Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 31, 2023
The downside of epic

I have now played 120 hours of early access Baldur's Gate 3, plus 150 hours of the release version of the game. This is a truly epic game, with tons of content. The production value of that content is unique: No other CRPG ever had this amount of voice acting, motion capture and graphical opulence. I am in Act III, at level 11, and seeing how I'll go on a 3-week holiday without PC access on Sunday, it becomes increasingly likely that I won't be able to finish BG3 before that. And surprisingly, I don't care much.

This is not because Baldur's Gate 3 is a bad game, although Act III definitively is less good than Act I, but mostly because BG3 is a bad fit for my gaming needs. If I want to really role-play, I prefer to do that playing actual Dungeons & Dragons. For a video game, I want my CRPGs to be good tactical combat experiences. Which Baldur's Gate 3 is, but when, and only when, it actually provides interesting combat situations. The percentage of time you spend doing combat is okay in Act I, but goes down from there. The city in Act III also has so many more NPCs and so many more houses, that the approach of previous acts to speak with everybody and search every container becomes increasingly hopeless. Which leads to a constant fear of missing out. In Act III you can play for hours, and unless you deliberately play like a murder hobo that wants to kill the whole city, you'll have maybe one interesting combat in the whole play session. 

In part that is the fault of the D&D system, which doesn't scale very well. It is a lot easier to provide an interesting combat encounter with goblins for a low-level group than it is to provide an interesting city combat encounter for a level 11 group. You get more and more spells, and they get more powerful, and it becomes more difficult for the game to provide an adequate challenge. I have a bunch of spells already that I never got around to using, because there simply aren't enough turns in a combat, and too few combat situations.

But the whole epic cut-scene / motion capture / voice acting cinematics are also turning out to be somewhat limiting in a way. Before BG3 I played Jagged Alliance 3, which is a much more low-budget game, having spent a lot less money on the story elements. But that meant that I was happily experimenting with several runs, because which mercenaries I chose, what weapons I found, and how I approached different combat situations created a lot more emergent stories, which were different in each run. Baldur's Gate 3 has a lot fewer emergent story situations, and a lot more scripted story situations. And even when I deliberately went out of my way to make very different, and sometimes deliberately bad or evil decisions, there was less variance in the development of the overall game situation than in Jagged Alliance 3. Especially in Act II (and probably Act III), where the game funnels you into the same final boss fight, regardless of how hard you try to avoid that.

Dialogue options in Baldur's Gate 3 are frequently illusionary. I had one dialogue, with an orphan wanting to join my camp, where regardless of whether I said yes or no, the orphan would be in my camp anyway, because it was needed for a subsequent story element. And in many dialogues, the "reasonable" choices are extremely obvious, and everybody who is remotely trying to play a typical heroic fantasy story ends up with the same dialogue. That becomes painfully obvious when you watch some Twitch / YouTube streams, and apart from the order in which things happen, everybody experiences pretty much the same story in the same way. And this is a direct consequence of the epic production values: If it costs a ton of money to produce a dialogue, you will always end up with fewer variations than if that dialogue was just a text box.

I have seen the first versions of AI-driven CRPGs, right now still fully text-based like AI Dungeon. I do think there is a future in which a graphical CRPG has basically infinite, AI-generated content, where as long as you hang out in some village, the AI generates new quest dialogue and the corresponding combat situations in the surrounding areas. But it would be difficult to have that AI dialogue fully voice-acted and animated. The current attempts at AI voice acting are both not quite as good, and a bone of contention between voice actors and game companies. But I would be willing to accept a somewhat lower quality if in exchange the game wasn't limited to give me the pre-recorded content. There are a lot of games in which is story is generic or not very interesting, and I don't mind, because I am far more interested in the gameplay than the story. I don't think you could ever make an AI-assisted game with the dialogue quality of Baldur's Gate 3, but maybe not every game needs that.

Ultimately, while I am enjoying Baldur's Gate 3, I feel that I am missing out on player agency. I am playing through a more or less linear story, on rails. And while that experience is fun, I really don't feel like playing through the same content again, even if I would choose a very different group with different character classes. If you spend more than half of the time experiencing the story and playing through dialogues, it doesn't matter so much what character classes are in your group. I feel I should have only invited 3 companions into my group and never ever talked to the others, so that I could have had a second playthrough with different companions. Once you invited a companion in your camp, even if you never use him, you'll still get to see a part of their story. Or end up constantly switching characters in and out of your party, so the companions are present for the dialogues that are important for their personal stories.

The game is fun no doubt. The loot is not and the boxes are not. After Act I, I have given up on any container that is not a box or chest, and locked or hidden away in a hard to get to place. I like RPGs for several reasons, 1) leveling up makes it feel as if your character is improving and growing BG3 has that, 2) story, who doesn't want to know how a story ends BG3 has that, and 3) phat loot.

Loot is where BG3 dropped the ball. I think the combat scenarios could have been tougher if the loot had been better. I'm midway? through Act II and though I have improved a few pieces of gear per character, I feel like I might as well be in the same crappy clothes I started the game in. The gear just isn't that much better.

I'll be honest, for my money, DOS2 was a better game. Maybe I'm just not a fan of D&D or BG3 is not as good of a game. I was hyped for BG3 now I feel like DOS3 will be a better experience at least for me.
I cant disagree more on the loot. You get some extremely powerful items in Act 1 and Act 2. And Act 3 you get some pretty busted items. The int crown, the helm that gives arcane acuity, the CHA cantrip chest, the radiant explosian chest, the legendary raidant mace that trivliazes all of Act 2, lightening immunity boots, the gloves that make summons immune to all damage types except for psychic are just a few I can think of that you can get by early Act 2.

The lightening immunity boots for example can be combined with the armor pieces that grant the extra lightening damage charges on attacks on a lightening sorc/tempest cleric build who can then inflict the wet status and then clear entire groups of enemies with a single chain lightening spell that deals double damage +however many stacks of jolt or whatever that status effect is called.

BG3 has so much loot you can base entire builds around like that. There is too much junk loot but I don't know how you can say the gear isn't powerful enough.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool