Should you play Baldur's Gate 3 now or wait for the full release?

(Image credit: Larian)

As we'd hoped, Larian and D&D make a good pair, and Fraser has been having a fine time shoving people off of ledges in Baldur's Gate 3. It's no big surprise that the GOTY-winning developer's latest RPG is fun—but that doesn't mean everyone should buy it now.

Baldur's Gate 3 is in Early Access, and it could be more than a year before the full game releases. Even after that, it may improve with post-launch patches (Divinity: Original Sin 2 certainly did), meaning that it could be late 2021 or 2022 before we can play Baldur's Gate 3 in full and at its best.

Whether or not you should play Baldur's Gate 3 today depends on how much you're willing to forgive bugginess, and how willing you are to wait for resolution—and potentially be disappointed by the full package. To help you make the decision, here's our advice, answers to some key questions, and what PC Gamer editors plan to do.

Our advice

Play Divinity: Original Sin 2 if you haven't already, and if you have, consider playing it again. Play our 2019 Game of the Year, Disco Elysium. Play Baldur's Gate 1 and Baldur's Gate 2 (you can get the Enhanced Editions on GOG or Steam). Play any of the other games sitting in your backlog. Get together with some friends and play an actual D&D session over Discord. 

If you still want to play Baldur's Gate 3 in Early Access after all that, go for it. (It ought to be a lot closer to launch at that point.) Otherwise, wait for the full game to release before you consider buying it. You'll have a better experience.

If you want to know how we came to that conclusion, keep reading for more info on the Early Access version and what's coming in the full version. If you're satisfied with that answer, perhaps we can interest you in an article about playing Pillars of Eternity as a party of bears?

How long until Baldur's Gate 3 leaves Early Access?

At least a year, but it could be longer.

What's included in the Early Access version?

Baldur's Gate 3 Early Access includes an unfinished version of the game's first act. According to Larian, that equates to "approximately 25 hours of self-contained content." 

Two more acts will be added when Baldur's Gate 3 leaves Early Access. New classes and races will also be added, as well as the option to pick a unique origin character as your main player character. (Currently, origin characters can be recruited to your party, but the main player character is a custom character without a unique back story.) Expect a lot of bug fixes, too.

"Only buy the game now if you want an early look or if you want to participate in community feedback," says Larian. "Otherwise, you're probably best off waiting until version 1.0 releases."

What is Act 1 like?

The original Baldur's Gate didn't really start rolling until well after the tutorial, but Baldur's Gate 3 is full throttle right from the jump. The Early Access release includes a starter dungeon to explore (conveniently located almost directly adjacent to your crashed Nautiloid) and a fairly beefy quest involving a druidic grove in turmoil and a sprawling goblin encampment that appears at least tangentially connected to your character's key problem: The mind flayer in their head.

It's a showcase for all of the game's major systems: There's lots of combat, naturally, but you'll also have plenty of opportunity to sneak around in the shadows, trip and disarm traps, ambush unsuspecting foes, and talk your way into and out of more trouble than you might expect. That includes both enemies and members of your party, who you'll chat with on the road and, in greater depth, at camp—a great place to make friends, alienate strangers, and if you're not careful, end up having to take part in an unfortunate murder or two when disagreements spin out of control. 

Read Fraser's Early Access review for more.

Will it spoil much of the story?

(Image credit: Larian)

There's a lot going on in the Early Access release, but in terms of the overarching story there's nothing in it that goes beyond what's already known: You and your new adventuring pals have illithid tadpoles in your heads, and you need to get them out before your faces explode into wriggling masses of tentacles and psionic malevolence. The city of Baldur's Gate, which I assume will be the game's crown jewel, is also not accessible at this point, so you're free to explore the countryside without worrying about blowing the big surprise.

Reasons to play Baldur's Gate 3 now

  • You're going to replay the first act 10 times with new characters whether or not you start now or wait for the full release, so you may as well start now. 
  • You can use the character creator to make a sick portrait for your next tabletop D&D character. 
  • You want to help Larian find and stamp out the many (many) bugs and glitches currently plaguing the game.

Reasons not to play Baldur's Gate 3 now

  • You want to experience everything fresh on your first full playthrough.
  • The full game may ultimately be disappointing, but there's no way to know that yet.
  • There are lots of other good RPGs that aren't in Early Access to play, such as Wasteland 3. And if it's your kind of thing, Cyberpunk 2077 will be out in November. 
  • It costs $60, and you don't know when you'll get to play the full game, or if you'll feel like it when you can.

What the PC Gamer team is doing

(Image credit: Larian Studios)
Gather your party with these Baldur's Gate 3 guides

(Image credit: Larian)

Baldur's Gate 3 Early Access review
Baldur's Gate 3: Everything we know
Baldur's Gate 3 tips: Start smart
Baldur's Gate 3 classes: Find your perfect profession
Baldur's Gate 3 races: Pick your favorite face
Baldur's Gate 3 companions: Learn who's who

Tyler Wilde: I'll play the damn thing, and then I'll replay it with a different character and different decisions when the full game releases. But do I wish the full game were just here now? Yes. I am impatient. If I read two books in a series and find out that the third book hasn't been written yet, I will become irritated for at least an evening. I have not read the Game of Thrones books because I don't want to deal with that. I hate waiting. I've just about talked myself out of playing act one now—but I know I will, because I want to shove people off of ledges like Fraser did.

Andy Chalk: After about ten hours in Baldur's Gate 3, I have no doubt that it's going to be an excellent Divinity game. I'm also very likely done with it until full release. I know what I want from the game, I know (very broadly) what it's going to deliver, and with all of that established (and a degree of uncertainty about whether this is going to ring the ol' Baldur's Gate bell at all), I'd really rather wait for a complete, polished experience before I jump back in.

Jody Macgregor: I'm playing it already. As a habitual restarter who didn't finish either of the first two Baldur's Gates until I began again with a character I liked better—and did the same with all three Dragon Age games—I may as well get my first, half-arsed attempt out of the way right now. Then, when it's out of Early Access, I can start over with enough knowledge of the shape of Baldur's Gate 3 to play someone who fits into that shape, who is good at Perception if there's a lot of hidden things, or can jump real far if that's useful, or has hair that doesn't clip through their ears if, five hours in, I suddenly realize that's happening and it drives me bananas.

Chris Livingston: I haven't played much of the Baldur's Gate games so I'm not really in a rush to try it in Early Access, but it does look cool and I'm definitely interested in playing. Someday. I've bought plenty of Early Access games but this one is a full $60, and it seems like the kind of game where you wouldn't want to make it halfway through and then run out of story. It's expensive and incomplete, so I think I'm just gonna wait.

Steven Messner: I'm so torn. On the one hand, Baldur's Gate 3 looks pretty fantastic so far so of course I immediately want to dive in and play my heart out. At the same time, I feel like doing so will just ruin my enthusiasm for the full game when it eventually releases. I want to be able to go in with fresh eyes, and I'm still playing Baldur's Gate 2 right now, so I might just pass for now. It's not like the game is going anywhere and it'll only get better as it gets more feedback and adjustments are made. So yeah, I'll probably skip this one.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.