Hands-off demos are an odd one, for the most part, you get the feeling that they’re incredibly scripted; otherwise, you’d be allowed to actually play the game. There’s a feeling that not everything is quite right, and that you’re probably only seeing the pristine show home while the land behind it burns. So, there was a little trepidation on my end when I found out that Baldur’s Gate 3 was going to be a hands-off demo. I mean, I have full faith in Larian Studios to deliver on whatever they decide to do, but it still weighed on my mind as the game started up.
Baldur’s Gate 3 open with a cinematic that legitimately made me squirm. Your character is trapped inside a creepy giant flying squid ship that serves as a rather horrific mobile base of sorts to the Mind flayers, tentacle-faced evil creatures who want you to sign up to their cult. I say want; they’re very persuasive, in fact, they like to help you do the right thing by putting a worm that is around 50% teeth into your eye so that it can consume you from within and turn you into a Mind flayer.
You see this happen to another hapless person before watching the Mind flayer float over to you, and then put one of these worms into your eye in first-person. It was grim; I hated it; it was great. It also really set the scene for the state of the world you’re in, and also the state of your character. You see, this worm isn’t good, so you need to get it out of your head, and thus begins your journey.
Now, normally in a hands-off demo, things go swimmingly well, and you get to watch the game played by someone with preternatural skill because they’ve spent ages practising the slice that you’re being shown. Well, I’ve got some good news, that very much wasn’t the case here. The demo was played by non-other than Swen Vincke, the head of Larian Studios, despite his prestigious title, the enemies in the game slaughtered him multiple times.
The first time Vincke died was at the hands of the very first enemies you fight after the tutorial. It turns out that when a game is all about dice rolls, as Baldur’s Gate 3 is, things can go incredibly wrong. His team was wiped out in a single turn. He also died later on thanks to some traps and a different fight with some bandits. It was good to see because it actually allowed a better look at the different ways things could go.
One of the near misses, which is to say all but one of his party died, had him surviving a fight by throwing his shoes at an enemy and then landing a killing blow. You see, the way that combat is set up is that you have a movement, an action, and a bonus action. Throwing the boots was the bonus action, and it allowed him to finish the enemy off with his action.
All of these options take place simultaneously, at least in terms of teams. All of your characters can move at the same time; then the enemy takes their turn, then it’s back to you and so on. It allows for some proper combination attacks, as well as a level of strategy and planning that would make Divinity: Original Sin 2 jealous, which is saying something.
Another fight had him dropping a large boulder through a floor to reveal a dungeon below, where one of his characters had gotten stuck. You see, perhaps the biggest addition to the game is true verticality, at least when it comes to combat and according to senior designer Edouard Imbert.
That verticality allows for some of the more inventive fighting styles that we saw in the demo, the main favourite, at least for those of us on the day, was the ability to shove. Shoving allows you to move people out of combat range, into an exploding barrel, or off of a ledge. That last one lead to some truly wonderful moments in the demo, and I can’t wait to push everything off of everything else when I get my hands on the game.
That’s all the basic stuff that anyone can do; there are loads of different options for characters though. You’ve got different classes, sub-classes within those, races, and even sub-races within those. The design of your own personal character is incredibly detailed, but there are also origin character with fully-fleshed out lives to choose too.
We got to watch a vampire spawn be very surprised when he didn’t burst into flames in the sunlight, but still be unable to cross running water. He also got rather hungry a lot, and at one point fed on a party member, which gave him a boost to his stats, but lowered their stats for a while.
You should at this point be thinking “there seems to be a lot going on here” and you’d be right. There’s an obscene amount of stuff to do. We saw a brief glimpse of a mission that looked to be about a three-minute walk away but was apparently several hours later in the game. This is not a game for those without a chunk of time to dedicate to it, though it is one for those with friends to help them succeed, as it has four-player online co-op and two-player couch co-op too.
Honestly, the prospect of another Larian game is enough to get me hyped up anyway, but having seen the game in action, watched as staircases were built out of boxes, seeing a horde of enemies wiped out by some well-placed explosives, I’m ever more excited than is reasonable.
Baldur’s Gate 3 looks to be the closest we’ve ever come to just having a digital version of Dungeons & Dragons, one that looks just as good as you’d imagine, and one that allows you to let your imagination carve a path through the obstacles ahead of you.
It could well be the best thing Larian has ever done, and that’s saying something after the extraordinarily good Divinity: Original Sin 2. The fact that you’ll probably be losing a hundred hours to a single playthrough is daunting, of course, but there’s a large chance that you’ll be playing it through more than once too.
I’d recommend blasting through everything else you’re playing and clearing your backlog before Baldur’s Gate arrives in Early Access because you won’t have the time or desire to play much else.
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