Baldur’s Gate 3 I The Evolution of Fantasy Fiction
Type of game
It is a privilege that comes with a few titles, that of reshaping the medium and bringing true originality and innovation. Times have changed: either because the market is now flourishing and productive as never before, or because the audience, therefore, is increasingly demanding. But fortunately, there are still exceptions. Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of them.
Released this Summer, the third chapter of the Baldur’s Gate saga has been developed for the first time by the Belgian software house Larian Studios. In just 4 months, this game has broken every record, allowing it to conquer the Games Awards as Best Game of the Year. There was a memorable moment with the accepting of the award by the CEO of Larian Studios, Swen Vincke, wearing the game’s armor.
There are so many reasons that make this RPG title so loved by the audience. The gameplay, the story, the setting, the choices, and the characters. But all this is nothing but the legacy of a way of making storytelling. Baldur’s Gate 3 is the pinnacle of the art of role-play gaming.
And when the term “role-play” comes up, there’s only one game that can come to mind: the legendary Dungeons and Dragons. But to understand the strength of this kind of storytelling we must understand how this narrative language has evolved throughout history.
A journey as old as humanity
It is well known that the power of stories is fundamental to human beings. In particular, a specific type of narrative, perhaps the oldest, has had a great impact on society: fantasy fiction.
This is because the fantastic element offers a fertile ground for exploring some fundamental concepts of human nature, reflecting on one’s existential condition through escapism in imaginary universes with rules, events, and unique characters. From myths and legends, through popular folklore and religions, to the popular culture that characterizes modern human society, fantasy imagery has always assumed the role of a mirror in which to reflect the complex personal experience of an individual.
It was during the Middle Ages, that fantasy found new lifeblood in narrative literature: The Legend of King Arthur and The Orlando Furioso, to name but a few. And with the modern era, finally, this way of exploring society has fully entered the world of arts and entertainment. The last century was a striking example: different mediums have conveyed a plurality of fantastic universes, in completely different forms.
From masterpieces of literary value, such as the Lord of The Rings, to successful movie phenomena such as the franchise of Star Wars. But there is another dimension in which fantasy imagery, more than ever, has taken hold and managed to express its maximum potential: the game-playing dimension.
Forging a Cultural Revolution
The 1960s and 70s were years of great social change, foment and incipient modernisation.
Traditional social canons were questioned, and there was a form of escape from reality with new highly successful narrative universes, with the very first computers and consoles, and, above all, the birth of the culture of clubs and conventions: places where hobbies and passions could be exposed and discussed.
This is the social context in which two friends, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, were circulating.
Their passion for fantasy sagas and wargames led them, in 1974, to publish a game that would change the “nerd” landscape forever: the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.
The rules: the Dungeon Master is the narrator who will guide the player’s journey and the one who orchestrates the entire course of the game. The players interpret characters with unique stories and abilities. And finally, the minds of all participants shape the worldbuilding.
The game goes like this: live the adventure by cooperating with other players, defeating creatures, and upgrading the character by unlocking new powers and tools. Throw polyhedral dice to be able to untangle some of the thousand situations that are always different. In short, in this game creativity and imagination are the watchwords.
The dynamics and concepts that this playing experience brings with it led to phenomena such as cosplay, trading card games, the concept of world-building, and the way to play strategic games.
From Tabletop to Mainstream
The impact has been so powerful for pop culture that there actually exists a world before and after Dungeons and Dragons. And this, for better or worse, because this game has brought a lot of controversy (spoiler: more than Rap Music and Video Games put together!)
And finally, there’s cinema and TV shows. The movie industry has plenty of quotes and scenarios that refer back to the D&D universe. The most iconic one is undoubtedly Stranger Things, whose core is based on the Dungeons and Dragons narrative.
This show quickly became one of the most popular series of recent times. And in some ways it is just a great big love letter to that kind of imagination and culture. Just think of the main protagonist, the Mind Flayer. This character was born with Dungeons and Dragons and describes an alien race able to control the minds of those whom it infects.
If this hadn’t been convincing enough, there’s one last (but first) medium in which D&D has changed the rules forever: that of video games.
With the launch of new consoles with increasingly efficient performance, video games have been the source of new imaginary fantasy whose immersive power has no precedent, and so the Baldur’s Gate saga finds an excellent playing arena within this ecosystem.
A Virtual Renaissance
Originally developed by the software house Bioware and set in the Forgotten Realms, the narrative universe of Dungeons and Dragons, Baldur’s Gate was able to transpose the dynamics of the game typical of D&D inside a console. It was 1998.
More than twenty years later, with Baldur’s Gate 3, we witness what is a real revolution within the gaming medium. The game tries to be as faithful as possible to the original paper game experience. The narration and the possibilities of interactions are the two real hallmarks of this video game.
The player can customize his character as he pleases and make him interact with the environment through a myriad of dialogues and possible choices. Every decision implies some kind of twist, and they can be a lot. The evolution of the story is completely shaped by the player’s choices.
RPG at its peak expansion
In BG3 there is a true world inside every creature. Even the Sides Quests feel like it’s all part of the same funnel that leads to the climax of the game.
Ultimately, the narrative dimension is explored thoroughly.
As for the gameplay, the interface can be controlled via a joystick or keyboard, with the possibility of switching between one and the other conveniently and simply and without changing the game experience too much. What is not obvious in a RPG is that it involves a lot of abilities and weapons.
Fights that require completely different approaches, the throwing of polyhedral dice that decide the fate of a choice, characters that can leave you permanently since the beginning of the game, a story that explores complex themes like sexuality: Baldur’s Gate 3 meets you head-on, gives you interesting scenarios and reacts to your choices, bending and adjusting to accommodate your creativity.
Tech Meets Tale
The achievements and appreciation that this gargantuan and complex game has managed to win are all justly deserved. In addition to the already mentioned Best Game of The Year, at the Game Awards BG3 was also able to conquer categories such as the Player’s Voice Award, Best Performance, Best Community Support, Best Multiplayer, and Best RPG. Not only that: BG3 nailed also the Golden Joystick Awards, the New York Games Awards, GameSpot and many others.
In a nutshell, its recognition was almost universal.
The starting concept is always the same: the player plays a role, and the universe around this role changes from time to time. But what makes games like Baldur’s Gate 3 effective, is their ability to find a perfect balance between a world increasingly shaped by technological progress and the natural human need to tell stories.