A chest is hidden in an underground tunnel, defended by ancient guardians. Our fearless Rogue and his party are attempting to sneak past. After dispatching the nearby goblins our great hero strides up to the chest, failing the perception check, but disregarding that, he casts open the chest before him. The moments that followed this adventure included the death of two characters, a disappointed cleric, and the use of two valuable Scrolls of Revivify to bring both of the characters back to life. Playing moments like these in the Early Access of Baldur’s Gate 3 captures much of the magic of the tabletop staple, Dungeons & Dragons and that’s what I’m enjoying about the game the most. But there is plenty of room for improvement to further capture that magic in every aspect of the game. 

As the upcoming release date neared in August, Larian Studios made the decision to both postpone the release to at least September 30th (moved again to October 6th) but also announced the game would not be a full release. Instead, they were opting for an Early Access period where players would only have access to the opening act of the game (approximately 20 hours of gameplay) but still requiring the $90 AUD price tag. For many, this was a disappointment, as Baldur’s Gate 3 had been building towards being a potential RPG juggernaut thanks to the increased popularity that D&D has seen in the 20 years since the last Baldur’s Gate game. The rise is mostly thanks to shows such as Critical Role and Acquisitions Incorporated.

Within my first 5 hours with the game, it became quite clear that Larian had made the right decision in many ways to release it in Early Access. The game itself is rough around the edges with mechanical and graphical bugs regularly appearing throughout gameplay. Characters will not appear on-screen during some conversations, characters appear stuck in the floor or their mouths just do not move during dialogue.

Despite these bugs, there is plenty to enjoy graphically about Baldur’s Gate 3. It may already feature my favourite character creator in video games. The depth of the creator itself is fantastic at capturing much of the nuance of Dungeons & Dragons with signs that there are plenty more character options and classes on the horizon. Even featuring only a handful of the potential races and character classes, it’s easy to see already that much like the tabletop game I could spend many a day creating a new character and playing through this game and making new choices, to the point where they feel almost endless.

Along with the character creation comes some stunning character models. There is a lot of attention and care made with each character in this game; there has been plenty of times during discussions with NPCs that I have become distracted by the detail in the models and their variety. From eccentric Tieflings to stout Dwarves and Halflings, no race or character model feels like it has had less attention which would account to why the race choices are currently as limited as they are. 

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Baldur’s Gate 3 strives to capture the heart of Dungeons & Dragons in its moment-to-moment gameplay and in many aspects, it does. Dice rolls feature heavily throughout the game for every decision and action in conjunction with your character’s skills and abilities.

There is a random element to the game which makes talking to characters or making decisions have a feeling of uncertainty that video games often fail to capture. In the traditional good to evil RPG system, it is easy to work out how your conversation or choice is going to go based on a numerical value on this scale. In Baldur’s Gate 3 that numerical value just helps assist with setting the difficulty rating of the challenge which is then followed by a dice roll to see if you pass or fail the task. It’s in this system that the tabletop roots shine through. Many players have come to learn that their favourite moments often do not come from success but rather from failure. I could have started this piece with a number of successful rolls or great moments for my Rogue, yet I decided to feature the moment I almost got him killed alongside a companion while my IRL co-op partner sighed in disbelief. Looking back on this moment makes me smile and shows the potential that Baldur’s Gate 3 has at bringing the Dungeons & Dragons experience to a new audience but it has a long way to go in the Early Access period. 

As a single-player experience, Baldur’s Gate 3 is already very good. Character interactions rival and even improve on many RPGs that fans have come to love such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Moment to moment exploration feels natural and combat flows well. But it is multiplayer where Baldur’s Gate 3 has the chance to make something truly special. Player characters can interact and talk to each other but you are not tethered to one another. You are free to go off and experience your own parts of the story without interrupting your friend’s experience and it’s simple to work together mechanically in the game.

But the freedom of interaction found in the tabletop game is still a long way away and, honestly, due to the constraint of video games it may never be fully captured in this way but there is the opportunity with Baldur’s Gate 3 for Larian Studios to close that gap. Currently, it’s easy for players to view conversations that the other player is involved in but conversations are one person at a time and the game itself is currently optimized for the single-player experience. Dungeons and Dragons itself is at its best when players are involved and able to interact with one and other. There were situations where I was involved as the lead character where I wished my Cleric friend could jump in and take the lead as it was much more suited to him. If Baldur’s Gate 3 could enhance the multiplayer experience by bringing both players into situations it would continue to grow towards the experience of Dungeons and Dragons that Larian is trying to capture. 

Baldur’s Gate 3 has a long way to go in its Early Access period with Larian Studios expecting it to last at least a year. With only the opening act of the game available currently, there is still much to explore in this section of the game and even with that, there are plenty of characters to create and play with. The cast of characters that accompany you through the already interesting campaign are diverse and do stray away from some of the common characters found in RPGs but player companions make the game something special. If Larian Studios can fine-tune that experience then fans of the series will be rewarded for the 2 decades between instalments. For some people, Early Access with a full price tag can be a red flag, but with Baldur’s Gate 3 there is plenty to dig into and an opportunity of helping this title grow to be something unique in the world of video games.

(Baldur’s Gate 3 code provided for preview)