It’s fair to say that I am very much looking forward to Baldur’s Gate III. A mere 20 years (really?) since its predecessor was released, the upcoming title from Larian Studios is an exciting prospect for both existing Baldur’s Gate fans and role-playing game aficionados more generally.
Based on Dungeons & Dragons rules and lore, the original Baldur’s Gate games were what made the reputation of their developers, Bioware. In many ways, they became the archetype for the later games from that studio; complex, engaging stories set in an epic world, populated by interesting characters. Games which offered flexibility and choice in the decisions you made, allowing you to develop your own character and their relationships, even romances. The games were hugely successful and are still well-regarded today, particularly Baldur’s Gate II.
Several attempts have been made at developing Baldur’s Gate III. A third entry was first announced way back in 2002, and was to be developed by Black Isle Studios. They had originally published the first two entries, and also developed Icewind Dale, another D&D-based RPG. Licensing issues meant that there’d be little to no relationship with the original titles though. Ultimately, financial problems at Black Isle owner Interplay eventually ended both the game and Black Isle itself.
Black Isle personnel later formed Obsidian Entertainment (Fallout: New Vegas, The Outer Worlds), who also pitched for BGIII. So did InXile (Wasteland 3, Torment: Tides of Numenera) and Beamdog, who developed recent ‘enhanced editions’ of Baldur’s Gate I and II. Eventually though, Larian Studios, developer of the Divintity: Original Sin games, landed the project.
But 20 years is a long time, particularly in video games. D&D itself has changed a lot too, and has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity. As such, Baldur’s Gate III will need to meet the expectations of a new audience, while still satisfying long-standing fans of the series. So how are they planning on doing it? Well, let’s run though what to expect:
Fifth Edition Ruleset
The Baldur’s Gate games have always been based on the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset; the most venerable and venerated of all the table-top RPGs. However, those rules have altered over time. The first two games in the series were based on the ‘Advanced D&D’ Second Edition rules. Three different editions of the rules have been published since, with the Fifth Edition being in place since 2014.
The Fifth Edition has proven wildly popular, boosted by YouTube channels like Critical Role. And of course, Stranger Things has made D&D cool – or at least ‘nerd cool’. As such, it makes complete sense for BGIII to use Fifth Edition rules. Larian seems to be trying hard to get as much of the ruleset into the game as possible, so if, like me, you’ve got into D&D in recent years, then hopefully there’ll be a lot about BGIII which is already familiar.
The Bhaalspawn Saga Is Over
[Spoiler alert for a 22-year-old game]
The original titles cast your protagonist in the role of a Bhaalspawn. According to D&D lore, Bhaal is/was the God of Murder. He foresaw his own killing during the Time of Troubles – a period where all the Gods were cast out of their home planes of existence and made mortal. Being a sneaky sort, Bhaal came up with a plan to spawn as many mortal children as possible, each of whom would carry a piece of his godly essence. In time, these could be gathered and used to restore the dead God to life.
The Throne of Bhaal expansion to BGII saw this narrative resolved, with either the protagonist ascending to godhood or the (sort of) canonical ending where your character renounces their divine heritage entirely. Regardless, Fifth Edition D&D sees Bhaal alive once more. Also, BGIII is set 100 years after the events of BGII, so in spite of the number in the game’s title, it’s not a direct sequel in terms of plot.
That said, Larian has stated that BGIII will have references to the earlier games. Apparently you won’t have to have played them to understand what’s happening in this new instalment, but if you have then there’ll be stuff there for you to appreciate. Larian have also indicated that there will be some returning characters. The in-story time gap may rule out characters from shorter-lived races; however, established D&D human explorer Volothamp ‘Volo’ Geddarm does re-appear. Although that is apparently the result of lore-based magical shenanigans…
A Change To Look And Feel
The original Baldur’s Gate games, along with their D&D-based stablemates Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment, all had a distinct appearance. This was the result of them all being built using Bioware’s Infinity Engine, and it’s a look that was deliberately replicated by Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity series. Up to now, those games were the closest thing to a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate.
However, Larian is using an updated version of the engine used for Divinity: Original Sin 2. It gives the game a very different vibe to its predecessors, and some have raised worries that BGIII will feel more like a Divinity game than a Baldur’s Gate game. However, having played and enjoyed the recent PoE and Divinity releases, the Divinity engine actually feels like a better fit for a D&D-based game.
I believe it offers more opportunity for using your environment to get an edge, for finding clever/cheesy solutions to tricky combat – much like D&D! For example, they’ve developed it to allow players to sneak up on enemies and punt them off a high wall, which is something I’ll be doing as often as possible. It might take some getting used to, but I think it’ll be a positive change overall.
Cinematic cut-scenes for dialogue are also a welcome introduction. This may seem like an obvious inclusion, but they weren’t in Divinity: OS2, never mind in the previous Baldur’s Gate titles. I was most amused to hear that one of the things Larian is having to ensure is that cinematics all play out properly, whether your character is a three-foot high Halfling or a six-foot Elf.
Gather Your Party, Then Flirt With Them
As well as your own protagonist, you’ll be recruiting adventuring companions. Your fellow adventurers will of course have their own personalities and preferences. They’ll be judging your actions and decisions as you go along, and they won’t necessarily like what they see.
Earlier entries in the series had some wonderful party NPCs – the warrior Minsc and his Miniature Giant Space Hamster, Boo, being the most beloved. Larian seem intent on ensuring that BGIII is similarly populated by interesting characters. You’ll be able to develop relationships with them, and romance is definitely on the cards.
It remains to be seen exactly how all this will play out, although the camp seems set to be an important setting. The camp is reminiscent of a similar system in Dragon Age, another Bioware series. It’s where players and their companions get together, have a nice chat, rest, sort their gear and generally catch-up. Hopefully BGIII’s relationships won’t be quite so dependent on giving the “correct” gifts to your party members.
Multiplayer support is going to be much more extensive in BGIII. BGII did actually have a multiplayer option, although it was relatively limited in scope. Larian has form for running multiplayer in their games, with the first Original Sin game in particular set-up with full co-op in mind from the outset.
Multiplayer won’t be available in the initial launch of early access, but it promises to enable a lot of independence for each player. For example, cut-scenes will only run for players engaged in that conversation – others can run around doing whatever they choose. That does include knifing the NPC being talked to in the back though, so maybe consider who it is you’re inviting. Nobody wants to bring a muderhobo to their pacifist playthrough.
I’m excited. You can probably tell. Baldur’s Gate III early access is (currently) due to launch on October 6th. It’s been delayed a few times, but Larian seem relatively confident about the latest date. It’s due to include the around 25 hours of content at launch, along with a limited number of races, classes and companions. I’m a little torn as to whether I want to jump in right away, or save myself for the full release. That’s some way off though, and frankly I think I’ve already waited long enough for another entry in the Baldur’s Gate series!