The final RPS Advent Calendar 2023, December 24th

Games

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Alright folks, it’s time for our actual Game Of The Year reveal. Do I actually have to do a tease for this? Do we not all know what it is? Fine. Roll for initiative.

It’s Baldur’s Gate 3!


Edders Sheeran the bard convinces a dog that he's friendly in Baldur's Gate 3.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Larian Studios

Alice Bee: Sometimes at RPS we like to swerve expectations by picking an indie game with levels half an hour long and that costs a fiver instead of the biggest game of 2022, and sometimes we swerve the swerve by picking the same Game Of The Year as everyone else. It’s been a year of very good games, but one did stand out (and not because, disclosure, Adam Smith, the man I killed to get this job, was reincarnated as the lead writer on BG3). Baldur’s Gate 3 does a big save-the-world-from-great-evil RPG quest, but it’s such a dense tapistry woven from so many threads: companions like a nerdy wizard and an emotionally wounded vampire; an assassin woman in a meat dress; big brains; hags; politics; talking to cats; sentient mushroom civilisations; goblins getting tanked; multiple murders…

I mean sure, you have to do a lot of Wizards Of The Coast-compliant official Dungeons & Dragons combat, which is simultaneously the thing you spend the most time doing in D&D and also my least favourite bit of D&D, but Baldur’s Gate 3 gives you many options around that. It doesn’t always give you help to discover those options, but by God there are loads at every stage, up to and including the noble art of barrelmancy. The game is like a puzzle box, with so many buttons to press and switches to find and flip, and the fun is that you can and should experiment to find different approaches. Once you get over the fact that Baldur’s Gate 3 is quite hard it’s actually rather freeing.

I was a big fan of the way your choices layer up like a Hollywood-handshake-winning puff pastry. Crisp flaky battles, where you drop chadeliers on goblins and rain magical hellfire on cursed shadows, stack between slippery social interactions to persuade a nobleman to fuck off out of his house, or romance your favourite companion. So many quests you persue turn out to be linked to something else you were already working on, or lead to something useful. I freed an artist in act 2, went to visit him in Baldur’s gate in act 3, and found he’d been cursed by an evil portrait in the attic. Off I toddled to find a necromancer, and the necromancer asked me to find some escaped ghouls, and didn’t that lead me to a mysterious murder that had happened on the beach? And so on, and so on. Aside from your gang of misfits, who are authentically sweet and annoying, everything in Baldur’s Gate feels alive in a way games rarely do any more.

There’s a direct to DVD action movie (starring sports entertainment superstar The Edge) called Money Plane, which is about a casino where nothing is illegal because it’s on a plane. In this film, Kelsey Grammer says “you wanna bet on a dude fuckin’ an alligator? Money Plane.” I kind of think this is the ethos of Baldur’s Gate 3 – I don’t specifically know if you can bet on the outcome of someone fucking an alligator, but you wanna turn into a cheese after getting in a fight with a djinn? You wanna walk in on a bugbear and an orc mid-coitus? You wanna sneak into hell? Baldur’s Gate 3.


Standing on a giant mushroom, talking to humanoid mushrooms, in the Underdark in Baldur's Gate 3
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Larian Studios

Ollie: I’ve never finished a CRPG, not once. I love them, and I spend hours in the character creator putting together the perfect fantasy specimen. And then somewhere along the way, I fall off the bandwagon. Baldur’s Gate 3 continues this tradition in grand fashion, with probably the best character creation music the world has ever known, followed by one of the very best CRPGs – or even straight-up RPGs – we’ve ever seen. And I still haven’t finished it. At this point it’s fairly clear that this is a me problem. Though it’s admittedly also because Baldur’s Gate 3 is so goddamn huge. So much to see, so many choices to make, so many enemies to Thunderwave off clifftops.

I may not have finished it, and at this point I’ll probably have to start again from the beginning, which is always my Achilles’ heel with these games. But boy, am I looking forward to starting the Baldur’s Gate 3 journey again. I long for those first moments inside the Illithid Leviathan. But this time, I’m determined to keep both my character’s eyes in their skull. And look, I don’t want to make this into a big thing, I’m just saying that I’ll gladly slaughter every last one of my other companions if it made Karlach happy.

Alice0: Very excited for a future mod to edit this down to a manageable hour or two.


A Baldur's Gate 3 cat with no hair
Image credit: Larian

Kiera: It may be an odd thing to admit when it’s my job to write about them, but sometimes I go through a ‘no games’ phase. This is when I find myself lacking the motivation to play anything at all and I’m not in the mood for any one genre. I picked up Baldur’s Gate 3 relatively later on, after the initial hype phase had passed and it managed to invigorate my enthusiasm for RPGs again.

As a regular Dungeons & Dragons player I knew I’d love it, but it genuinely surprised me how good it is. Baldur’s Gate 3 introduces a world where choices actually have consequences and I feel like I have an impact on the world, which is the highest praise I can give a game.

I know there’s always a temptation to resist something that’s popular or considered ‘mainstream’ but this is one of those rare occasions where the hype is genuine. If you love RPGs you must give Baldur’s Gate 3 a go! You can talk to Yorkshire cows and Scottish eagles, that’s reason enough to play.

Edwin: I’m still in Act 1. I’m told it’s the best Act, so I’m trying to drag it out, but I also feel a strong inertia born of Cool Anecdote Overwhelm. Baldur’s Gate 3 exists to me as a million oddball headlines and forum gossip about e.g. people reverse-pickpocketing demons to make them explode. There’s still a game in there somewhere, right? Or does it now exist exclusively on Reddit?

Ed: And I’ve only just reached Act 2. But my time with the game’s shared with two other pals as a way of keeping touch, so sessions aren’t always possible week in, week out. When they do happen, though, we’re fully absorbed for hours. We haven’t played a game together that’s commanded our attention quite like BG3, and we’ve learned to embrace where our poor decisions take us. Often, it’s two hours spent in a single fight trying to break out of prison. And we’ve learned that every fight is significant. In fact, that everything is significant. I genuinely don’t know if we’ll ever play a co-op game as good as this once we’re done – in 2046.


A close up of a wheel of cheese in Baldur's Gate 3, the player character suffering under a polymorph spell
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Larian Studios

Katharine: Honestly, any game that lets you a) turn yourself into a wheel of cheese, and b) still have everything function as if that were a perfectly natural and expected consequence of your ill-timed magic probings after said transformation… Just outstanding work, Larian. Baldur’s Gate 3 is going to be one of those all-timers we’ll be talking about for years to come, and it’s precisely because of daft nonsense like this that allow it to stand head and shoulders above everything else released this year.

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