As I get ready to rest up in camp, to heal and recover my spell slots for a fierce battle against a giant spider matriarch, I notice an exclamation mark over Gale's head. I go over to have a chat, and my wizard companion tells me a little about his obsession with the goddess of magic Mystara, before inviting me to learn how to see the arcane as he does. Bit weird given I'm already a spellcaster myself, but I figure what the hell, I've barely interacted with him so far and maybe he's trying to convey something important.
He takes me through the necessary hand gestures and mental exercises, as we reveal threads of "the Weave", as he calls it. Together, we summon up comforting sensations—feelings of wellbeing and pleasant scents—while Gale waxes lyrical about the beauty and poetry of magic.
But, wait, why is one of the sensations "the anticipation of a kiss"? What's all this about the Weave connecting us "intimately"? Why is Gale getting so close to me? God damn it, this guy's a magical pick up artist! Didn't this whole thing start with a conversation about how much he loves his ex-girlfriend?!
After letting Gale down easy, I have a moment to reflect, and realise this wasn't even the only weirdly sexually charged moment I'd had that day—it might be the third or fourth, even. I'm forced to confront the awkward truth: Baldur's Gate 3 is too horny.
Listen, I'm no prude. As a long-time PC gamer, I've played through my fair share of RPG romances, and bedded everything from sexy aliens to elven rogues from the comfort of my computer desk. I've seen probably a hundred cutscenes fade tastefully to black, and filled out a whole collection of Geralt's filthy trading cards. Sex and sexuality are perfectly valid topics to explore in a videogame, I'm not disputing that at all.
But, um, does Baldur's Gate 3 need to be quite so full-on about it? Each of the core companions that have joined my party early on in BG3 seem to think of only three things: the worm in their brain, whatever their personal quest is, and boning. When they're not aggressively flirting with me, they're putting the moves on each other. When githyanki Fighter Lae'zel finds out there's a vampire in the camp, her first reaction is to make a loud double entendre about who she'll let "taste" her.
While I'm out and about trying to find a solution to the rising tensions between the Druids and the tiefling refugees, my Warlock is busy shamelessly hitting on my Cleric. At camp, their default relaxation clothes include bikini tops and sideboob. Underneath, all of them wear exquisitely tailored saucy underwear. Even the one who's just spent a decade warring in Hell and seems to wear whatever random bits of leather she could find has her best lingerie on.
As a group, they're ready to tick the boxes of every perv on Twitter. You've got Shadowheart, the demure but affectionate goth girlfriend; Astarion, the sleek and charming troublemaker you can't help but try to fix; Gale and Wyll, handsome lads with silver tongues and sexy secrets; Lae'zel, the dom monstergirl who can't decide if she wants to yell at you or jump you; and Karlach, the obligatory Tall Strong Lady Who Might Step On You. On the whole, they're a great cast of characters with plenty of nuance beyond their overactive sex drives—but I can't help but feel that "How much will people want to draw inappropriate fanart of these characters?" was a question at front of mind throughout the design process.
And, of course, they all have to be pansexual and attracted to everyone, so that whether you're a dwarf with a giant blue beard or an 8 foot tall dragon lady, they're all ready to go. I can understand an RPG wanting to give the player the maximum possible choice for their romances, but sexuality should be a significant part of a character's personality. When everyone's just playersexual, there's no real representation at all. I much preferred the approach of the Dragon Age games, which canonised certain characters as being straight, gay, bi/pan, completely uninterested, or even having specific preferences for certain species. Not only does it make the characters feel like they have more agency of their own and allow for more substantive LGBT+ representation, it also creates a far more believable group dynamic than having to turn down the advances of every one of your friends until you get to your favourite one.
I don't know, maybe it's actually very believable that everyone in camp would be horny as hell. A bunch of hot people in peak condition, dealing with a high stress situation and living in close proximity—an adventuring party is basically like the Olympic Village, and we all know what goes on there. I can appreciate as well that the game disrupts the usual problematic structure of romance in games—of slowly increasing someone's love for you with gifts and correct dialogue choices, before being "rewarded" with a bonk towards the end of the game. Baldur's Gate 3's messier approach is more true to life—but it feels like all subtlety has gone out of the window in pursuit of that.
Especially because these vibes extend far beyond just how companion dialogues are written. Here are some things I did not expect to be major talking points of a big new CRPG in 2023:
- The large suit of genitals available in character creation.
- How its mo-capped sex scenes were filmed.
- The possibility of having sex with a bear.
Is it too much to ask to not have one of the first encounters along my fantasy journey being walking in on a bugbear and an ogre having sex, and being given the opportunity to critique their form? There's a real streak of juvenile humour to a lot of it, rather than simply making sex a believable part of a fantasy world, and it often doesn't sit right with me.
Don't get me wrong—I love Baldur's Gate 3 so far, it's a phenomenal achievement and a wonderfully welcome return for big budget CRPGs. None of this is ruining my experience or making me want to put the game down. But I think I'd just like BG3 a little bit more if it took a cold shower every now and then.
If you think I'm totally wrong, you may enjoy having Fraser whisper sweet nothings in your ear instead.