The Spellbinding Freedom of Baldur’s Gate 3

The rules are so complex an engineer with a Ph.D. was baffled. The setting was long the butt of jokes. Combat proceeds at the pace of a courtly duel. And some of the biggest names in video games released competing titles.

But Baldur’s Gate 3, a game that lets you talk to spiders and the dead, slip through cracks as a cloud of mist, reveal invisible foes by splashing them with drinks, bargain with a devil, give your eye to a hag and romance an amnesiac priestess or a squid-faced telepath, as you see fit turned into the surprise hit of 2023.

The chief executive of Larian Studios had told his team to expect about 100,000 concurrent players when it fully released Baldur’s Gate 3, a role-playing game based on Dungeons & Dragons. A few days later, nearly 900,000 people were playing at the same time.

Actors soon began to hear from players moved by their performances as a debonair vampire and a green otherworldly warrior, among others. Critics praised the game’s sweeping freedom and the depth of its writing. PC Gamer gave its highest review score in 16 years to Baldur’s Gate 3, which went on to win game of the year accolades in Britain and the United States.

The staggering success was no sure thing.

“I did not think that it was going to flop,” said Josh Sawyer, the studio design director at a competitor, Obsidian Entertainment, and the lead designer on Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity. “I did not think that it was going to be niche niche. But it was hard for me to see the return on the investment.”

Using Dungeons & Dragons’ latest rules, Baldur’s Gate 3 uses turn-based combat, which is uncommon among big-budget contemporary video games.Credit…Larian Studios

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