I finally broke down and bought myself a copy of Baldur’s Gate 3, the Game of the Year for 2023, when it came out for consoles. I do all of my gaming on consoles because I have inexplicably bad luck with technical difficulties whenever I game on PC. So with the flood of sassy pale vampire cosplays and fan art that flooded the tail end of last year I figured it was time to actually see what the big deal was.
I simultaneously love it and bash my head against it in utter frustration.
Let’s get the bad out of the way. I find the combat system to be a chore. While Baldur’s Gate 3 does a good job of simulating the experience of playing a tabletop roleplaying game, I don’t know if that’s a great gameplay decision. If I wanted to roll dice I’d do that with my friends, and at least then there’s some camaraderie over poor results or outrageous good luck. But when I’m alone in my living room pulling my hair out watching every attack I make Miss and Miss and Miss while my opponents seemingly score unerring Hit after Hit… it feels less than heroic. Some people find spectacular failures as a result of probability to be amusing. I find it a waste of my time after spending twenty minutes on a fight that I have to start again.
I also don’t like the Dungeons & Dragons 5E system. Years ago when D&D 4E came out I turned away from it, strolled into Pathfinder’s awaiting arms, and never looked back. To this day I’ve never played a serious D&D 5E campaign. I find their three-action system to be far more elegant and streamlined. My brain doesn’t wrap around the Action, Movement, Bonus Action system as easily.
But then there are the things that keep pulling me back in despite my hair-pulling aggravation.
I instantly saw why everyone was crazy for this cast of characters. With gold-standard voice acting, unforgettable design, and personal stories that have so far kept me very engaged, I find myself wanting to know what happens next with this band of weirdos. And the top-tier voice acting isn’t limited to the main roster. Seemingly everyone you encounter, from random folks in the forest to the monsters you’re destined to slay… well, the phrase “there are no small parts only small actors” comes to mind.
And the character creator! A friend of mine called it “the first boss you have to defeat!” When I first fired up Baldur’s Gate 3 I thought I knew the character I wanted to create. Two hours later I was still poking through the character creator, toying not only with race and class options but hair highlights, heterochromia, vitiligo, gender identity, piercings, tattoos, and age. As of this writing I’ve made five different starting characters, and I still don’t know which one will be the first to reach the game’s ending.
And on a personal note, I’ve been fascinated by the githyanki since I learned of them way back in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition, and to see them along with a nautiloid in the game’s opening made me squeak more than a man in his mid-forties probably ought to. But hey, I was a sucker for Spelljammer as a kid, too.
I’ve decided to swallow my pride and play the game on Easy mode. I care more about the story and characters than overcoming game mechanics that are sucking the fun out of the fantasy. Maybe one day one of my many characters will actually finish the game and I’ll have a more rounded picture of Baldur’s Gate 3.
And I can see why nearly everyone loves Karlach.