Creating a character for a modern computer role-playing game can be a chore. You can spend a lot of time second-guessing yourself, both while creating your starting statistics and abilities, and in creating the look of your character. Baldur’s Gate 3 absolutely nails this pivotal pregame process.
Larian Studios has created an easy-to-use system that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game. It also manages to keep players from messing things up too badly. Plus it’s incredibly powerful, even in the game’s partially finished state.
Firing up a pre-release version of the early access release on Monday, I was pleased to find that the game doesn’t begin with character creation. Instead, Larian Studios kicks things off with a fully animated cinematic sequence. The cutscene does an excellent job of defining the world that players exist in — and the malevolent evil of the Mind Flayers that are seeking to destroy it.
Only after this CGI sequence is over do players get dropped into character generation.
From here, the nuts and bolts of creation are handled more or less automatically. All of the stats and gameplay mechanics appear to be drawn directly from 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. That means if you’ve played D&D in the last decade or so, you’ll be well ahead of the curve when tweaking your skills and abilities. But, if you’re not a big D&D player, you’re still good to go since Larian has made the choice to keep the crunchy bits of math and the long sequences of exposition that make up the latest version of the Player’s Handbook to the absolute minimum.
Players can choose from eight races, including several sub-races. There’s human, elf, dwarf, and halfling of course. But also two flavors of drow, half-elves (including half-drow), several kinds of tiefling, and githyanki. The character generator doesn’t linger on their statistical differences. Instead, it focuses on the faces. Baldur’s Gate 3’s character creator is clearly trying to evoke a personal attachment to your avatar on screen. And, for me at least, it worked like a charm.
The secret appears to be Larian’s decision to use human models, something they mentioned in a community update on Oct. 2. They scanned in about 40 models in all, and used their faces to generate the game’s 150 different stock character heads. Developers then added lots of options for eyes, hair, and makeup. The results are striking. Most importantly, they decided not to focus on custom tools — sliders and such that let players build faces from a collection of parts. That helped keep me from accidentally wandering into the uncanny valley.
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Of course, the game is only now entering early access. Larian says in the same community update that they plan to add even more character options to the game. That includes the ability to play as one of several pre-generated characters. All five were introduced in a previous community update:
A loyal cleric of Shar, Shadowheart is the sole survivor of a holy mission undertaken for the Mistress of the Night. She alone must deliver a relic of immense power while threatened by foes on all sides, and a strange, untamed magic burgeoning from within.
Noble by birth, Wyll made his name as the heroic ‘Blade of Frontiers’. But to become a living legend, he made a bargain with a devil – and he now longs to break free before it consumes him for good.
Lae’zel is a ferocious warrior, mighty even by the standards of a githyanki crèche. Faced with transforming into the very monster she’s sworn to destroy, Lae’zel must prove herself worthy of rejoining her people – if they don’t execute her first.
Astarion prowled the night as a vampire spawn for centuries, serving a sadistic master until he was snatched away. Now he can walk in the light and has the chance at a new life, but how long can he keep his past buried?
Gale is a Waterdhavian wizard prodigy whose love for a goddess made him attempt something no mortal should. Blighted by the forbidden magic of ancient Netheril, Gale needs to undo the corruption that is overtaking him, a corruption that threatens to destroy the lives of thousands.
Like previous Larian games, these backstories will include scripted sequences and narrative options that are unique to that character alone. It remains to be seen if players will be able to keep the backstory, but still change the appearance of these characters, an option granted in Larian’s last game, Divinity: Original Sin 2.
The early access version of Baldur’s Gate 3 is out today for Mac, Stadia, and Windows PC via GOG and Steam. It goes for the full retail price of $59.99. There’s no set date for when the game will exit early access and achieve a full 1.0 release.
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