Baldur’s Gate 3 revealed in buggy but exciting gameplay demo

On Thursday, February 27, Larian Studios revealed a ton of all-new information about isometric RPG Baldur’s Gate 3 at PAX East.

Here are the fast facts you need to know.

  • Baldur’s Gate 3 will be available on PC and Stadia.
  • It’ll be available via early access in a few months, with more content added over time.
  • Multiplayer will be supported.
  • There are “core characters” with origin stories and you can roll your own, exactly like in Divinity: Original Sin 2. There is a fascinating array of stories, including a human wizard with a magical nuke inside of him, a vampire servant, and a githyanki warrior.
  • The game is entirely turn-based. Say goodbye to the “real time with pause” system of the original Baldur’s Gate. Turn based combat looks almost identical to Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin games.
  • You’ll be able to choose from a variety of races and classes. Tieflings, elves, half-elves, drow, half-drow, dwarves, githyanki and halflings were all mentioned, with promises that more will be available in the future. You can also choose the background for your character - similar to the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition tabletop game.
  • The demo also mentioned the classes -  wizard, cleric, fighter, ranger, rogue, and warlock.
  • You can play with an isometric or third person camera.

The game opens with one of the most impressive cinematics we’ve seen in a long time. A mind flayer (or illithid, if you’re feeling lore-heavy, didactic, and super cool) places a tadpole into the eye of Lae’zel, a githyanki core protagonist. It crawls around her eyeball and into her skull, and then you enter character generation. If you’ve ever created a D&D character, you won’t find too many surprises here. If you haven’t, you pick a gender, race, class, skills, and background, or go with the game’s pre-generated PCs. Wanna play a vampire’s servant? How about a human noble who made a deal with a demon? How about a dark cleric of the goddess Shar? There are some interesting choices here.

From there, the game launches immediately into the next section of the cinematic, and here’s where things get really interesting. The mind flayer from the first cinematic is flying a nautiloid spelljammer air ship tearing through a human settlement and capturing people for further tadpole implementation. That’s when a trio of dragon riding githyanki (the former slaves and sworn enemies of the mind flayers) attacks the nautiloid, initiating a chase through multiple portals and locales, finally leading to an epic crash landing. This is the sort of thing that we would have thought up as a 14 year olds, and 23 years later, the appeal is still strong.

The in-game demo that followed was a bit rough. Game balance is still being worked out; Swen Vincke, Larian’s game presenter, got unlucky and suffered a total party kill (or TPK if you were really popular in high school) in the first combat encounter against three intellect devourers. During the Q&A session, he remarked that Larian used the stats right out of the book; I’m a little baffled by that, because three intellect devourers against two first level characters is a really rough encounter. I would be mad at a Dungeon Master who planned that as our first fight. Save and load functionality wasn’t functional, so he actually had to start the entire demo over.

There were definitely control issues and misclicks, including a moment when Vincke accidentally stabbed his own party member. I remember these kinds of weird, catastrophic misclicks from combat in the Divinity series. It’s weird to me that these things haven’t been worked out yet, three games in.

The game also crashed before we got to see some of the final events of the demo. Swen talked a bit about them near the tail end of the demo. When the characters rest, they enter camp scenes, which were reminiscent of the camp scenes in Dragon Age: Origins.

Here, you can have party interactions, explore your character’s inner thoughts (making Wis/Int checks to visualize different events, like killing your master), and get spell slots back. The game bugged out before we got a chance to see it, but if you play as a vampire, in a camp scene you have the option of drinking your companion’s blood while they slept, and that companion would get a check to notice you doing so. I love this sort of interactivity / reactivity, and I wish we had gotten a chance to see it.

That being said, I’m sort of glad the demo was so rough. I’ve sat through far too many pre-rendered videos of “actual in-game footage!” playing while a “gamer dude” holding a controller pretended to play. It was refreshing to see a real pre-alpha, warts and all. At one point, a slightly buggy trap sequence forced Vincke to rethink his plan to evade the danger of the trap in real time. Even in a buggy pre-alpha, the game’s rules and world are consistent enough that you can work through problems and find creative solutions.

Dialogue trees looked interesting, with options to deceive, persuade, and lie to the people you meet. Attribute checks sometimes happen in dialogue, complete with a virtual D20. We wish you could see that in combat too, but it would probably slow things down a great deal.

It was cool to see how expansive and responsive the game world is. You can still shoot fire at puddles and create steam; a total Larian move. But you can also feather fall from high places, Sparta kick people off of platforms, knock down ruined arches to create shortcuts, light your arrows on fire, and throw your boots at an enemy to do damage.

The map had a lot of verticality, and you are encouraged to exploit it to your advantage in combat, and also to explore as much as you can, as this is highly rewarded. Vincke mentioned that you can’t find all the secrets in the game during your first playthrough.

The Q&A was a bit truncated due to how long the in-game demo took, but the audience brought up some interesting points.

  • Wizards of the Coast, D&D’s parent company, asked Larian to tone down the alignment system.
  • That being said, your companions will react to your actions. Good characters may abandon you if you keep doing evil things.
  • Vincke wasn’t at liberty to say whether there will be more party members beyond the core game characters.
  • Spell slots recharge when you camp.
  • The dev team is currently discussing whether you’ll be able to change your companions’ class the way you were able to in Divinity: Original Sin 2.

Overall, we’re excited to see more and can’t wait to play Baldur’s Gate 3. Check out the full reveal below: