Karlach's heartache in Baldur's Gate 3 spoke directly to my own isolation, and it caught me totally off guard

Baldur's Gate 3
(Image credit: Larian Studios)

You don't always realize how much you need someone else's words to give shape to your own feelings until they do. In Baldur's Gate 3, I had initially missed out on Karlach's story thanks to a mistake I'd made early on at the Emerald Grove. As a result, I could hardly wait to meet a character who had become such a fan favorite, with some even going so far as to dub her the best companion in the game. What I could never have anticipated, however, was just how much her story and certain lines of dialogue would affect me when I did finally get her to join my party. 

"But loneliness that deep gets into the marrow," Karlach says when I ask what it's like not to have been able to touch anyone for so long. "Now that I'm here – among friends – I can feel it burning out of me. Little by little, step by step." I found myself sinking into the words of that first line, and each one cut right into the heart of me. It probably goes without saying that I'm very different from Karlach in Baldur's Gate 3. As much as I wish I was, I'm not a badass Tiefling with a loveable personality, for starters. Nor do I have an infernal engine for a heart that causes heat to rise from my skin, singeing anyone who dares touch me. Our circumstances may be different, but I resonated with the feeling she describes. 

That deep loneliness that comes from not being able to truly connect or get close to anyone. It's a feeling I've been carrying around for a long time, like a weight that refuses to shift. It's always there, and the longer it endures, the harder and more impossible it feels to really be close to someone again. But Karlach never loses hope, and her drive and determination to one day be able to touch those close to her unexpectedly anchored me. 

Heart full of heat

Baldur's Gate 3

(Image credit: Larian Studios)

I think this feeling has only intensified over the last few years as a result of the global pandemic. When lockdown first started here in the UK, I was living alone in a place that was pretty new to me. As I struggled to settle in and feel at home after moving away from family, the isolation that followed made me draw into myself even more. I may not be literally on fire like Karlach is, and have a visible, practical reason for how distant I feel from everyone else, but I still see so much of myself in her struggle. As the fiery Tiefling explains, she's not been able to touch anyone since she got her infernal engine in the hells, and she would give just about anything for a hug, or even a pat.    

Time was when hugs felt like a fairly commonplace thing in my life; a hug from a family member, a hug from a friend. But now that I sometimes go for months without a hug, you realize how much you can take those interactions for granted. At its worst, during the pandemic, almost two years had passed by before I got to hug someone, and I'm sure many out there can relate to that experience. While everyone's needs and wants are different, it's made me realize how important human connection and contact is to my own well-being. 

Karlach expresses that she's understandably afraid of touching anyone for fear of hurting them. After being stuck in Avernus, she's so appreciative to finally be surrounded by people she cares about in the camp, which makes her companionship with you and the group feel much more meaningful. Somewhere along the way, I became afraid in a different way.  The fear of letting myself be vulnerable and open again, of getting close to someone. After spending so much time alone, could I even remember how to do that anymore? It's something I still struggle with to this day, but there's something so heartening about Karlach's personality. Even after she's been dealt such a bad hand, she never gives up and always wants to look on the bright side where she can. How can you not be inspired by that? 

A warm hug

Baldur's Gate 3

(Image credit: Larian Studios)

"Sometimes you come across stories, characters, or particular moments in games that you didn't know you needed, and for me, that was Karlach in Baldur's Gate 3."

So when I started to learn about Karlach's background and her deep-held desire to touch and feel again, I was hellbent on helping her to do just that. My own personal connection to her story just made me want to help her, and I was surprised by just how invested I got after just a few conversations with her. While this is partly down to how much her story resonated with me on a personal level, it also speaks to the performance from Samantha Béart and Larian's writing that brings Karlach to life. Every line spoke to me and is said with such feeling – you can hear her hurt in every word.  

Karlach never asked for this to happen, and everything in my heart screamed that she deserved to be close to people again. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, if I believed that about her, I could start believing that for myself. After securing some infernal iron and meeting the smith Dammon, you can help Karlach upgrade her engine to lessen the heat she emits. Then, in Act 2, things start to make some proper headway. 

The talented smith works out a temporary solution that will allow her to touch again, and once installed, you can test out its effectiveness in what is perhaps one of the most moving moments. When I saw the response to "pull her into a hug", I couldn't click on it fast enough. The embrace is incredibly heartwarming, and with a soft smile, Karlach simply says: "Thank you". I couldn't stop crying as I took in the scene. I had to put the controller down for at least ten minutes to linger in the joy of that one interaction. It felt so meaningful to have helped her touch again and be a part of it. And while it hit home for me in a way I didn't see coming, it felt so rewarding to help her get there.  

Sometimes you come across stories, characters, or particular moments in games that you didn't know you needed, and for me, that was Karlach in Baldur's Gate 3. I could never have predicted how much her story and companionship would come to mean to me on a personal level when I missed out on her the first time around. But despite how her story goes on to unfold, she somehow made me feel hopeful and less alone. She'll forever hold a special place in my heart because of it. 

Going to the circus in Baldur's Gate 3 reminded me of my favorite quest in Dragon Age Inquisition.

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.