On Thursday, developers from Larian Studios showed off live gameplay from Baldur’s Gate 3 for the first time. During an hour-long demo, Swen Vincke, studio founder and the game’s director, did something extremely silly. He made one of his characters take off his boots and throw them at the enemy. To the delight of the crowd at PAX East, they dealt exactly four damage and killed the creature instantly.
It seems like a lighthearted moment, but for fans of the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons — which Baldur’s Gate 3 is based on — it’s evidence that the team at Larian gets it. The latest version of D&D is all about improvisation. It’s part of the reason why actual play experiences have become such a big deal. Anything can happen, and it’s fun to bend the rules. The team at developer and publisher Wizards of the Coast goes to great lengths to give Dungeon Masters the tools they need to be flexible.
Supporting that kind of mayhem in a video game is a lot of work for developers, but there’s evidence in the recent demo that shows Larian is up to the challenge. Vincke also showed his character using Mage Hand, a low-level cantrip spell, to gently push a monster off a cliff. Our Russ Frushtick tells me that, during a press demo earlier this month, Larian showed how players could sneak into a crypt, steal all the weapons in the room, and only then wake up a group of skeletons. They were much easier to beat while unarmed. It all adds up to a system that is extremely flexible, very much like modern pen-and-paper D&D.
Vincke told me about this kind of flexibility at E3 last year. The bit about throwing the shoes or stealing the skeleton’s weapons isn’t an Easter egg of a pre-programmed event. It’s just the underlying rules inside the game engine working as intended.
It’s something that his team got very good at during the development of Divinity: Original Sin and its sequel.
“We allowed you to kill any protagonist that was in the game, and the story had to somehow manage to carry itself through anyway,” Vincke told me. “With Baldur’s Gate 3, the insanity’s taken a little bit further, but we’ve learned how to handle this. We have a lot of — we call it systemic behaviors — that are in the background helping us and carrying things forward. So, it is daunting, but it is not impossible, and the team has been training itself in the art of doing this, if you will.”
Just like the Divinity series, Baldur’s Gate 3 will also allow you to play the game in multiplayer and even split the party, traveling to different locations at the same time. While the former is par for the course in traditional D&D, the latter is frowned upon since it tends to slow the action down and put a strain on DM’s storytelling ability. But, in a D&D-powered video game... it just might work.