Early access doesn't usually work the way Larian does it. By the time Baldur's Gate 3's full launch arrives in August, it will have been in early access for just under three years. For many games, that could be a death sentence – plenty of developers have kept an audience waiting too long and seen the tide of public opinion turn against them. But for Larian, the opposite has been true. According to Sven Vincke, much of the success of his studio's approach to early access comes from "players realising the scope and ambition of what we're trying to do."
It's certainly an ambitious project. Baldur's Gate is one of the biggest and most enduring names in Western RPGs, and for some, the idea of picking up decades after BioWare – of all places – left off, would have been a daunting task. But that never seems to have been the case for Larian. Since the studio's efforts on Divinity: Original Sin and its sequel, there's been a sense that this could be a near-perfect marriage of game and developer – the leading RPG studio and the leading RPG system. And from its very first trailer, Larian has thrown itself headlong into the world of D&D.
That's not to say that it's been smooth sailing. Vincke says that "in the beginning we thought adapting D&D into a video game format would be more straightforward, but we've learned a whole lot along the way about what makes sense in a tabletop RPG versus a video game." Even a (relatively) straightforward spell has the potential to cause problems. Vincke points to 'Speak With Dead', an ability that allows you to converse with the animating spirit of the recently departed. In most games, there might only be a few corpses that the developers would deem worth speaking to, but in a game of D&D, every single dead body has the potential to be an excellent conversation partner.
"Plenty of NPCs you speak to can also be spoken to while dead, and for each of those conversations there's a cinematic. The same applies to Speak with Animals or Animal Handling. That's an incredible amount of work. And we've taken the same approach for every mechanic we've plugged into the game. That's been a lot of work but we wanted to make a game that rewarded the players' creativity and experimentation, just like any good dungeon master would do."
Roll for initiative
Baldur's Gate has changed a lot since that first Early Access launch. Even the patch notes for its most recent update are far too long to even summarise effectively here, but 2022 introduced playable gnomes, the Bard and Paladin classes, and the ability to fly. But as Bladur's Gate 3 has changed, so has its source material, creating a unique obstacle for Larian to overcome. As Dungeons & Dragons prepares for its next major overhaul, its developer confirmed that it would be sunsetting the term 'race', replacing it with 'species'.
According to Vincke, Larian is in a position to pick and choose when it comes to some of those changes: "we're keeping up with the changes being made to D&D. Baldur's Gate 3 doesn't necessarily adhere to all of the current rules – we make changes along the way as it makes sense for a video game, or based on feedback from our players. Since we're still in production, we’re likely to pick up some of the recent changes to D&D rules, too."
While new rulesets can be adapted to, the real world still poses some unique challenges for Larian. Asked what he'd like to see added to Baldur's Gate 3 that isn't currently possible, Vincke said: "That's a tough one because many things are already possible – we have cows that can climb ladders, but they can’t roll on their backs, so that’d be good to see. Actually, can cows roll on their backs?"
Here's what we thought of Baldur's Gate 3 back in our original early access preview.