Larian’s now-traditional Panel From Hell method of update delivery dumped some important Baldur’s Gate 3 news last week. The weighty Dungeons & Dragons fantasy RPG has been in early access for a couple of years, but it’s now scheduled for a 1.0 release in August next year. As well as that, BG3 got its ninth update, the last significant one before release, which raises the level cap to 5 and adds Paladin as a playable class. I caught up with Larian’s founder and director Swen Vincke (this time sans full suit of armour) and he told me that, despite Update 9 being a big one, there’s still a lot to come.
“No, because there’s still a lot of stuff that’s actually going to be added to that first act,” he says, when I ask if Update 9 means players won’t have to reinstall before 1.0 release. “It’s really annoying, I know, for players, but we just can’t maintain save game compatibility when we make structural changes like that.” Vincke still, therefore, advises that if you want the full interrupted BG3 experience you should wait for release – though it strikes me that the community Baldur’s Gate 3 has already cultivated will be happy enough to know that there’s still a lot of content to come down the video game pipes.
“Post release we guarantee that you’ll be able to continue,” he says, adding, “I always have to make sure that I can’t guarantee it – I can say that we’ll do our utter best. There may always be technical difficulties that make it impossible… But in general, post-release you should never have to reload or restart it again.”
Still, it sounds like there’s plenty to be getting on with with Update 9, anyway. The new playable class, Paladin, is a TRPG favourite, both because they have some cool abilities and are a decent tanky class to play, but also because Paladins offer some fun roleplaying avenues. You can see both in play in the BG3 update.
“I actually really like Smiting, and chaining them,” says Vincke, talking about his favourite features of the Paladin. “So, starting with the Searing Smite and going into a Divine Smite, that kind of thing, using the reaction system – that plays really well, actually.” I point out that one could, from the frequency and enthusiasm with which Vincke said “Smite” on the Panel From Hell stream, have easily inferred he liked Smiting; he, in his turn, points out that it’s cool and rewarding to say, “I shall Smite you,” and then actually really Smite someone. Which is fair enough.
Much like other RPGs, a Paladin is kind of like an extra goody-two-shoes Knight who was a prefect at school and they take an Oath – and in BG3 these oaths form the subclasses you can pick, either the Oath Of The Ancients, to fight on the side of good and light, or the Oath Of Devotion, to be virtuous and protect the weak. There’s also a secret Paladin subclass that is Vincke’s other favourite thing about the Paladin: The Oathbreaker, a choice offered to you if you are a very naughty little Paladin and do things that break your oath. It comes with different, more evil spells.
“I like the Oathbreaker a lot, obviously. Because it’s such a suprise,” Vincke says. “You break your oath and suddenly this guy with a Scottish accent pops up and, like, says, ‘Hi friends! We’re going to have to have a chat!’ I obviously knew what was coming, but even then, when I experienced for the first time said, ‘Okay, this is really cool.'”
The other big change with Update 9 is the level cap going up to 5. This doesn’t sound like much of a thing in the context of most video games, and Vincke is aware of this. He mentions that one of the things they were worried about when they first started work on BG3 was how D&D has a very low level count compared to e.g. a lot of games where you can ding level 80 with comparative ease. In D&D, levelling is a big deal, and getting to level 5 is like putting a car in fifth gear. Things really start to open up. Characters get new, much more powerful abilities that can really switch up the game. “It seems to work out well, so I’m actually quite happy with how that goes,” says Vincke. “You get a good sense of progression, you get a much broader range of options and things that you can start doing.”
It also means that there are new things that enemies can do to you, though, and Vincke says the combat team had to go over the fights and adapt them for the new level 5 cap. Vincke says it makes combat more interesting. “Like, no, suddenly you can handle more enemies, now we can start playing with that, we can make enemies tougher,” he explains. “You can survive things. You get a lot of mobility, you get a lot of AEO, a lot of control. You get more actions. You feel like, ‘Oh, my gameplay has just become richer.’
“I got a thing, and I can’t talk about it. So I’ve been sitting on this thing for years already.”
But the thing Vincke is most excited about for the full 1.0 release is still a big secret. “I got a thing, and I can’t talk about it. So I’ve been sitting on this thing for years already, so I’m going to be so happy when that thing is going to be out there,” he says, grinning. “I just hope people are going to like it because I think it’s really cool. Since day one – since day one – I saw people say something, and I said ‘Oh my God. I wish I could tell them…'”
Since there’s still enough to put in the game that some of it remains locked in the Larian vault, I ask how confident they are in the August 2023 release date for Baldur’s Gate 3. “I’ve always been wrong about the release dates,” says Vincke, “but we have a pretty strict plan right now. When we’re talking, we have these charts, these dashboards that show us where we are, and all of them are converging much earlier, actually, than August…”
Here Vincke almost begins thinking out loud, mentioning that this should give them time to polish everything, though there are a couple of factors that could still upset the process because they’re not finished yet, but of those they’ve – and then he sort of snaps back. “The short answer to your question is yes. Obviously, stuff goes wrong. Right?” he says, with another grin. “The short answer is yes, we’re fairly confident that we’ll manage to get there in August.”
Disclosure: Adam Smith, RPS in peace, used to have my job before
I defeated him in single combat he left and became the lead writer on Baldur’s Gate 3.