Before I dive into the bulk of this article, it should be mentioned that no video game could ever truly capture the Dungeons & Dragons experience solely because there are static limitations to any video game. You can account for a lot of things as a game designer and try to cater to dozens of styles of play, but no game could adapt to the wild and imaginative things that players regularly ask of their DM’s quite like a living, breathing person present. Yet in spite of all of that Baldur’s Gate III already shows incredible promise when it comes to representing D&D and is a game I’m genuinely enjoying…
Before I dive into the bulk of this article, it should be mentioned that no video game could ever truly capture the Dungeons & Dragons experience solely because there are static limitations to any video game. You can account for a lot of things as a game designer and try to cater to dozens of styles of play, but no game could adapt to the wild and imaginative things that players regularly ask of their DM’s quite like a living, breathing person present. Yet in spite of all of that Baldur’s Gate III already shows incredible promise when it comes to representing D&D and is a game I’m genuinely enjoying.
Don’t get me wrong, Baldur’s Gate III is a technical mess at the moment but I know what I signed up for when I decided to buy a game that’s in early access. I’m not going to harp on the performance of the game too much, but if you’re curious about what I mean by a “technical mess,” I can summarize that really quickly.
In its current, fresh into early access condition, Baldur’s Gate III runs inconsistently, usually fluctuating anywhere between running at 20 fps to 144 fps on my machine. Lip syncing for the new “cinematic” conversations is basically non-existent, and graphical glitches from T-posing, duplicating NPC’s you’re actively talking to, and ragdolls going wild are common occurrences. That kind of stuff is all bound to be smoothed over during the course of their early access period, so I’m not worried about that.
With that said, there are some things I would very much like to see fixed, changed and improved that pertain more to how the Dungeons & Dragons rules are translated into a video game. While this article isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, it does represent the things that I have personally noticed. I really love D&D, but I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in its mechanics or lore, so this is truly just representative of how I enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons.
SHOW ME THE NUMBERS
In D&D you have a core set of skills like strength or wisdom, that as you pour stat points into them you’re granted a higher modifier. A modifier is the number you add to your roll or in some cases subtract from it, representing…well your skill at a particular ability. For instance, a rogue is going to be pretty good at sneaking around, picking pockets and doing cool flips, so their dexterity score and thus, modifier are going to be higher. Without just explaining the rules of D&D anymore than I already have, the rogue would have a couple of numbers they can add to a D20 roll in order to clear the difficulty class (DC) that represents how hard what they’re attempting is.
Baldur’s Gate III does this as well, but oddly enough reverses it. Instead of you adding numbers to a roll to clear a DC, all of your stats and bonuses subtract from the DC. It may not sound like a big deal, but after years of playing D&D it’s an incredibly jarring change. I suspect that the reason for this change is to make it simpler for new players with little to no experience with D&D to comprehend what’s going on. It’s obfuscating the math as not to confuse people and just have them focus on the dice roll itself, but that should definitely be something I can toggle on and off. As a player and a DM, I want to see those numbers.
Also, it just feels better to roll higher numbers than it is to roll low ones.
Considering that there isn’t really a DM in Baldur’s Gate III outside of a narrator who pops in regularly to make you feel like everything you’re doing is wrong, there isn’t much of a way to just perform random skill checks as far as I can tell. In D&D, if I find myself in an ancient library as a barbarian, I’m going to just sit back and contemplate how flammable these “books” as you call them, actually are. Yet if I’m a big brainy wizard, I’m going to be rolling arcana and history checks like they’re going out of style.
Half of the fun of playing D&D is being able to uncover clues or lore about the world through performing well timed checks. Being able to do a perception check when I enter a room or run a nature check on a potentially poisonous berry are just a sliver of ways that players get to feel powerful and useful as their characters.
There isn’t really any of that going on in Baldur’s Gate III however. The way that certain skill checks are handled is kind of bizarre and a little too passive for my liking. The only active checks I can perform are in dialogue situations, where I pick the line of dialogue that allows me to roll an insight or deception check. I understand this limitation in conversations because the alternative would be an colossal feat of programming. Allowing me to just roll whatever check I want in any and all conversations seems akin to asking Larian Studios to work on Baldur’s Gate III till the end of time.
But outside of conversations and combat, it’s just weird to me how pushed into the background a lot of these checks are. Almost every skill check that occurs while exploring is transformed into a passive check. I assume the game is rolling a dice in the background, but it’s still incredibly weird that I have no say over what check I’m rolling and when. I wouldn’t mind if there was some sort of “active DM” situation that would prompt me to roll a stealth check when I wander into a bad situation unwittingly. And if I do succeed on a passive perception check it would be nice to know what it is I noticed, because virtual Ari might see it, but flesh Ari does not.
While I’m bellyaching about the checks in Baldur’s Gate III, I wouldn’t mind if the game slowed itself down entirely to act like a DM. If there’s a trap I’ve wandered into, stop the game and bring up a menu that says, “hey, you fucked up and didn’t check for traps cause we don’t let you just do that, and now you’ve gotta roll dexterity saving throws for these party members. Good luck!” That’s the kind of D&D stuff I’m looking for from Baldur’s Gate III.
I think I just want Baldur’s Gate III to capture the feeling of sitting down to play D&D more than I want it to capture the world and lore. Sure those things are important to me, but when I ask for more transparency in dice rolls and checks, it’s because I’m trying to get that rush of playing D&D out of Baldur’s Gate III first and foremost.
This one is genuinely confusing to me, because it’s such an important part of the communal experience of D&D that its absence from the game is beyond odd. In D&D, your character cannot and should not be a skeleton key that can just do everything. Your characters are supposed to be flawed and fallible, which is why adventures travel in parties. The wizard may be a really smart magic-man, but he needs the fighter and her strength to defend him cause he’ll just get squished like a bug.
In its very early access state, Baldur’s Gate III seems to miss that mark by a wide margin. At the moment, my party has a cleric, fighter, rogue and a warlock, all with different skills and proficiencies that should work fairly well together. In combat, different skills and abilities work wonderfully together. Having the rogue shoot an oil barrel causing its contents to create a puddle under my enemies, followed by my warlock igniting said oil was a satisfying example of synergy, but outside of combat that isn’t really the case.
What isn’t in Baldur’s Gate III is an easy way to compare the skills and proficiencies of your characters without having to dig through a menu. So when I’m trying to break down a door or disarm a trap, I have to make an assumption on the fly of who to send to tackle said obstacle. Giving me a prompt or tool tip that just says like, “lock picking check” and then an ordered list of who in my party has the highest relevant skill for it would be nice.
But the most infuriating example of this is in situations where you have to talk to people. Baldur’s Gate III doesn’t do a great job of incorporating the rest of your party into your conversations. Sure, their lifeless husks will loom in the background unblinking while a man tells you the sad story about his brother or whatever, but they won’t help you in any way. For instance, if my character had a super low charisma score, I’d have to live with that every single time I entered into a conversation with someone. I wouldn’t be able to let the smooth talking bard (who isn’t in the game yet) do their thing and schmooze people over, no, instead Gronk the dwarf with a brain injury is going to ruminate on the income disparities that run rampant throughout the city of Waterdeep. That’ll fucking go well.
All I’m saying is, the adventuring party relies on one another for their talents and abilities, and I feel like Baldur’s Gate III doesn’t deliver on that in certain aspects of their game to varying degrees.
WAIT, I WANT TO GO BACK
There are times in D&D where a player might have a plan in their mind that they try to enact, only to find out that mechanically it wouldn’t be possible. That’s the good thing about having a cool DM, they’ll let you know that your harebrained scheme isn’t going to work or they might even work with you to make that nonsense happen. What’s even cooler is when a DM let’s you rewrite your turn upon finding out that said nonsense isn’t going to work.
Baldur’s Gate III is not a cool DM and is a bit of an asshole when it comes to you being able to fix your mistakes. Now I’m not asking for Baldur’s Gate III to allow me to just try out spells on enemies till I get the result I like or anything, but I don’t think it would be a big deal if it let me undo my movement if I haven’t taken an action yet. With the camera and path-finding in Baldur’s Gate III being what it is, which is to say it’s bad, being able to undo your movement in your turn would be extremely helpful.
Too often I’ll find that I’ve wasted my movement, taken an opportunity attack, and ended up in prime position to be blasted by 3 wizards and an archer. All of this could be fixed with a simple “undo” button. To be entirely fair though, that button may exist somewhere, but lord knows I haven’t found it yet.
STOP, NO, WAIT, GO THERE
I never thought an isometrically oriented game could have so many camera and movement control issues, but here we are. It’s borderline maddening how many times I’ll try clicking on something that I can clearly see, only for my character to interpret “go there” as, “climb that mountain behind you.”
Part of this frustration has to do with the camera, which might function exactly like it did in Larian’s previous titles, but I couldn’t say for sure. But in Baldur’s Gate III, the camera does this cut away trick to reveal the area in front of and around you while dissolving any trees or natural coverings that would normally obscure you to account for whatever angle you’re viewing the action from. Think of how The Sims does it, where those things are still there, but you need to rotate the camera to see them again.
What Baldur’s Gate III does which has resulted in my great frustration, is allowing me to click on things that I can’t see. There was an instance where there was a natural stone archway that formed out of the side of mountain that had a road running underneath it. I made the mistake of stopping too close to the archway I suppose, which resulted in me trying to click further up the road to progress forward, but the cursor actually clicked the top of the archway that was dissolved away by the camera. I couldn’t see the thing I just clicked on, but my party tried to climb that archway with gusto.
Luckily for me though, there wasn’t an actively burning fire on the way up the mountain or else my party would have just charged right in there without any sort of self-preservation in mind. For instance, during the tutorial you find yourself in an area where fire is happening all around you and you need to kind of just walk past it. There’s a pretty large path to follow, but your characters only know of the most efficient route to get to where you clicked, which is barreling straight through regardless of what’s in their way.
The amount of accidental fire damage I’ve take in Baldur’s Gate III already is alarming, and I really hope the path-finding gets better cause I’ve already wiped my entire party because instead of running around the combat encounter, they walked right into and stopped in a puddle of grease putting them in prime roasting position. It was a nice present for my enemies I suppose.
WHERE IS IT?
Look, I don’t have a ton of experience with games like Baldur’s Gate III so I’m sure that a cluttered inventory and unorganized hotbar are just expected at this point, but the way in which Baldur’s Gate III “organizes” your spells is truly abysmal. For those who don’t know, casting spells in D&D is a bit of a process that involves making sure you have the spell slots available, picking a level, and then casting the spell and rolling its damage. If that didn’t make any sense to you, that’s fine, just know that Baldur’s Gate III makes finding your spells a chore.
Instead of giving me a list of spells I could cast and then asking me what level spell slot I want to burn on it, they just give you an icon for each spell at each level. Wanna cast magic missile at level 2? Well you gotta scroll through the hotbar to find the magic missile icon with a little roman numeral 2 on it. It’s painfully unintuitive at the moment, but I suspect it’s a remnant of trying to shove the D&D mechanics into Divinity: Original Sin II‘s engine.
Your spells are also just kind shoved into the hotbar all willy-nilly, something I think you can reorganize, but it crams everything your character can do into it with no organization. For instance, I have a fighter in my party who can perform strikes that can cause the fear condition in an enemy. I recently leveled her up in a way where she’s received some spells she can use as well. Instead of separating those skills into folders that are marked as “fighter abilities” or “cantrips,” it’s just all kind tossed in there for you to click through along with the myriad of spell scrolls you pick up, making combat kind of a slog when it’s the turn of a magic user.
In the same vein, the initiative tracker is absolute garbage and needs to be changed entirely. There are times where it’s supposed to be my turn, but then someone else just gets to cut in front of me for some reason. I’ve even had instances where a character I’m controlling will get two turns in one round. It’s bizarre.
AM I THE ONLY ONE PLAYING BY THE RULES?
I don’t want to be that guy or anything, but it sure does feel a bit like the enemies in Baldur’s Gate III are just kind of freestyling it when it comes to their abilities. I noticed this very early on when there’s a goblin attack you find yourself in the middle of. I’ve played enough Dungeons & Dragons to know the goblin stats pretty damn well, so I took notice when the goblin took more than 7 HP worth of damage and still lived.
It’s a really weird an unwelcome choice to tinker around with the stats of enemies when you’ve got literal books worth of reference material to pull from. I understand the need to alter things to make them work in a video game, but this one seemed completely unnecessary. Now I can’t use the Monster Manual as my own personal strategy guide.
I’VE PLAYED THIS GAME BEFORE
If there is one thing to me that is more damming about Baldur’s Gate III than anything else I’ve already mentioned, it’s that this game feels awfully similar to another Larian Studios game, Divinity: Original Sin II. I didn’t play very much Divinity: Original Sin II, but I sure as hell played enough to recognize it when juxtaposed with what’s supposed to be a game recreating the D&D mechanics. Aside from both games having a ton of visual similarity, there are two mechanics that I’ve personally seen that made me feel like I was playing a version of Divinity that was cosplaying as D&D.
First and foremost has to be the movement and map structure. I know it’s way more dynamic and interesting if you can have free access to just about anywhere on the map during a combat encounter, but for a game trying to present the rules of D&D accurately, there should be some sort of grid-based movement. In D&D, each grid block is supposed to represent 5 feet, which is important to know and be aware of considering how many things are tied to your precise position.
For example, I tried to set up this choke-point in a hallway that would effectively be a gauntlet of blades for the enemies trying to escape and alert their buddies. I managed to get 3 of my party members in what I assumed was stabbing range, but these enemies just found this sliver of daylight and plowed throw untouched like they were Barry Sanders or something. It’s things like this that make me yearn for some grid that confined movement or even an arrow I can point that’ll alert me about what I’m getting myself into if I move somewhere.
The other Divinity-esque thing I’ve seen is how much Baldur’s Gate III incorporates environmental effects and hazards into its gameplay. At first, the ability to knock over a bucket of water onto an enemy and light them up with a lighting bolt for extra damage seems awesome, but then you might find a pathway obscured by some fire and have to make the choice of burning a spell slot on it or not. These choices certainly come up in standard D&D play, but the frequency at which these hazards present themselves are a little too much for my tastes.
Like I said, I haven’t played a lot of Divinity: Original Sin II, but from my understanding you have less resource intensive ways of dealing with things like that than you do in D&D.
ROLL THEM BONES
Okay this one is really just me being ridiculous, but I stand by the fact that it should be more fun to roll the dice than it actually is. Clicking a big die and watching the numbers change is fine and all, but what if there was like a physics driven dice I could roll? That would be a lot of fun for me, a simpleton who is easily amused by physics in video games. It would also make it feel more like I was playing D&D proper.
Despite all of my bellyaching about some of the mechanics in Baldur’s Gate III, I’m really enjoying it for what it is. It’s very early and I’m sure I’m not saying anything the developers haven’t already heard, but as someone who plays Dungeons & Dragons regularly these were just some of the things that stood out to me. I haven’t dipped into the multiplayer just yet due to reports of it being busted, but I look forward to giving that a shot once a few patches hit.
I know worrying about certain mechanics that are present in this current version of Baldur’s Gate III is premature at best, and I’m sure Larian Studios will make great strides over the course of their period of early access. It’s going to be a long time before Baldur’s Gate III fully releases, and by then I’m sure I’ll barely be able to recognize it as the same thing I’m playing now.
Ultimately, I might be looking for something that Baldur’s Gate III cannot or isn’t attempting to deliver on. I want that feeling of playing Dungeons & Dragons more than anything else. It’s a big ask for sure, but I feel like this is the closest I’ve come to getting to play a single player D&D game in the rule set that I know. I might take a break from Baldur’s Gate III until some more patches and fixes get implemented, but I can assure I’ll be reading the patch notes that come with every update just to see if it’s the right time to dive back in.