Windows Central Verdict
Baldur's Gate 3 pulls off the spontaneity and unpredictable nature of a long-stretching Dungeons and Dragons tabletop game. The story is intriguing, with beautifully woven side quests, but it never feels like it's forcing you in a set moral direction. You can be as lawful good or chaotically evil as you wish from scene to scene, and the game will be a different experience for every player. Character voice acting, motion capture, and a spellbinding soundtrack make the game world feel alive and the storytelling compelling. The only limit to your experience is your imagination and creativity. While the sheer volume of possible outcomes can lead to bugs and occasional immersion-breaking moments, Larian has ultimately achieved its ambition for a generation-defining RPG.
A faithful adaptation of the Dungeons & Dragons universe and methods of gameplay
Lots of creativity for players to tackle quests however they see fit
Compelling story, fascinating characters with intriguing back stories and side quests
Multiplayer mode, co-op, cross-play and cross-save across platforms
Character creation is deep, and can be modified to any playstyle
Beautiful soundtrack that will stick with you
Some graphical and gameplay bugs that need to be ironed out
Can be overwhelming for those unfamiliar with D&D rules
Combat can be slow and tedious in the turn-based format
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Our Baldur's Gate 3 review is a little late. It came out back in August to rapturous praise; however, we've yet to commit one to paper due to the sheer volume of, well, everything going on right now. So why a review now? Well, I've been playing the game faithfully during my chaotic house move, and every small session I've spent with it has been like a cold drink on a hot day — a refreshing and satisfying experience, and I'm completely head over heels for this game.
Much like the mind flayer parasites, Baldur's Gate 3 has taken over my brain, and I think of it constantly when I'm not playing, whether listening to the soundtrack or pondering strategies to take on that next big fight. Despite being excited for Starfield and various other upcoming Xbox games and upcoming PC games, Baldur's Gate 3 has stolen and absorbed my attention for the foreseeable future. Despite my undying love for the Diablo franchise and wholly expecting Diablo 4 to fill my year, Baldur's Gate 3 crept up and ensconced itself as my personal game of the year, like a rogue in the night.
No game is perfect, but Larian comes excruciatingly close. Baldur's Gate 3 is a special, seminal experience that feels handcrafted for fantasy fans like myself. You know it's good when you start planning your second playthrough, even before the credits have rolled. Baldur's Gate 3 is a game that will stay with me forever. Here's why it might be like that for you, too.
We reviewed Baldur's Gate 3 on PCs and Steam Deck, using a copy purchased by ourselves.
Baldur's Gate 3: Graphics and performance
Baldur’s Gate 3 is a beautiful game, with painstakingly detailed backdrops and each new area a feast for the eyes, but it is graphically demanding. I played the game mainly on Steam Deck, and despite tinkering with settings as per different recommendations from other players on Reddit, I still had some cut scenes in the game with odd textures and an almost granular effect over my character. The recommendations are to run the game on Steam Deck with FSR on Balanced, but I found it unplayable with this setting. The characters were pixelated close up and blurred beyond recognition from a distance. Turning it off ultimately was my only solution. I completely realize that the Steam Deck isn't the ideal place to play this modern game. I enlisted the help of NVIDIA Geforce Now to that end. The game was perfect for me here, as I had the benefit of streaming from a much more powerful setup. This isn't exactly a high-tech review of Baldur's Gate 3, given the setup available to me. Still, it’s well-known that some systems will struggle with the visuals on the lower end of the scale without drastically turning down some settings. This is my experience; I’ve seen some amazing shots and footage from friends and colleagues playing the game on better systems.
Platforms: Windows PC, Playstation, with Xbox coming soon
Developer: Larian Studios
Launch date: August 3 (PC) September 6 (Playstation)
Players: Single-player, Multi-player co-op
Time to complete: Main story: 75-100 hours Everything: 100-150+ hours
All that being said, the game has never crashed on me. While it sounded like my Steam Deck was about to blast off into space during some cut scenes, I’ve had no freezes or crashes that have led me to reload.
Let’s talk more about art direction, though. From the start of Baldur's Gate 3, you find yourself a prisoner aboard a Mind Flayer ship, the Nautiloid. The ark and oppressive ship have bio-mechanical engineered set pieces that wouldn’t be out of place in body-horror games like Scorn. Should you escape this situation, you’ll be flung into a complete change of scenery and onto the Sword Coast. At this point, I could tell it would be easy to get sidetracked in this game. Each area you encounter has winding paths to explore and new things to discover. The backgrounds seem to get more opulent as you work through the acts. Each area has its own distinct style and inhabitants. Act 1 takes place primarily in lush wilderness, full of greenery and woodland creatures, but hiding fierce enemies to encounter, but Act 2 flips the mood entirely on its head, taking you into dank crypts and cursed swamps. The variety and stark contrasts are a pleasure to experience, like journeying through an art gallery.
Your story choices can take you through the mountain roads or underground to the luminescent Underdark inhabited by Myconids, an area I spent a lot of time in just gazing in awe at the luminescent beings (it also had me wondering if I could romance a mushroom).
By Act 3, the detail in some areas became even more astounding. One of the many reasons I’ve found it hard to complete this game is the overwhelming urge to just look at everything. It's a testament to the game's art direction that, despite it not being graphically perfect on my Steam Deck, I’ve still been able to enjoy all the carefully crafted environments. And I’m looking forward to experiencing them again in more detail when the game comes to Xbox later this year.
Baldur's Gate 3: Music
The music in Baldur’s Gate 3 deserves its own section, and in fact, the soundtrack throughout and at pivotal moments in the game’s story is what took the game to a bonafide 5 out of 5 for me. The soundtrack has wormed its way into my brain and refuses to leave. I sing the songs around the house. I play the OST in the car on the school run. I haven’t felt this strongly about a game’s musical score since The Witcher 3.
From the game's opening, we’re treated to the game’s main theme tune, ‘Down the River,’ of which you hear different versions throughout the game. As an opener, it sets the scene with deep chanting, harmonies, enthralling female vocals, and lyrics that perfectly encapsulate the internal struggle you’re about to face with the tadpole infection. It set the tone for what I expected from this fantasy romp, but the music only got better from then on.
The turn-based combat is surprisingly theatrical and epic in some scenes, as the score changes depending on your party’s current state of danger. Each area of the game has its own song. My most jaw-dropping moment in the game so far was when I chose to fight a character I probably should not have picked a fight with, and a character I had rescued earlier burst into song as the battle commenced. The villains themselves joined in with a threatening melody that sounded like a mashup of a tune from Wicked and an Evanescence deep cut. My jaw was on the floor. The goosebumps this moment gave me I will remember forever.
As I completed what will now go down as my favorite boss fight in a game ever to the dramatic show tune, it occurred to me that some players would never experience this, as the situation I found myself in was because of specific choices I’d made in this zone. You can, indeed, choose to side with this particular character and not to rescue the honey-voiced NPC in the first place. The fact this song was written just for this very specific encounter and sequence of events blew my mind.
The soundtrack for Baldur’s Gate 3 was composed by Borislav Slavov, whose name may not be familiar to the uninitiated, but the games he’s worked on will be. Slavov has provided soundtracks for Larian’s previous titles, such as Divinity Original Sin 2 and other games like Crysis 2 and 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome. The soundtrack, all 43 songs, is on Spotify, and I love it so much I’ve been playing it nonstop. I may not be living a life of adventure, but it sounds like it in this house right now.
Baldur's Gate 3: Gameplay
Right from the off, Baldur's Gate 3 screams quality and depth. Character creation in Baldur’s Gate 3 is a joy. You can choose to be one of the pre-written Origin characters with a ready-made backstory, but I wanted to create my own adventurer for my first playthrough. I became Florence, who may or may not be based on Florence and the Machine, a half-elf Bard, and I come from the city of Baldur’s Gate, where I usually perform in the Elfsong Tavern. You choose where you are from and a background you can build your own personal story around.
There are 11 races to choose from, 31 subraces, 12 classes, and 46 subclasses — all of these choices will impact your character's skills, proficiencies, and even your game's story. As a Bard, I could access dialogue options other players would never see. As another class, you will too. Before the game release, it was reported that Larian had recorded over 45,000 lines of dialogue for Baldur’s Gate 3, and people were gobsmacked, but it’s easy to see how it all adds up.
The combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 can initially be intimidating for newcomers to the Dungeons & Dragons universe. It’s not just a hack, slash, and smash (although it certainly can be if you want to play a Barbarian). The combat sections are turn-based so that you can strategize the best move, and every spell counts in some tougher fights. You can win a fight in many ways, and the turn-based gameplay allows you to use your wits.
Have you unknowingly pointed your bow and arrow at a goblin and now find yourself surrounded by 20 of them? Simply chipping at the enemies would be a long and boring fight. Perhaps you can throw a barrel of oil at that group over there and set them on fire? Maybe you can use your powers of mind control to get some to change sides? Would it be easier to go back and save and talk yourself out of this situation or find a higher ground?
These are questions you will constantly be asking yourself when playing. I'm not ashamed to admit I found myself in a few seemingly impossible situations and having to go back to a previous save.
The first big conundrum the game throws at you in Act 1 is how to deal with a goblin camp, and playing as Bard with max charisma, I was able to chat to some trolls in a nearby hideout and convince them to instead of eating me, they could get a potentially bigger meal by helping me take out this camp. On my first visit to the camp, I noticed the goblins were filling their cups with wine from barrels, and I made the fight even easier by poisoning this wine and taking out some enemies early. (Editors note: wtf? you can do that?)
There are seemingly endless ways of solving this quest, but you needn’t kill the poor goblins if you go a different direction with your story. The whole incident is like a real tabletop adventure with friends, where your best weapon is your imagination.
As with Dungeons & Dragons, your character has spell slots, which depend on your class. A Fighter will no doubt be less reliant on their spell slots than a Sorcerer, for example, but you need to rest now and again to recoup your resources as a group. With this in mind, it’s best not to waste your strongest spells taking out a bandit on the road if you’re not planning on returning to camp to recharge before your next big boss fight. I’ve made this mistake often in the game, forgetting to rest before a fight.
Some fights are best tackled with particular companions, too, all of which have their abilities and proficiencies, and part of your strategy is deciding which companions to take with you into each fight.
Following the completion of particularly tricky quests and fights, I’ve enjoyed running to Reddit to see how others have tackled the same situation and been amazed to come across ideas I’d not even dreamed of or simply solutions that weren’t available to me because of the class I was playing or choices I’d made. The gameplay style offers endless replayability, and I’m already plotting my approach on a different character when the time comes.
Baldur's Gate 3: Story (no spoilers)
Baldur’s Gate 3 opens with you waking up on a Mindflayer ship, the Nautiloid. With a simple task: escape. A mind-warping parasite has already been implanted in you, and if you don’t escape and find a cure, you’re destined to become one of these tentacle-wielding horrors. The main quest and story revolve around your journey to find a cure and who is responsible for your ailment.
Along your way, you are joined by other unfortunate souls infected with the parasite, and these chance encounters become your companions, eventually filling your camp and allowing you to choose who to accompany you for specific missions (similar to Dragon Age). These companions are not simply your meat shields; they each have their own back stories, fears and desires, and side quests. At the beginning of the game, one character I was not fond of much won me over completely with their side content. With each quest, I learned more about the reasons for their seemingly bad attitude. Throughout the story, I uncovered a horrifying tale of abuse, the final act of which had me shedding a tear.
The writing in the game is impeccable, and the main and side stories intertwine and build to a crescendo, much like the soundtrack. There’s much fun throughout the story, even the carnal variety. Still, Larian has perfectly balanced humor and tragedy, so this game feels like an emotional rollercoaster, albeit neatly avoiding the whiplash. It’s a ride I don’t ever want to get off. Did I get the infamous bear sex scene? You’re damn right I did, and I let the squirrel watch in disgust and dismay too. Not long after I had laughed at this scene, I was snapped back to the reality of my impending doom. I was met with the consequences of my actions earlier in the game, or rather lack thereof, as I’d missed a side quest, and thus, a potentially important character had ended up dead. Indeed, almost anyone can die in this game, with very little plot immunity, and it adds weight to your decisions. Dire, dire weight.
The aforementioned 45,000 lines of dialogue Larian recorded to tell this story are even more mindblowing when you know that they captured the actors' mocap data for almost all of that dialogue. The story feels so much more alive because of it, and the companions are like real friendships. Larian didn’t just capture the main companions; they captured all of the NPCs, their movements, and their gestures to be edited with the audio files for each line, giving Baldur's Gate 3 a real sense of next-gen cinematic delivery for this type of game.
When you see Shadowheart’s discerning look, that’s the actress’s movements. When Astarion flicks his wrist with a theatrical flare and a cutting remark, this was the actor’s choice and delivery. These design choices for a primarily isometric game go above and beyond the typical pale. Baldur's Gate 3's cast makes the game feel alive and breathing and deserves the accolades and recognition more commonly associated with Hollywood. And the characters feel so vivid and immersive that narrowing your party down to just 3 is an incredibly difficult choice. It also lends weight to replay value, though. At many points in the game, I didn’t think of who would be best in combat, but how would a certain character react to this encounter? I would swap people in depending on their motivations and attitudes. I haven’t had so much anguish about choosing between my pals since I played Dragon Age Inquisition.
The choices you make and the places you visit, or indeed miss altogether, can have long-reaching effects in the game. Sometimes the ‘good’ choice will result in terrible consequences later, and it’s never clear what path some of the dialogue options will take you. I’ve had many instances in the game where I’ve completely missed potential companions, plot points, and entire scenes as a result of my actions. Most of the time, I live with my decisions, but the various twists and turns the story can take depending on the player’s choice give infinite replay value, and I’ve had interesting conversations with other players on how their tales have played out.
There is also, of course, my own personal story in addition to the tale the game wants to tell. My headcanon for my Bard is that she’s a struggling playwright, only writing adventures but never having stepped foot out of Baldur’s Gate before her kidnapping. She now wants to return and sing of her adventures in front of an adoring crowd. I can play this out, too, to the extent that I slept with an incubus to steal his underwear so that I could take the stage at the local brothel with my lyre and play my biggest hit donned in the skimpiest gear I could find in the game.
Not only did some passersby join in the song, but the patrons threw coins at me in appreciation. All of this is a completely spontaneous event that I created in the game, and I’ve had fun seeing more like it from other players. It feels like anything is possible in this game, and the story you create is truly your own.
Every step I've taken through Baldur's Gate 3 has felt as though there was something delightful, shocking, or terrifying around each corner. From the art, character delivery, music, and gameplay, Baldur's Gate 3 is generation-defining.
Baldur's Gate 3: Conclusion
Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t perfect. There have been moments I’ve been frustrated with the game's combat system, such as waiting for each bat in a group of 30 to take their turn in a battle. I’ve wished for a fast-forward button to that end. I've also been irritated by the controller controls occasionally concerning finer cursor movements, and occasionally, the branching narrative logic has tripped over itself for some of my colleagues. Those moments are so few and far between, though, and Larian has already updated the game with thousands of fixes since its initial launch out of early access.
Those occasional irritants are also massively outweighed by my jaw-dropping experiences and moments of “I can’t believe I just did that” when I’ve pulled off a wacky plan. As I’m writing this review, I’m already thinking of the possible methods I can use to get through my next big fight on my current playthrough and if it will have the intended impact I want it to on one of my characters. I delayed finishing Baldur's Gate 3 for weeks, telling myself, “I will finish the story,” only to trip into a fresh rabbit hole with my best friend Shadowheart and whoever got to join the team that evening (I never, ever leave Shadowheart at camp). Larian has pulled off the impossible, bringing the unpredictable nature of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign to life on PC and console.
You should play Baldur's Gate 3 if ...
- You're a fan of Dungeons & Dragons game and fantasy universe, or even Larian's previous Divinity Original Sin games
- You like games where choices have impact and consequence, with non-linear gameplay and an open-world
- You enjoy tactical and turn-based combat and using the environment and items to your advantage
- You want to romance your companions and indiscriminately murder their enemies
You should skip Baldur's Gate 3 if ...
- Turn-based and isometric gameplay doesn't appeal to you
- You're not comfortable with solid adult themes in games
- You don't have a system capable of running a demanding game like Baldur's Gate 3 or want to sign up for a cloud gaming subscription like NVIDIA GeForce Now. Although it's on PlayStation 5 and coming to Xbox Series X|S a little later this year.
I’ve never written a review for a game before, and that’s mainly because the idea of trying to rush through a game in the space of a week to meet a deadline immediately sucks the joy out of it for me, and I’m glad I didn’t have to for Baldur's Gate 3.
I purchased it with my own money for my own enjoyment, and I’ve fallen so in love with the world Larian has built here that I was utterly implored to step out of my comfort zone and share my love with the world, much like my bard in-game. I’ve always leaned more into the fantasy genre when it comes to games, and Baldur’s Gate 3 is a fantasy lover’s playground.
There are so many great games to play right now, but I’ll be playing this again when it releases on Xbox, and I can’t wait to enjoy each Act again and play with friends for the whole D&D experience. Despite my illusory control over my characters, my solo adventure has been spontaneous, and I’m grateful for the experience. Still, nothing matches your lack of control over other players’ actions in a D&D game — so I look forward to that chaos when I play with friends. So much replayability.
Baldur's Gate 3 is a generation-defining game, and surely a clear front-runner for Game of the Year, and can easily count itself among the best PC games of all time.
Enter the Forgotten Realms while playing as a customized character of your own choosing. The decisions you make determine what you encounter as you discover more and more about the stories and world around you.
Jen is a News Writer for Windows Central, focused on all things gaming and Microsoft. Anything slaying monsters with magical weapons will get a thumbs up such as Dark Souls, Dragon Age, Diablo, and Monster Hunter. When not playing games, she'll be watching a horror or trash reality TV show, she hasn't decided which of those categories the Kardashians fit into. You can follow Jen on Twitter @Jenbox360 for more Diablo fangirling and general moaning about British weather.