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Baldur’s Gate 3 gameplay and release date: All the facts on 2020’s biggest RPG

Larian Studios has finally lifted the lid on key details about the hotly anticipated Baldur’s Gate 3, offering a behind-closed-doors preview of its story, characters and gameplay. Here’s what you need to know.

Baldur’s Gate 3 release date

Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t have a firm release date at the moment, with Larian stating it will launch “when it’s ready”. However, they have said it plans to launch in early access before the end of 2020.

The company has confirmed plans to run an early access release to help it iron out bugs and gather player feedback at an unspecified point, however.

Baldur’s Gate 3 story – What’s it about?

Larian hasn’t divulged many details about the game’s plot. All we’ve been told so far is that Baldur’s Gate 3 is set 100 years after the first two games and takes place within the same Wizard Coast, Dungeons & Dragons universe.

The game starts with an armada of Nautiloids – a race of squid-like, mini-Cthulhu-looking creatures – invading Baldur’s Gate and infecting your character with a nasty parasite called a Tadpole.

Following this, the ship you’re trapped on gets taken out by the city’s defenders and you awaken to find the parasite has given you new powers. The bad news? The powers are part of a wider “ceremorphosis” that will eventually kill you/turn you into a “mind flayer”. From there you’re welcome to go off on your merry way trying to stop yourself turning into a monster.

This is as far as the plot developed during our demo, although Larian senior writer Adam Smith told Trusted Reviews that the team is working hard to make the story as open as possible. This means the game’s plot will heavily depend on which character you play and the choices you make along the way.

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Baldur’s Gate 3 characters – Who’s in it?

Baldur’s Gate 3 introduces a set of pre-made “origin” characters. Larian hasn’t revealed all the origin characters’ names or back stories, but you can see a quick summary of the ones we’ve seen so far below.

  • Astarion: A high elf, “vampire spawn” rogue that seriously hates his master (the one that turned him into a creature of the night). He’s the character Larian’s spokesperson played during the demo.
  • Shadow Heart: A human cleric with a big superiority complex. We didn’t learn much more about her origin outside this during the demo.
  • Gale: A slightly pervy male mage.
  • Lae’Zel: A Gith paladin with rage issues and a hatred of elves.
  • Dale: A do-gooder human warlock who only appeared very briefly during the demo.

You can also create a custom character in the game. The builder we saw let you change the character’s appearance alongside a wealth of other features. These include its origin, name, class, gender, race and stats.

A Larian spokesperson told us the specific options on offer will be in line with 5th-gen Dungeons & Dragons character creation mechanics.Like Larian’s previous title, Divinity 2, whichever origin characters you don’t play as can be recruited into your party as the game progresses.

Baldur’s Gate 3 gameplay

We only saw an opening snippet of gameplay, but so far it looks Baldur’s Gate 3 sticks fairly close to Larian’s traditional tactical RPG gameplay mechanics.

Waking up as Astarion following the crash, the first mission on show tasked him to explore the surrounding area and look for help. This took a similar format to Divinity, with the UI featuring quick skill keys and shortcuts to your journal, inventory, character page and settings menu.

Movement works in the same way it does in Divinity, letting you play in third-person or zoomed-out isometric-like views. The only difference is that there’s a new, more advanced jump ability and increased focus on “building”. The latter lets you carry out tasks such as stacking crates to create ad hoc staircases or bridges to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

Exploring the forest setting within minutes, Astarion met Shadow Heart. Here, we see the game’s dialogue options, which once again look fairly similar to that of Divinity 2. The dialogue offers a variety of different ways for Astarion to react. These ranged from lunging to drink her blood, to recruiting her to his party.

The demo also showed off a new “telepathic” mechanic. According to Larian, the parasite infecting the characters grants them special psychic abilities that lets them read others who are infected, known in game as “True Souls’” memories. The abilities can reportedly be developed in a separate skill tree, although Larian’s spokesperson warned “there will be consequences” for using them.

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Skill checks also make a return. Within minutes the demo showed Astarion trying to pass a check, bizarrely against himself. Like Divinity, the checks are shown with a digital dice roll.

Moving forward, the demo showed off one of the first dungeons and introduced combat mechanics. Combat is turn-based and looks near-identical to Divinity 2’s. The only difference I saw is that the skills and spells on offer now follow Dungeons & Dragons rules.

This is no bad thing. Like Divinity, the game focuses on stacking actions and using the environment. During combat I saw a developed system where you could do everything from pushing enemies off ledges, to creating fire arrows on the fly by dipping weapons into torches.

The bigger changes happened after the battle. Like Dungeons & Dragons, spells can only be used a certain number of times; the only way to replenish them is to rest at your camp.

Its rest system looks a little like the original Dragon Age. It sees you jump to a hub where you and your party are huddled around a campfire. While resting Astarion was able to chat, and feed, his party members – who reacted with plus and minus approval ratings depending on what he did. After that the game ran a quick segment where Astarion reflected on his current choices and those of the past, offering an insight into his troubled relationship with his vampire master.

Waking up, the party members had different statuses depending on what Astarion chose to do in camp. After feeding off a party member during the night Astarion was “happy”, while his unaware victim carried a negative “under the weather” status. Both brought stat boosts and reductions with them.

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Jumping back into the dungeon, I got to see the game’s new sneak and puzzle mechanics. Here, Larian has made a few key tweaks. The biggest is the ability to manually make it turn-based at any point. Larian’s demoer told me that the change will let the studio load the game with more complex puzzles and sneaking segments than what you find in Divinity.

During a sneaking segment I saw the demoer separate Astarion from the rest of the party to try to flank a group of bandits and get to a higher sniping point before the combat began. How visible you are is directly affected by shadows and – again like Divinity – enemies’ fields of view are highlighted in red. The turn-based system let the demoer plot a much more complex route than would have been possible in Divinity.

The same is true when I was shown one of the game’s first traps. Sneaking through the crypt, Astarion failed a perception check and accidentally stepped on a trap plate on the floor. This caused the room to be flooded with oil, with a series of fireball traps blasting from the walls in an automated, repeating sequence. Jumping into turn-based mode, the demoer was able to slow time, plan his reaction before the first set of fireballs hit the oil.

From here, he set up a series of actions; jumping onto a higher point to avoid the initial explosion, before rushing between fireballs to place a jug over the oil grate and stopping the flow and any subsequent room-wide explosions. Finishing it off, he attempted to slowly move forward, using the pause between each round of fireballs to jump to cover. He didn’t make it, but the slower methodical nature of the puzzle was intriguing nonetheless. Hopefully, the game will have more segments like this.

From here the demo jumped to an unspecified “later” point in the game, where Astarion and his party were attempting to infiltrate a goblin camp.

Here I got to see what the demoer described as “one of the more significant choices” you’ll have to make. Specifically, after talking my way past the guards to the “True Soul” leading the goblins, I was offered a grim choice: betray a group of refugees Astarion had, assumedly, bumped into earlier to maintain his party’s cover, or risk having to fight the entire camp. The demoer chose the evil path, which in turn caused his reputation to significantly drop with certain party members.

The demoer then explained that this choice would have “serious” repercussions throughout the game, changing how the party, and world, views Astarion. It was at this point the hands-off demo ended, leaving myself and most of the other journos in attendance hankering for more.

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