The march of Baldur's Gate 3 through the pop culture landscape at the end of the summer is something I'm watching with unrelenting pleasure. The voices of disbelievers preaching that it's just a reskin of Divinity: Original Sin 3 rather than a continuation of Baldur's Gate are fading away (believe me, we couldn't have dreamed of a more Baldur sequel, but that's a topic for a separate piece). The terrified developers and publishers are crying because someone dared to create a monumental single-player game, which you can buy once, optionally paying for an expansion. The production that overshadows all other releases for at least a month. And this Baldur is just fun purely to play. I'm at the beginning of the third act and I'm experiencing something close to RPG perfection. There was only one thing missing, and it was provided by a small, free mod. I wanted the chance to lead a larger party into battle, and finally got it.
When it comes to these types of releases, I usually prefer to start with the base version – the one envisioned by the developers, especially those who clearly have good intentions. Just like Larian. Especially since the game is genuinely outstanding in almost any respect. This is a great tale that presents us with dilemmas that can make your head spin. It's a charismatic story with great characters and phenomenal setting. It has splendid combat, sweet mechanics, humor, it’s pretty, and has some awesome music. Generally, it has this atmosphere of a crazy, albeit romantic adventure full of magic and mystery that’s rare to find in games, seasoned with Larian madness, a few philosophical issues, and a pinch of carpenter-cronenbergian body horror, plus satire. And it works, also on the imagination. Did the bugs bother me? Well, were there any serious ones?
Rare, or well-done?
On the other hand, tailoring the experience to your personal sweet spot is also a noble practice that helps to deepen whatever it is we’re experiencing. A mod improving the balance. A window seal in a rented room. New, fancy wheels on an old sube. I rarely mod, unless we’re talking making Fallout 4 playable; I prefer fan-made campaigns, like Original War or Neverwinter Nights, but there's always a first time. This time, it was in the name of principles.
I perfectly understand the developer's decision to stick with an active four-person party (while the rest of the companions bum around in the camp). For real. The Belgian studio mastered this formula to perfection during the two installments of Divinity: Original Sin, where the party limit was always four. The battles then constitute a reasonable challenge and we either have a well-packed, well-calculated team, or we take advantage of cheesing, environment, barrels, i.e. everything that’s part of Divinity's core – and I think it's great.
I agree with the argument that sticking to the original ensures the most balanced experience. What's more, it honors the tradition of tabletop RPGs, where three or four players, along with a game master, were considered optimal. Furthermore, the need to act in a four-person squad encourages replayability.
And yet, I don't give a hoot about any of this.
The mod in question, done by user Sildur, can be downloaded from Nexus Mods here.
You know, for me Baldur's Gate is a collection of very specific experiences and memories. Sounds, settings, and mechanics. The evolution of most of them was needed both by myself and the game itself, so that we wouldn't get bored with each other – and so that the third Baldur wouldn't fall into a niche, in which, for instance, the great Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire buried itself. It had to be a game for a wider audience, made in a modern way that cleverly, not literally, paid homage to tradition. And deliver they did. It's just that, with all this prosperity, one thing was nagging me. Too small party limit.
As I said – it’s a matter of needs. Not active pause, not classic audiovisual setting. But running around in a party of five or six. I understand lone wolves, as well as those perfectly comfortable with the basic limit of party members. But for me, Baldur's Gate has always been a story of six daredevils (in a slightly rotating lineup). Since then, every RPG that offered a smaller party limit seemed somehow... incomplete. Not concentrated enough. The magical six, set in two rows of three, is a standard that the first, and especially the second installment of Baldur have instilled in me foreva – when it comes to this type of RPGs. And so it stuck.
Now I know what you’re thinking, but rest assured: the mod doesn't actually spoil the story experience nor reduces replayability of Baldur's Gate 3. The thing is, there are so many moral choices waiting for you regarding side and main threads, that regardless of whether you go alone or with company – you can easily have two or three very different approaches. Moreover, even if you do play in a party of six (the mod allows to form a party of up to eight, but that, for me, is excessive – it's technically possible, though), you can adjust the level of challenges by changing the level of difficulty at any time.
If you think about it, I installed the mod at the right time – that is, after the second act – in order to make it more immersive. The protagonist becomes a better leader by that moment, and so it makes that they’re able to command more creatures. Sound simple? Yeah!
Now, the mod can generate an error or two, which can be bypassed if the instructions in the readme are followed. In addition, extra characters don't appear in cut scenes, which are designed for a four-person party, and that’s kind of a bummer. On the other hand, if an event concerns a particular character, they will be taken into account. The party member's interactions also proceed correctly and without any software interruptions. So, if you get over a few minor defects – then you'll be able to get absolutely everything out of Baldur.
Besides, this mod reduces one of the bigger nuisances that many players complained about, i.e. it lets us switch party members around without entering a dialog and switching between camp and back. So, gameplay improvements are also included!
I was a bit afraid of disturbing the experience of this title, but the mod gives more than it takes. It allows you to return to the roots in this incredibly modern and otherwise fancy production. Since we all know what needs to be done before venturing forth! Hells, venturing forth is fun in this game. Same as gathering the party. The bigger – the better!
Hubert Sosnowski | Gamepressure.com