Baldur’s Gate 3 is a love letter to Dungeons & Dragons — and it’s all I want to play right now

baldur's gate 3
(Image credit: Larian Studios)

Baldur's Gate 3 is out of Early Access this week after 6+ years of development, and it's the game everyone seems to be talking about. 

I know why because I've been playing it myself, and it took more willpower than I'd care to admit not to call in sick this week so I could keep at it. The team at Larian Studios did a tremendous job developing this game, which hands you tools to create your own character (plus a few pre-made options if you'd rather skip that part) before launching you into a fantastical adventure through the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

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It's exciting and surprising to see so many of my friends talking about this game since it's a spiritual sequel to the beloved Baldur's Gate games Black Isle Studios put out in the '90s. Those games were rightly celebrated for how well-designed and engaging they were, and how effectively they translated what's enticing about D&D's Forgotten Realms into RPGs you could play on your PC.

I played them on my family's beat-up Pentium PC when I was growing up as a '90s kid, and they remain some of my favorite games ever made. But though they were critically acclaimed and sold millions of copies, it feels like the number of people playing Baldur's Gate back in the day is a drop in the bucket compared to how many are counting the hours until they can dive back into Larian's latest this weekend.

(Image credit: Larian Studios)

Of course that's probably because whatever Musk is trying to call Twitter wasn't around back then, and I read a lot less of the Internet through my family's 56k modem than I do these days. But it's hard to look at Steam's ever-climbing concurrent player count for Baldur's Gate 3 and not feel like this game is hitting right as D&D is having a renaissance. 

Certainly phrases which in my youth felt unspeakable outside the closest bonds of friendship — armor class, saving throw, mind flayer — are now coming out of the mouths of people I casually meet at BBQs and baseball games.

Phrases which in my youth felt unspeakable outside the closest bonds of friendship — armor class, saving throw, mind flayer — are now coming out of the mouths of people I casually meet at BBQs and baseball games.

So much of that is due to the popularity of shows like Critical Role and Vox Machina, which make playing D&D seem approachable and fun. And Wizards of the Coast has done good work making the 5th edition of a tabletop role-playing game designed in the '80s feel inviting and relevant. 

But with Baldur's Gate 3 Larian did a great job blending engaging writing into a beautiful open world full of compelling characters, in a way that feels like a love letter to those original games and the D&D community. And it might be the best way yet to appreciate part of what makes D&D fun. 

D&D is fun because it's silly, and so is Baldur's Gate 3

(Image credit: Larian Studios)

The world of tabletop role-playing is wonderful and strange, knitted together by corporations and little indies writing and selling games that encourage you and your friends to tell stories. There's usually dice involved, and while the spectrum of experiences you can have is broader than the scope of this article could ever encompass I do think there's a specific type of fun D&D is good at provoking which Baldur's Gate 3 is rife with: Silliness.

While the story of Baldur's Gate 3 is far from light-hearted or immature (there's good reason to look away right out of the gate if you don't like eye-related body horror, for example) Larian has done a great job designing the game to leave room for play. For example, the user interface is chock-a-block with buttons you can click to do things like tell your character to shove an enemy (say, off a cliff), steal something out of someone's pockets, or dip their weapon into whatever substance they're standing in.

Most games in this genre don't give you this level of control over how your characters interact with the world, and with good reason: it's a lot of extra work to make a game with a 3D world where elements like elevation or liquid on the ground can be interacted with and integrated into your strategy for getting through the game. 

It also opens up a lot of opportunities for fun shenanigans. Don't like a character? Push them off a cliff. Need something from someone and don't want to wait? Try stealing it out of their pocket. Overwhelmed by zombies? Douse 'em in oil and throw a fireball to light them on fire.

This level of interactibility has been present in Larian games like Divinity: Original Sin II for some time, and it's great to see people enjoying it in Baldur's Gate 3 because it really evokes that D&D feeling of telling the Dungeon Master what you want to do and watching their eyes widen in surprise/shock/fear. 

(Image credit: Larian Studios)

Because that's actually what makes D&D and tabletop games like it so much fun: Eyes widening across the table, hearts racing and friends laughing and throwing snacks at one another on a Sunday night. For me they've always been best when players feel like anything can happen, and the story might go wherever you can imagine it. 

Whether you're stacking up crates to barricade a door against bloodthirsty brains with claws or casting a spell to coat a room in grease and make everyone fall down, Baldur's Gate 3 really nails what makes D&D so much fun to play.

Baldur's Gate 3 can't match that, because it's a video game. But it does a beautiful job of evoking what's special about D&D in everything from the writing to the design to the animation of the 20-sided die that rolls on-screen during play. 

I'm loving what I've seen of the game's story so far, but what really makes it special is the way it gives you room to play around in the world and feel like you're finding your own way to solutions. Whether you're stacking up crates to barricade a door against bloodthirsty brains with claws (it'll make sense when you see it, trust me) or casting a spell to coat a room in grease and make everyone fall down, Baldur's Gate 3 really nails part of what makes D&D so much fun to play.

Not sure about the best way to play? Check out our guide to how to play Baldur's Gate 3.

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Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.