Why Baldur's Gate 3 Is My Game of the Year: A Review

Rating: 9.5/10

Being a devoted fan of Dungeons & Dragons, I've had my eyes on Baldur's Gate 3 by Larian Studios for quite some time now. Even before its official release in August 2023, it had already become one of my most anticipated games for the year. In December 2020, I eagerly jumped into the game when it was in its early access phase. I became instantly captivated by the rich world, intriguing characters, and the incredible mischief one can get into. Since it's official launch, I've only become more obsessed, and based on the hundreds of Tiktok's and Youtube Shorts I've seen, the gaming world definitely seems to agree with me.

I'm hesitant to spoil the entire experience for those still eager to immerse themselves in this expansive world, so I'll give an overall review of Act 1, which constitutes roughly 30 hours of gameplay out of a potential 140+ that players can expect to enjoy.

The game starts off with a bang, treating you to a visually striking cutscene that instantly immerses you in a world plagued by the terrifying Mind Flayers. There's that infamous tadpole insertion scene that could give you the creeps if you're even slightly squeamish about anything eye-related, which I definitely was. However, once the initial shock wears off, it's time to dive headfirst into character creation, and for PC players, there's a buffet of settings to explore, including a handy option to turn off mature content. Perfect for those who plan to share their gameplay with a younger audience or broadcast it to the world on Youtube or Twitch.

Creating your character in Baldur's Gate 3 is like being a kid in a candy store. Whether you're a seasoned series fan or a newcomer, there's something here for you. You can craft a character from scratch or pick one of the Origin characters, each complete with its own backstory, unique abilities, and personal quests. The Origin characters add depth to the narrative, ensuring your choices have meaningful consequences. There are seven intriguing Origin characters, including "The Dark Urge," which lets you embrace your inner dark side, making your decisions all the more captivating.

Origin Characters List & Descriptions:

  • Shadowheart: Half-elf cleric on a mission to return a potent relic to her kin while grappling with memory loss and mysterious tormenting magic.
  • Astarion: A vampire spawn elf rogue on the run from his sadistic master, striving to gain power by embracing the light.
  • Lae'zel: A githyanki fighter dedicated to defeating mind flayers and proving herself worthy of rejoining her people.
  • Gale: A cursed ex-archmage turned wizard prodigy seeking to rid himself of a dangerous artifact residing within him.
  • Wyll: A legendary monster hunter and human warlock wrestling with a dark pact and its escalating price.
  • Karlach: A tiefling barbarian with an infernal engine in her chest, striving to repair it and seeking revenge on those who betrayed her.
  • The Dark Urge: A fully customizable character plagued by memory loss and an insatiable desire for cruelty, leaving a mysterious legacy in your hands.

Customization goes beyond appearances, allowing you to select your character's race, class, and magical abilities. The game follows the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules (mostly), making it a smooth ride for D&D players. Spellcasting is well-executed, with spells categorized by levels and a spell slot system adding depth to magic users. Choosing your class significantly impacts your character's role, allowing for diverse playstyles. I've already tried out a few character combos, and so far my favorite happens to be a Drow Cleric. However, remember that spell slots are finite, so plan your magical adventures carefully. Short and Long Rests will be needed along your journey - and you will have to collect supplies to rest.

Act 1 essentially doubles as an extended tutorial, introducing you to the game's mechanics and systems. While it's newbie-friendly, it does assume a basic understanding of D&D 5e, which might be a minor hurdle for total newcomers. Conversely, gameplay is enjoyable for RPG veterans and newbies alike. The open-ended exploration lets you interact with various NPCs, complete quests, and overcome challenges. The turn-based combat style of the game requires strategic thinking and actions during each battle.

Act 1 unfolds after your daring escape from the Mind Flayer ship, leading you through beachfront exploration, forests, and the Druid Grove. The constant reminder of your Mind Flayer tadpole keeps the tension alive as you hunt for a healer to get rid of it. The open-world design of the game provides countless opportunities for exploration, featuring dungeons, caves, and side quests with engaging storytelling and choices that sway the narrative.

Later on in Act 2, you might even meet an animal or two that can be pets at your camp or accompany you along certain parts of your adventure. The freedom to approach encounters in various ways keeps the gameplay fresh and exciting.

In Act 1, you'll cross paths with many potential companions that might seem familiar from the character creation scene. Each Origin character brings a unique perspective and interaction. Lae'zel, a Githyanki fighter, is militant and unyielding, while Shadowheart, a Half-Elf Cleric, offers wit and a connection to the goddess Shar. Astarion, a High Elf Rogue with a dark secret as a Vampire Spawn, is open to aligning with your character's choices. Gale, a Human Wizard, provides valuable magical insights and positivity, while Wyll, a Human Warlock, seeks redemption, and fan-favorite Karlach, a Tiefling Barbarian, is refreshingly straightforward.

If you are the type who loves a bit of love and passion in their D&D play, worry not, for each of these companions (plus more in later acts) are up for some romantic entangling. My favorite is Halsin, a kind and nurturing older Druid, but he comes later in Act 2. 

Act 1 showers you with choices, from tackling goblin threats to picking sides in the Druids vs. Tieflings standoff. These choices significantly shape the story and determine how Act 1 concludes, offering diverse outcomes and branching paths that make you want to replay the game over and over again for alternate timelines.

Baldur's Gate 3 nails it in the audio department as well with distinctive spell and ability sound effects, not to mention the top-notch voice acting done by some pretty kick-ass actors like Matthew Mercer (The Critical Role D&D King), J.K Simmons(Oscar Winner), Jason Issacs(Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter), and so many more. While the music does the job, it might stick with you a little less than Divinity: Original Sin 2's soundtrack if you were a fan of that. But overall the game's visuals are stunning, featuring detailed environments that draw you in. Plus, it runs smoothly on PC and PlayStation, with just a handful of minor graphical glitches that will not really effect your experience of the game.

Baldur's Gate 3 is, in my humble opinion, one of the most exciting games of the year. With character creation options, diverse classes, and intricate storytelling, it provides a rich and immersive adventure for all players. While the tutorial aspect could use a bit more depth and detail for newcomers to the Baldur's Gate franchise, the open-world design, varied companions, and various choices ensure a compelling and replayable adventure. 

For avid D&D enthusiasts like myself, Baldur's Gate 3 is a dream come true. What makes it even better? It's an exceptional game to enjoy with friends, serving as a delightful gateway to the world of tabletop RPGs and sparking their interest in rolling a d20 in your next D&D campaign. Personally, I've had an absolute blast getting romantically involved with in-game characters, petting Owlbears, delving into dungeons for loot, and weaving virtual spells. Even though I've sunk about 85 hours into the game and have yet to reach the end, I can confidently assert that Baldur's Gate 3 offers an all-encompassing gaming experience. With a 96 Metacritic score, it's undeniably a formidable contender for Game of the Year at this year's Game Awards, and it has certainly earned that title in my books.


Steam:

Baldur’s Gate 3 on Steam
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a story-rich, party-based RPG set in the universe of Dungeons & Dragons, where your choices shape a tale of fellowship and betrayal, survival and sacrifice, and the lure of absolute power.

PS5:

Baldur’s Gate 3
A Next-Generation RPG Set in the World of Dungeons Dragons

GOG:

Baldur’s Gate 3
Gather your party, and return to the Forgotten Realms in a tale of fellowship and b