Review – Baldur’s Gate 3

The Tumultuous Couch Co-op Experience 

Overview

Developer Larian Studios
Publisher Larian Studios
Genre Role-Playing
Platforms PC, PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, Google Stadia
Release Date Oct 06, 2020

I love Dungeons and Dragons. I have been playing it (and various other tabletop role-playing games) for almost a decade now. So when I heard about Baldur’s Gate 3, I was interested. I figured it would be a fun experience that could capture some of the amazing parts of Dungeons and Dragons without the hassle of needing friends or a consistent schedule with them. Then, I learned that Larian was implementing couch co-op. The idea that my husband and I could play through our own campaign together without a GM was far too tempting. We grabbed the deluxe edition on the PS5 and went on our way. 

I want to emphasize that this review is primarily focused on the PlayStation 5 local couch co-op experience. I have found that this experience differs significantly from single player or online multiplayer experiences, and that most other reviews do not focus on this perspective. Please keep this in mind, and enjoy!  

Content

Violence – Combat in this game isn’t particularly violent, but blood and gore are present throughout the game. You may come across viscera or various body parts when exploring. There are often options to talk your way out of fights as well, which can eliminate the need for violence. Some important characters in the game are inherently violent and bloodthirsty (vampire pun intended), and there are several gruesome scenes (such as a knife stabbed through a character’s eye).  

Language – Heavy language is used throughout the game, including f*** and s***. Real slurs are not present, though characters may use racist language towards some of the fictional races present in the game. 

Drug/Alcohol Use – Alcohol can be collected and consumed throughout the game. Players may encounter drunk characters. Potions and elixirs can also be consumed for various effects.  

Sexual Content – Players can toggle a nudity filter during character creation. This can be toggled on or off at any time in the game settings. Players can also engage in sexual activities should they choose to. While sex scenes with the player character are entirely consensual, players may encounter sensual or sexual content in the world (for example, players will need to investigate a “pleasure house” at some point in the game). Some characters wear revealing clothing. 

Spiritual Content – There are several religions, deities, and patrons in the world of Baldur’s Gate. Following a god is necessary to become a paladin or cleric, and warlocks require patrons. Baldur’s Gate follows the official Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeon and Dragons lore. Players will also encounter several demons and devils throughout the story. The concept of hell also follows the official Dungeons and Dragons lore.  

Review

Story & Gameplay – The game begins with a simple and effective premise: you have a mind flayer worm in your brain. You need to get it out before you become a mind flayer yourself. How will you go about this? 

Don’t mind us! Just running around looking for a cure to our parasite problem!

The story and characters of the game were the biggest highlights to me. The story itself is grand and expansive. The stakes increase as the story continues, and your journey to save yourself from certain doom evolves into a fight to save everyone around you. How you go about this journey, as well as who you choose to bring along for the ride, is up to you. In typical RPG fashion, this game is full of rich subplots, side quests, and characters that you can interact with. Nearly every NPC has a unique personality and story, making the world feel truly lived in and alive. This is especially true for your party companions. Every companion has their own thoughts, wants, and opinions that they are eager to share with you. Like in the Dragon Age games, companions may agree or disagree with your choices, which will in turn make them like or dislike you. A companion may even decide to leave if they hate you enough! On the other hand, a companion who really likes you may try to pursue you romantically (which you can choose to accept or reject, naturally). Each companion also has a fully fleshed out backstory and questline that you can engage with. The outcomes and development of your companions depend on how much you invent in them, so it would be wise to keep them in mind as you progress through the game. 

The gameplay of Baldur’s Gate 3 is based entirely on Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. Players choose to create their character (race, background, class, and visual design), or go with one of the pre-made characters (who are otherwise party members). I think it’s fair to say that everyone has a slightly different experience, due to what they may find or decisions they make. Deal with each situation in what feels like an endless number of ways! I cannot count the number of times I’ve talked with others about this game and someone says “Oh, I dealt with that encounter a different way” or “Wait, I must have missed that” or something similar. Every square inch of the world is full of life and opportunities. A rock can not be knocked over without facing some kind of consequence, even if it doesn’t reveal itself until 15 hours later in the game. This allows for incredibly unique experiences and near-endless replays.  

Organizing spells and abilities in radicals can take some getting used to.

Walking around freely in third-person and interacting with items, people, and objects is the main gist of the game. Once combat begins, it switches into turn-based mode. Combat runs similarly to tabletop D&D, where initiative determines turn order and what resources to spend during turns. Typically, players have a full action, bonus action, reaction, and depending on the class, spell slots. The PS5 version organizes your abilities in radicals that you can tab through. Abilities are color-coordinated so it’s easy to determine what takes a full action or bonus action.

Movement is tricky in this game in comparison to tabletop D&D because players have to commit to where they move!  In fact, it is paramount to be prepared to commit to every decision made; every spell cast, dialogue option chosen, and more. This can take some getting used to, so it pays to slow down and be mindful. It’s also a good habit to quick-save before going into new areas, fights, or talking to important NPCs. Personally, my husband and I abused the quick-save mechanic to play out situations in different ways.

Sometimes he would talk our way through, sometimes I would initiate combat, or sometimes we’d have a frankly ridiculous idea that we wanted to try out. For example, we ran into a situation in which we needed to get past a gate into a city.

Talking our way into the city didn’t seem to be working, and there was a terrifying sentry that we didn’t want to tango with. Then an idea came to mind – I had an item that improved my jump ability and nullified fall damage, and I recently took the spell “Enhance Leap”. So what if I jumped over the gate? Surely this wouldn’t work, right? After a quick-save, I attempted this, and you can see the results in the clip below.

If all else fails, try jumping over the problem!

I cackled like a madwoman when this worked, and the comedic timing of my husband’s level-up was just the icing on the cake. Moments like this one were some of my favorite parts of the game, so I would highly encourage players to feed the creative side when handling situations throughout the game. 

The freedom the game allows is a double-edged sword, however. Players may trick yourself into thinking any approach can be solved in any way, but that is simply untrue. There are still limited dialogue options and ways to use spells and abilities. There are a countless number of times in which I or my husband came up with an idea to try, only for our ideas to not fail. And not in a I’m-disappointed-that-I-can’t-cheese-the-game-how-I-want-to kind of way, but some actions just… weren’t possible for some reason. For example, there was a combat in which the enemies used the spell “Darkness”. This spell blinds whoever is in the foggy cloud, rendering multiple actions useless. My husband wanted to shoot a “Fireball” spell into a cloud of darkness since he knew it had enemies within it. However, the game wouldn’t allow this. The explanation as to why wasn’t clear either – he himself was not in the cloud of darkness, and the “Fireball” spell does not require that the spellcaster aim at a particular target.

The game just said no. Later in the fight, my husband did find himself in the cloud of Darkness, so he decided to use “Dimension Door” (a teleportation spell) to escape. But for similar reasons, he couldn’t. The game wouldn’t let him touch the companion right next to him to help them escape either. Even though they were as close as physically touching each other, the game determined that his character was too blind to see them.

Even my character could still swing at someone while blinded! I would just receive a justified disadvantage on the attack roll. This effectively turns these clouds of darkness into anti-magic fields. There were even simpler issues that we would run into as well, such as the difficulty when trying to cast “Fireball” on or around stairs. The game seemed to have trouble registering stairs as a surface, making it almost impossible to aim an AOE spell that would otherwise have no issues. This is where the D&D player within me was getting frustrated. All of these things, in a real game of D&D, would just involve a discussion between the player and the Game Master to establish rules and expectations. Instead, I was faced with what felt like an unmovable, malicious GM who wouldn’t care to explain the reasoning behind these ridiculous rulings. I was fighting the game, not the combat it presented to me. Overall, this greatly deflated my experience.  

No, game… I did not want to walk into the lava…

The Local Co-op Experience – I’ve seen people all over praise this game for how well it runs. These people clearly have not played the game in local co-op on the PS5.

First of all, the co-op experience is split screen. Once player 2 joins, an immediately drop in frame rate occurs. This is understandable of course, but the buttery smooth run in single-player is gone. 

What’s wrong with your head there, bud? 

There’s some… jank, for lack of a better word, appears when playing local co-op. Patches have fixed this for the most part, but for a while the game would stutter after every change in turn, character change, and most spells. Sometimes our characters would glitch out and we could no longer control them. Sometimes the camera would break and both screens would follow the same character. We also experienced an issue where the tutorials would continually pop up, despite the “Show Tutorials” option being switched off. Finally, and worst of all, our game would crash out of the blue. Sometimes even when booting up the game! Patches have fixed most of the issues, like the stutter and steep frame rate drops, though the frame rate in Act 3 is still consistently awful due to the number of chunky buildings and NPCs. A game that consistently crashes and glitches is not a complete game in my eyes, so this was by far the most disappointing aspect of the game for me. 

Missing walls and graphics? Yeah, I think we’re lost.

Playing co-op and experiencing it as intended, however, is an amazing experience. Two players can essentially explore twice as fast, or talk to two NPCs at the same time. “Listening” in on important conversations though, which will move the scene to full screen. This is especially nice for cutscenes. When working as intended, I also found the combat in co-op very fun! Since players each control a character, they can strategize together and enact plans or actions at the same time. Sadly, avatars cannot interact or converse with each other in meaningful ways, but that is an understandable sacrifice when choosing to play with custom characters. Meaningful interactions can instead be found with the characters and companions of the game. Thankfully, most characters do treat each avatar as separate people, though there may experience a break in continuity every once in a while.  

Baldur’s Gate 3 is the definition of ambitious. The game has an incredible amount to offer, and the fact that Larian even included local couch co-op as an option is astounding. However, the bigger and more ambitious a game becomes, the more the holes and downfalls of the game shine through. Despite its brilliance, the glitches and crashes that tarnish the co-op experience of Baldur’s Gate 3 shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Bottom Line

 

With such high highs and low lows, this game is what you make of it. If you can stomach the glitches and frustrations that come with the local co-op experience, you are in for a fantastic time. 

 

7

Shelley Waltar

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