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When I was just starting out here at GameBanshee, I never even considered the possibility of covering the actual announcement of Baldur's Gate III at some point. Neither did I imagine that I would be thoroughly underwhelmed by this long-awaited reveal.
Announced during Google's “Stadia Connect” livestream, Baldur's Gate III is indeed being developed by Larian Studios, and not a lot is known about it at this point. We do know that the game will be coming to PC as well as Google's cloud-streaming Stadia platform. It will be based on a streamlined and simplified 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons and set roughly 100 years after the events of the previous games. We also know that Baldur's Gate III will be focusing on party-based gameplay, player choice and environmental interactions, and feature an online multiplayer mode coupled with generally high production values.
We don't know, however, whether the game will feature a 3rd person or isometric camera and whether it will offer us turn-based, real time, or real time with pause battles. We also don't have even a preliminary release window. But we do have a teaser trailer that revolves around a bunch of ominous-looking Mind Flayers:
Now, while this trailer may look fairly impressive, Swen Vincke's reveal interviews paint a less rosy picture. There, you can find plenty of talking points you'd expect to hear from a major publisher around the mid-2000s, including such gems like the core tabletop ruleset suddenly becoming not fun in a video game environment, and the idea that the game's rules have to be simple enough to be grasped within the first 10 minutes. But, don't take my word for it and check them out for yourself, maybe I'm just being overly negative here.
Baldur's Gate 3 will similarly give players lots of tools and then let them have at it. "We'll stay true to our roots," says Vincke, "so we'll give players lots of systems, and lots of agency to use these systems and try to accomplish what you need to on your adventure. That's not going to change; that's the core of what we're doing."
There are some things on the chopping block, however. It's an interpretation of D&D, specifically 5th Edition, because porting the core rules, which Larian tried to do, doesn't work. Or it works, Vincke clarifies, but it's no fun at all. One of the culprits is missing when you're trying to hit an enemy, and while the combat system has yet to be revealed, you can at least look forward to being able to smack people more consistently.
"You miss a lot in D&D—if the dice are bad, you miss," he says. "That doesn't work well in a videogame. If I do that, you're going to review it and say it's shit. Our approach has been implementing it as pure as we can, and then just seeing what works and what doesn't. Stuff that doesn't work, we start adapting until it does."
Vincke also confirms that Baldur's Gate 3 will emphasize environmental interaction of some sort, though it's unclear what form it will ultimately take. When I ask Vincke if Baldur's Gate 2 will have interactions similar to that of Divinity: Original Sin 2, where you could set up massive combos by, say, arcing lightning across water, he says, "And more."
"Tabletop gaming gives you all these systems, then it's the imagination. The player uses the system to do something, then the DM decides whether they want to go with it, and makes sure the world reacts to it. That's essentially what the game has to be. When you're in combat, it'll be about more than just clicking which spell or ability you want to start using. You will have more possibilities, and we're trying to go very broad," Vincke says.
The 5th Edition rules upon which Baldur's Gate 3 is based are purposely streamlined in comparison to their predecessors. Vincke talks about being able to explain them in less than 10 minutes to total newcomers, which he says he wasn't able to do with 2nd Edition or 3.5. It's part of D&D's attempt to woo new and lapsed players to the series.
Mearls characterizes Baldur's Gate 3 as "part of the evolution of D&D [...] a very natural step. "This is a chance to get people who maybe don't have an interest in tabletop roleplaying, who are looking for something that's more just pure story. They don't necessarily want to immerse themselves in the rules. They can have a great experience that's very authentically D&D in terms of the puzzle solving and the storytelling without necessarily having to make the commitment of playing a tabletop game," he explains.
"When it's ready" is a poignant phrase because a key, key thing about Baldur's Gate 3 is it's self-published. There will be no Kickstarter - although Larian absolutely wants community involvement - and no publisher. Larian is calling the shots.
"We're going to make this as good as we can until we run out of money and we have to ship it," Vincke said, with a smile. "Preferably, we'll get it ready before that time but we're not going to release it if this is not the game we want to play ourselves.
"We have really great concepts, I think, we have really talented people, we've got the support of the company [which has been] making Dungeons & Dragons for 40 years ... We have a studio that's well financed, we have technology we've been building ourselves.
Baldur’s Gate III takes place a century after the events of Shadows of Amn. It’s after The Sundering, another event in Faerun that involved the gods, their followers, and the ushering in of a new D&D edition (as the Time of Troubles did in 2E, setting up part of Baldur’s Gate story in the first place, and 4E’s Spellplague).
Larian writing director Jan Van Dosselaer (the lead writer for Divinity: Original Sin II) leads a story team of 13 people, five of which have been hired since that game came out. James Ohlen, who wrote Heroes of Baldur’s Gate, was a lead designer on the PC games, and is opening a new Austin studio for Wizards of the Coast, is not involved.
“It’s about 100 years after the game. We try to avoid giving specific years, because we have some amount of flexibility in our tabletop campaigns,” Mearls said. “Unless the precise year is really important, we don’t usually refer to it.”
It starts outside the city of Baldur’s Gate, Vincke said, and the city does feature in it. “The rest we’re not talking about,” he said.