February 21, 2024

7 min


Juan Jimenez

Marketing Manager

Why Baldur’s Gate 3 Should Be 2023’s Game of the Year

Since the end of last year, gamers and the press alike were salivating about 2023. With such an impressive slate of titles to choose from – some coming straight out from highly valued franchises – competition around the Game of the Year seemed even more challenging than the Elden Ring vs. God of War: Ragnarok extravaganza in 2022.

And the year indeed looked promising. With the early release of the Dead Space remake punctuating a star-studded release calendar of prominent games like Hogwarts Legacy, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Starfield, Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, Alan Wake II, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, and more, it seemed everyone and their mother could win the prize at the end.

This Monday, Geoff Keighley announced the nominees for the 2023 Game Awards in a joint presentation on Twitch and YouTube. The long list of contenders confirmed our suspicions, with most of these games appearing in at least one category.

But since its launch on September 2023, we believe it’s evident that only one game will win the coveted award.

Having enjoyed a long early-access window since October 2020, Baldur’s Gate 3 took the world by storm, reviving a long-dormant franchise and showing the CRPG genre still had many things to offer. Eagerly anticipated by both old and new fans, its release sent shockwaves through the gaming space, sparking discussions about the quality of modern video games and the benefits of extended development plans.

It has also created a massive online community, with some of its characters and story beats fascinating audiences in a way seldom seen in video games over the past few years. It only takes minutes in TikTok or YouTube to see how out-of-control things have turned out.

For those – and many other – reasons, we think Baldur’s Gate 3 will be this year’s GOTY.

We would love to share them with you today.

The rise of giants

It is vital to understand that the current phenomenon status that Baldur’s Gate 3 enjoys didn’t come from a vacuum. On the contrary, it is a crossing of having an experimented, talented team of developers with a massive love for a video game genre tackling one of its most beloved IPs ever. These aspects also tie in with a venerable tradition of at least fifty years in pop culture and the social unconscious.

Founded in 1996 by Sven Vincke, Larian Studios is anything but a newcomer to the RPG genre. Creators of the renowned Divinity series – whose first entry, Divine Divinity (2002), was one of the first so-called “Diablo II clones” to receive substantial praise from the gaming community – Larian grew over the years to become a global leader in the indie development scene.

As a result, its structure now totals six branches worldwide, employing around 450 people in such diverse cities as Dublin, Barcelona, Ghent, Guildford, Quebec, and Kuala Lumpur. Having this kind of muscle behind the development of Baldur’s Gate 3 has been crucial in securing its long-term quality; the company’s goal was to have a fully global team that could continually work across most time zones.

Nevertheless, this was also the result of years in the making. Judging by A16Z’s latest analysis on “Why Games Like Baldur’s Gate 3 Are So Rare”, the game has only been possible because of at least ten years of steady improvement over all aspects of Larian’s pipeline, including hiring critical talent worldwide and opening the Dublin and Quebec branches to keep the team working coherently.

Moreover, the greatly-received Divinity: Original Sin (2015) and Divinity: Original Sin II (2017) are the foundations on which Baldur’s Gate 3’s design guidelines and play-as-you-please DNA have outgrown their forebearers – and the competition. The latter game in the series was a regular nominee in several award ceremonies during 2017 and 2018, joining many ‘Best of the Year’ lists and gathering universal acclaim on Metacritic.

Still, having such a long-standing pedigree and commitment to creating memorable RPG experiences is only one part of the puzzle behind Larian’s success.

An outstanding sense of freedom, even for an RPG

From the starting hours of Baldur’s Gate 3, it’s easy to understand the game is one of a kind. During its initial advertising run, Larian showcased a colourful cast of ‘Origin’ characters – pre-built personalities of various races and upbringings with stories and personal quests that would resolve along the game’s main story. Some of these characters featured in a related Magic: The Gathering expansion, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate (2022). While others, such as Minsc, had starred in previous Baldur’s Gate games or were staples of the Forgotten Realms/Dungeons and Dragons franchise.

But if you want to go the scenic route, there’s more than meets the eye. The game also features a comprehensive, sprawling character editor featuring some of the best customisation options outside the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series.

For instance, with almost eighty hairstyles, Larian’s groom artists should get an award alone.

But it goes well beyond that. Featuring sub-classes for almost all classes, with backgrounds, passives, and even perks affecting your game plan and carving your character’s personality, you can easily spend an hour or two just in the character editor.

And when the fun begins, it hits hard and good.

Baldur’s Gate 3 areas and biomes are playgrounds, more than instances or dungeons. Taking cues from open-world games and immersive RPGs like the previously mentioned masterpieces from Bethesda, players are free to pick, use, or throw any item or object for added hilarity. Occasional appearances, such as suspiciously laid barrels or oil spilt on the floor, can combine with spells or special ammo to raise wanton chaos. Magic and physical abilities blend for highly effective (or eerily adversarial) effects to reward the most creative players.

The ‘normal’ flow of quests and storytelling in the game is not set in stone, as you can sway, steal, or even kill NPCs and quest givers without prejudice – creating unexpected ways to express your character’s philosophy and personality and new relationships with other Faerûn denizens.

Interactions which define the game by themselves, resulting in a plot that, while deceivingly simple in appearance, can serve as background for challenging, heart-wrenching decisions and situations that will make you question your ideals and allegiances.

Remember that ‘Origin’ cast of characters we spoke about earlier? It’s easily one of the most humane, lifelike bands of brothers we have seen in a game in years. From the fan-favourite elf vampire Astarion to the mysterious, ruthless drow paladin Minthara, you will gather a ten-character party with diverse, rich motivations and personal stories that will make you feel, cry, and empathise with them on more than one occasion.

All of them lovingly acted and brought to life by an experienced cast of voice actors that, faithful to Larian’s attention to detail, perform a script of more than 1.5 million words – more than Disco Elysium, in close competition with Red Dead Redemption 2, and beautifully executed in ways that have won nominations for several cast members, the most prominent of those going to veteran English actor and motion capture artist Neil Newbon, of Resident Evil 3 (2021), Resident Evil Village (2022), and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 (2023) fame, for his remarkable performance as Astarion.

And that cast is one of the most substantial reasons the game has developed such a faithful, rabid fanbase.

Success lies in building community.

Having released as an early access game in 2020 gave Larian an edge few games dare to approach these days: it let the community see things grow and develop by themselves and gather a feeling of what Baldur’s Gate 3 had to offer. The warm reception of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate also helped build substantial buzz around the game.

But Larian also fostered a community around the game since its early access release, taking cues from its highly successful Divinity: Original Sin II Kickstarter campaign and previous marketing and branding efforts to create one of the most successful community interactions in recent years.

With regular Community Updates since 2020, highlight panels on Twitch and comprehensive online forum support, Larian managed to build an estimated six million-player database that continues to grow at the date of writing.

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