How Baldur’s Gate 3 set the new experience for games


Tasha Acres (she/her) explores the reason for the searing popularity of Larian studios’ Baldur's Gate 3

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Image by Larian Studios Presskit

By Tasha Acres

When Baldur’s Gate 3 was released last summer, the gaming industry wasn’t prepared for what was about to hit them. Much less, Larian Studios, the game’s developer. Both returning fans — many of whom had purchased the game’s early access — and new fans were anticipating the plunge into the land of Faerûn, ready to cre-ate their perfect character: their Tav. The game’s popularity exponentially increased and the fanbase began to grow; video essays began to emerge on Youtube asserting its perfection, articles from game journalists flooded the Internet with hidden tips, and memes started to infiltrate algorithms. A good handful of these essayists and gamers are newcomers, and have started their content with a very similar sentence about their first RPG: “I really didn’t think it would be my thing... but I loved it.”
As someone whose experience with RPGs is limited to Skyrim, The Outer Worlds, and Fallout 4(which I am perhaps controversially listing here) I was somewhat familiar with the format, yet still, whatever expectations I had were exceeded. Like the aforementioned content creators, I fell into the game completely, admiring its narrative, its pages and pages of lore, and the pure wealth of content that’s available to you. It’s clear that this is a game thoughtfully and dutifully made to enhance your experience. Many reviwers praise similar elements, but this evidently emphasises the impact that these features had on its players; Baldur’s Gate has set a new standard for RPGs and, perhaps, the gaming industry entirely.
According to the Baldur’s GateX (formerly Twitter) account, on the second weekend of launch players had already spent over 88 hours in character creation. It truly is one of the most complex character creators in an RPG; the vast amount of options are there for you to cre-ate your perfect character, from appearance to classes and races, and it succeeds in almost every way. Your character’s backstory can shine through their appearance, so that they are exactly as you imagine them, making the game far more immersive. Immersion is exactly what the game excels at, and something that is so important for a video game to achieve, given that for so many, gaming is a form of escapism. I’m sure you can imagine that the genre of an RPG would high-light this criteria, making it easy for critics to find a fault, but Baldur’s Gate doesn’t falter. It’s easy to be immersed in a game with so much lore and world building — you can speak to every character, make even the smallest choices, and choose which rela-tionships you want to pursue.
It helps that the game is based on the fifth edition of the popular tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons, successfully bringing the game to life in a way that I’ve never experienced before. Detroit: Become Human was one of the first choice based narrative games that I’d ever played, but Baldur’s Gate 3 is infinitely more complex; every player’s experience is different and replaying the game won’t dilute one’s experience. Its characters are three dimensional, with their own distinct personalities that feel so vivid, and the size of the world that you can roam through on your terms is immense.
The outstanding creative content itself is not the only precedent that Larian studios has set. The game arrives during the age of micro-transactions, therein which it stands out simply because it has none. When you buy the game, you own it entirely: there’s no pay to win, or pay to get a better experience. Any future downloadable content will presumably be on the Playstation store, but my point is that you don’t have to pay for better armour or weapons through the game, and so it feels entirely complete. Every playable character, every upgrade, every reroll of the dice is of no extra charge to you, and it’s an incredible shame that this makes the game unique, when it should be the trend instead. However, it’s an unfortunate reality that over the last decade studios have tried to squeeze every last penny out of their customers.
 In the midst of all this praise, it’s still curious how this game is now beloved by so many new-comers. What caught their attention? Crucially, because turn-based gameplay, mirroring that of a tabletop game, isn’t very common in video games and is perhaps less attractive to gamers who are used to FPS style gameplay. Firstly, I’d suggest that the recent popularity of Stranger Things had already introduced many of their fans to the world of Dungeons & Dragons, sparking an interest in a board game they either didn’t know existed or had written off as one they could never imagine themselves playing – as a video game, it’s been made entirely accessible for those who don’t know anything about the tabletop game and even allows one to play solo. The use of the dice roll system is also unique for a video game, bolstering the tabletop playstyle and keeping players on their toes. For others, the sheer freedom of the game was attractive: the developers thought through every possible choice a player might have, and they wrote extensive plot points to ensure every player’s experience was enjoyable, which other RPGs have struggled with. For one scenario, there are several ways to proceed – from poisoning a punch bowl to lighting a grease fire. The creativity that players have to invent new ways of approaching these scenarios makes every player’s journey unique. Additionally, in many other RPGS or narrative based games, the mechanics don’t allow you to attack allies — in Baldur’s Gate your ability to choose which characters live through the plot allows you to feel as if you’re making a difference in the world, furthering your immersion into the game. Perhaps new fans of Baldur’s Gate will also turn with curiosity to play Dungeons & Dragons for themselves, facilitating yet another form of escapism that we’re all so desperate for during a time of global unease.
After the game’s release, Belgian developer Larian Studios collected more awards than they could imagine: in the 2023 Game Awards, they won eight awards, including the prestigious Game of the Year. It seems like this game impressed everyone, where new and old Dungeons & Dragons fans are able to fall in love with a detailed world and characters that feel so alive.