In defence of narrative or Larian's biggest oversight
May contain spoilers for Divinity Original Sin 2, The Witcher 3, and of course Baldur's Gate 3.
It's very long, but if you want to read the gist read chapters 3 and 4. TL DR - Larian should take responsibility for the choices they provide us in the game. Even a good story on paper might not be enough to create a cohesive and full experience Disclaimer -
- if we are fair, even at this stage the game worth the money I paid for it. I played for more than 80 hours and enjoyed my time with it. The combat is fun, the characters are interesting, and the little we got of the story is fine. I'm sure the combat will be improved immensely, since this is the main passion of Larian. More specifically, based on the EA and dos2 I can safely say that Larian's greatest strength lies in creative gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, what might be enough for dos may not be enough for Baldur's Gate.Chapter 1- the feel of bg
Ever since the reveal of the game with the Sven infamous gameplay video, some fans of the original BG games started criticising the game claiming it doesn't "feel" like Baldur's Gate 3. Until very recently I was extremely dismissive about this criticism for two main reasons:
1. So far even the fans who make this claim can't seem to agree on what does it mean to "feel like a BG game".
2. I thought (and in some respects I still do) that it is too early to say whether it is a true successor or a dos game with BG skin.
I can't say it doesn't feel like bg, but I can safely say it does feel like Dos2 in many ways, some are really bad for a BG game.Chapter 2 - what made BG great in my book
TL:DR - the most important thing about BG is the story and character.
People can keep talking about dnd systems and alignments all day long, but I think that if it were so easy we would get a Baldur's Gate successor every Tuesday. I'm sure the revolutionary (at the time) RTwP system was a big hook, and I think the settings and D&D stem on the game helped it reach a lot of people who wouldn't have bothered with it otherwise, but I think that more than everything the greatest thing about this games (same as with any other great Bioware game) was the story and characters. I'll acknowledge the subjectivity of this opinion right now since as I said, there is no consensus I saw that definitively answer this question, but I still think that most people, even those who played Baldur's Gate for other reasons, found this aspect of the game enjoyable at the very least. I never played Icewind Dale, but I think the fact these games were not even remotely as popular as Baldur's Gate is some indication I'm right.
I think that even I didn't gave enough credit to the first game's story, and that the way it builds up mystery and political intrigue is still great. And even if you found the first game's story lacking, you can't deny the brilliance which is Shadows of Amn's storyline.
To summarize, if there is one thing that could possibly elevate Baldur's Gate 3 for me from a nice fun game into a worthy successor level, is a good written story and characters.
Chapter 3 - how to write a good story for a CRPG video game
TL DR - if the game gives you an option to do something, the game's story should be able to acknowledge you did it.
An important aspect of writing a role playing video game story is the emphasis on choice. For a very long time, Biowere were the undisputed champions on that. The game's story needs to be good, no doubt about that, but it also needs to be very flexible and allow the player to make choices and face the consequences of these choices. If I killed an important NPC, there should be a response from the world. How extensive this response depends on many things and could be handled in many ways. Moreover, some games restricts the player in certain ways in order to prevent him from making choices the game can't accommodate. The most obvious example is essential characters in The Elder Scrolls games. If a character is essential in that game, you simply can't kill them.
Later Biowere games removes the option to kill every NPC you see altogether, and only some of them could be killed by selecting certain dialogue choices. It may restricted the player's possible actions, but made every choice more coherent within the narrative.How to deal with player choice
- most great rpg's writers and programmers try to both give player as many choices as possible while also acknowledging those choices. Example from the Witcher 3 - when you first arrive to Skelige, you can leave the main island and go kill the giant without talking to anyone. In a good game design (in the Witcher three), people will acknowledge the fact you completed this quest even before you received it, since if the developers give you an option to do something, they should take the option you would do it into consideration. If after you kill the giant people would act as though you didn't, there is a problem. Either the developers should place a restriction which will prevent you from killing the giant before receiving the quest, or add scripts and dialogue that triggers if you did. Otherwise you get an immersion breaking dialogue which tells you to go kill a giant which is already dead.
The more freedom the game allows you, the more likely you are to "break" the game's narrative. This is one problem, but the other one is that options like this that breaks the game has no appeal for me whatsoever, since they don't really affect or change the story, but provides you with an illusion of choice. In reality, your only choice is to play the game the way the writers intended or have your actions ignored at best and not allowing you to move forward at worst.
Chapter 4 - What happens when developers care about freedom more than narrative.
Everything I described in chapter 3 is something I didn't even noticed until the first time I played Divinity Original Sin 2. These game design aspects are not noticeable when they are done well and extremely noticeable when they are absent.
It's been a while since my last dos2 playthrough, but it happened toe more than once that the choices I made were not reflected by the narrative. People who are supposed to be dead are talked about as if they are alive, things I did talked about as if I didn't do them and vice versa. At the time, I thought that this issues are probably related to the fact that Larian is a small studio that created a system with a lot of choice, and that it is really hard to account for all of them. All of this is true. The problem is that these issues plague the Baldur's Gate 3 EA as well. And not only in the cases of me trying deliberately to break the game.
Two examples - the first one might be a bug but it fits the MO- during my fourth or fifth playthrough (I love the character creator sue me) I failed (again) in the persuasion check when trying to convince Khaga not to kill the tiefling girl. This time I decided in a kind of psychotic fit to kill Khaga on the spot. As I expected, all the druids in the room turned hostile, and I killed them all. But surprisingly, everyone else wasn't hostile. Not only. The rest of the camp and the druids outside were not hostile, even Nettie who was in a nearby room talked to me as if nothing wrong. Same is true for everyone at camp. I had to look very hard for someone to acknowledge what I did and in the end I talked to Zavlor and found out that if you push him hard enough ( be aggressive in your dialogue choices) he will ask you to kill Khaga. Of course the problem was that she was already dead.
Example two, which is much worse - this time I didn't want to take shadowheart with me through the whole game, so shortly after recruiting Layzel I asked shadowheart to go back to camp. She was still a bit pissed I recruited Layzel and threatened me she won't wait in camp. To my surprise, when I went to camp she was indeed missing. I later encountered her in the druid grove. The problem is that during our conversation in the grove, half of the time she acted like she is still mad at me and in the other half she acted like we never met. This example is worse because there is nothing game breaking I did here, but still the game didn't acknowledged my choices even though it offered them to me. If I never played dos2 I would think this is simply a bug or unrefined dialogue, but now it's seems to like Larian just doesn't care for these things.
Other examples, some of the things I found, other from users around the web:
Chapter 5 - stop comprising on the story in order to make "cool game mechanics
This is one problem I didn't see being addressed, but it is a symptom of a bigger problem in Larian's games - Larian seems to care about gameplay more than the story. Both this game and dos2 are filled with mechanics that actively sabotage the narrative.
The origin characters - many noted the problems with those. Some highlights - super unique main character material companions, the fact that they are origin characters means you know much about them before you even started the game, etc.
Stupid game mechanics like knock out - all that this mechanic really does is delaying the killing of the character. If you knock out someone band return later they're still hostile (it doesn't matter if there are cases in which it does change the outcome. It either needs to always work or not exist in the first place).
Consequences - I'm a bit hesitant to talk about this right now, but I still think like you can do much without much of the game changes.
As I said in the start, even at its current state, bg3 is a lot of fun and at least for me well worth its price. But I feel like the biggest obstacle standing in Larian's way to make this game into a legend is Larian itself. Sometimes I feel like Larian treats it's game like GTA, and to be fair it's not a bad thing, just not for me.