Baldur’s Gate 3 mixes Divinity’s excess with old school BioWare magic

It was roundabout the time I restarted the game in fury that I decided I absolutely love Baldur’s Gate 3. Larian’s take on BioWare’s genre-defining Dungeons & Dragons adaptation is every bit as vibrant, engrossing and startling as you’d expect from the minds behind Divinity: Original Sin 2. It’s both modern in its dialogue presentation and exquisitely throwback – every blow, conversational ploy or feat of sorcery governed by the fateful rattle of on-screen dice. It’s steeped in ’90s BioWare HUD trappings but always feels like a Larian joint, with quests and turn-based clashes that reward thinking outside the box to an almost game-breaking degree. It boasts the developer’s usual diorama-esque level design plus crisp, colourful writing that channels the immensities of D&D’s lore without sinking into impenetrability. The only major problem I have with Baldur’s Gate 3, the expected Early Access bugs aside, is that it isn’t the full thing. So why did I up and start a new save, a few hours in?

Pure petulance is the answer, but let’s circle back to that. In the scrappy build I hurried through over the weekend, the game’s six preset characters were locked off, obliging me to cook up an adventurer of my own from a generous selection of races, classes and vocations. Whether sculpted by the player or the developer, all major characters in Baldur’s Gate 3 begin with the same objective: to remove the alien tadpole stuffed into your head by a tentacle monster called a Mind Flayer during an unplanned stay aboard a giant octopod airship. Left to its own devices, the tadpole will eventually transform you into a Mind Flayer yourself. In the meantime, it endows you with various… advantages, including the ability to sense and read the minds of those similarly afflicted.

Returning Baldur’s Gate players will know what it’s like to have something evil lurking behind your eyes, and this feels like the foundation for an entertaining yarn. It certainly makes for a hectic opening, like an accelerated version of the second game’s dungeon prologue. Long story short, the airship is attacked by dragons, performs some ill-advised warp jumps and winds up in one of D&D’s nine Hells, forcing you to cut down flocks of bat demons as you search for an escape route. Having crash-landed back in the mortal plane, you emerge blinking into an equatorial seaside wilderness and begin your search for a healer, scooping up the other major cast members as you go. Nearby attractions include goblin warrens, mossy tombs, druid circles guarded by half-demonic Tieflings, mysterious cults and somewhere in the distance, the dreaming towers of Baldur’s Gate itself.

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