20 years of playing RPGs taught me all the wrong habits for Baldur's Gate 3

Baldur's Gate 3 - a half drow character holds up their hand which is covered by a glowing mark of the Absolute
(Image credit: Larian Studios)

I have been playing Baldur's Gate 3 like a total bore. I've been tackling it far too mechanically: Get quest, head to quest waypoint, end up running head-first into combat on the way, fire off a few random spells or ranged attacks before being utterly clobbered by a pack of angry monsters. Stare at my screen in disbelief and wonder what the hell I'm doing wrong. Reload save file and try again.

My first 10 or so hours were incredibly frustrating, and I wondered why Larian's incredibly impressive RPG wasn't clicking with me. RPGs have always been my thing, I've been playing them for as long as I've been gaming. Square Enix, BioWare, Bethesda, Atlus, CD Projekt Red… role-playing games from developers all over the globe have served as the foundation of my hobby for 20 years now. Why the hell is this supposed pinnacle of the genre not resonating with me?


♬ Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit (feat. RZA, Inspectah Deck & Method Man) - Wu-Tang Clan

Then I began to see the videos being shared online, and hear the stories from my fellow PC Gamer writers. Goblins peacefully led into a room full of explosive barrels as a carefully positioned party member fires off an arrow. Giant enemies with monstrous HP dealt with in mere seconds by shoving them into a bottomless pit. Rabid gnolls slipping and sliding down hills that had been greased before a quick fire bolt sets the oily puddles alight. The creativity and experimentation. The loosey-goosey attitude of waltzing around, just fucking around and finding out. Larian gives you an toy box and expects you to play with every single doodad inside. 

I realised that 20 years of prior RPG experience was causing me to approach Baldur's Gate 3 in totally the wrong way. I was taking the game only at face value, playing things too straightforwardly. I was only picking the toys right on top of the pile and trying to use them in every situation. That's how I've played most other RPGs in my life, after all. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, normally. But I completely underestimated just how far a dash of creativity and some spacial awareness can take you in Baldur's Gate 3.

It probably doesn't help that I'm also a total Dungeons & Dragons newbie—I've played one session in my entire life, and it certainly seems like those well-versed in D&D 5th edition have clicked with BG3 more easily. I've been learning what different spells and cantrips do, when best to use them, and how to actually play as a bard when just smooth-talking doesn't work and I end up with weapons pointing my way. 

Bad habits

Even outside of my total inexperience with the world of D&D and tough-as-nails Larian games, Baldur's Gate 3 is like nothing I've ever played before and I'm having to unlearn all my ingrained RPG habits. I can't treat the game like a grinding gauntlet, being drip-fed new party members and gear as I progress through each story beat. 

Things that I'd see as my main objective in other RPGs are more of a journey in Baldur's Gate 3. You can easily pick up your entire core cast of companions within a few hours of playing, with other companions available from poking around in different zones. I'm so used to being given a single party member at a time that I found Gale immediately after the mind flayer ship crashes, assumed he was the only new companion I could grab, and spent the next several hours with only him, Lae'zel and Shadowheart. I had no idea Astarion was wistfully staring out on a nearby cliff waiting for me, or that I had spent two hours AFKing right next to Wyll on my very first play session.

Compare that to one of my favourite games, Mass Effect 2, where half of the game is spent doing missions that reward you with a companion at the end. It's no wonder I left most of my poor party members standing around waiting for me to pick them up. 

Quests feel less like a checklist and more of a gentle way to push you into exploring the map and trying new things. I've had to stop checking my ever-growing list of active missions to pursue, scattered all over the place. Instead of making a beeline for the waypoint, I've started simply interacting with the environment more. Jumping over gaps to find loot tucked away in caves, using spells to talk to animals and dead people, hoarding barrels that I can stack to reach things high above me—I'm playing with the toys, and being rewarded with all sorts of new encounters.

Even Michael Douse, Larian's director of publishing, has been telling folks to take what they know about RPGs and toss it out the window. A couple of days after launch he tweeted: "Worry less about closing out quests and winning fights, and instead focus on exploring, toying with the tools & systems, remembering to take it slow and trust the dice."


♬ The Benny Hill Show - The Edwin Davids Jazz Band

They're words I've tried my best to take to heart, and I'm now having a far better time in Baldur's Gate 3 for it. Old RPG-coded Mollie would have thrown herself against a fight over and over again even if it was heavily skewed in the opponent's favour. Partially out of spite, but partially because I can usually brute-force my way through most combat in other games. New RPG-coded Mollie either tries to talk herself out of the fight, find some messed-up way to end it quickly, or simply walks away.

I've been absolutely loving the way Baldur's Gate 3 has challenged my perception of RPGs, and the way I interact with games in general. It's such a unique experience that I implore anyone to give it a try, no matter how many RPGs or D&D sessions you have or haven't played. I'll still forever love and appreciate my old role-playing flames, but I would kill for a Final Fantasy game to play the way in the same challenging and thoughtfully creative way Baldur's Gate 3 does. 

Mollie Taylor
Features Producer

Mollie spent her early childhood deeply invested in games like Killer Instinct, Toontown and Audition Online, which continue to form the pillars of her personality today. She joined PC Gamer in 2020 as a news writer and now lends her expertise to write a wealth of features, guides and reviews with a dash of chaos. She can often be found causing mischief in Final Fantasy 14, using those experiences to write neat things about her favourite MMO. When she's not staring at her bunny girl she can be found sweating out rhythm games, pretending to be good at fighting games or spending far too much money at her local arcade.