Why the Messy Baldur’s Gate III Demo Was So Good

Big chaotic energy.

Baldur’s Gate III is one of the most anticipated games of not just the next generation, but also quite possibly ever. Baldur’s Gate II was released a whole two decades ago by BioWare; Baldur’s Gate III will be released on PC, Stadia, and likely next-generation consoles and is being developed by Larian Studios, best known for creating the Divinity: Original Sin series. At PAX East, which is taking place over this weekend, Larian Studios presented the live worldwide reveal of the game.

Worldwide reveals are a huge deal, even without the anticipation of 20 years behind them. A worldwide reveal is the first time people will look at what a developer is working on. You ideally want it to be perfect; to have no technical hiccups unlike many E3 demos people have seen over the years; to show exactly what you want and go exactly the way you want.

But, over the course of its almost hour and a half runtime, the Baldur’s Gate III demo was messy. Chaotic. Disastrous, even, depending on who you ask.

And that’s why it was so good. Because in an age of meticulously crafted demos and PR releases, the messiness of this demo was not only refreshing, but also entirely worked in this specific kind of game’s favor.

“What you’re about to see is a game still in development,” immediately prefaces Swen Vincke, the CEO of Larian Studios. “It’s literally pre-alpha footage. We’re not going to show you video, we’re going to just play. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Furthermore, to make it even more exciting, the save game system is broken. So that means that, if I die, if it’s a party wipe, I just have to restart. So we’ll try not to have that happen.”

The frankness is refreshing and charming — something that he seems to show often. In the hours before the demo, he tweeted, “When your game leaks three times before a stream,” and made a meme out of Lae’zel, one of the characters in the game’s opening cinematic. This was in reference to the fact that the game will be in Early Access later this year.

The presentation starts and everything goes well until Vincke gets into an actual battle. His first attack, which he says has a “pretty good” 90% chance of hitting, misses. The crowd laughs. He confesses that he wanted to show the Mage Hand ability (and he does) but he tells the crowd, “you have no idea how nervous I was about doing it because I was going to get in this situation.” He adds that he should’ve “obviously” approached the battle in a different manner since both of his characters are already low on health. He’s taken aback by a misclick, which causes his Mage Hand to sneak. He comments, “Really, did I put my hand into sneak? That’s really clever.” He misses another hit with a 90% chance of landing, which is a feat since his character is aiming his arrow at an enemy right in front of him. He immediately runs away in panic.

baldur's gate 3 demo

One of the characters is downed. He mutters “no, no, no” as an enemy moves closer to him. He asks, “Why??????” as it attacks him. His party is soon wiped out, and he has to start the demo all over.

He rushes through the beginning and is convinced by the audience to retry the battle instead of avoiding it. He uses a completely different tactic and wins the battle in two minutes. Although he doesn’t die throughout the demo again, he does accidentally attack his companion, barely escapes another party wipe, and enters an annoying glitch that forces him to stop the demo five minutes early — among other things that go wrong. It is chaos, and it is magnificent.

It works because this is basically Dungeons & Dragons. It was thrilling and amusing to see his thought-process in real-time; to see him quickly move his mouse to and fro on the screen as he thinks about the best way to go about things, then proceeds to mess them up anyway. The demo showed the number of ways in which any ordinary battle can go right or wrong, which is the beauty and excitement of games like Dungeons & Dragons and Divinity: Original Sin II. It wasn’t planned to perfection; the surprises and moments of tension were authentic and had the audience groaning when an attack wouldn’t hit and clapping when Vincke succeeded. Despite everything that went wrong with the demo, it managed to effectively show the kind of game Baldur’s Gate III will be at its best.

For a full rundown of thoughts following a press preview event, you can listen to Features and Trending Editor merritt k and Managing Editor Steven Strom talk about the game here.