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What Baldur’s Gate III Gets Oh So Right About D&D

6 Minute Read
Aug 19 2020
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Baldur’s Gate 3 had its big hellish release date reveal extravaganza yesterday–and we got a look at how it wants to bring D&D to life, like never before.

Yesterday gave us a closer look at Baldur’s Gate 3, with a brand new look at the game, including the last few important moments of the cinematic intro trailer, some digusting and cute new friends you can make along the way, new recruitable followers and companions, new questlines, new spells and abilities… and of course the Early Access release date: September 30th.

Now there was a whole lot that they showed off in the panel. And if you want to read about all the details, you can check it out right here. But what struck me the most was how much like D&D this game feels. And I’m not talking about things like rolling a virtual die to make a skill check, or casting some spells on a goblin. Sure, those are classic fantasy adventure moments, but what I mean is the feeling of sitting around the table, playing with your friends and watching things go spectacularly awry. Here’s a prime example.

In the video above, they revisit a moment from their earlier demo, where the characters encounter a goblin warlord who is absolutely full of himself and demands that the player characters show respect by kissing his foot.

In the video, the developers try to intimidate the goblin… and uh, it goes poorly.

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And that leads to the character being confronted by the goblin who demands that the character actually do it. Which leads to another series of choices:

And right there you can already feel this as a moment that could happen in a campaign. Failure helps define the story as much as success–the character has a choice. And ultimately, the audience chose to try and steal the ring off of the goblin’s toe while kissing his foot. It goes about as well as you’d expect, and in short order the player is fighting with a town that might have been goblin allies.

I don’t know about you, but accidentally pissing off the NPCs that your DM wanted to help you, and ending up in a desperate, deadly fight (in the demo, it ends with a tpk), is about as D&D as it gets. D&D is, ostensibly, a game of heroic fantasy and adventure. But really it’s a game about a bunch of friends trying things, getting frustrated by dice rolls, and things going wildly off the rails. It’s a game about intentions and what really happens. And I’d argue that most of the memorable moments come out of those wild divergences.

One of the other things they mention is that, in Baldur’s Gate 3, you’re able to shoot at objects like a chandelier to try and drop it on foes. But you might accidentally end up dropping it on your party instead. And this kind of Mr. Bean-like farce is extremely familiar to me. That feels like what happens at the majority of tables. Because while we all might set out to play D&D with the most noble intentions of staying in character the whole time, you never can. Even the professionals at Critical Role don’t. Meta jokes and poor rolls end up creating just as many ridiculous and distracting/”unproductive” side tangents as happens at a table of friends who aren’t trained actors.

This is the face of a true Dungeon Master

That’s what makes D&D so much fun, anyway. There’s this idea of a hapless DM, flustered by the players’ attempts to try and deal with a fish instead of crossing the river to get to the actual dungeon. It’s a core part of my RPG experience that players will want to try things to see how they can affect the world. And in Baldur’s Gate 3, the developers are trying to allow for that as much as they can. As we saw in the demo, players can cast speak with dead. And they do so on a random fisherman who died.

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The character asks, “what happened? how did you die?” to the corpse of a fisherman found near the wreckage–and the dead fisherman answers, earnestly, that they died in the nautiloid crash. Which was obvious, and might feel like a “waste” of your ability, but it’s stuff like that–where your party member questions an NPC for information you already know, or just wants to see what happens if you poke the world this way–that makes the game feel so engaging.

And it’s hard to replicate that feel. Baldur’s Gates 1 & 2 are beloved franchises, and sure they have their occasional metajokes about like indestructable pantaloons. But they, by and large, don’t account for the curious random player, except by placing cool items in every drawer of every room for magpie-esque rooting and looting. Baldur’s Gate 3, while it won’t ever recreate the experience of having a living DM who can react to whatever nonsense you try and do, does broaden the scope a lot. Let’s talk about another classic ‘D&D player’ idea. The idea of adopting whatever hapless monster you come across because you think it’s vaguely cute. That happens twice in the demo. Once with an Intellect Devourer:

It speaks at you from its place in the exposed head of a still-living victim:

And it’s just cute enough that it can join your party, if you want it to. It doesn’t have a name, so you give it one. It talks to you, and follows you like an imprinted baby duckling.

They joke about being able to pet the brain–and I can guarantee you, by the time the full game ships, you’ll probably be able to pet that slimy, gross brain dog. It’ll probably be adorable.

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Later in the presentation, as the developers are talking about the sheer amount of choice, they reveal that they’ve been implementing abilities like both Animal Handling and Speak With Animals. Meaning that every animal you come across has the option to be “handled” or spoken to, if you use your abilities right. That includes the Owlbear.

In the demo they studied the owlbear and managed to learn that it was being very protective of its cub:

Naturally, you can recruit it to your party. That’s what every single D&D Party ever would do. And has done. And will continue to do for all eternity. Every DM knows what it’s like to have an encounter where you just think that the party is going to fight something, and instead they try to talk to it, and now you have to figure out what that means, and the next thing you know they’ve befriended the Kobolds and are advocating for their rights. That’s an awesome campaign, by the way, it means the DM is doing their job right.

So it is with Baldur’s Gate 3. The graphics are great, and the gameplay looks fun, but what’ll have me lining up for Early Access on September 30th is the experience of a real-life, horrendously messy, mistake-fueled, weird-party-filled session of D&D.

Happy Adventuring!

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