We're about five or six hours into Baldur's Gate 3, and a party of level 3 adventurers are hanging out in a leafy, sun-dappled forest. Our hero Swen (a wizard named after Larian's Swen Vincke, who's controlling the demo) is joined by Shadowheart, Gale, and Lae'zel—a cleric, a mage, and a fighter.
Our intrepid band of adventurers have parasitic tadpoles lodged in their brains that will eventually turn them into nightmarish Mind Flayers, and they're looking for a cure. This first scene takes place in your camp: a place where you can rest, regroup, and chat to your party. Lae'zel isn't pleased about us resting. She wants to get on with the search for a cure. Gale is pessimistic, staring into the fire, lamenting the situation. And who can blame him?
The character models are fantastic, and although the cinematics still need some polish, Larian has done a fantastic job bringing your party to life. They already seem like people I want to hang out with and get to know.
The next morning the party sets out into the forest. As Vincke plays, he zooms the camera in and out. Zoomed out, it's reminiscent of classic Baldur's Gate. Zoomed in, the camera lingering behind your character, I'm reminded of Dragon Age. At either height, the level of detail is impressive.
As the party approaches the overgrown ruins of a village dominated by a large windmill, a perception check is rolled and is successful. Lae'zel notes that goblins are lying in wait ahead. It's an ambush, and we get the option to call out to our would-be attackers, telling them we know where they are.
The leader of the ambush, a cocky, sneering little goblin, is annoyed that we've found him out. You can deal with him in a number of ways, including intimidating him. We try to scare him off, but the dice gods are not on our side. We fail the intimidation check and he's unphased by our threats. He raises his weapon and orders his boys to do likewise.
In the ensuing battle we get a taste of the tactical turn-based combat in Baldur's Gate 3. Gale throws lightning bolts and, in one particularly cinematic (yet completely unscripted) moment, casts an AOE spell called Thunderwave that knocks two goblins off a roof to their death. The fighting here is so much more dynamic and reactive than the relatively limited battles in the original games, letting you use the environment against your foes.
One of the goblins attacks a barrel of fire wine near us, which douses us in flames. But luckily Shadowheart, our cleric, has a water spell to hand, and she extinguishes the blaze. The goblins are eventually defeated, and we make our way up the hill towards the big windmill we saw earlier.
Another group of goblins are camped up here, laughing at a distressed gnome they've tied to one of the windmill's fans. "We're teaching this 'ere pipsqueak how to fly!" says the leader. We can walk away and pretend we didn't see anything, but maybe the gnome has some useful information?
Having Lae'zel in the party, a tough-looking Githyanki warrior, we get a special intimidation option. The dice rolls in our favour this time and the goblins run away with their tails between their legs. We find a switch to stop the windmill. Vincke says we could actually make it go faster if we wanted to, but we spare the gnome the trauma and cut him loose.
The gnome tells us that he's on his way to the Underdark, a location you may remember visiting if you played Baldur's Gate 2. This opens up a sequence of quests that we'd have missed if we hadn't rescued the hapless gnome, and it's also a clue that an entrance to the Underdark might be nearby.
We took a beating, so we return to our camp. You can take a short rest anywhere in the world, but to get back to full strength you have to go back to your camp for a proper snooze. In the night a man approaches dressed in fine clothes. He says his name is Raphael and he has something to tell us. Vincke says this moment, and other important narrative beats, can occur at different locations. Here it's at the camp, but it might not be for you.
Raphael whisks the protagonist away to a grand, fire-lit hall with a loaded feast table. Transforming into a devil, he offers to remove the tadpole from our head. If we don't accept, he says, our skin will sunder and our guts will dissolve. Gross. We refuse, but he seems unconcerned. He's convinced we'll come crawling back when we can't find a cure elsewhere.
We wake up back in the camp and continue our adventure. Vincke 'disconnects' the party and sends Lae'zel off to a nearby goblin camp, built around an old ruin. She does some cool, acrobatic leaping between rocks, sneaking into the camp. She embarrasses the camp's leader by using a spell to knock him on his arse and poisons a pot of booze, triggering a scripted event where the goblins have a party, drink it, and die. At least there won't be a hangover.
The party gets back together and later find themselves in a dark, shadowy cavern. As we enter, a character passes a survival check and correctly guesses that this particular cave is home to large, possibly hungry spiders.
And not just any spiders, but phase spiders. If you played the old Baldur's Gate games you'll know these horrible things well. Not only are they giant, fanged spiders, which is bad enough, but they can teleport too. And if you run into the queen, she pops out eggs that hatch into tiny, teleporting spiders. Luckily you can sneak through the cave and avoid them.
However, in this demo, Vincke decides to fight them. It's a tough battle, and things quickly get hairy. But he has an ace up his sleeve. In the cave there's a deep chasm in the ground, with an eerie blue light emanating from it. Remember when we said there might be an entrance to the Underdark in this part of the world? Well, this is it.
We leap into the chasm, using a spell called Featherfall, which lessens fall damage. And suddenly we find ourselves in the Underdark, a colossal underground world filled with immense pillars of rock, giant mushrooms, and weird glowing flora. Vincke says we could spend hours in here, and that it has its own quest hubs. But, alas, the demo ends.
He also says it's possible to miss this location entirely. You don't have to visit the Underdark to complete the story. You might even go into the spider cave, clear it out, collect the loot, and not even realise that glowing chasm was an entrance to anywhere. This is a very Baldur's Gate way of designing a world, letting you discover things for yourself, with little hand-holding.
Baldur's Gate 3 will be released in Early Access soon, and I can't wait to see more of Larian's take on one of PC gaming's most beloved RPG series.