In early access, Baldur’s Gate III pushes against everything I usually like about choice-based RPGs. That might prove terrifying when the game eventually leaves early access and is a full game on my PC, but as I explore Larian Studios’ first act, there’s something freeing about getting acquainted with an honest-to-god CRPG in a playthrough that I know won’t represent my experience a year from now.
When it comes to RPGs where I create a character and make decisions, I almost always remake a version of myself to project into the game’s world. Whether that world be in Mass Effect, Cyberpunk 2077, or Baldur’s Gate III, I make decisions based on how I feel about a situation, rather than trying to roleplay a character who is fundamentally different than me in real life. If things don’t turn out for the best, then, so be it! And even when I replay these games later I still make the same decisions; those choices were a representation of who I was in that moment. Choice-based games are like time capsules of my personality when I played them. That’s part of their appeal to me. I’ve never been one to try and game the system and get the “best possible outcome.” I think the inclination to do that is why conversations around choice-based RPGs often devolve into arguments about what is the “best” or “canon” choice, even if that’s not what the game ever presented in the first place.
As such, Baldur’s Gate III has been a test of my patience in a few scenarios. It’s one of the first games I’ve played with dice rolls. Or, at least, dice that show up on the screen and explicitly communicate a stat check. Thus far, I’ve been pretty damn lucky in that I’ve been passing more checks than I’ve failed. In games where coercion is a mechanic, I tend to spec into it so I can talk my way out of situations. Baldur’s Gate III is no different, but rather than simply getting a pass/fail outcome like I would in games like Dragon Age: Origins, I have to roll a die, use my associated buffs, and hope for the best.
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That has already introduced a few points where I save scummed. Whether it was after failing a dice roll to save someone in harm’s way by convincing their assailant to stand down, or trying to get around someone asking me to wipe literal shit on my face (it makes sense in context). I’m struggling to escape the mindset that I’m writing my story in stone when I play Baldur’s Gate III — while also failing to account for how much more luck plays into the outcome than my intent.
There’s this tacit understanding in most video games. If something doesn’t go your way, whether that be in a decision you made or a loss you face, you can always restart and do it over. But a lot of that feels antithetical to how I play these games to begin with. I always feel like I’m writing these stories in tandem with developers in blood, forming a pact that I will go boldly into whatever direction I take, regardless of the consequences. But I’ve always done this in games that took luck out of the equation; it’s got me thinking about how I play Baldur’s Gate III, a game that’s not even finished yet, and I’ve come to a more relaxed conclusion. This is an early access game! Nothing I do here must be set in stone.
At the end of Baldur’s Gate III’s first big questline, I got the opportunity to choose a love interest for my character. I ended up going with Wyll: a charming and roguish Warlock who I’d spent a fair amount of time with compared to my other prospects, Gale and Astarion. We were both cut from the same cloth as Warlocks with our lives and powers tied to otherworldly beings. I’d also seen enough of Wyll’s personal quests to see the baggage I could get into with our relationship. I don’t foresee an event where I’m not walking hand-in-hand with him as Baldur’s Gate III evolves (short of a new romantic interest being added), but when I watched the romance unfold, I did feel like I was signing on for something incomplete.
There’s enough content in the early access version to know who a lot of these people are, but this is just the beginning. And even if I have to wait another year or two before I can see the full thing through, I don’t have to feel like I’m writing the final draft when I’ll likely have a lot more opportunities to define what my character’s presence means in this world. The version of “him” that shows up in the final game won’t remember when I failed a dice roll and saw some tragic version of an event come to pass. Now is the time for me to experiment, take notes, and learn more about the world and how I feel about it. The time to carve my story in stone can come later.