Monday, September 25, 2023


I've recently entered Act 2 of Baldur's Gate 3, so I think this is a decent time for another quick check-in! This post will mostly be focused on my impressions of the mechanics and gameplay of the game, I'll probably get more into the plot and characters in a later post.


Some general tips and thoughts for others who are playing or will play:


I need to re-learn this lesson every time I learn an RPG, but: it isn't necessary to loot everything. You get plenty of money through picking up coins and selling the more valuable trinkets, which are highlighted in the map and containers. You can squeeze out hundreds more coins by muling around shields and scimitars and rotten carrots and stuff... but (at least so far) there's no benefit in doing so, since there isn't all that much valuable stuff for you to buy from merchants. That said, I can't stop looting! I'll spend an entire play session just picking up garbage until I've maxed out my weight, then hunting down a merchant, selling it all, trudging back to pick up more stuff, and then curse Larian for my own OCD. This gets especially tedious in some spots of the game: merchants can be killed (sometimes by you!) or move on, which can lead to especially lengthy backtracking to find someplace to offload all of your looted sets of Plate Armor.


One phrase that often comes up in D&D contexts is "MurderHobo". Seen from a certain perspective, the typical D&D adventurer is someone who wanders around, shows up someplace, kills everyone there and takes all their stuff, then moves on and does it again. In BG3, I often feel like I'm not a murderhobo, just a straight-up hobo: I'll spend an inordinate amount of time poking through crates and barrels and vases and burlap sacks, digging out rotten carrots and tongs and oily rags, then selling those for a coin per pound. You know that smelly guy with the big beard pushing a shopping cart down the street that's full of a teetering mountain of trash? That's me in this game.



Anyways, I'm very belatedly training myself to NOT pick up every piece of near-worthless equipment in the game, and expect to have a better time going forward.


Some combat thoughts:



Shoving enemies into Chasms will insta-kill them and give you XP. You don't get loot from them in 99.9% of the cases (excepting one or two specific fights where you can knock someone into the Underdark and find their body down there later). But only bosses have loot that's particularly valuable or memorable, so there isn't much downside to it. Shoving is really fun, I do it all the time and you should too!



Enemies that are Larger than you cannot be Shoved normally; but they can still be knocked back via Thunderwave and similar spells, so use those instead! (If you have Gale or your spellcaster specialize in Evocation, your party can ignore friendly fire effects, so you can use Thunderwave with impunity even if your melee fighters are in the midst of your foes.) 


I forgot about Dipping until pretty recently, after enthusiastically using it in Early Access. You spend a Bonus Action to dip your active weapon into an elemental source: you can Dip into a lit Candle to turn your arrows into Flaming Arrows, or your sword into a Flaming Sword. This will give an extra... I think +1D4 elemental damage for each subsequent attack. It's a pretty great thing to spend a Bonus Action on!


My thoughts on healing have changed over time as I play. The best defense is usually a strong offense, and so you're usually much better off spending your in-combat Actions on dealing damage to end the fight than on chugging potions, casting healing spells or Aiding fallen comrades. That said, Healing will interrupt the bleed-out counter for Downed characters, so having a ranged Heal spell prepared can be really helpful if someone is failing their Death saving throws. You can also Throw a healing potion at someone to heal them. (Apparently, in Early Access you could throw a potion at the ground which would Heal all characters in a small AOE around that spot; apparently this has been patched, though, so only a single character will now get the benefit of a Thrown potion.)


In most cases, then, you're better off Healing out of combat, so you enter fights with high health and can spend your actions killing enemies. I'm still undecided on the best approach for healing out of combat: spells, potions or rests. In most RPGs, I would lean towards healing via spells because spells are rechargable and consumables are not; but spell slots feel really limited in this game, especially at low levels. So, unlike most games, I tend to actually use my healing consumables. A Short Rest will refill half of each party member's maximum HP, and you can do this at any time out of combat. I'll usually Short Rest if all of my party is dinged up OR if at least 2 party members are missing more than half their health.


Unlike the original Baldur's Gate games and many other RPGs, you are also limited in your ability to Long Rest. You must spend Camp Supplies to do this, so it feels like something to avoid, and in Early Access I went as long as possible without Long Resting. Much like how I need to tell myself not to loot every item in the game, I find myself telling myself to Long Rest way more often. While technically limited by supplies, there are a ridiculous amount of supplies in the game, probably enough to long rest before and after every single minor combat encounter. Long resting refills valuable spell slots and other crucial resources like barbarian Rages. Finally and most importantly, a lot of plot-related, character-related and romance-related story items only advance on a Long Rest. You seem to get one of these events per Long Rest, so even if you're eligible for a certain scene, you won't see it until you've done enough Long Rests for higher-priority scenes. Anyways, much like how BioWare had to tell everyone "Leave the Hinterlands!", I think Larian should be telling everyone "Take long rests!"


I just hit Level 8 on my party. (n.b.: This was some time after entering Act 2; I'm playing a lot of the game in between writing paragraphs for this post!) So far I've been single-classing everyone, the origin characters in their initial class and my PC in Bard. This has been working well; I'm pretty sure that it isn't optimal and I could be min-maxing more, but there's enough choice in leveling to keep things interesting, and I don't need to worry about shooting myself in the foot.


It's also worth remembering that respeccing is really cheap in this game, just 100 gold (unlike D:OS, the price doesn't seem to scale). Much like in the Pathfinder CRPGs, you may want to focus on what's best for you in a given level, rather than just working towards a final build. For example, Lae'zel starts with 17 STR, 13 DEX and 15 CON. At Level 4, you might want to choose an Ability Improvement with a +1 to both STR and CON to boost her rolls for those skills. When she gets another feat at level 6, though, you could consider respeccing and taking both Athlete and Durable; this would still give a total of +1 to STR and CON, while also giving some other useful abilities. Doing this might have a better experience during levels 4-5 than only taking Athlete or Durable would. Similarly, if you find a great piece of equipment that makes you want to shift up your playstyle, it's very reasonable to swap your stats around to better work with it.


You get a LOT of XP from fighting. There are a whole lot of optional combat encounters, that you can pretty easily talk your way out of, but be aware that you're leaving XP on the table by doing so. Even setting those aside, doing a completionist clear of a map will net you a lot of levels, and I think the XP you get from fights significantly outweighs that from quests. That said, I have a strong feeling that I'll reach the level cap of level 12 well in advance of the end of the game. I hit level 7 shortly before starting Act 2, on a pretty completionist approach (doing all quests, but not all fights). I suspect players will level fine by focusing on the main plot line and not doing all the side-quests; but to be honest, getting an extra level helps a LOT, and the game is easier if you're consistently facing enemies that are lower-level than you are.


Last cluster of thoughts: conversations. While this game doesn't really feel like BG1/BG2, it does feel like a BioWare game, specifically in how interesting and important the conversations are. Like BioWare games, it's good to get in the habit of saving your game before starting to talk! "Losing" a dialogue can feel much more devastating than a poor combat outcome.


A lingering frustration from the EA version of the game is that, in any given conversation, only the party member who initially talks can participate in the dialogue. This gets annoying when you want to take a skill check branch that another member would be better suited for, like letting your wizard take an Insight check, your scout take a Perception check or your bard take a Deception check. Other RPGs either always make your PC lead the talk, or let other party members interject at appropriate times. What's most baffling is that even other Larian games let you swap between party members during a conversation - that was kind of the whole point behind Divinity: Original Sin! I usually just roll with it, since most skill checks just provide more context, but it's still annoying and doesn't make much sense in-game.


I almost always lead with my PC, who is a Bard; there are some really helpful class abilities like Jack Of All Trades that make you at least somewhat decent in all skills and pretty darn good in quite a few. A big improvement from my initial foray into Early Access is the Insight system. When certain things occur in-game, a party member will get Inspired: that might be something like a cleric learning more about her deity, or a warrior defeating a hated foe, or an artisan crafting an exotic weapon. You can bank up to four Inspiration points. Whenever you fail a skill roll in a dialogue, you can choose to spend an Inspiration point to re-roll. This isn't usually worth it for a long-shot, like a DC18 when you just have +1, but it's really great for those moments of "Oh, come on, I shoulda nailed that roll!" I do like this system of having a limited number of a replenishable resource; since it does encourage you to actually use them; it oddly reminds me of Flasks in Elden Ring, but with narrative rather than combat implications.


In my game, I hoarded Inspiration for a while, then started spending freely... a little too freely. When there is a conversation (or conversation-style cut-scene) that has a dramatic impact on the game, it's common for you to need to pass a series of checks. At one point, I got stuck with a permanent debuff on my main character because I couldn't pass 3 varied skill checks that occur back-to-back-to-back in the same dialogue. I had a single Inspiration point left, after squandering some on far-less-significant flavor-related outcomes in a previous conversation. I reloaded until I got the outcome I wanted, and since then I've tried to keep at least 3 Inspiration points in stock unless I'm sure I need them.


Those strategies help, but one seemingly irreconcilable hassle is that many (maybe even most) important conversations automatically initiate when someone gets close enough, rather than by you selecting a character and clicking on the person to talk with. Because of this I switch to have my PC Bard in the lead whenever I'm in a settlement or see NPCs in the area; the rest of the time my high-Wisdom Cleric is in front to help spot traps and secrets.


Oh, traps! Traps are still annoying. I know I harped on that in my last post but they still bother me. Traps were actually somewhat decent in the D:OS games: what was cool there was that traps were always part of the environment, so e.g. if you (the player) looked closely you would see a tripwire strung across a corridor, tied to some firing mechanism. You could resolve them however you liked in the physics engine: step around the wire, place a big urn in front of the crossbow, fire at the tripwire from the far end of the corridor, etc. The OG Baldur's Gate games, in contrast, had very abstract traps: if your thief Detected the Trap, a trapezoid on the floor would highlight red, and if you stepped inside that red, you would take damage; your thief could alternately Disarm the Trap, which would make the red trapezoid disappear.

BG3 brings forward the "detect trap" and "disarm trap" mechanics from BG1/2, and tries to marry that with the physics-based traps of D:OS, and the whole result feels really awkward, unfun and unsatisfying. Unlike BG1/BG2, you don't get any XP from Disarming Traps. Any time you fail to Disarm, you trigger the trap, making it way more punishing than failing to Lockpick. Party AI is often garbage when it comes to traps: they seem to try to avoid spotted traps, but will inevitably jostle one another over the line and then FWOOSH everyone is on fire. Traps feel like the one thing where BG3 is worse than its predecessors.


The only other thing annoying me at the moment: "Pick Up and Add to Wares" seems to be broken for me about half of the time. This should be a decent way to minimize the pain of my loathed inventory management, but more often than not I end up having to go through my inventory and find twelve individual suits of chainmail to sell off, even though I know I went through all the bother of right-clicking and selecting that specific options.

Other than that, though, it's great! More later, I gotta play more BG3 first!

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