After watching two hours of Baldur’s Gate 3 gameplay, it’s hard not to compare it to Larian’s most recent RPG-darling, Divinity: Original Sin 2. But BG3 is not simply Baldur’s Gate: Original Sin –it builds upon and morphs DOS2’s isometric turn-based RPG system into a gorgeous world, touched – well, more like bathed – in Dungeons & Dragons’ current rules, systems, and lore.
As someone who loves Original Sin 2 and D&D, I’m absolutely on board for all of it.
My heart is telling me to start with the D&D nerdery, but, damn, Baldur’s Gate 3 is beautiful. Definitely watch the full video preview above to get a sense of what it looks like, and the full cinematic below.
Sure, we saw a few hiccups here and there, like admittedly misbehaving hair, but since our preview build was running on what’s basically a whole new engine we were reminded Baldur’s Gate 3 is “still very much in development.
While some elements have been ripped straight from the last iteration of Larian’s engine – like the 2-player local, 4-player online co-op multiplayer – Baldur’s Gate’s new rule system, its entire cinematic pipeline, and – to quote Larian directly – a “shitload” of features added on top that aren’t finished yet, are all new updates. A lot of these changes are visual – like a new dialog-driven cinematic camera, and a zoomed-in “almost-third-person” camera-view option – but some of the bigger differences are mechanical.
For starters, verticality plays a major role in Baldur’s Gate 3 – with many environments comprised of three or four layers in the same space. Players can hide in the rafters, or explore seemingly unreachable areas that require creativity – like a risky jump – to access. And though it seems like a small addition, stacking boxes to leap up vertical levels opens up a legitimate new exploration tool.
This adds yet another layer of gameplay, too, because from what we saw, nearly every object in Baldur’s Gate 3 can be manipulated. Hanging candelabras, for example, are atmospheric, sure, but they’re also begging to be dropped onto enemies stupid enough to stand underneath them. If environmental traps aren’t your thing, you can dip your bow into fire to acquire flaming arrows (that can light flammable materials like barrels of smokepowder), or find alternate entries into dungeons by using a rock slide to smash a hole in the ceiling. Baldur’s Gate 3 is full of these little flourishes that emphasize the creativity at the heart of Dungeons & Dragons.
Combat can be just as creative as exploration, too. In one instance, we saw Vincke separate his rouge from the rest of the party, and while the rogue snuck up behind a bandit as insurance, he moved the rest of his party in plain sight. He attempted to persuade the bandits to leave through conversation, but (thanks to some unlucky dice) failed spectacularly, leaving him no choice but to fight. When the battle began, his rouge was still waiting patiently behind a bandit, whom he shoved off the ledge to the floor below in a surprise attack. It’s this sort of team strategizing that can really affect the outcome of the battle.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Gameplay Screenshots
Roll for Initiative
Now, onto the D&D nerdery: I was first drawn to Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin 2 because I heard it was a great digital D&D substitute (complete with couch co-op!). Starved for a tabletop environment after having recently moved away from my regular group, I picked it up with a partner and had an absolute blast. Sure, there were no dice-rolls to get excited about or any specific D&D lore, but its strategic turn-based gameplay and outside-the-box ingenuity had me feeling like I was playing a homebrewed tabletop RPG with my friends.
Baldur’s Gate 3 convincingly offers to up the ante, taking that feeling and dragging it into the legitimate Dungeons & Dragons video game experience. That’s not easy to do.
Something Larian repeated over and over during our demois that they aim to be your Dungeon Master, and you’re playing in their home D&D game. There are some house rules, of course, but nothing too far out of bounds. Everything they’ve tweaked or added for the sake of making a compelling video game has been vetted by Wizards of the Coast, so you’re still getting the authentic D&D experience.
Some of these tweaks are technically already in D&D as variant rules, and the others are not unlike the house-rules a tabletop DM might come up with. For example, shoving an enemy off a cliff or throwing an object in D&D replaces your attack action, but in Baldur’s Gate 3, it won’t (at least for now; part of Larian’s goal with early access is to make sure they find the right mechanical balance in combat).
“It’s really kind of in service to give the players more to do in their turn, and more options to play with,” explained combat designer Matt Holland. “Especially for some of the B-league classes in the early game. They don’t have a lot to do with their turn, so we want to make sure that they have other options.”
If you’ve played Divinity: Original Sin 2 or Dungeons & Dragons, you’ll probably be right at home with the turn-based combat system of Baldur’s Gate 3. When combat begins, you have a certain amount of movement to spend, and a limited amount of actions to perform (like a shove, melee attack, or a long-range magical Firebolt, arrow or buffing spell) every round for each character in your party. It sounds simple enough, but strategically placing your characters and devising how best to gain advantage against your opponents plays a big part in Baldur’s Gate 3 – even bigger than in Divinity Original Sin 2.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Cinematic Screenshot Gallery
Perhaps the most important variant rule Larian is adopting is that Baldur’s Gate 3 uses team-based turns instead of individual turns. Vincke explained this not only speeds up gameplay considerably and allows you to maximize your party’s combat effectiveness, but also allows for more coordinated strategies in multiplayer, too.
“Suddenly, you’re much more engaged with each other,” Vincke said. “…which is very similar to what’s happening at the [D&D] table.”
That connection to the tabletop game is front-and-center in so many of Baldur’s Gate 3’s mechanics and systems. It’s loaded with luck-of-the-die skill checks being decided by the on-screen d20 — but even if you don’t care about the inner workings of the game or the math behind the scenes, watching that die spin in a tense moment infectiously trains you to react to rolls just like you would at the D&D table.
On a critical success, a golden D20 flashes on the screen, and the audience during our demo all reacted accordingly with cheers and applause. On a critical failure (a one on a dice roll), the room audibly groaned in anticipation for the great consequences to come.
Larian is so clearly trying to replicate the spirit of playing D&D with your friends, about the only thing missing is tossing out a set of misbehaving dice.
As with Divinity: Original Sin 2, Baldur’s Gate 3 provides couch-co-op for up to two players, and online co-op for a party of four, with an easy drop-in-and-out system. And Larian has been developing BG3 with co-op and streaming play in mind, allowing your teammates to see your dialogue options and dramatic cutscenes. For example, if you’re playing Astarion the vampire spawn – which is one of several preset character origins you can select for a more crafted story, just like in Original Sin 2 – your party will be able to see you debating whether or not to feed on them at night for a delicious, blood-soaked buff the next day.
And though they were tight-lipped about the details, Larian plans to integrate a system for live stream audiences to actually participate – and sometimes even control – the player’s dice rolls, which introduces a whole other level of communal play. Read Baldur’s Gate 3 Devs on Stadia-Exclusive Features and Early Access Plans or watch the video above for more detailed information.
I could go on about Baldur’s Gate 3 for ages. I could talk about the fully voice-acted forests of branching dialogue trees, the 1.5 million word-and-counting script, the staggering offshoots of storylines to uncover, ignore, or actively destroy in an instant, or the detailed character creator, and so. much. more.
But for now, I’ll end it here – these are only my first impressions, and as Baldur’s Gate 3 is still very much in development, things are apt to change. You’ll be able to play sooner than you think, too, as Baldur’s Gate 3 is set to hit Early Access later this year. And I, for one, cannot wait, even if it means buying into a streaming service like Stadia to participate.
For more on Baldur’s Gate 3, make sure to read Baldur’s Gate 3 Devs on Stadia-Exclusive Features and Early Access Plans and Baldur’s Gate 3 Aims to Capture the Dungeons & Dragons Spirit.
Casey DeFreitas is an Editor at IGN who plays D&D about eight hours a week, consistently, every Saturday. Catch her on Twitter @ShinyCaseyD.