Baldur’s Gate 3: Five key takeaways from the PAX East 2020 gameplay reveal

Going old school.
baldurs gate 3 early access 2020 larian studios Baldur's Gate 3

Larian Studios’ Swen Vincke treated a packed theater at PAX East 2020 to the first gameplay showing of Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s been a long, long time since the original series of games set the gold standard of Dungeons and Dragons based CRPGs and firmly established the “BioWare style” when it came to storytelling and companion NPCs. We’ve had quite the wait for a sequel, but the maker of the critically acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin 2 have shown us what it’s doing with the D&D license, live and without even a save function!

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Kudos to Swen for having the courage to confront the dreaded intellect devourers in an early battle and taking a total party kill in his stride. In fine Dungeons and Dragons tradition, the screw-ups are all part of the fun.

Straight off the bat, we know that Baldur’s Gate 3 is going to be a seriously pretty game. From the lush wilderness to the flickering flames that light the dark dungeon depths. But other than a Dungeons and Dragons PC game in modern dressing, what are we getting with Baldur’s Gate 3? Here are a few impressions from the demo.

Tons and tons of character options

Baldur's Gate 3 Pax 2020 Character Creation

A range of D&D races, horny ones included, are in Baldur’s Gate 3.

Dungeons and Dragons, currently in its 5th edition, has accumulated many different race and class options for player characters over the years. From the glimpse of the character creator that we saw in Larian’s teaser, it looks like Baldur’s Gate 3 will offer the full gamut. This goes far beyond the typical fantasy tropes that older D&D established (human, elf, dwarf, halfling) and includes weird and wonderful options like githzerai and tieflings, races associated with the outer planes.

Swen mentioned that there are still more race options to add (and I should hope that my beloved half-orcs will be among them). Suffice to say that if you want to replicate your favorite tabletop characters in this game, it looks like you’ll be able to, be they Rogar the human fighter #2267464 or the most special of snowflakes.

As is the case with Divinity: Original Sin 2, there are premade characters with specific origin stories that appear to come with special interactions. Vincke’s chosen character, an elf vampire spawn, had dialogue options related to his condition, and certain restrictions such as not being able to cross running water. Just like with Divinity: Original Sin 2, these premade characters don’t have to be the main character, they can instead join as companions in the party.

Illithids and intellect devourers and githyanki, oh my!

Baldur's Gate 3 Pax 2020 Cinematic

Could she be a worthy gith companion to succeed Planescape‘s Dak’kon?

Illithids, the iconic D&D tentacle-faced psychic freaks known as mind flayers, were teased as part of Baldur’s Gate 3 from the announcement trailer. The action-packed cutscene shown at the demo clarified the role these monsters play in the main story. The starting characters are implanted with a tadpole, the larval form of the monster that slowly transforms its host into a mature mind flayer.

With a flying tentacle ship pursued by dragon-riding githyanki, it reminds me a lot of the Silver Age era of D&D, when the tabletop game moved away from being a general-purpose fantasy game and leaned into its original creatures and settings like Spelljammer and Planescape. Nary a space hamster in sight, however, giant or miniature.

Yes, it’s going to be a lot like Divinity: Original Sin 2

Baldurs Gate 3 Pax East 2020 Vincke gameplay 1

Baldur’s Gate 3 does look a lot like Larian’s last RPG, but that’s no bad thing.

And plenty of people in the chat were going on like it’s a bad thing. It’s hard not to notice the Divinity DNA all over the demo. The aesthetic, the UI, as well as gameplay elements like environmental interactions. What really had people howling was the use of turn-based combat. Yours truly is an old-school Baldur’s Gate obsessive and I don’t see a problem with that.

Actual games of Dungeons and Dragons are turn-based and smart players make use of their environments to survive. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one of the best CRPGs ever released, so I can’t blame Larian for trying to keep the best of what it already knows.

It’s Dungeons and Dragons alright, D20s and all

Baldurs Gate 3 Pax East 2020 Vincke gameplay 5

Ah, a classic line-up of classes in Baldur’s Gate 3.

Seeing that 20-sided die roll on-screen just warms an old gamer’s heart, doesn’t it? Most of the combat numbers appeared to be converted into percentage chances, but D&D without polyhedral dice just ain’t it. Larian is staying as true to the tabletop game as it can.

Characters in Baldur’s Gate 3 progress in classes (fighter, wizard, rogue, cleric, etc) rather than the more free-form point allocation of the Divinity games. Alignment is also to play a role, although Vincke has said that it won’t be as strict a system as we might be used to in Dungeons and Dragons. The old Baldur’s Gate games either had alignment strictly lock you out of certain things or often not matter at all when it should have done. Hopefully, we’ll see a more organic interpretation from Larian.

Characters be camping

Baldurs Gate 3 Pax East 2020 Vincke gameplay 2

Characters with charisma should have plenty of options to chat up NPCs in Baldur’s Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate is beloved for its colorful companion characters, especially in the sequels. Baldur’s Gate 3 has already shown us a gith warrior and an elven cleric as potential partners in adventure. From what we’ve seen, the interaction can be quite sophisticated. You can be open or secretive with the information you disclose to them, with story consequences down the line. Vincke has even mentioned that he could feed off his companion’s blood while she rested at camp.

Speaking of camp, it seems that the camp will act as a hub for character development through fireside chats. This seems very reminiscent of Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare’s “spiritual successor” to the Baldur’s Gate series. But this time things are going to be more complicated than feeding your crush their favorite cookies until smooching occurs. Probably. Better than your cleric pausing a battle to discuss their daddy issues in the middle of combat. Yes, I’m still mad about that, Anomen!

All in all, it looks like Baldur’s Gate 3 is stepping up to the challenge of being the definitive D&D game for the new generation. Baldur’s Gate 3 will enter early access later this year. If Vincke’s performance is anything to go by, it looks fun in triumph and disaster alike.

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Nicholas Montegriffo
Born and bred on the Rock of Gibraltar, Nicholas left his tranquil homeland to become a wandering ronin in the digital media wars. Nicholas has a lot of opinions about RPGs both dicey and digital, armchair strategy, and the rules of Mortal Kombat. In his spare time, he's a mean DM, a connoisseur of chili peppers and a wannabe VR cyborg.