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13th Nov 2023 | 370 views
Making a video game RPG is hard. Making one that is sequel to some of the most beloved and famous CRPGs ever made is even harder. Making one that is not only sequel to those, but is also based on most commercially successful TTRPG of all times (D&D 5e), which in turn means millions of people who are closely familiar with its ruleset that will be watching for every discrepancy, is almost insane.
Yet, this is what Larian set out to do with Baldur’s Gate 3. Did they succeed? Depends on how you look at it.
Once upon a time Swen Vincke, founder of Larian, came up with his own system for rating CRPGs, more precisely for ”measuring the quality of character development a game is going to give me, character development being the feature I care the most about in a RPG”. He called it FUME, which stands for Freedom of character development, Universe in which you develop your character, Motivation that is given to you to develop your character and Enemies against which you can develop your character.
Games he mentions that rate high on his scale are Ultima VII and Fallout 2. FUME is something that Swen always has in mind when developing games at Larian. So let’s see how Baldur’s Gate 3 rates on FUME.
Freedom of character development
“Can you make the avatar you want to play? Or are you forced into a particular stereotype conjured by the designers of the game, who for sure will not have thought of your particular fantasy. It’s an important question, because it directly affects how immersed I will be in the game.”
BG3 gives you lot of freedom in creating your character.
You can pick among 11 races with lot of additional subraces. Technically, this is 9 races (+ Githyanki), since Drow are type of Elves and as such are not distinguished as separate race in D&D 5e Player’s Handbook (PHB), from which 9 races come from, though in BG3 Drow have 2 subraces that have no mechanical differences, but have different moral alignment (unfortunately, latest 5e supplements and reprints are basically scraping alignment altogether), thus somewhat different dialogue choices. Gith (Githyanki) is addition from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes and makes sense given the main plot of the game. I wish Larian managed to include Gith (Githzerai) as well, given their more forgiving and ”Lawful Neutral” nature, instead of arrogant and “Lawful Evil” nature of Githyanki, but it is not that big of a deal.
What Larian could’ve included are some of more popular races from some of the supplements, like tabaxi, and especially goblins, giving even more roleplay options in Act 1 due to goblins being prominent part of it.
Unfortunately, not all is as is should’ve been – some of the things are missing (like Human (Variant) which gives feat of choice in character creation), some races are changed for worse (like Half-Elves) and some all encompassing things are completely changed to rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything supplement, most important being free boost of +2 and +1 to any ability, instead of fixed ability boosts (for most races) from PHB. This is something that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has been pushing for a while now and will be how their future version of D&D (One D&D) will be operating as well. I didn’t like removal of racial penalties that were part of D&D until 4e, so this “put it anywhere you like” is additional step down in my book.
All classes from PHB are there, often with changes – Larian felt, for some reason, they need to homebrew 5e ruleset for their game to work (later on that) and that starts with character creation. Multiclassing is possible, but 5e’s requirement of needing to have 13 in main ability of the new class as prerequisite to multiclass into that class is gone – some might view this as giving players more options, but, considering the nature of some of 5e’s front loaded classes (and games 12th level limit), it just brings more unbalancing to the game.
Backgrounds from PHB, which give you proficiency in 2 skills and background quest, are, for the most part, all present. For some reason Larian decided to exclude Hermit and Sailor backgrounds and to add their version of Haunted One from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, but overall, not a bad selection, though they could’ve gone with few more, either from Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, or something completely new (Backgrounds are there to help define player characters, and can be custom in 5e, if DM agrees on them in collaboration with players).
When it comes to aesthetic choices, there are enough to get you going, but it is nowhere nearly as detailed as it could’ve been and what lot of games in this genre have. Honestly, this is the part in RPGs that I care the least for, so I had no problem with it. However, small palette of voices is something that did bother me, since even BG1/2 had better choice of “personalities”, but that is the price you inevitably pay as dev when you go with “everything is voiced” approach.
D&D 5e class progression through levels is very limited compared to something like D&D 3e/3.5e/Pathfinder 1e or Pathfinder 2e (and even more limited compared to fully skilled based systems), so there will be only few actual mechanical choices you make during further character development, but those are limitations of system they were given to work with. Some story events will give you more options though - if you are willing to take them.
9/10 for this part of F
“Freedom also reflects the degree of linearity present - you can’t have a very high Freedom value in a linear game. It also stands for the liberty that is given to you to make decisions that have some in-game consequences. If I don’t get to make at least a few decisions that affect at least a few things in your gameworld, chances are you’ll score very low on my Freedom scale with your RPG.”
Baldur’s Gate 3 is anything but linear game. From the very start you have lot of choices, some which are immediately (or almost immediately) obvious and some that become more apparent as the game progresses. This is especially true in Act 1, which is loaded with places to go and choices to make – this comes as no surprise given that’s what Early Access was all about and what had most feedback, plus Larian games tend to be somewhat frontloaded.
Unfortunately, as the game progresses, one thing also starts to be apparent. As much as BG3 might not be linear game, and as much as your choices give you the feeling that what you do matters, BG3’s grand structure boils down to so called Funnel design:
Approach that gives much more freedom, while still retaining some sort of narrative control would look something like this:
This is is not what many, if any, developer are willing to do anymore, given the amount of resources it would take to make all the different paths and content that avereage player would never see.
Larian’s desire to make something akin to second approach is obvious, but, unfortunately, BG3 game structure is a lot more like the first one.
You will never actually feel railroaded, given the amount of smaller choices you made before, but you will start seeing the grand scheme behind it all and game guiding you toward specific points that you just can’t avoid, thus making some of your previous choices more the matter of flavor and not actual substance. Ultimately, you will come to a point where you will discern that most of your choices are illusion of smoke and mirrors, a wonderfully weaved illusion, but illusion nonetheless.
7/10 for this part of F
“The original Fallouts scored quite high on my Freedom scale whereas (perhaps surprisingly) most Bioware games actually scored quite low for me, even if I did enjoy the Baldur’s Gates & Icewind Dales a lot. Sadly, most RPGs are a far cry from what I’d want to see, but there have been steps in the right direction, so I remain hopeful. “
8/10 overall for Freedom of character development
Universe in which you develop your character
“Is it interesting? Is it diverse? Is it original? Can you have cool and fun adventures in it? Is there sufficient depth? Do you care about the game world? Is it consistent with itself? Is it the type of universe that is interesting to play in as a starting character, but also as a well-developed hero? And also, is it a place that reflects your actions? Does it change as a result of your heroic deeds? Do you make an impact?”
Once you’re past tutorial (that many compare to Michael Bay level of nonsense), you will find yourself somewhere on the Sword Coast. And quite beautiful rendition of it. Sword Coast is part of Faerun, continent on planet Toril, which is part of Forgotten Realms setting, the most popular D&D setting since it’s been officially introduced back in ‘87. Forgotten Realms was always bit of a hodgepodge of everything, but over years and editions it became standard for “generic fantasy setting”, with nothing really standing out, so quite bland overall. BG3 tries to introduce something new here, literary bringing intereplanar Githyanki – Ilithid war into Sword Coast, but that is something that game that would start at much higher levels should feel like, not begginer level 1 adventure, so BG3 from the very beggining feels way over the top. I’m not sure if that’s what Larian was given to work with by WotC or is it their own concoction, but it stands out like a sore thumb from Sword Coast setting of previous games.
At first, you will have no idea where you are, but as you start exploring, you will get your bearings somewhat and start discovering interesting locales. First it will be just crashed Mind Flayer Nautiloid, then you will stumble upon an old crypt, then Druid’s Grove, then some abandoned village, which holds some secrets….list goes on, and I mean really goes on and on. Which is fantastic, right? Right. So much to see and explore, and try different approaches, which are given to you either via your character/class abilities or using enviroment to your advantage, as well as choices to make that are presented to you on every step. But what you will also notice as you keep exploring is that time does not pass in this version of Sword Coast. Sun does not set, no matter how much time you spend exploring, random animals do not show up on the paths you might previously passed, there are no travelers. NPCs are patiently waiting for you to show up and trigger their “role”, and some charatcers will even know things that are tied to your previous actions, although there was absolutely no chance they would’ve been able to know of them (i.e. Karlach’s reactions to you upon finding her, depending on what you did previously). There are things that NPCs will react to (most will flee if you have Elementals summoned), though on the other end of spectrum, no matter how much you helped certain “faction”, merchants will not recognize that. Area that you “cleared” will remain devoid of life, indefinitely, with no respawns, neither random nor preplanned. The whole “world” is more like a theme park that is waiting for you to come and discover it. That might explain why so much of a content is so densely packed that the whole map doesn’t feel as a world at all, but more like one large dungeon megacrawl, a beautiful one at that, but no less megacrawl. This goes on in Act 2 as well, and even Act 3, Baldur’s Gate itself, is more like a huge set piece than actual city.
All this is not necessarily bad. Actually, this is where the game is at its best, in that moment to moment exploration and huge amount of small details you discover around every corner. It is just that this does not feel like a living world – not even one that resembles BG 1/2, that had night/day cycle and random encounters, let alone more advanced worlds where NPCs have their schedules, animals have their habits and world moves on without waiting for you.
This all also ties into D&D’s mechanic of rests. D&D 5e is resource depletion game, whether it’s your class feats, your spells, your Hit Points (HP) or your inventory items. Your class feats, spells and HP will reset upon resting, most of them on Long rests, which you can take once per day, or some of them (or with some classes more) on Short rests, which are 1 hour rests that you can you can take as much as you like during the day. Whenever you rest there is a chance that, depending on where you are resting, something will surprise you and possibly attack you. In BG3 you can only take 2 short rests, which unbalances some classes (like Warlocks) that rely on short rests, but given that you can take long rest whenever you want (apart from few areas that circle red your mini map when you enter them), and how much of them as you want, rest becomes trivial “pause” button that not only unbalances classes, but is pulling you completely out of the world in which you are. Compare that to BG1/2 where resting in wilderness was always inviting trouble of possible random encounter, which takes precedence over your spells resetting, thus no one would get healed (in BG1/2, that are modeled on 2e, you actually need to have healing spells prepared and use them to heal party members, no one heals on its own by default like in 5e).
Another mechanical thing tied to the world is how turn based mode works – only character that you send into that mode or are in combat will be in “turned based world”, while the rest of the world moves freely around you. This is both mechanically and narratively distractive, that I can’t really fathom how is this a thing at all.
All in all, there is indeed plethora of different things to find and see and I really loved most parts (or levels) of this “megadungeon”, but overall, for something that supposedly been 200 miles from starting location to Baldur’s Gate, it all felt incredibly small, static, artificially overpacked for quest/exploration purposes, so it really failed to give any sense that you are in actual fantasy world, and not in narrative theme park.
3/10 for “world” part of the Universe
9/10 for “levels” part of the Universe
6/10 overall for Universe in which you develop your character
Motivation that is given to you to develop your character
“This doesn’t always have to be the main story: Diablo for instance was a game that got its Motivation from item fever and a few cutscenes, rather than from its complex storyline. However, it’s clear that having a good storyline can be instrumental in increasing your desire to explore a game’s universe. When the Universe falls flat (as it often does), it’s very possible that I’ll continue playing if my motivation to discover what comes next is strong enough. In general I find that if both Universe and Motivation score too low, I’m not going to be interested in a game.”
In tabtletop RPGs, best narratives usually come from players interacting with the world – often there is living world that is in some sort of “powder keg” status, and actions of your party might tip the balance at some point to trigger lot of events in that world.
Baldur’s Gate 3 on the other hand has so called “adventure coupon” narrative, and what a lousy coupon you were dealt - you are pushed into adventure against your will, the clock is ticking, now go for it. Except, as you’ll soon find out, it is not as bad as you thought, so you don’t have to rush that much. Have a go at our theme park. While trying to hump everyting that moves, or them trying to hump you. Forgotten Realms suffers from being WotC’s default setting, so almost anything that is published is set in FR. Amount of catastrophic and near-world ending events in it is absurd, and while at least some of them are actually well written, most are pure nonsense. Unfortunately, BG3’s narrative falls firmly into the second, pure nonsense, category, and given how lackluster it is, I doubt that will be motivation for anyone. Weak attempt of fan service to tie some of narrative into Spawn of Bhaal storyline of BG1/2 only further diminishes already shoddy stroyline.
So companions maybe? BG1 also starts with you as level 1, with inciting incident, and you get your first companion(s) soon – they have their stories and goals, they are reacting to other companions and your actions, there is plenty of personality in each of them and banter is well written. And they are all quite grounded, especially given that you are finding them at low levels when you don’t mean much in the world, so neither they do. Original BG3 companions, on the other hand, right from the start, behave and act like they come out from some, at least, level 7+ adventure, with overimporant backgrounds, overimportant goals and overimportant personas – everything around them is edgy and screams “I am the REAL star of this show”. That is, when they’re not trying to hump you. This is most likely consequence of the game’s origins character system, that let’s you choose many of them as your character when you’re starting the game, but it just leaves you with companions that are nowhere near as well thought-out and written as ones from say Dragon Age: Origins, from which this game draws a lot of influence in that regard.
So, no, companions were not my motivation either. Some of their quests were fine, but overall, I didn’t care much for any of them. As for returning characters from earlier BG games I’d say only this – if you’re going to include some of beloved characters from a game that takes place 100 years before your current one, at least make sure to make it right and not as a cheap fan service, because new players will have no idea who they are and old fans are just going to be pissed at mistreating those characters. I’m not saying there aren’t people who will like some of the original BG3 companions, and that might be some of their motivation, but overall most of them felt subpar to me.
Yet, I have 175 hours spent in BG3 on my first (and last) playthrough. Funny that Swen Vincke mentions Diablo’s “item fever” as source of motivation, cause I felt that there is way too many magic items in the game – 5e systemically (due to bounded accuracy) does not rely on magic items and I feel that Larian’s approach to magic items should’ve been more akin to that, instead of “item fever” that is actually in the place. But that might also be something that some players enjoy a lot.
In the end, my motivation came from that “levels” part of the Universe, that exquisite megacrawl that is really wonderfully done, to see what’s behind the next corner, and what secret I might bump into next (or where’s the next cat that has something funny to say). But that is already part of Universe, so with messy, lackluster narrative and not very interesting companions, my overall score for Motivation is fairly low.
6/10 for Motivation that is given to you to develop your character
E for the quality of the Enemies against which you can develop your character
“There has to be some resistance in the game world against which you can grow, be it the bad guys, an ethical problem the importance of which increases over time, the refusal of your avatar to deal with his personality issues etc… Whatever form a game’s antagonist or antagonists take, you want them to be interesting, varied, original, believable and surprising.”
“I actually can’t think of any RPG that really impressed me in this department, though entities like SHODAN did manage to at least upset me sufficiently for me to remember it. I think the lack of memorable villains has a lot to do with the narrative limitations our medium still has, but as technology improves, I’m sure that eventually we’ll be able to make a villain that recognizes what your avatar is all about, and then hit it in its weakest spot.“
Unfortunately, this is yet another area where this games scores quite low for me. First narrative BBEG (Bid Bad Evil Guy) is not so bad, he is fairly descently fleshed out, if a bit too cookie-cutter, but it gets progresively worse from there. Later on I actually laughed on few occasions at how terrible villains are, as in cartoon villains terrible, all the way to the end, along with some potential nonsencial twists, and this all heavily ties and contrbutes to lackluster narrative. There is “side” villain that is actually very well done, well written and fantastically acted, although he does suffer from usual stupidity of “if I gave my plan more than a second of thought, I would realize it has no chance in (literal) Hell”.
As for regualar enemies, there is all sort of menagerie from 5e’s Monster Manual and different suplements, but in their desire to bedazzle the players, Larian quite often throws some of them at the party too early, and thus nerfed, so you don’t really get to fight those monsters, but their pale shadows. It does get better as the games progresses, but honestly, most encounters don’t feel special or partucalrly engaging. Lowering immersion of the world is also the fact that you can instantly examine any creature you meet and imidiatelly see its stats, vurnerabilities, resistances and capabilities. Approach where knowledge skills help you do some of that (like in tabletop), or your knoweldge about creatures rising as you encounter more of them would be much preferable.
6/10 for the quality of the Enemies against which you can develop your character
So my overall FUME score comes out at 6.5/10 (though I have no idea what Swen's scale FUME uses).
What about other things not covered by FUME?
- Camera, UI and inventory are all pretty bad. Camera being especially terrible, as if Larian wanted to make over the shoulder 3rd person perspective action RPG instead of isometric turned based CRPG. I actually believe that this game would be better if they opted for SW: KOTOR approach and fixed camera to 3rd person – it would explain level of detail and amount of objects you get to see in this view present in the game, as opposed when you’re in “isometric” view and lot of details are missed (it’s never actually properly isometric, as in either old or modern games in isoCRPG genre).
- There are no formations like in BG1/2, and with party AI completely stupid as not to walk into traps your pointman just discovered, you’ll have to micromanage them often.
- “Passive” skill checks are visible, so even when your party fails them, you know there’s someting there, due to check being initiated – this would be considered terrible GM-ing.
- Using your non combat skills and abilities to solve problems is always nice to see, but it’s overal still underutilized
- Alchemy system is quite bad – there is no achemy system in 5e ruleset, but there are proficiencies with different kits that are required for different potions, which BG3 skips altoghether. This is missed opporutnity to actually make some of the skills more used than they currently are, and to make alchemy interesting.
- Underlying system might be D&D 5e, but there is so much changes, that calling it even 5e homebrew might be a strecth – 5e inspired would probably be better description. Some of them really change the nature of 5e and make BG3 combat tactically much worse than vanilla rules and some take existing principles, change them and make them fit Larian type of game instead of D&D 5e type of game. General impression with all the changes is that, instead of Larian flavored D&D, you’re playing D&D flavored Divinity: Original Sin - there are too many changes to accommodate for D:OS engine and type of play, instead the other way around. Changes from 5e ruleset would take many, many pages, so for interested, link to detailed wiki:
Reading all this, one could say that I didn’t enjoy this game very much. And in many aspects that would be true – I found the structure of game to be insufficent even for for this type of narrative, I found story to be uninspiring, main antagonists, for most part, downright terrible, companions to be mediocre, world too static and most of rule changes from 5e unsessecary and detrimental to gameplay.
But overall I quite enjoyed it – becuase when it shines, it really shines real bright, and that is in that moment to moment dungeon megacrawl aspect, finding new areas and secrets and ability to try some ideas based on systems that are implemented in the game – systemic gameplay is nowhere near perfect and too often with too much restrictions, but it is move in the right direction.
It seems to me that Larian doesn’t feel comfortable outside of their safe zone, so they keep very close to it. Too much unfortunately, for something that should’ve felt like there is bigger world out there. I’m of a firm opinion that if they want to stick with what they feel they’re most comfortable and good at, they should probably convince WotC to greenlight them making next something like Castle Ravenloft/Curse of Strahd game, cause that sort of selfcontained adventure, that is placed in selfcontained area that is around 1/10th of a size as BG3 should’ve been portaying would be right up their alley. That would be the game that could fully utilize best from their design principles without having to worry about other “problems” larger scale CRPGs bring with them, and it already has one of the most memorable antagonists in D&D lore.
As Baldur’s Gate CRPG 6/10
As Divinity: Forgotten Realms Megadungeoncrawler 9/10