What you need to know
- Baldur's Gate 3 is a major upcoming PC game from Larian Studios.
- Set in the D&D universe, Baldur's Gate 3 is an RPG that offers broad freedom in a co-operatively multiplayer format.
- The game is currently slated to launch on Windows PCs and Steam Deck on August 3, and on PlayStation on September 6.
- Xbox currently has no launch date, owing to issues getting split-screen co-op running smoothly on the Xbox Series S.
- Larian has said that it hopes to offer an update on the status of the Xbox Series X|S version "by the end of the year."
- Microsoft doesn't allow developers to ship gameplay features of its games exclusively on Xbox Series X while omitting the Xbox Series S.
- Read on for details.
The biggest launch at the start of August 2023 is undoubtedly Baldur's Gate 3, which has been in early access for quite some time. Developed by the legendary Larian Studios of Divinity Original Sin fame, Baldur's Gate 3 is a continuation of one of the most popular RPGs of its era, modernized for new audiences. Baldur's Gate 3 has been in early access for a hot minute, and even from these earlier builds it's quite apparent that BG3 is going to be on various 2023 best pc game lists.
Set in the D&D universe, Baldur's Gate 3 touts unprecedented D&D-like freedom, complete with D&D-like cooperative multiplayer. Both online and in split-screen, players can team up to tackle the dangerous environs of Faerûn, and sadly, that's also the reason we're not yet able to get the game on Xbox.
BG3's launch dates for Windows PC and Steam Deck is August 3, with the PlayStation version launching next month on September 6. Many fans (myself included) wondered if Sony had locked down some kind of timed exclusivity deal with Larian to exclude Xbox in previous months, as has been the case with other recent titles like Final Fantasy 7 Remake. It turns out that this isn't the case. As explained by Larian Director of Publishing Michael Douse, Larian has no such deal with Sony for exclusivity, and the issue, in fact, pertains to the Xbox Series S and Microsoft's feature parity clause for its current-gen systems.
We have quite a few engineers working very hard to do what no other RPG of this scale has achieved: seamless drop-in, drop-out co-op on Series S. We hope to have an update by the end of the year.July 31, 2023
So in summary, modern split-screen co-op features can be quite hardware intensive, and something the PlayStation 5 and presumably the Xbox Series X handles well. Owing to the Xbox Series S version, Larian has no choice but to delay the game, likely until 2024 at the latest. Larian said it hoped to have an update "by the end of the year" on the status of the Xbox Series X|S version. Indeed, Larian is actively working on the Xbox Series X|S version as we speak, and Microsoft has been involved in figuring out ways to optimize the split-screen co-op feature without sacrificing a stable frame rate.
Why not just disable split-screen co-op on the Xbox Series S, then? Larian has also disabled split-screen co-op on some lower-end devices like the Steam Deck, which is part Valve's Steam Deck verified program for Steam Deck-optimized games. The reason is that Microsoft doesn't allow developers, by policy, to omit features between Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S versions of games. The result has often been the sacrifice of frame rates instead on the Xbox Series S, which often sees games run at 30 FPS instead of 60 FPS at least initially. The Xbox Series S generally targets 1080p 60 FPS, as opposed to the 4K 60 FPS we often see on the Xbox Series X, while sporting a more affordable price point.
Microsoft itself canceled visually-intensive features in some of its games, such as ray-tracing in Minecraft or Halo Infinite's planned split-screen co-op, despite having previously worked on them. To speculate, the Xbox Series S may be to blame for some of this, but it's hard to know for sure.
Analysis: Xbox Series S headache, or Xbox Series S future?
I outlined in a recent editorial about the Xbox Series X|S hardware strategy that developing for the Xbox Series S, which has the smallest console footprint by far, may be an increasingly difficult task as we head deeper into the generation. We've already seen games like Starfield and Plague Tale Requiem struggle to hit 60 FPS on even the higher-end systems, and the Xbox Series S with its tighter overheads may find it difficult to keep up.
Speaking generally, the Xbox Series S is a capable system, but only if developers target it from the start of development, and account for its shortcomings. Since it has the smallest footprint of all the current-gen systems, asking developers to build their games around the platform with the fewest players seems like a big ask. However, there are ways Microsoft can potentially offset its install base woes with that SKU.
Xbox Cloud Gaming titles generally run in their 720p-1080p Xbox Series S counterpart resolutions, using Xbox Series X server blades that can run multiple Xbox Series S instances for encoding video. There may be a future where the "Xbox Series S" install base explodes in users if Xbox Cloud Gaming can reach critical mass. Xbox Cloud Gaming has seen tons of queues recently as demand surges owing to the inclusion of FIFA 2023 and GTAV into the service. Is there a future where there are millions, rather than thousands of global Xbox Series S players via the cloud, making development for that SKU more worthwhile?
Microsoft has previously said it wants to allow people to play their own games in Xbox Cloud Gaming, which could include titles like Baldur's Gate 3 that aren't on Xbox Game Pass. Apple and Google's duopolistic blockade on business models for Xbox Cloud Gaming may make it difficult for Microsoft to realize this cloud-oriented future, but Samsung devices, the web version of Xbox Cloud Gaming, and smart TVs may help Microsoft reach users beyond the Apple-Google paywall.
In any case, for now, it seems the Xbox Series S will continue to be a headache for some developers, and Xbox customers too, if more games like Baldur's Gate 3 end up delayed because of it.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!