Thursday, October 8, 2020

Some Quick Thoughts on Baldur's Gate 3

I bought Larian's new D&D computer game, Baldur's Gate III, via the Google Stadia this week.  

I am not a gamer.  I like tabletop D&D quite a bit and have played the previous iterations of various D&D computer games like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights, but those are absolutely the only computer games that I ever play.  Really,I don't give two shits about computer gaming.  I just happen to like Dungeons & Dragons despite having no easy way to play much anymore nor overmuch time to spend sitting around a table.

Your first sidekick is kind of a badass.  This was a great storytelling choice.

These are my thoughts.  Take them for whatever they are worth.

The original Baldur's Gate games came out in the 90s.  They were written for the 2E ruleset, and it helped quite a bit to understand D&D's character mechanics, but the games themselves differed from the standard tabletop rules in a lot of pretty intrusive ways.  For example, tabletop D&D is totally turn-based.  I'm not sure how you'd do it, honestly, if everybody tried to act at the same time, but it doesn't matter because that's not the design.  However, Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II were both real-time with pauses and cool-downs between character actions.  Essentially, you had to stop before every fight, give your party orders, and then watch them fight more-or-less without you -- at least until you stopped again to give new orders.  There was even an AI function that let the characters make simple choices on their own if you failed to give them instructions.  Depending on your settings, this could involve them using high-leverage resources without you as a player ever even making any high-leverage decisions.

I bought this game with my 15-year-old daughter, & supposedly there's nudity.  I'd like to know who needs to see some purple demon's boobs to feel like they're playing real D&D.  I've been playing since the mid-80s, and purple boobs haven't come up a single time.  Not once at real table in 30+ years.

This had its ups and downs.  It was faster, but especially in D&D 4e, there were a lot of combo moves you could do with other members of your party if you worked together.  Conceptually, these kinds of things should have been possible with the 2E ruleset, but the mechanics of previous Baldur's Gate games were not sophisticated enough to support that kind of immersive tactical play.

Baldur's Gate III is not like that at all.  In fact, it's basically tabletop D&D replicated with exactitude using a computer engine.  So really, you must know how to play Dungeons & Dragons if you want to be good at this game.  

I like that, but I've seen some game reviewers from folks who obviously don't play actual D&D.

The change struck me as weird right up until about my third fight.  It was at that point that I realized I could not only use 5e's move and action mechanics the way you use them in the real game -- to pop out around a corner, for example, shoot someone, and then pop back to relative safety -- but actually, you sort of have to do that kind of thing to be successful.  Indeed, the terrain itself is designed to encourage players to think tactically.  

At a certain point last night, I finally succeeded in getting my rogue to hide in combat, pop out, and assassinate a guy from cover, and now I feel like, yeah, this is how you're supposed to do it.  This is D&D.  I still find the computer interface maddening in the extreme, and the Stadia controller is kind of a pain in the ass, but that's just because it's new to me.  I do not use these tools -- ever.  I also don't assassinate people as often as you might think, but it was fun doing it in the game last night.

I never would have gotten to do any of that, though, had I not first understood the mechanics of playing a rogue in D&D.  There's a whole action economy to consider, as well as the rules for stealth and sneak attacks.  Again, these are replicated with exactitude in the game.  In fact, the game a stickler for all sort of things your Dungeon Master might not actually enforce at the table.  Like line-of-sight.  Line-of-sight is critically important in Baldur's Gate III, but it's not in easy -- at all -- to adjudicate in a tabletop setting.

For what it's worth, I just started the game, and I already feel like I'm lost.  I found a couple of friends, and we headed straight down into a dungeon, but I'm seriously concerned that I'm doing this stuff in the wrong order, and when we camped last night, one of the characters in my party worriedopenly that we were gonna turn into mind flayers.

Alas, it seemed like a valid concern.

Anyway, I find the map a little confusing.  It's not particularly intuitive, nor is there an no easy way to know when you're ready for the next part of the quest nor whether you're headed in the right general direction.  In the older Baldur's Gate games, you were frequently given quests that seemed time sensitive but actually were not.  This time... well, if I turn into a mind flayer, I'm definitely making my next character a warlock.

A full afternoon of dying in this spot before I finally figured out how to move those damned vases...

If you're wondering, the controls are still a little maddening.  In many cases, I know what I want to do but struggle mechanically to do it in the game.  It took me two hours yesterday just to figure out how to move a ceramic vase.  I mean, it's cool that you can move ceramic vases, but...  I'm just not as good with all these buttons as Larian apparently expects me to be.  

Honestly, I could've done with an instruction manual.  I would have actually read that thing.

* * *

While I'm thinking about it, Sally's been encouraging me to start an adult tabletop group when college football season ends.  If that's something you might be interested in, hit me up.  I have no idea how the mechanics of this thing will work, i.e. if it will be local or Skype or some combination of those things, but it still might be worth doing.

Do any of my friends play D&D?  Let me know.

That's all I've got.  Enjoy the weekend!

No comments:

Post a Comment