EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
The wrong kind of familiar
I was ready to love Baldurís Gate 3. I would either love it because it was another great Larian Studios game, or because it was a triumphant return of the Baldurís Gate franchise. With a key gameplay element gone - real-time pausable combat - my money was on the former. But love did not strike. Yet. I entered the game hopeful and found everything to be very familiar. While you would think that would be positive, it unfortunately is the wrong kind of familiar to be Baldurís Gate 3. This is a Divinity game. Nothing more, nothing less.
So where does it all go pear shaped?
I am a huge fan of Divinityís highly adaptable turn-based combat. It is so diverse and creative that it is absolutely the most turn-based fun I have had in any CRPG. But it does create a sizable obstacle for being able to see this game as a Baldurís Gate title. I knew that beforehand, but what I did not expect is that in its current form, it really is not that much fun. Characters only get one move and one action each turn. Thatís it. I ended up feeling held back constantly and was rarely able to mix and match spells and features in the environment to create some of that Divinity magic. It wasn't like I didn't getting my pausable real-time combat fix, but equally, I wasnít getting my Divinity joy either.
I was excited about the jumping feature. Divinity fans will recognize this as a replacement for teleportation - my teleportation ring was my most prized possession throughout much of Divinity 2 - but itís panning out to be much less fun. Itís overpowering, like giving Lara Croft a jetpack during her explorations and having her go from A to B in one fell jump. One encounter starts with an argument between some guardians at a gate and a group of adventurers being chased by a bunch of enemies. The adventurers beg for the gate to be opened, but the guardians are under orders to refuse. When the enemy party arrives, characters start jumping up and down the walls, making the gate largely inconsequential. The encounter is set up to be an action-packed sequence, but to me it highlighted that jumping is not a good replacement for teleportation.
I also found inventory management to be cumbersome. It was always the case, but itís been made more pronounced after having played a title like Wasteland 3. A shared inventory across all characters is just so much less painful. I know, purists will not agree with me, but itís just not fun juggling loot between characters until you find the best fit for that suit of armor or set of boots.
I am also not enthusiastic about the background story. It is outright derivative. Guess what, you have something disturbing going on in your mind again. Havenít we played this story several times already? In both Baldurís Gate and Divinity? Itís time for something new, please?
I wonít go into bugs much right now. This is an Early Access game and very much in development. But it is clear that BG3 is not ready for prime time yet. I have had enemy encounters that failed to trigger until I reloaded, and dead enemies standing up straight after a won fight. I stopped playing when I ended up being able to move around only one character at a time while the rest stayed put.
Itís not all doom and gloom though. If we forget that this game has little to do with its titled predecessors, you can easily see some of Divinityís brilliance at play here. In one instance, I was stuck in a room filled with grease, two of my characters lying down on the floor and unable to move. I waited, but the grease was not going away. Having played Divinity, I looked for solutions with my one character that remained standing. A fireball scroll helped me burn away the grease, setting my entire party alight. I solved that problem by conjuring up a quick bout of rain. So these typical Dinvity moments are there, just not enough to rescue the lacklustre combat experience.
The opening half hour is filled with cinematic goodness with a sense of urgency that is rare for the genre. Similarly impressive are the character models, and facial expressions in particular. The game features lifelike renderings of every emotion under the sun and it is paired with some really good voice acting. This is the bar every CRPG will aspire to from now on.
I also loved the emphasis on rolling the dice, especially in dialogue choices. This is the first time that I really felt that the choices I made during character creation were actually being reinforced in the larger game. More than once I felt regretful for not buffing up the charisma points of my (odd) elven cleric.
Speaking of which, character creation is a good bit of fun. You can quickly switch between the various aspects of your character to fine-tune your choices and easily adjust your characterís appearance if you find that one of your choices should be complimented by a different look.
Not as advertised
Despite having hedged my bets, I canít help feeling disappointed. Baldurís Gate 3's Early Access debut isnít terrible. I would probably still be playing if it werenít for bugs, which are forgivable at this point. But this just isnít a Baldurís Gate game, and itís not a very good Divinity game yet either. Larian seems to have been unwilling to step out of their comfort zone, which has pushed Baldurís Gate firmly into Divinity territory. I failed to find even a hint of the Baldurís Gate vibe, and going turn-based for combat is not doing the game any favours either, at least not as long as its replacement is such a lacklustre experience.
Larianís track record of improving and polishing their games during and after development tells me that this will be a great game, but there is little doubt in my mind that this will never be Baldurís Gate 3. And thatís not what was advertised.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.