Flexibility is a hallmark of Larian Studios‘ design in its Divinity: Original Sin series. The stories offer branching paths, your companions change how you approach situations, and the character creator offers a mind-boggling amount of combinations.
And you see most of this in the Steam Early Access slice of Baldur’s Gate III. I’ve spent about 12 hours with it, and all of this is in the opening act of this Dungeons & Dragons-based role-playing game. I’ve already discovered several areas that give you multiple ways to tackle challenges, interesting and fun conversations and strategies that come from tinkering with your party makeup, and a strong character creator that, once full of all of 5th Edition’s classes, cultures, and backgrounds, will offer variety we’ve come to expect not just from D&D but Larian as well.
Exploring the tomb you see in the studio’s gameplay debut stream is just one example of this.
In my first run, I encountered a band of loot-hungry adventurers in some gods-forsaken dungeon. I’d entered the tomb from a hole I had created, dropping into an abandoned bedroom. This led to a challenging fight, and once I clobbered my foes, two of my companions were on death’s door.
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One of the best aspects of combat in Original Sin is here in Baldur’s Gate III: using the environment against your foes. I found some alien-like projectiles while escaping from the mind flayer nautiloid (either in chests or on the bodies of dead illithids) at the game’s beginning. I discovered that if you throw these, they’d act like grenades, causing a bit of damage. But they also leave a viscous, flammable fluid on the ground. So I tossed a couple of these bulbs at my foes, and then I lit their world on fire. But they came back at me, storming into the bedroom (I was trying to hide in corners so their mage and archers couldn’t see me through the doorway) and then downing two members of my party.
The second time around went down quite different.
I’d found a new way into the tomb, one far away from this encounter and closer to the dungeon’s end (which I’d learned from my first run through it). I swept through it backward, gathering some better equipment and gear. As I neared the entrance and this ambush, I’d realized I’d come from a different direction and ambushed them, gaining surprise. I made a key backstab with Astarion (a rogue), silenced their mage, and again coated the floor with viscous fluid and set it on fire. This time, I didn’t even take a hit.
One thing that helps open up exploration: jumping.
Take the leap
You don’t get to jump in many RPGs, and this is something that’s been missing from the likes of past D&D video games like Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, and other party-based old school games. And in Baldur’s Gate III, jumping helps you reach all sorts of places.
Let’s return to that tomb. After leaving a druid’s grove, I went out exploring, thinking I’d see what I could find before entering that tomb through the hole in the bedroom ceiling I had earlier found. Nearby that part of the ruins, I found a side area I could explore by jumping on some rocks. I discovered an entrance that brought me into a sealed room. I never figured out how to get into it the first time I explored the tomb. But this time, when I entered the dungeon, I found myself in a room I hadn’t been in before. And after I opened the door, I figured out it was that area.
Jumping also helps you find secrets. The region is full of places in which you can reach by jumping or climbing. I found a couple of Harper caches this way (the Harpers are the faction of good-aligned folk in the Forgotten Realms).
The Z axis is important in combat, too. When you gain the high ground, you get bonuses to your attacks. This also means you can feel a bit freer to turn the surface below into an acidic, wet, and/or fiery mess; you won’t damage your friends if they’re above the fray.
My favorite part is using the Shove action to push foes off the high ground. In one fight, I sent my character (a Tiefling warlock) and Astarion on a bluff above a battlefield. An ornery bugbear chased me up here, and when he got to the top, I had my warlock give them a nudge over the ledge. The bugbear fell, taking damage and leaving a small pool of blood on the ground. The next turn, they shook off their prone condition from the fall and climbed back up … only for my warlock to push the brute over the edge once again.
Foes in Baldur’s Gate III are smart enough to take advantage of the high ground. But so far, they don’t appear to be smart enough to stay away from ledges when you are close enough to push them over the edge.
Remember: This is Early Access
Larian is launching Baldur’s Gate III similar to how it did with the Divinity: Original Sin games: Putting out parts of the first act, about 20 hours of gameplay. The idea here is for players to provide ample feedback on how its systems works, what things break, and so on. Larian also encourages players to make multiple runs, trying out new characters, party builds, and approaches to dialogue options and quests.
So don’t expect a polished nor finished product. We’re not going to learn all the mysteries about the mind flayers and The Absolute. And we won’t know what role Bhaal, the god that figures most prominently into this series’ history, plays.
And the build has some other issues. My mages couldn’t copy spells from scrolls. When some characters or monsters died, they’d leave long, stretched-out corpses. And you’d see through terrain and people every now and then. But those are problems I’d expect from an Early Access build.
I could say much more about Baldur’s Gate III, but I want to leave a great deal of it for you to discover (I will note of my favorite entities from the Realms makes an appearance). But we do get a good look at where Baldur’s Gate III is going, and I think many of you are going to want to jump onboard.
The D20 Beat is GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson’s column on role-playing games. It usually runs every other week, but like wandering monsters, it can appear at any time. It covers video games, the digital components of traditional tabletop RPGs, and the rise of RPG streaming. Drop me a line if you have any RPG news, insights, or memories to share … or just want to roll a digital D20 with me.