I got to see Baldur's Gate 3 in action – and it may just be the future of RPGs

Baldur's Gate 3 is the future (Image credit: Larian Studios)

Back when Baldur's Gate 3 got that way-too-short teaser back at E3 2019, I was already sold. While the trailer was very body horror-esque, the idea that mindflayers would be at the forefront of an RPG on PC was really exciting to me. 

But then Larian invited me to go see the game actually played in front of me in the basement of some fancy hotel in New York, and it was there that I really fell in love with the game, and now I can't wait to actually get my hands on it. In short: I'm incredibly biased and you should take all of this with a grain of salt. 

On the other hand, there's a giant tentacle airship in the intro cinematic, and if that doesn't immediately sell you on it, you just have to live with the fact that we just have inherently different tastes. 

I stan

I stan (Image credit: Larian Studios)

Let's talk about that cutscene

Larian gathered up a bunch of people in that dark New York hotel basement and showed all of us Baldur's Gate III. And after doing some brief character creation – more on that later – we got to soak in the intro cinematic. 

Now, after a sufficiently scary looking Mindflayer puts Mindflayer-worm-things into the eyes of both your player character and a badass-looking Orc Woman (I stan), the cutscene cuts away to show the giant tentacle-equipped airship that you're presumably riding in on. 

That formidable airship then proceeds to absolutely decimate a city, warping a bunch of people into pods that look like they come fresh out of The Matrix. I'm assuming that all of these people will be transformed into Mindflayers themselves. 

But then, because this is a Dungeons and Dragons game, there are of course a bunch of folks riding in on Dragons to fight back the Mindflayer, eventually destroying the S.S. Tentacle and leading into the actual game. 

I went ahead and inserted that cutscene down below so you could share in the splendor, but needless to say it sets a tone

Gameplay, hooray!

So after we were treated to that glorious trailer, we were shown a frankly absurd amount of gameplay, and generally it looks amazing

It's a top-down RPG like Larian's previous flagship series Divinity: Original Sin, but it takes a unique approach. The environments are genuinely next-level graphically, to the point where Baldur's Gate 3 executive producer Dave Walgrave told Eurogamer that current-generation consoles like the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X simply couldn't handle it. 

But beyond simply looking good, dialog takes an interesting turn. Rather than maintaining the top-down perspective that combat and exploration have, the game will zoom in during dialog, giving it a cutscene-like perspective that really makes it seem like a AAA game. This alone makes Baldur's Gate 3 seem like the future of PC RPGs, combining that complex isometric RPG combat we all know and love with the type of dialog that we'd expect from something like the Witcher III: Wild Hunt. 

When I say the combat is complex, I mean it. This is a turn-based RPG like other games in the series, and this demands that players think their actions through. Not only do you have to take actions that your enemies might take into consideration before you start combat, but environmental elements like elevation or hazards play a major role. 

One segment that really stood out to me was above the major dungeon, where some bandits were gathered in a courtyard. The person playing the game maneuvered their archer up the stairs in a flanking position before battle started, while a mage and a warrior came up front. When combat started, the player's archer was able to just push the enemy archer from its elevated position, starting combat in the player's advantage.

The dice weren't kind, though. Which reminds me: we really have to talk about the dice. 

Tell me this conversation doesn't look like it came from a major AAA RPG, I dare you.

Tell me this conversation doesn't look like it came from a major AAA RPG, I dare you. (Image credit: Larian Studios)

Let's talk about the dice

Most isometric RPGs are designed to evoke the feeling of playing a pen and paper RPG, and most of them pull it off. But Baldur's Gate 3 is adding dice rolls that you can actually see to really add to that feeling. 

Most actions you take in the game will bring up an actual dice on the screen that will show the number you need to beat to be successful, along with a D20 that will actually roll on the screen. 

This is such a small addition to the game, but I think it's pretty amazing. It adds so much weight to everything you do, adding to the drama of the game. I can't speak for everyone, of course, but I know that I'll be at the edge of my seat for most of these spinning dice moments. 

Now, we were told that folks could save scum (basically where you spam your quicksave before everything you do) but eventually this should lead to folks just accepting the consequences of bad rolls. After all, when you're actually playing a pen and paper RPG, you can't just load up a prior save because that risky action you took didn't work out. 

I'm in awe of how gorgeous this game looks

I'm in awe of how gorgeous this game looks (Image credit: Larian Studios)

A truly replayable RPG

There are several origin stories that you can play through at the beginning of the game, as characters trying to cure themselves of a Mindflayer-borne parasite in the brains. You only get to play through one of these origin stories to play through, but it was heavily implied that you'll meet all the other characters throughout the surely lengthy story. 

I got to see at least a part of Astarion's origin story. This character is a vampire spawn that is still partially under the control of his master. There are a couple points throughout this opening section where he has to struggle with this fact – as Astarion can't return to his master with a brain worm in his head, he might be punished. 

Right off the bat, this means there are plenty of reasons to play through this game multiple times. Even if you do meet all these characters later on, there is likely a bunch of story information you'll gain by playing through all of them – which means to get all the story you'll have to play through the game multiple times. Some people might not like that, but I love it. I don't actually have time to play through a long RPG like this multiple times, of course, but I like to pretend I do. 

Combine the multiple starting points with the focus on dice rolls, and there are so many different ways Baldur's Gate 3 can play out that you'll potentially always have a reason to go back to the game. 

There has been this wonderful resurgence of isometric RPGs over the last few years, and while I absolutely adore games like Divinity: Original Sin and Wasteland 3, I've felt like they were living a little bit too much in the past. 

For years I've been waiting for an RPG to really take this style of gameplay to the modern age with gorgeous visuals and AAA production quality. I didn't think it would be Baldur's Gate 3 that would finally get us there, but I'm so happy it was. We were told that the game is still in early stages of development and that when Early Access does come, it'll last a while. Generally I avoid Early Access games, but with Baldur's Gate 3, the sooner I can get my hands on it the better. 

I want to live in this game, but more than that, I can't wait to see the games that are further inspired by it. I fully expect this game to push PC games, especially RPGs, to another level and I'm so here for it. 

Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas (Twitter) is TechRadar's computing editor. They are fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but they just happen to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop them a line on Twitter or through email.