REVIEW: Baldur’s Gate III

At the time of writing, it has been precisely 8 days, 14 hours and 46 minutes since I completed Larian Studios’ magnificent Baldur’s Gate 3. It took me approximately 5 weeks to complete—5 weeks that went by in a sleepless, dazed, hyper-focused blur—and I am now ruined for all other video games in the future. My gaming life will never be the same again. My mind is shot to pieces, my heart a bereft wasteland of too many emotions, and all I can think about is my character, their lovable, beautifully written companions, their epic journey across Faerûn, and how devastated I am knowing I can never experience playing this wonderful, incredible game for the first time all over again.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is the greatest video game I have ever played in my 34 years of life, and let me tell you, it’s not even a closely run contest.

It is 120 years after the events of Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. The year is 1492 DR, and your character awakens aboard a stricken nautiloid—a mind flayer ship. Worse still, you’ve been infected by a mind flayer Tadpole—an abhorrent creature which threatens to turn you into a mind flayer yourself if you do not seek out a cure within days. After picking up several equally-infected companions—or not, the choice is up to you—you must journey along the Sword Coast, battling goblins, hags, Bhaalspawn and more to avoid becoming an abomination of tentacles and sinister psionic power. Will you become a thrall to the mysterious hive mind known only as the Absolute? Will you destroy it, or claim its power as your own?

First off, you absolutely do not need to have played previous instalments of BALDUR’S GATE to play Baldur’s Gate 3. The story is entirely self-contained, and players receive a robust tutorial. Despite the gaming mechanics and lore of Baldur’s Gate 3 revolving around the Forgotten Realms campaigns of the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, you also don’t require any prior knowledge of D&D either (although it does help). If you’ve ever wanted to play D&D yourself but haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a great place to start. Now you too can experience the joy, frustration, hilarity and despair of rolling a Nat 20/Nat 1 at a critical juncture!

The sheer size of the game is mind-blowing. Multiple dialogue routes and high-impact choices—along with both passive and active dice rolls you succeed or fail—lead to wildly different story outcomes, cut scenes, and dialogue, making it impossible to uncover all the game has to offer on a single playthrough. The game I was playing looked entirely different to that of my friends, and that is ultimately down to the sheer amount of customisation and creativity on offer in terms of both your initial character creation, your actions, and your choices when it comes to dealing with enemies, allies and obstacles.

There are 11 races and 12 classes to choose from, and you can customise your character in whichever way you like (you can also choose to play as one of the pre-made origin characters who come with their own unique story progression, but it’s not recommended you start here). For my first playthrough, I chose a Lolth-Sworn Drow Rogue, making things like navigating the goblin camps and the Underdark easier due to my race and subrace-specific dialogue choices, but other areas like the Tiefling camp a little trickier. Given my low armour class and attack stats, combat was also significantly harder. As such, I was often forced to seek out alternative solutions to progress, such as stealthing my way around the battlefield to pick off weaker enemies first, lying through my teeth to gain alliances I later intended to betray, and persuading disloyal NPCs to turn on their employers. The roleplay element felt very real, and I thoroughly enjoyed leaning into the story elements of my created character to navigate my game. If you choose a tankier, less wily character to play such as a Barbarian or a Fighter, you’ll likely be engaging in combat and brute-forcing your way through doors and obstacles a lot more often.

In terms of overall gameplay, Baldur’s Gate 3 is challenging but not impossible, and players can lower or raise the difficulty depending on their confidence. For my first playthrough I set my difficulty to Balanced, and it felt exactly that. The learning curve was steep, but not at all insurmountable, and once I realised I was basically playing one giant game of D&D where I controlled every player except the Dungeon Master—that I could cast spells and initiate actions outside of combat and split up my party to explore different areas—things became much easier to navigate. The combat itself is turn-based and hugely addictive, by its very nature forcing you to think strategically and plot your next move instead of going in all guns blazing; I absolutely loved it. This is particularly applicable when you hit max level in Act 3 and must start considering things like character respecs and multiclassing to give yourself the edge you need to win (I ended up giving my Rogue 7 levels of the Ranger class after getting absolutely annihilated in the House of Grief).

The world feels huge and open, but by being broken down into Act-specific chunks means it isn’t too overwhelming at first (apart from Act 3, more on that later). Multiple points of interaction in-world exist, and depending on your race and class, might only interact with you and you alone. The environments are stunningly beautiful, and the accompanying score is gorgeous—the most iconic I’ve heard since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Entrants to the late-game dungeon known as the House of Hope are in for a real treat on that front…

The storytelling contained within Baldur’s Gate 3 is unparalleled. Never have I encountered a game so well-written, nor so beautifully and passionately acted. Not only is the main story engrossing and exciting—with a real sense of urgency to it that cannot help but propel you forward—but there are multiple side quests to pick up along the way that are equally well-developed which can influence the final outcome of the game. Not least among them are those pertaining to the recruitable travelling companions who can join your party and be utilised inside and outside of combat (providing you don’t kill them of course). Each companion comes with their own personal quest, and how you handle those quests—including ignoring them completely—directly impacts your relationship with them and how they behave. Though not the bones of the game, the companions are hands down its flesh and blood, and I adored every single one of them. The chaotic Astarion, mysterious Shadowheart and prickly Lae’zel were my favourites, and I took them everywhere with me if I could help it (even though insisting on having 2 Rogues in my team was something of a masochistic choice).

In addition to joining your party and aiding you in combat, most of your travelling companions are also romanceable. Your character can flirt with them, sleep with them, enter long-term relationships with them, dump them and be dumped by them. They are aware of each other, will get jealous of each other (or not—there are some limited polyamorous options), and might also shack up with each other if you turn them down. Over time, I realised that although I’d picked up Baldur’s Gate 3 for the D&D-style mechanics, addictive turn-based combat and in-depth storytelling, I’d ultimately stayed for the romance simulator; it is fantastic. Romancing companions is a massive chunk of the game and even if you are not romantically inclined, I would strongly advise you still explore some of these relationships, as the amount of additional bonus content and emotional storytelling whack you get is insane. Unlike other games I’ve played with romanceable characters, these relationships don’t go away or abruptly stop either; they have impact and relevance right up until the final battle and beyond.

For my playthrough, I chose to romance the hilariously sassy Rogue vampire elf Astarion—a veritable 3-Act goldmine of swoon-worthy extra content who honestly had me questioning my sanity with how emotionally invested I became in him. Though one of the easiest characters to bed, getting him to engage in the meat and gristle of an actual relationship—especially if you are swaying him away from his darker side, as I was—is much harder. Cue a lot of arguing, persuading, pushing and pulling between your character and his that feels unbelievably real. The end result is hugely emotionally satisfying, to the point I cannot even imagine playing the game without it. Entire dialogue segments exist in the final throes of Astarion’s companion quest that specifically pertain to him sleeping with and loving your character, and boy does it hit hard. Romancing Astarion did make me wonder just how much extra content I was missing by not romancing any of the other companions, because I got so much from him alone.

This does seem to depend on the characters you choose to romance, however. A friend of mine chose to romance the nature-loving Druid elf Halsin and was comparatively disappointed by his single (albeit much more explicit) sex scene and lack of Act 3 content. Despite this, she is no less invested in him, showing the sheer strength of storytelling that exists even in the more underdeveloped quest lines. There also exist instances where you can sleep with certain NPCs as one-offs that are never mentioned again. Nonetheless, for deeper, longer-term connections and additional storytelling dynamics, romancing the origin characters (the ones with Tadpoles in their heads) seems to be the way to go.

Now for my very few negatives: in comparison to Acts 1 and 2, Act 3 is rather overwhelming. Huge and sprawling, I spent more time floundering in Act 3 than I did Acts 1 and 2 combined, with very few quest markers to follow, a huge area to explore (including an underground sewer system that nearly made me cry when I found it), and hundreds of NPCs to talk to. It almost feels like a completely different game. After I’d completed my in-game lover’s companion quest, I felt utterly exhausted and like I was dragging my emotionally drained husk through to the end. It was ultimately worth it, especially once I finally made it to the aforementioned House of Hope which is hands down the best dungeon in the game, but Act 3 did feel a bit like it went on forever.

The game is also not without its bugs, with each patch seeming to introduce as many as they fix. I personally encountered two game-breaking bugs during my playthrough that required elaborate Reddit-researched workarounds to solve. The game is a living, breathing thing, and it’s clear the developers aren’t quite done with it. For example, players should also be aware that some characters’ endings were massively cut for release (e.g. the lovable, fiery Tiefling Karlach), and so elements of the overall ending do feel somewhat abrupt. It’s a very small niggle in the grand scheme of things, and the developers have confirmed they are actively reworking some of the epilogues—have even already started doing so with the more recent patches. Given how utterly stupendous the rest of the game is, I’ve no doubt everything will eventually be worth the wait.

My main negative, in all honestly, is that the game ended at all. I never wanted it to stop.

Overall, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a stunning achievement. Dark, brutal, laugh-out loud funny, emotionally hard-hitting and highly addictive, Larian Studios have raised the bar for what a video game can be to astronomical levels. I’ll be replaying for many years to come and likely still discovering new things. All the stars. All the praise. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Sally Berrow

Sally Berrow

Sally presently resides behind a mountainous pile of books in Greenhithe, UK, kept alive only by tea and surrounded by a menagerie of animals. A lifelong fantasy lover with a tendency towards the darker side of the genre, she hopes one day to write a grimdark fantasy of her own, inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy. She considers wringing an apology from Joe Abercrombie to be her greatest achievement.

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