Baldur's Gate 3 foreshadowed one of its biggest Act 3 twists with music even earlier than I thought—but don't worry if you didn't catch it: 'That was exactly the idea'

The Dream Visitor from Baldur's Gate 3, a shadowed figure amidst a blue magical backdrop, reachies their hand out towards the viewer.
(Image credit: Larian Studios)

In case the headline didn't clue you in—this article will feature spoilers for Act 3 of Baldur's Gate 3, specifically, a set of twists regarding the Dream Guardian and the Emperor.

The Dream Guardian that you design at the start of the game is, as I hope you know after that warning, secretly the Emperor—a mind flayer broken free from his colony who rebels against the Absolute's design. That's only the first twist, though. A second turn of the narrative knife happens when you go to confront Ansur underneath the game's titular city of Baldur's Gate. Turns out, the Emperor founded the damn thing.

Your squid friend is, in truth, Balduran, the city's father. A while back, some far more observant players than I realised that the entire twist is spelled out for you in "The Song of Balduran", the gorgeous melody that plays while in the Elfsong Tavern. And by spelled out, I really mean spelled out:

"O, sing a song of Balduran / Who founded Baldur′s Gate … Transformed, he fell their thrall / Succumbed as threat from nether years / Arose to conquer all." There is also a plot-important fork, but that's only really recognisable if you played Baldur's Gate 1 back in the day.

I felt like a fool, but I was happy to move on with my life knowing that Larian's composer had pulled a fast one on me, before attending BAFTA's "An Evening with Baldur's Gate 3", at least. During a talk with Borislav Slavov, the game's composer, I found out I wasn't just a fool—I was the entire circus.

Slavov was talking about iterative musical themes in Baldur's Gate 3. You might have noticed, for instance, that the core melody of "Down by the River" has a few different variations. The Song of Balduran follows suit.

"How many of you have noticed", Slavov began, as though preparing to slather my face with white paint and stick a big red ball on my nose, "that the same piece of music, in a completely different rendition, was introduced way earlier in the game with this arrangement?"

He then proceeded to play the song from when you encounter the Emperor in their true form for the first time—long before you go to face Ansur and… damnit, there it is, hiding in plain sight. The melody's right there (circa 0:48).

Song of Balduran (Encountering the Emperor, Real Form) - Baldur's Gate 3 (OST) - YouTube Song of Balduran (Encountering the Emperor, Real Form) - Baldur's Gate 3 (OST) - YouTube
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"No-one? Fantastic. That was exactly the idea," Slavov very kindly added, though I'm still going to kick myself about it. "The idea was not to recognise this piece of music, [it was] to give a hint on a subconscious level, to prepare you emotionally, to play this piece of music for you without giving you a chance to recognise it.

"Later on when you come to the big reveal, you are familiar with it, even without knowing that it's something you've heard before."

It's a genius little bit of musical foreshadowing that, I regret to say, was completely lost on me—just like the lyrics screaming in my face, or that dang fork. At least it was on purpose this time, and I do like how it's quite literally smothered under the heavy drones of the far more mindflayer-adjacent instruments that overpower it, much like how Balduran has been overpowered by the transformation itself. The cameo Slavov would later receive (alongside the awards that put him on the BAFTA stage that night) are well deserved.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.