We typically publish our review roundups within a couple of days of a title's release. But things have been a bit different with Baldur's Gate 3.
Developer Larian cut it pretty close to its PC launch date of August 3 when it came to sending review codes, plus Baldur's Gate 3 is a game of epic proportions – which means most publications have either waited to publish their thoughts, or published reviews in progress.
For the past ten days, the industry has almost been holding its breath to see whether Baldur's Gate 3's near perfect Metacritic score would drop down as more reviews were starting to appear. And as the dust is starting to settle, it's fair to say the verdict is unanimous: with a metascore of 97 at the time of writing, Baldur's Gate 3 is currently the best-rated game of the year.
This is based on 36 critic reviews. For the sake of fairness, we'll clarify that 2023's second best rated title, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, has a metascore of 96 based on 145 critic reviews. So things could still change as more articles pop up.
But it is unequivocal that Larian has managed a real tour de force with Baldur's Gate 3, crowning a very long development cycle and three years of Steam Early Access.
"Baldur's Gate 3 feels a little bit like Larian has accomplished the impossible," said Ali Jones in his 5/5 review for GamesRadar. "This is an entire, years-long pen-and-paper roleplaying campaign realized in beautiful fidelity. It's not just the borrowing of a ruleset, it's an understanding of what D&D is down to the most intricate detail, the result of a genuine passion for its source material writ large across the years-long work of a staff of hundreds.
"At a time when Dungeons & Dragons boasts a popularity unknown at any other time in its 50-year history, Baldur's Gate 3 will stand alongside the best of the best; with Curse of Strahd, Critical Role, and its own beloved predecessors. By any metric, it's not just one of the best D&D games or best RPGs ever made – it's a new gold standard by which the entire genre, if not an entire industry, will be measured."
The CRPG, based on Wizards of the Coast's Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition ruleset, is set 120 years after 2000's Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, and sees players investigating a situation that's left them infested with a parasite slowly transforming them (and other survivors) into tentacled creatures called mind flayers.
Baldur's Gate 3's faithfulness to its source material is one of its greatest blessings but, as with any adaptation of a tabletop RPG, that can also mean a bit of a learning curve for newcomers unfamiliar with D&D systems, reviewers noted.
"You make a character by picking from different fantastical species (tree elf, rude elf, lizard person, etc) and classes such as monks, druids, and clerics," Alice Bell explained in her review for Rock Paper Shotgun, giving Larian's title a 'RPS Bestest Bests' badge. "You've got your initiative rolls, your movement speeds, your long and short rests, death saves, and proficiencies. If you're unfamiliar, then I recommend the lower difficulty setting for your first playthrough, because it still presents a challenge."
In his 4.5/5 review for Gamerant, Shane Robert Moyer noted that Baldur's Gate 3's systems "will have both lovers and haters," with very little in-between.
"Some will love the complexity and watching the various systems react in a multitude of ways to their character's choices," he added. "Others will find it intimidating or downright boring to constantly be watching numbers switch around when all they want is to know if an item is better than what they currently have."
He continued: "Larian Studios has made efforts to streamline the learning process, but there will be a lot of trial and error in order to discover exactly how things work. All that is to say, if users commit to learning the various systems, they will be rewarded with a video game experience that's rare in the current gaming landscape."
Prior to BG3's full launch, Larian announced that the title had 174 hours of cinematics, which gives an indication of its sheer size. But it's not just about its expansive world – as reviewers noted, it's also that every part of it is full of life (and death), varied encounters and experiences. All of which can be quite uniquely shaped by the player's choices and playstyle.
"Fully exploring each map will take you a while (I'd estimate about 25 hours per act, give or take) but you are rewarded for your efforts," Bell wrote. "Though Baldur's Gate 3 is large, it's much more focused than other open world adventures where I have complained about them being big for the sake of it. This game doesn't have a population of endlessly regenerating boars or skeletons for you to XP farm; you won't find any orphaned goatherd begging you to collect his half a dozen chamois or he will literally die. The number of encounters is fixed and intentional. Diligent exploration rewards the curious with secret cliff paths that you can jump to, and which lead to hidden encounters and back routes into locked areas."
In his unrated review for Kotaku, Kenneth Shepard said that Baldur's Gate 3 "is so much more than a tactical RPG."
"It gives you a series of tools that you're free to use however you like with minimal restrictions," he explained. "It feels like an immersive sim, in that it encourages creative problem-solving by leveraging the environment just as much as your abilities. Once I finally realized I didn't have to be in combat to use my abilities, the potential of my team's capabilities opened up in my mind. I started approaching situations realizing I didn't have to take the most obvious route."
"It feels like an immersive sim, in that it encourages creative problem-solving by leveraging the environment just as much as your abilities"Kenneth Shepard, Kotaku
He continued: "By the end, Baldur's Gate 3 was a game of making decisions and living with them, but realizing there was probably a strategy I either didn't think of or didn't have the resources for that could have fundamentally changed an encounter or story beat."
Jones concurred, saying it proved hard to wrap his head around "the sheer variety of ways in which its first act can reach its conclusion." He was impressed by the versatility of the title's critical path overall, and how seemingly minor interactions can lead to entire new storylines revealing themselves.
"Baldur's Gate 3 feels so rare – a game that delivers not only on the D&D ruleset, but on the whole ideal of a roleplaying experience. After 130 hours with Baldur's Gate 3, I've found myself struck over and over by its breadth, depth, and density."
Bell noted that BG3 has "no baggy excess" and that nothing is "wasted" either, with every detail carefully thought through and potentially leading to more surprises down the road.
Whether or not it accurately manages to convey the feeling of gathering at a table to play D&D was at the core of many reviews, with Shepard noting that it's an impossible feat, but that Larian comes pretty damn close.
"Ultimately, as a video game that has to be programmed by people and therefore beholden to the finite possibilities the makers at Larian Studios were able to account for, it can't quite match the expansive breadth of possibility that comes from a group of friends gathered around a table, riffing on each other's ideas and 'yes-anding' into different scenarios that completely derail the original plan. But damn, Baldur's Gate 3 sure does a stellar job of emulating the concept."
Combat is still a big part of Baldur's Gate 3, with reviewers again mentioning its learning curve for non-initiated players. But it is also "immensely satisfying," Bell wrote.
"The systems that interlock and interact, from your character stats, to in-world elemental effects, to those gloves you have that let you snatch arrows out of the air, are really good fun once you have a firm grasp of the nettle. Every fight is different thanks to a variety of enemies with their own spells and immunities, but also due to the landscape itself."
Shepard also mentioned the satisfaction of how "all these interconnected systems fit together."
"With each level gained, my team unlocked new abilities that opened up new dimensions to a game that was already threatening to overwhelm me," he said. "Even as I fell into combat patterns and bread-and-butter combos, if I hovered over a new ability long enough, my mind would race with all the ways I could use it to expand my huge arsenal."
"Baldur's Gate 3 feels so rare – a game that delivers not only on the D&D ruleset, but on the whole ideal of a roleplaying experience"Ali Jones, Gamesradar
He continued: "Experimental thinking is key to navigating the world and fighting your way through it. Baldur's Gate 3 isn't a grindy RPG. In fact, your character can only reach level 12, but each new level is a significant leap for your arsenal. Succeeding in a combat encounter is almost never a matter of being underleveled, it's about being underprepared and having no plan. The hardest fights in Baldur's Gate 3 weren't because I was overpowered by my enemies; they were because I was outplayed by them."
To venture forth, the player is helped by a cast of romanceable companions that's been repeatedly cited as a highlight, supported by excellent voice acting throughout.
"It might sound cliché and is a worn-out trope in RPGs, but some of the characters that join in the adventure are uniquely memorable," Moyer said. "It's hard to not spoil the various character's stories without talking even just a little bit about them, but there will be a few that impact players' emotional levels to the point they will be remembered after the game is over."
Looking at the few downsides, most reviewers mentioned some minor bugs, though most of them seemingly resolved by the first patch. Shepard also mentioned that Baldur's Gate 3's "depth comes at cost," with a lack of clarity in places, in particular in the game's journal, which he said was "especially vague."
Overwhelmingly, reviewers have been won over by Larian's adventure. So have a wealth of players. And that's mainly because it did not feel like Larian's adventure but theirs.
But because the internet can't let us have good things in peace, it did spark a debate about the implications of Baldur's Gate 3 'creating a new standard for RPGs', which included pitting devs against each other and making unhelpful comparisons.
As Shepherd put it: "It's unreasonable to hold other RPGs to such a standard. As others have said, Baldur's Gate 3 is an anomaly in how games of this scope are developed. This only happens when a studio has years of development time and an early access period in which to work out its vision alongside a tuned-in community.
"High quality and astoundingly fun, Baldur's Gate 3 may just become the kind of game that old and new fans can agree is something extraordinary"Shane Robert Moyer, Gamerant
"If nothing else, it's less a new standard to hold other games to and more a reminder that the industry seldom lets games cook this long to achieve the things Baldur's Gate 3 does. It's a shining example of both the limitations of video games as we know them, and the possibilities they can hold."
Concluding his review, Moyer confirmed that "Baldur's Gate 3 is something special."
"Its complexity is intimidating, but sticking with it and learning has such a high reward threshold that it's hard to not recommend the sequel to even the most casual gamers out there. It has heart, it has style, and it has the multi-year effort of a studio that obviously loves its source material."
He added: "The blend of the various Dungeon & Dragons systems into the game is almost flawless in its execution, and the math and storytelling combo does a one-two punch on almost every other RPG game out there. High quality and astoundingly fun, Baldur's Gate 3 may just become the kind of game that old and new fans can agree is something extraordinary."
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