I thought I was tough stuff for beating Baldur's Gate 3's hardest difficulty, but this new permadeath 'Honour' mode has me quaking in my bardic boots

Bg3 half orc looking shaken
(Image credit: Larian)

When I first rolled credits on Baldur's Gate 3, it was at the hardest launch difficulty: Tactician. That achievement was slightly undermined by the knowledge that Tactician wouldn't stay top dog forever⁠—I knew Baldur's Gate 3 would eventually follow Larian's Divinity: Original Sin games in adding a permadeath "Honour" mode. Now that it's here as part of BG3's monster fifth patch, I'm girding my loins for the most brutal version of my new favorite RPG.

Permadeath in a long RPG is a funny thing⁠—why on earth would you subject yourself to losing out on dozens of hours of progress in a story-heavy experience? The Witcher 2's "Insane" mode always particularly stuck in my craw: that game's clunky hack n' slashing and phantom hitboxes always felt like a poor pairing with permadeath.

The Original Sin games' implementation seems like it would go down a lot smoother thanks to their ultra-refined turn-based combat, though. I've never felt good enough at the Divinities: Original Sin to try my hand, but I appreciate where they were coming from. They're games where you can always be certain failure is your fault, they're fair. No matter how challenging things get, you're always in control of how fights play out, and you always have the tools you need to succeed.

Larian's ratcheted up the tension in this latest version of Honour Mode. BG3's devs saw us smashing F8 after every failed persuasion check, every wonky mid-combat move, and they've nerfed our most powerful ability: save scumming

I'm about as worried about all those dialogue checks as I am Honour Mode's actual fights. Now an entire playthrough can pivot on a single die roll like the check to get Lae'zel out of the zaith'isk or the high-stakes Wisdom saving throws Dark Urge players are faced with two-thirds of the way through the game.

Starting a new Honour character myself, I had a real "not in Kansas anymore" moment when I failed the check to save the renegade intellect devourer, Us. I missed out on a temporary companion, a summon, and a minor subplot all on one roll. Lest you try and attempt some ragequit shenanigans, Honour Mode also autosaves on exiting the game to update the single save file you're limited to. I haven't tried alt+F4 or a forced shutdown, but that hardly seems sporting, does it?

I can take 'em. (Image credit: Larian)

Permadeath aside, Baldur's Gate 3's Honour Mode is also notably more difficult than anything previously in the game⁠—Divinity's version was just Tactician with permadeath, while the addition of "Legendary Actions" for bosses has me nervous as all hell. Early game challenges like Grym or the Phase Spider Matriarch already loom large as potential run-enders. What new tricks do they have in store now?

Even with all that, Honour Mode has me reinvigorated to dive back into Baldur's Gate 3 months sooner than I anticipated. Forget any self-imposed challenges⁠—having save scumming removed as an option mechanically lends everything heightened stakes. It reminds me of how my Fall of Delta Green tabletop character limped through some truly excruciating life events after failing rolls. On the flip side, landing a "Command: Drop" spell with just 55% chance to hit on supposed-to-lose boss Commander Zhalk and stealing his nifty sword felt like an absolute coup.

Maybe we were wrong, and getting rid of save scumming is what we needed all along. It's like that scene from Dark Knight Rises where Batman climbs out of that big ole' Bane pit without the rope, only lamer. This game I already love so much feels transformed, and I'm going to try and pick my way through Honour Mode with one of our Baldur's Gate 3 multiclass builds, namely the bard/thief crossbow gunner. I don't know what I'll do if I lose a run 40 hours deep⁠—even with the assurance that you can continue with the same character, just not as part of the Honour Mode challenge anymore, it seems like a small tragedy. But we'll see if I even make it that far.

There is only one I truly fear. (Image credit: Larian)
Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.