Friday, September 01, 2023

Baldur's Gate 3: Everyone Is Still Evil

Whelp, I've gone and done it: started playing Baldur's Gate 3! I'm loving it so far and can tell this will be another nice big meaty game to dig my teeth into. So far I've played for maybe a dozen hours or so; it's a little hard to tell because I now realize that Steam is (sensibly) including the time I played the Early Access game three years ago.


So far, this seems to be very similar to the Early Access experience: I haven't noticed any changes in the plot so far and only minor additions to the characters. But it's definitely a lot more polished and enjoyable. For example, you can actually disarm traps now! The animated cut-scenes are also a lot less janky; they still don't really look like a AAA game, but have a nice Dragon Age: Origins level of polish, which is plenty for me. 



A lot of my current thoughts line up with my initial post from early access. Recapping those briefly:

  • This feels more like Divinity: Original Sin 3 than like Baldur's Gate 3.

  • That isn't a bad thing! Divinity was a great game, and I'm loving the strategic combat (no trash fights), good use of the environment (e.g., traps are driven by physics rather than just triggered by entering an area), exploration, and subtle sense of humor.

  • Combat isn't as tightly tuned as D:OS, but, again, individual encounters tend to be more fun and rewarding than individual encounters in BG.

  • Party members still love walking over discovered traps. This game badly needs an option to automatically stop party movement when a trap is detected; I think every other modern RPG I've played recently has had that option, and I keenly feel its absence here.

Some technical improvements I've noticed from early access:

  • I still hate inventory management, but at least they've added powerful sorting options to the inventory (sort by latest, sort by weight, etc.), which helps a ton. They've also added a Search option, which is awesome! The only thing that would be better would be not having an inventory at all!
  • You can now select genitalia for your character! And they've further split up the male/female categorization. I think this is the most genderqueer-friendly game I've played: facial hair, genitals, chests and voices are all freely mix-and-matchable. It's a little thing, but I like how when you select a voice, it alternates between masculine and feminine voices, instead of having them all grouped together or defaulting based on your preferred form of address.


While the high-level plot seems to still be the same, my experience so far has been very different, mostly because I'm playing as a new PC. Instead of playing as a Tiefling... Cleric, maybe? it's been a while... I'm playing as a (Seldarine) Drow Bard. This is drastically changing my experience playing through the game. The Tiefling refugees react to me with a lot of fear and dread, while the goblins react to me with... well, fear and dread, but helpful fear and dread. Whereas before they came at me with a lot of aggression and challenging persuasion rolls, now when a goblin sees me they're always like, "Oh, dreaded mistress! I cower before you in my abject despair! Please tell me how your lowly servant can be of use to you, my dark master!" It's really funny and enjoyable.


I've avoided reading reviews, but one thing I have seen noted about this game is its high level of reactivity. My drow experiences are great, but not unique: apparently, everyone gets a lot of custom reactions and dialogue based on their race, class, decisions, and other levers.


Oh, yeah: playing as a Bard opens up a lot of fun stuff as well. I chose Bard in large part because I wanted to be the party spokeswoman, so that synergized with high Charisma and bonuses to Persuasion, Deception and similar conversational rolls. But there's also a lot of straight-up [Bard] dialogue options. A lot of these bypass conversation rolls altogether, which ironically de-values some of the mechanical advantages of being a Bard. But anyways, they're a blast: you might start singing a limerick to fluster an ancient evil guardian, or sing an inspiring song to lift the spirits of a dejected warrior. I'm sure that other classes get similar advantages as well, but I'm loving the Bard experience.



I've reached level 4. I took the College of Lore specialization at level 3, and am serving as a substitute Thief as well as my primary role of talker. There's a slight annoyance at this specialization - 5E D&D rules say that you should be able to pick any extra 3 proficiencies, and apparently that was implemented in earlier builds of BG3, but in the public release it's hard-coded to always pick Sleight of Hand, Intimidation, and Arcana (!). Proficiencies don't stack, so any duplicates from character creation are wasted. That's a bit of a bummer, but I'm hoping they'll fix it in the upcoming patch, and then I can make use of the in-game respec option to take the proficiencies I actually want. 


(Update: In the time between when I drafted this post and when I published it, Larian released Patch 1, which does, indeed, fix this bug! Hooray for Larian!)

Anyways - I'm currently mostly focused in CHA and secondarily in DEX. INT is my main dump stat, and I do like the roleplaying aspect of being a very good-natured and likeable but dumb person. I was initially planning on dumping WIS as well, but Perception rolls are very useful in the game: unlike most skill checks where you just want one party member with a high value, for Perception everyone's roll is potentially useful. And there are a lot of WIS saving throws, which protect against nasty effects.


My CON is pretty decent; I plan to mostly fight from range, but I'm pretty decent with a rapier, and a handful of useful Bard abilities require being in melee range (including a nice destabilizing attack that can be done as a Bonus Action), so it's good to be able to take a couple of hits. STR isn't very important for me since I can Finesse my melee weapons, but it is a nice quality-of-life for carrying loot and performing my favorite action in the entire game: Shoving enemies off of very high places.

In combat, I typically try to get to high ground and snipe enemies from a distance with my crossbow, but I'll sometimes move in close to Threaten enemies or draw their attention from vulnerable teammates. All of my spell picks so far have been for out-of-combat utility: Talk with Animals, Friends, Detect Thoughts and so on. I'm honestly not using them a whole lot, except for Talk with Animals, so I may shift some of them into buffs or offensive abilities.

My main party at the moment consists of La'zel, Shadowheart, and Gale. La'zel is mostly used for melee combat but is also very effective at range when I'm dealing with exploding enemies or other people I don't want to get too close to. She hates me! I haven't found any ranged weapons yet that Shadowheart can use. I'm mostly using her ranged cantrips, but sometimes bringing her to the frontline. Her buffs are useful, but at this low level she doesn't get many casts per day, so I don't get to use her magic a lot. I'm thinking of shifting away from Concentration spells and focusing on buffs that last until the next Long Rest. Finally, I'm mostly using Gale as a ranged AOE damage dealer: I had him take the Evoker specialization, which includes a really nice ability that prevents friendly fire from Evocation spells, which in turn lets him cast with abandon. He also gets a lot of utility out of disabling spells like Sleep. I recall Grease being really useful during Early Access but haven't used it much in this playthrough. I'm hoping to load him up with more utility spells in the future, especially to clear out environmental hazards.


Gale's storyline is the biggest difference I've noticed so far from Early Access. I remember La'zel's hunt for the creche and Shadowheart's relationship with Shar, but I don't remember Gale talking about his peculiar condition. I suspect that was added to the game between then and now, but it's possible that I just missed whatever trigger causes him to open up about that. I vaguely remember Gale being the one person in the party who's just generally nice and enjoys doing good things, so it's cool to have a complication to the character now that isn't just "he's secretly evil". I'm still very early in this storyline and very curious where it will lead; so far I'm getting the impression that this is some form of an addiction, and Gale's personality does remind me a lot of some other addicts: very charming and persuasive, which may serve to hide or support the addiction.



I'm still very early in the storyline, not having reached the Goblin camp yet. So far I'm basically making the same decisions and alliances as I did in Early Access. For better and for worse, the morality system in this game seems more in line with classic Baldur's Gate than with more modern and nuanced systems like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. The "Evil" choices feel very evil, while the "Good" choices are more like the defaults - being good doesn't require truly sacrificing anything important, just behaving decently towards people and protecting them from harm. I think it's cool that the game provides these choices and that players can choose to go down other paths, but personally I never really find it enjoyable to take these kind of cartoonishly evil decisions.



That said, from what I've seen so far there isn't a formal alignment system in the game: you don't create a character as being "Lawful Evil" or "Chaotic Neutral" or anything like that, and you don't see those labels slapped onto other party members. That's a good thing! Those rigid alignment descriptions have always bothered me, and I'm glad that at least the system isn't beholden to them, even if the writing so far seems to be.


I think that's is so far! Lots lots more game to come. I'll probably chime in again as I complete major Acts or something. Don't expect any Elden Ring updates in the meantime, but I am expecting to jump back into that once I finish this journey in Faerun.


No comments:

Post a Comment