Go For the Eyes, Boo, Go For the Eyes (Squeak!)!!
For the PC gamer, the ultimate question that must be asked is, is this truly Baldur's Gate III? As a hard-core veteran of the franchise, I must admit a strong personal bias. It's impossible to objectively review a game that claims to be the successor to one of your own personal favorite gaming classics. This bias works both for the game and against it. In favor of the game is the fact that I have a strong preference toward most of the existing conventions of the series. In opposition to the game is the fact that my opinion of it is to be tempered against the long shadow, as well as nostalgia, for the original. This makes for a far more critical examination of a game in which few things can stand up against it, and easy for slight irritations to tear it apart compared to "the good old days." We'll get to the answer of this question at the end of the review.
First: the comparison against its own PC lineage. Most will be quite pleased to know that there is more similar than different. The art style is spot-on in the same vein as Baldur's Gate. We can tell these are mostly the same artists. The "miniatures in a doll house" look is also maintained, both in first person and isometric perspective. Thankfully, isometric view is indeed an option, and on PC will likely be the preferable way to play for BG veterans, while Neverwinter veterans will surely prefer first person. The music is also a pleasant seamless blend from the originals, with Inon zur reprising his role of composer he inherited from BGII composer Michael Hoenig in Throne of Bhaal.
Gameplay received a minor face-lift, addressing some of the bizarre conventions of the AD&D's rule set, a bit long in the tooth from its 1960s pen & paper origins; Some is for the better, some is not. The most absurd mechanic of the AD&D rules when applied to computer games is the "rest" concept. Originally designed to make a player sit out a turn when playing the board game, it was a frustrating mechanic to rest, especially for mages and sorcerers, in a PC game. After every battle of casting spells or healing, resting would be required. While the idea of forcing you to go to an inn was at times fun, in dungeon crawl areas it was simply tiresome. The new mechanic uses the more conventional PC "mana" and "stamina" supplies for spell and ability casting, while both mana and life replenish rapidly after a battle. Unfortunately for mages, obtaining spells is now a fixed tree system, where you gain one of a new small number of spells by spending points when leveling up. Gone is the great scholarly mage concept of locating spell scrolls around the world and building up your huge tome of forty different spells to call upon at a whim - a tremendous loss for mage kind.
Despite these adjustments, much of the rest of the game will be highly familiar, if not identical, to D&D players. While everything is no longer explained in terms of "2d6" die rolls, to-hit-armor-class-zero levels, and "saving throws", there's a distinct impression that similar workings happen behind the scenes, and terms such as "resistance check" and "attack penalty" still creep in for skill descriptions. Indeed, much of the inner workings seem to still be pegged against the late-era (Neverwinter Nights) AD&D3 rule set, though doubtfully not as strictly applied, while the semantics of dice and turns have been removed, or, at worst, hidden from the player.
Additionally the dialog-driven large sweeping open-ended epic, the driving force behind the feel of Baldur's Gate II has returned. Bioware, indeed, has returned in proper form, merely a decade later. Complex dialog trees, decision based results, "talking through quests", and quirky side-story characters have returned. While there are certainly not as many side stories, nor the ability to walk into every door and question the mystery occupants behind them, as we were able to do in Athkatla, there's certainly enough to keep one busy, though a few too many lead to dungeon crawls more than complex multi-location town quests. A bit of Neverwinter crept in, I suppose, though I'm a big fan of the town-based quests. The Tanner/Bridge District Murders, Copper Coronet job quests, Keldorn's honor and family quests, and the Docks interrogations in Baldur's Gate II stand as the reigning testament to in-town quests, though a few quests in Dragon Age, so far, do come close.
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