It’s widely regarded that 2023 was one of the strongest years for games in living memory. Here at TheXboxHub we were feverishly getting our own nominees ready for the best release gong, when rumblings began that the critically acclaimed Baldur’s Gate 3 would indeed be hitting the Xbox before the end of the year. All eyes, then, were on The Game Awards.
As the evening went on, viewers were eagerly awaiting a shadow drop but after just three short hours, it seemed like the opportunity had been missed. Indeed, reportedly it had been as the theme of the show stayed true to the end, wrapping up speeches well before their time. Still, shortly afterwards the news was confirmed, Baldur’s Gate 3 was available on Xbox!
Baldur’s Gate 3 starts off in the thick of the action, when you discover that a nasty brain parasite has been implanted into your head, and it could turn you into an abomination at any moment. After miraculously surviving a crash on the Sword Coast you quickly set about finding a cure, whilst assembling a pretty powerful posse along the way.
To say that this is a role-playing game would be doing it a disservice, because Baldur’s Gate 3 sets a new bar for the genre, it’s quite possibly the role playing game. Exploring is all done in real time, and you can jump, climb and even sneak your way around the land. The loading screens are kept to a pleasing minimum too, despite how rich the environments are in the game. There’s loads to interact with, but selecting what you want can be tricky.
As with any game originally released on PC, the biggest challenge is always porting the controls. Larian Studios have put in a couple of options to try and remedy this, however they do meet with limited success. Firstly, the D-Pad can be used to cycle through nearby points of interest, instead of trying to hover the cursor over them. Otherwise, if you click down on the left thumbstick, the camera will focus and a selection reticule will appear. These measures help, but do not eliminate control frustration entirely.
If the battlefield is littered with enemies that you have slain, for example, looting them all can be something of a chore because of these niggles. The problem is made worse sometimes because Baldur’s Gate 3 can be a bit glitchy. I’ve had enemies start to seizure, meaning I have to manually move my character next to them before being able to attack, as one example. It adds up to a very small but noticeable issue when playing as for the most part, things work pretty well.
Anyhow, if one cornerstone of Baldur’s Gate 3 is exploration, the other has to be combat. Whenever you enter a battle, the gameplay shifts into turn based mode. Each of your party has a limited number of actions they can use, and movements they can make. It’s nowhere near as simple as that of course, but they are the foundations.
Each character’s class means they have a whole manner of unique abilities and spells, and there are loads of builds to experiment with. I started out with Gale, a Human Wizard, who has a whole bunch of tricks up his sleeve including the ability to cast fire, ice and electricity.
The key is to balance attack and protective skills, choosing those whose classes compliment each other, as well as making use of items such as potions, elixirs and scrolls (which act as instant spells no matter who is using them). If a player is “downed”, they will have a chance of avoiding death, but can still be killed if attacked again. They can be helped up, or revived with a specific type of scroll if eliminated.
Of course, heading into battle without the right gear is usually a bad idea. The good news is that the world of Baldur’s Gate 3 is stuffed with loot. There’s a lot of junk, but also lots of opportunities to bag powerful weapons and armour too. The rarity of items is colour coded, but each character can only carry a certain amount of items. It’s a good idea to regularly interact with traders with whom you can sell your wares to, or barter for items that you desire.
Adventuring and battling is a tiring and dangerous business, so rest is equally as important. You can short rest twice a day to instantly replenish some stats, or long rest and set up camp for the night. Doing so regularly is advised, because such is the nature of Baldur’s Gate 3 is that even the most innocent conversation could go very wrong, very quickly.
It’s for the same reason that saving regularly is also recommended. You’ll often get ambushed, and if you are already battle weary, death will quickly follow. There is an autosave feature, but it’s not that frequent in the grand scheme of things. However, thanks to the complexity of Baldur’s Gate 3, it’s usually possible (or it’ll happen by chance) to take an entirely different route when you go again. Repetitiveness is not an issue here.
Honestly, my least favourite part of the game to begin with was the combat. It didn’t quite click, and a few encounters early on felt stacked against me (I couldn’t land a hit due to missing all the time). However, when you hit Lv5 things really start to open up. Thanks to an increased amount of actions, along with boosted stats and more powerful spells, I hit my stride. The lesson I learned is that preparation is key, whether that’s buffing your party, stocking up on potions or shopping for the best gear. The combat gets better deeper into the game, with the complexities of each class revealing themselves like a beautiful flower.
Battling isn’t the only place where strategy is required. This being a Dungeons & Dragons game, a humble roll of the dice can prove the most important move of all and these will dictate how your story progresses. Your skills will be called upon regularly, during key events and conversations. Choosing the right member of your party depending on the situation is key, as their attributes will give you a greater chance of success. As is customary, rolling a 1 or a 20 will instantly seal that outcome, be it success or failure (I’ll leave you to guess which is which).
Oh and Baldur’s gate 3 is quite the looker too. Whether you are gazing over the horizon or concentrating on what’s happening around you, the amount of detail on offer is very impressive. It’s not only the environments that are beautifully realised, and diverse, but the soundtrack is nothing short of enchanting too. It’s quite the combination which makes the Forgotten Realms intensely exciting to explore.
What really impressed me about Baldur’s Gate 3 (and what I keep coming back to) is just how vast it is. Sure, games are getting bigger these days in general, but this is something special. It’s truly an enormous, lush, beautiful open world which is teaming with life. You genuinely won’t know what awaits around the next corner, whether it’s an ambush, side quest or a stash of loot. There’s a sense of exploration and wonder in Baldur’s Gate 3 that feels unparalleled by any other game of its kind I’ve played before. The best way I can describe it is that the game manages so well not to feel scripted, like an open book.
It’s this that helps to successfully create an adventure where the player has true choice in what to do and when. Once you start speaking to people, all sorts of quests will become available, and even side quests can send you on a detour for hours at a time. Depending on your choices, you may even miss out whole chunks of the game altogether. But therein lies the beauty, because this makes each playthrough different. Then if you layer on the fact you can play as several different characters, each with their own backstories and quest chains, the possibilities are almost overwhelming. This isn’t just because of the multitude of options available to you as the player, but also how the world responds to them. It feels as if your actions truly have consequences.
What’s also awe-inspiring (and award winning like some many other facets of the game) is the voice acting. Not only the quality, but also the sheer quantity of it. Hundreds of characters have voices, with thousands of recorded lines making up a mind blowing amount of dialogue trees. It’s yet another thing which makes Baldur’s Gate 3 utterly absorbing.
In fact, there’s something else too. The writing. I am still struggling to comprehend how the developers have not only managed to weave so many strands of storytelling throughout the game, but also how they shift and divert depending on the characters that are in your party. What makes this even more impressive is how deep the lore of the world is. I’m absolutely floored by the creativity, it is simply staggering (and I haven’t even mentioned the sexytime either).
Enough cooing from me though. I have played the majority of my adventure in Baldur’s Gate 3 solo, alongside my trusty AI party members. However, I’m happy to report that switching over to multiplayer is nothing short of seamless. Not only this, but your companion’s character will remain in your party if you go back to playing solo, but you can always send them back to camp. Playing cooperatively is as much fun as you’d expect, especially strategising and decision making together. Your friends can drop in whenever, which can prove handy for tackling difficult situations. This can be done as a party of up to four people locally, or online if preferred.
The fact remains however, that regardless of whether your companions are powered by a machine or the human brain, Baldur’s Gate 3 is an adventure that can easily swallow up days worth of playtime. Almost every area of the game is perfectly engineered to the point where the pieces slot together effortlessly to create something very special indeed. Just writing about it has got me itching to boot it up once more. This is a game that I’ll be playing for a long time to come.
Baldur’s Gate 3 really is a triumph of game design, and a masterclass in how to give control to the player, without making it feel like they are heading down a predetermined path regardless of their choices. It’s one of those rare times where you should really believe the hype, because it’s flipping awesome.