2023 has been insane for games. We’ve seen such an influx of quality titles that it’s been hard to even keep track, or even dedicate the time to the ones I have been able to keep track of. One of the two games that has really captured my attention – the other being Tears of the Kingdom – is Baldur’s Gate 3.
I’ve typically have had a difficult time getting invested in deep, Western-made RPGs, with the notable exception of The Witcher 3. The specific sub-genre that Baldur’s Gate 3 belongs to, the CRPG (or, Computer Role Playing Game) has been particularly challenging for me to latch on to.
Around late-2020 or early-2021 I started playing Dungeons and Dragons remotely with a couple internet friends. It was in the midst of Covid, so we all had too much time to kill, and would spend a good chunk of our Sundays adventuring across the Forgotten Realms. I’d played D&D before, but it wasn’t something I really got into until that point.
If I didn’t have this experience I don’t think I would have been open to playing Baldur’s Gate. Because its mechanics are based on the same D&D rules I had spent hours immersed in every Sunday for nearly a year, I was going into the game already knowing the mechanics I usually find overwhelming and obtuse in these types of games.
For my first playthrough, I decided to port my wood elf ranger, the character I played as in the aforementioned remote D&D campaigns. I tried to recreate him as closely as the game allowed – Baldur’s Gate 3 actually uses a slightly modified version of the current D&D ruleset – and tried to role-play him the same. Basically my head canon was, after his previous adventures, he was thrust into this story.
I never actually finished this playthrough. I got to the final story quest and decided to start over, I’d made so many mistakes, missed out on 3 major companions (Wyll, Karlach, and Halsin), and was only just getting comfortable with the freedom the game offers. Maybe someday I’ll finish my plucky wood elf’s journey, but until then…
For my second character, I chose to play as the Dark Urge. Unlike a purely custom character like I used for my first playthrough, the Dark Urge is not a blank slate, and has a story that interlinks with the game’s overall story.
For the Dark Urge I went with a human rogue, and I’ve had a lot more fun leaning into the game’s mechanics this time around. She’s basically a badass assassin, a master of deception, who disguises herself using this magical mask – which I got as part of the deluxe edition – to reach her targets.
This subtly altered my approach to the game in more ways than I had anticipated. For instance, during the early stages of the game, there’s a quest to infiltrate a goblin camp and eliminate their three leaders. On both occasions, I successfully gained entry by persuading the goblins that I belonged to the nefarious cult that plays a significant role in the story. The first attempt required passing a series of deception checks, while during the second attempt, I employed the aforementioned magical mask to transform my character into a Drow – a race of dark elves – allowing me to waltz right into the camp.
Carrying out the quest to take out the 3 goblin leaders played out quite a bit differently, at least on a mechanical level. The first time around I went in guns (er, arrows) blazing to take out the first 2 leaders, and then somehow convincing the 3rd I was on her side, leading her to a Druid grove, and having an all-out battle.
The second time I took full advantage of my party’s range of capabilities at that point, as well as the environment, to ambush the 3 leaders and get out with as little damage to my team as possible. I had a much easier time using this method, but it was so much more fulfilling to pull off. It didn’t feel cheap because I wasn’t cheesing the mechanics, I was figuring out how to best use them to my advantage.
On the surface, Baldur’s Gate 3 seems to share very little in common with Tears of the Kingdom, but I think it has enraptured me in much the same way. Both games not only allow you to push their mechanics to the limit to find your own solutions to the challenges they present you, but they make doing so extremely rewarding. These are games that are at their best when you think outside the box and get creative with the tools they give you.
Last year I wrote about my 3 favorite games of 2022 with the intention of doing a similar thing this year, but I don’t think I can. I’ve played a few games that could be the 3rd game in a potential “3 Favorite Games of 2023”, Sea of Stars, Spider-Man 2, and Star Wars: Jedi Survivor come to mind, and while they’re all very good games worthy of the spot, they just didn’t come close to impacting me in the same way.
Tears of the Kingdom gave me a place to feel at home at a time when I felt out of place after moving apartments. Baldur’s Gate 3 has given me a sense of camaraderie, albeit a virtual one, in a point in my life when I’ve been feeling alone and lost trying to find myself in a new city. No other game I’ve played this year has been a fraction as meaningful as these two have been.