you through the game but your decisions determine the way the story will go. If you don't want to play an origin story you can still find them and recruit them to join your adventure giving the possibility to use their skills and knowledge to help you through your own personalized adventure.

Once you have finished the lengthy character selection process you can finally begin your journey. You wake up on a giant dimension-crossing alien ship that you later find out belongs to the Illithids, or Mind-flayers. You have been implanted with Illithid tadpoles through your eye, so as you go through the memory of the process you see this white worm-like thing with a mouth that reminds me of Pennywise from the movie It. The intent behind giving you this tadpole is to transform you into an Illithid, only that didn't happen, and all of a sudden the ship is being attacked by Githyanki warriors. The battle frees you from your pod and you find some others in the same situation and choose to free them or not, either way, you must get to the helm.

You steer the ship and crash it at Faerun. As you go along you learn that there are mysterious abilities awakening inside you caused by the Mind Flayer parasite planted in your brain. The biggest decision of all is do you resist and turn darkness against itself, or embrace corruption and become the ultimate evil. I found the storyline to be perfectly on point, beautifully written, and packed with interesting side stories and a whole bunch of quests. Being someone who has only dabbled in the classic tabletop, but is in absolutely no way well versed in anything D&D, it meant Baldur's Gate 3 seemed to take forever to get through, very difficult to defeat enemies, and feels like you've lost many hours for very little progress. However, I wouldn't have it any other way. Baldur's Gate 3 is an RPG, action-adventure, heavy on the strategy.

Baldur's Gate 3 was created using Divinity 4.0, giving the ability and freedom to explore and interact with many different objects, people, walls, rocks, dirt mounds, and so many other things. If or when you come across Scratch the Dog and you befriend him, he will chill at your camp till you want him. able to join you and search for treasures and other things. This gave you more freedom to keep doing whatever you want until he finds something for you.

Everything in Baldur's Gate 3 is turn-based on the D&D 5e ruleset, meaning that play is decided based on initiative rolls with factors drawn from your advantages as well as disadvantages form your character sheet. It brought me back to those choose-your-own-adventure games and books I used to use as a kid. I did however find the game to be long-winded, but maybe that's because I kept having to go back a save point. After all, I died and either forgot to save closer to where I was, or I ended up realizing I was not going to win and had no escape, so I was glad there is the ability to go back to previous saves whenever needed.

Just like in most RPG free-roam games out there, the secrets and hidden gems are vast and many throughout the game. More often than not it is very much in your interest to spend some time talking to the people, search through their stuff, and gather valuable and a lot of times invaluable stuff like rotten food (useful sometimes for throwing and characters or in battle).

There is online multiplayer available for up to 4 players so you can join forces with your buds in combat and simultaneously destroy your enemies together. An added benefit is you can still be in a party with your friends but split apart and continue your journey either strategically to help each other continue in the game or go against them. Relationships aren't the easiest things to maintain, so you may end up completely betraying those in your party or others you interact with. It all comes back to choices. I suppose that's one of the coolest things as that 100% of the choice is yours to make at every turn.

I got the chance to play a little bit of online multiplayer with a friend and it was really interesting because when in a dialogue with another character, your buddy gets the chance to vote on the answer they think you should choose to direct the story. The downside of this is if your pal who starts a conversation and decides not to give you time to vote and chooses whatever dialogue option they want, it may not be very inclusive on your buddy's side, but that's the openness of the game. Just don't forget your shovel, you never know when you're going to find a mound of dirt to search for treasure in.

I read through some info while researching Baldur's Gate 3 that said there are 174 hours of cinematics programmed into the game, so to me that means no matter what choices you make for your player or throughout your story, there should be a new experience for you to see. No matter what you shall go on, even across multiple playthroughs.

I haven't experienced this yet in my game but hopefully soon, relationships. That's right, with impending wars, invasions, and epic adventures, you will forge new relationships everywhere you go. The devs have given everyone their own moral compass that undoubtedly will determine the reactions and responses you get in those interactions. There's a good chance you could find yourself a sweet honeypot to come back to from your adventure to "release tensions" so to say. So, will you 'wham bam thank you ma'am' or will you settle down and let your heart make your choices?

Something I'm very unlikely to ever try is live streaming my play, mostly because I just don't do that. However, the developers have made it so that there are 3 different streaming options for you to choose from. You can disable nudity and explicit content either together or separately to make it safe for any minors who may end up watching your stream, and even twitch integration so you can still interact directly with whoever is watching.

I think I can sum up the graphics in one word, "beautiful." The world you get to explore was built so amazingly and detailed that sometimes I just stare out from a peak and enjoy the vistas. There are also many cool areas you get to adventure through, from Bensenville Forests, castle basements, underground spider caves, and mountainous terrain. Not to mention the beautifully cinematic cutscenes. Bravo to the animators, they guys nailed it. The deluxe edition came with some pretty sweet bonus content that I want to turn into real hard copies. The digital art book is an amazing and a beautiful insight into how the game came to fruition with detailed descriptions of every character in the game. It reads very similar to if you grabbed yourself the latest D&D players guidebook. There are pages about monsters and creatures, armor, weapons, and locations as well, including a world map.

There is also included in the bonus stuff full character sheets for each of the origin characters. This is a cool thing to get if you are looking to start a tabletop D&D game or want to bring one of them into your current game. You also get MP3 and WAV format versions of the original soundtrack, giving you the ability if you want to listen to an enhanced version while you play instead of the one in-game, which is still amazing to listen to in itself. The audio within the game were also very well done. When you hit something or someone it sounds as it should, and the voice acting for the characters was flawless, memorable, and sounded as my head imagined each character would. Also, the background ambience of the environment from the birds, to the water, to trying not to make noise to sneak up on enemies sounds impeccable.

Baldur's Gate 3 hits just right in all the places, from making important character decisions, to the things you hear from eavesdropping on NPC conversations, free exploration in a vast world, and group play alongside friends. With so many options, from how you look to the way each scenario plays out, the possibilities are damn near endless! I would recommend Baldur's Gate 3 to anyone really, regardless if you're a fan of RPGs, a new D&D player, D&D veteran, to anyone interested in checking it out just because of the hype. Do it, it's absolutely worth it.

**Baldur's Gate 3 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series S**

Overall: 9.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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