Review | 2023.08.12

Baldurs Gate 3 emerald grove halsin

Baldur's Gate, Battlebit, and Monster Train plus some updates on other adventures.
Baldur's Gate 3

Baldurs Gate 3 after combat orc leader blood
A photo of me two months ago when I heard that Larian was making the next Baldur's Gate. Don't ask about the bear.

You'd think Larian Studios is full of slackers given that their last game, Divinity 2, came out in 2017. But whoever owns the rights to Baldur's Gate (WotC?) has really been asleep at the wheel, Bioware made BG2 in 2000. I haven't played Baldur's Gate and I haven't played D&D, but the Divinity games are amazing so this was an easy buy. It also jumped the queue on my not-insubstantial backlog of single-player games.

For comparison, Divinity 2.

Promotional and/or early access screenshots made it clear that BG3 is an iteration on the Divinity: Original Sin mechanics. And that's great, since it'd be a shame of Larian abandoned their superb game engine for the glitz and glamour of making someone else's game. But where Larian writers had complete discretion over their story, what would the D&D affiliation bring?

Tentacles

Baldurs Gate 3 nautiloid ship attacking city tentacles

You thought I was going to say D20s. I mean yes, there are now D20s, but look. At. All. Those. Tentacles.

Baldurs Gate 3 nautiloid pool Baldurs Gate 3 intro dragons nautiloid ship Baldurs Gate 3 nautiloid ship crash load screen Baldurs Gate 3 nautiloid ship crash tentacle Baldurs Gate 3 nautiloid mind flayer parasite

I guess Nautiloids (mini-Cthulus) are prominent in the D&D universe. While I take issue with their brain parasites I have to admit they make for a pretty cinematic intro sequence.

Going back to D20s, they're a big element of the game. Skill checks for persuasion and lockpicking and sneak all hinge on a die roll. I'm not sold on them. In a lot of RPGs you'll see, say a level 3 computer. If you have at least level 3 computer hacking, you're in. There's little-to-no randomness because it's frustrating and encourages immersion-reducing quickloads. On the other hand, comparing two numbers is a fairly heavy oversimplification of a complex feat. One could rightfully say, "Let's make this a dice roll because you can't always hack a level 3 computer even if you are a level 5 cyberninja." I'm not sure that's the solution to the oversimplification issue, but I appreciate that a gaming experience should have plenty of skill- and rng-based failure.

Still:

More canon

Baldurs Gate 3 orc camp Dror Ragzlin

Divinity: Original Sin was story-heavy and did plenty of from-scratch worldbuilding. BG3 inherits all of the D&D canon (I assume), and this is both an opportunity and a limitation. The game has snooty elves, snootier vampires, humans, thieving tieflings, greenpeace druids, and dumb brute races. It'd be unfair call the universe 'tropey' since the lore has been around for like fifty years, but I'd sure like to replace my dark, sinister vampire party member with a sassy, sociopathic skeleton.

Baldurs Gate 3 Lae Zel cinematic nautiloid ship

On the plus side, even without having played any D&D content aside from the occasional tabletop spinoff, the canon is familiar enough. That means the game doesn't have to hamstring the storytelling with lengthy explainers. I don't know anything about githyankis, but Lae'zel's pretty good about delivering the executive summary.

Baldurs Gate 3 laezel lae zel shiny armor blood Baldurs Gate 3 character creation guardian tiefling

Divinity 3?

Baldurs Gate 3 orc camp rafters sneaking

BG3 plays a lot like Divinity 2. Actually, it seems like most of Larian's effort went into everything but the roaming/combat mechanics, more on that in a moment. While I wouldn't have minded more creativity (the DOS1 -> DOS2 changes were superb), it's absolutely fine that BG3 plays like Divinity 2.

At least in the early game, BG3 signficantly dials back the ability and environment options available in combat compared to Divinity 2. For example, in Divinity 2 there's an escort segment on an oil derrick with flame enemies - there's no way to get past a couple rounds of combat without the whole damn thing being on fire. I'm as far as the first big boss (orcs) and still haven't cast rain or dumped an oil barrel on anyone. I have seen oil barrels and I've cast a few oil slicks, but elements haven't factored in very much. Maybe it's a later game thing - in Divinity it takes an agonizingly long time to get (what I consider) the most important ability: summon walking bomb. But I'm mildly fearful that The Bobs from WotC told Larian to emphasize melee combat to fit the tank/dps/magic dps/healer formula.

Baldurs Gate 3 animal squirrel Baldurs Gate 3 sad bear

After Fane, the most amusing (and occasionally useful) element of Divinity 2 was the speaking to animals perk. The skill returns in BG3 though thus far they have been neither funny nor helpful. It might be at least half my fault for not choosing a character class that can turn into a rat and thereby fit through tiny holes in the wall.

Plot

Baldurs Gate 3 tiefling sword training combat advice shout moves

Baldur's Gate 3 is heavy into story and dialogue. Depending on writing, voice acting, and a player's emotional investment in the overall game, this can be either very captivating or very annoying. I haven't decided where I land on this one. The canon and the central mystery have me not pressing space to skip, the vampires and dialogue volume have me occasionally moving my thumb toward that key.

I vaguely recall that Divinity did all of its dialogue in text boxes shown over the normal (third person, zoomed out) view - there weren't any cuts to first person views of characters talking. Most importantly, for window decoration NPCs, you could click on them and hear their one-liner without getting dragged into an interactive dialogue. It meant villages were efficient - you would have conversations with questgivers and merchants and could safely click on everything without losing your afternoon to meaningless dialogue.

Baldurs Gate 3 guardian first cutscene tiefling

BG3 features detailed character models and motion capture facial expressions, something now standard with high-budget games with a complex story. But having cinematic conversations with window dressing NPCs is incredibly frustrating. Suddenly villages are a game of 'find the NPC that matters' where every wrong guess is a cutscene with a one-liner and a click to exit. It adds very little immersion and quite a lot of tedium.

For the interesting and plot-related conversations, it's impressive how much content there is. Beyond the core and ancillary dialogue, there are often discussion paths hidden behind a variety of character attribute checks. Since these are sometimes shortcuts to rewards or diffusing a situation diplomatically, they're always nice to see.

Character creation

Baldurs Gate 3 character creation class elf

The game has a bunch of classes and even more subclasses, but like Divinity you can round out your party with recruitable allies. I opted for a Ranger -> Summoner main character since it's always good to have a steady stream of meat shields, especially if the plot dictates the occasional solo battle. My plan was to put out a couple of summons and have my Lady Arwen-inspired elf do the textbook archer thing to poke away those hitpoints.

Things have gone more or less according to plan. I've regrettably needed to keep my vampire rogue around for the stealth kills that, if done right, won't alert nearby enemies. My healer unfortunately has just one heal spell, but my tank is quite tanky. The one thing that really caught me out is that many skills/spells only refresh on a long rest (go to camp, sleep, the day advances) or a short rest (max two per day). In Divinity I'd be casting most things several times per battle. Again, not sure if the game slow-rolls abilities or if there was an intentful focus on swords and arrows.

UI

Baldurs Gate 3 laezel inventory Baldurs Gate 3 journal halsin first druid

The character sheets, inventory, and journal are about what you'd expect.

Brains and sphincters

Baldurs Gate 3 nautiloid ship sphincter door lol

A lot of games have had sphincter doors. Halo did, I'm pretty sure Borderlands and Warframe did. Basically any game where you enter a huge living spacecraft is likely to have a sphincter door but to my knowledge, this is the first time one's been labeled as such. And while I giggled, I'm glad Larian decided to do the adult thing and just call the sphincter a sphincter. They took a similarly frank and high-brow approach to nudity and romance, contrasting the typical video games approach of playing chicken with ratings board taboos.

Baldurs Gate 3 nautiloid ship exposed brain

More strikingly, BG3 starts off with some serious nightmare fuel. You quickly advance to a place called The Emerald Grove, so it's not all Tolkien+Lovecraft, but I imagine I'll be headed back to the heart of tentacled darkness as the final battle draws near.

Finally

Pepe time traveler half-life
Battlebit

Battlebit early access hummer helicopter pfamto

The hot new pvp game is Battlebit. It's like Battlefield/CoD but with Minecraft graphics. So Gen Z kids must love it.

The lolbaters squad played one session but it was a bit too chaotic to really enjoy. Specifically, the massive battles tend to have amorphous fronts and that makes it difficult to work with your comrades-in-arms. That is, you're always under threat of being sniped from behind your own lines that it's hard to effectively push the enemy lines with your squadmates.

In contrast, with Planetside 2 and Battlefield 1 and Enemy Territory it was pretty easy to tell where the front was. Each game had an infiltrator mechanic, but it wasn't as prominent as Battlebit's. It's early access though, we'll see how things progress.

Battlebit early access medic knocked NotADeuce Battlebit early access rooftop city Battlebit early access helicopter transport Jackie Chun warthoggers Battlebit early access sniper scope
Monster Train

Monster Train torch cards

If you were to fill a cauldron with Slay the Spire, Plants vs Zombies, and Snowpiercer, the resultant brew would be Monster Train. It's a deckbuilder with a tower defense mechanic (keep the baddies from ascending to your train core) set on a train in a magical realm.

Monster Train picking route Bogwurms Remains Monster Train shop Monster Train encounter train graveyard

Like Slay the Spire and Nowhere Prophet and Across the Obelisk, you move across an overworld map from battle to battle with shops and encounters along the way.

Monster Train combat revenge Daedalus Monster Train combat Fel minions Monster Train Fel wings of Light

Combat involves deploying minions and doing direct damage. The enemies move up your tower if you let them, attempting to destroy your train.

Monster Train Allied Clan pack Sting Sharpen Restoration Detonation Monster Train major enhancements Monster Train hellhorn hero upgrade brawler reaper Monster Train unlockables progress

You build your deck, collect artifacts, and unlock new stuff for the next playthrough. I need to play more of this game.
XCOM: Chimera Squad

XCOM Chimera Squad breach apc endgame XCOM Chimera Squad victory screen

This screenshot has been sitting on Steam for a bit, but I did blast through the last mission of Chimera Squad.
I Was A Teenage Exocolonist

I Was a Teenage Exoconist Sym falling

I also finished I Was A Teenage Exocolonist.

I Was a Teenage Exoconist Sym wormhole

The game starts with your colony ship emerging through a wormhole. As the game progresses it becomes apparent that the wormhole is a fairly clever fourth wall mechanic.

I Was a Teenage Exoconist death scene

The writing is pretty darn good, even if the fade to black is kind of sad.

I Was a Teenage Exoconist gardener confrontation

I wasn't planning on a second run, but the game goaded me into it. I got pretty far along the 'good ending' path, not knowing anything about the endgame. [Tiptoeing around spoilers] I made a deal to make everyone happy in the final year of story, expecting to be given the opportunity to fulfill the deal, e.g. by fighting the antagonist. The opportunity never came.

I Was a Teenage Exoconist animal attack I Was a Teenage Exoconist exploring during glow season

I looked it up, despite colony's mortal peril the only way to actually make the kumbaya deal go through is by peaceful, democratic means. And my build wasn't set up for that.

NG+

IWATE has solid new game+ support, it prompts you to bypass or make the right choice on important plot points that you experienced on the last playthrough.

I Was a Teenage Exoconist governor ending
Well the democratic referendum only occurred because of a bloodless coup.
Slay the Spire

Slay the Spire Silent Mind Blast huge deck daily challenge
One of the daily challenges gave you a hopelessly thick deck.

I still come down with the occasional illness so I'm still firing up my go-to sick game, Slay the Spire. I'm midway through ascension for Ironclad and Silent but getting to the limits of my skill.

Slay the Spire Ironclad heavy blade strength build The Heart Slay the Spire Ironclad strength deck

My Ironclad deck wasn't anything to write home about. It was focused on getting strength up using Corruption and card draw asap, then hitting em with the Heavy Blade.

Slay the Spire caw caaaw Heart Silent Slay the Spire Silent shiv potion deck

I hadn't tried a discard build for Silent, but when I pulled Tough Bandages (discard -> shield) from the whale guy I gave it a whirl. It helped a lot with Silent's squishiness.
Shooters

Fallout 76 radar dish Fallout 76 nuclear power plant cooling towers Fallout 76 awesome tales fishmen

Me and J have gotten a little more FO76 in and the PUBG squad still likes dropping C4 from gliders.

PUBG Playerunknowns Battlegrounds drop plane sunset



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