Larian gave Baldur's Gate 3 its acclaimed reactivity by approaching it as 'weird Dungeon Masters'

An adventurer holding up a severed dark elf's head
(Image credit: Larian)

There are plenty of things to love about Baldur's Gate 3, from the way its tactical battles never feel like filler to the best-in-class performances that bring its characters to life. But what marks it out from almost every other RPG, especially those that take 60+ hours to play, is its reactivity. Events and lines of dialogue are constantly referencing specific things you did and said earlier on, choices you made all the way back to the character creation screen, without ever making you feel like it's cheating by collapsing the possibilities down to a more manageable number.

Speaking at BAFTA's "An Evening with Baldur's Gate 3", Larian's co-founder and CEO Swen Vincke, writing director Adam Smith, and lead writer Chrystal Ding gave some insight into just how much work went into ensuring Baldur's Gate 3 was so reactive. 

Ding mentioned that while there were testers combing through the entire game, those dealing with the piled-up mountain of choices that influenced the ending had a particularly huge amount of work. "Just today I found the spreadsheet where we kept track of this," she said, "and it's one of those where you just keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. Every single path of like: What if I have Karlach, Lae'zel, and Shadowheart? What if Shadowheart did this ending? What if so-and-so did this ending? What if they did that ending? It's row after row after row, and it takes a small army to go through that."

Smith emphasized that empowering players with all this choice meant giving up on the idea of there being any one "correct" way to play.  "A mantra for me is: The main character of the game is the person playing the game," he said, "whether they're playing an origin or whether they're playing a Tav, custom character. They have to be the main character. So therefore that's the canonical story."

Expanding on how they decided what options to present to players, Vincke explained, "We always approached it as weird Dungeon Masters. The players are going to find everything and we just have to anticipate what all these players want to do—which is impossible, of course, but we try to do as much as we could." 

And that went as far as letting players be a bunch of little murderhobos if that's what they wanted. "This is why we allow you to kill pretty much every single character in the game," he said. "We don't know who you want to kill, but you will want to kill someone."

"It's Wulbren," added Smith.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.

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