Sunday, October 11, 2020
Baldur's Gate 3 - First Impressions
I played Baldur's Gate 3 for nearly 14 hours and "finished" the early access part. Well, I certainly haven't searched every nook and cranny, but I finished most quests to the point where the game wants me to move to the next region. And then of course the next region "is not yet available in early access". I also managed to get to level 5, which was a disappointment, because in early access you get stuck at the character features of level 4, and don't get for example level 3 spells. Very sad for my cleric of light, who normally would get the fireball spell at level 5.
In hindsight, I should have rolled a ranger. Not just because a ranger is very good at dealing damage in D&D, but also because a cleric is the first character you meet after the ship crashes. You can also pick up a fighter, a rogue, a wizard, and a warlock, but not a ranger. So to see all character classes, you need to pick a ranger as starting character.
Overall I was having a lot of fun. While a lot of quality of life functions are missing (sort inventory, sort hotbar, a better tutorial on key bindings, etc.), the game played without crashes for me, just the occasional graphical glitch. However in its current state the game is hard to the point of being unfair. Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition doesn't have a "taunt" mechanic, and so the enemies all just ignore your fighter and concentrate fire on your squishier spellcasters. And once those are down, they continue hitting them to make sure they are dead. Real DMs tend to not do that sort of stuff, as it makes players feel persecuted.
While combat is mostly D&D, it also a distinctive Larian Studios flavor of using the elements and terrain. Thus you can shoot exploding barrels, cast a grease spell and set it on fire, or electrify a puddle of water. A rarely used D&D spell like create water becomes a lot more useful in this game. There is also a very un-D&D combat aspect of height giving you an advantage. The annoying thing is that enemies are constantly running away from you, climbing up all sorts of ledges and towers, and fire arrows at you. The monsters in Baldur's Gate 3 are also a lot tougher, with higher armor class and hit points, than the same monster in the pen & paper game. So Baldur's Gate 3 is rather hard, even if you are an expert on D&D tactical combat. You'll do a *lot* of saving and reloading in this game.
Some of the saving and reloading you'll do because of the non-combat gameplay. You often have to make decisions, and sometimes you either don't know about the possible consequences, or the result ends up depending on a roll of a d20. You wanted to save the little girl, but failed the persuasion check, and now she is dead. Do you continue or reload? Obviously, for early access testing purposes, I also sometimes reloaded just to see what happened if I chose the other option. I wouldn't call the story very strong, there is a lack of connection between your goals and your activities. But by keeping it unclear which side in a conflict you should be fighting for, the game gives you both options. I like that more than a more linear story. On the other hand the openness also gives you the opportunity to make mistakes, so I did a whole dungeon with 3 characters, because I didn't know I was supposed to pick up a 4th one first.
While the story suggests that you if you don't hurry up, you will have a very bad fate, in reality there doesn't appear to be any time limit. Which means that nothing is keeping you from taking a long rest after every battle. That unfortunately "breaks" D&D to some extent. The warlock is pretty damn useless in an environment in which you take frequent long rests, and rarely a short rest. Which is probably why Larian Studios "balanced" the wizard by turning him into an eternal pincushion.
My biggest enemy in Baldur's Gate 3 was the UI. The lack of tutorial on basic stuff like camera movement made me miss some things. Only by going to the options, keybindings, did I find some functions. And I very much recommend to move the camera turning keys to Q and E, because on DEL and END they are not very accessible. A lot of functions in the game are well hidden. The game doesn't tell you that you can right-click NPCs with your rogue selected to pickpocket them. It doesn't tell you that the help function revives an unconscious character, or that the shove function used on a suspicious rock will reveal a treasure under it. But then you try to shove a bookcase, and can't make it work, because in that case you need to find a lever, which is only visible after destroying some crates. In short, often I knew what I wanted to do, but had to google what game function to use to actually do it. And some things, like jumping all your 4 characters across a gap, are fiddly even once you know how to do it.
I don't regret having paid 60 bucks for the early access game, because I certainly am going to play this more than once. However this is from the point of view of a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, so a lot of the tactical combat mechanics and game world lore speaks more to me than to the average person. For somebody who isn't a fan of D&D, and not enthusiastic about turn-based combat, 60 bucks is a lot of money for a game that is still a bit short and unpolished. I wouldn't blame you if you decided to wait a bit longer before buying this.