Baldur’s Gate 3 always had a very good shot at being extremely successful. It’s a long-awaited in a beloved franchise that’s been dormant for a long, long time. It’s in a genre of games that hasn’t seen nearly as much activity as it once used to, and demand for something new and excellent has been growing steadily. It’s coming from a developer that has a proven track record with that genre. With all of those factors, ever since Larian Studios first announced in 2019 that it was working on Baldur’s Gate 3, it was easy to predict a future where the game would enjoy a great deal of critical and commercial success.
And yet, even with perfect knowledge of all of those factors and their significance, it’s hard not to be surprised by the level of success the game has enjoyed in the days since its full launch. An unapologetically hardcore CRPG running entirely on a Dungeons and Dragons ruleset should be a fairly niche product, you’d think, but Baldur’s Gate 3 has turned out to be one of the biggest games of the year in every sense of the word. Critics and audiences alike have been signing plaudits about the game in a way that almost puts it on a similar level to the year’s highest-rated release, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and that’s being reflected in the actual numbers as well. It has managed to hit a peak concurrent user count of over 814,000 players on Steam already, putting it in Steam’s all-time top 10, and the buzz that it’s generating is also helping boost its sales on PS5, where it will be releasing in under a month.
And charting the path that Baldur’s Gate 3 took to get to this point is fascinating, because unlike what happens with so many games in our industry, its stock has climbed steadily and consistently since its announcement four years ago, reached unexpected levels in the lead-up to launch, and then actually managed to make good on all of its lofty promises.
Like Divinity: Original Sin 2 before it, Baldur’s Gate 3 chose the path of spending a considerable amount of time in early access before releasing in full, and upon its release in early access in October 2020, it was clear to most who played it that the game was already taking excellent shape. Upon its announcement, there were surely some dissastisfied murmerings at Larian having chosen to drop the real-time-with-pause combat of the original Baldur’s Gate games and gone instead with a turn-based system that more strongly resembled what the studio had done in the Divinity: Original Sin games, but most, if not all, concerns were assuaged when the game released in early access.
Of course, Larian had also proven in the past that there aren’t a lot of developers out there who make use of the early access period as well as it does, and over the course of the next (nearly) three years, the studio made significant changes and improvements to the game based on player feedback. The full release of Baldur’s Gate 3 obviously has way more content than the early access version, which only included Act 1, but Larian made notable changes to many of the underlying systems and mechanics as well. Multiple new subclasses were added, a lot of things were added and changed even in Act 1, the story and dialogue of Wyll were almost entirely rewritten, multiclassing and respeccing were thrown into the mix, the UI was massively overhauled, the character creator was deepend even further, countless iterative and balancing changes were made to things such as gear, progression, and combat- and that’s just scratching the surface.
To say that the early access path turned out to be the right one for Larian to choose for Baldur’s Gate 3 would be an understatement. It helped, of course, that from the day it became available in early access, the game started generating significant buzz and excitement, thanks to how good it was shaping up to be right of the bat. For three years, Baldur’s Gate 3 was always in the backs of our minds. Even if it didn’t meteorically rise to mainstream prominence until much closer to its full launch, for nearly three years, it was in the conversation, and it was something that word-of-mouth had made abundantly clear was going to be excellent when it came out in full. So early access wasn’t just a tool that Larian used to great effect to improve the game- it was a tool that the studio used to market the game incredibly well as well. Yes, Larian did originally plan a full launch in 2022 and had to extend the early access period by about a year, thanks in large part to COVID, but at least the studio ensured that it used that extra time the best it could. That, sadly, isn’t always the case with games that end up releasing later than intended.
Another major decision that Larian Studios made with Baldur’s Gate 3 that, in hindsight, turned out to be an excellent one was one that came very close to release. Originally set to release simultaneously for PC and PS5 in early September, Larian announced in June that it was bringing the PC version’s launch forward by a month. Considering the fact that if it had launched in September as intended, it would have been going head-to-head with another massive RPG in Starfield, that was probably a smart move. Starfield is, by its very nature, a game with much wider and more mainstream appeal, and given that it, too, offers a massive RPG experience (albeit a very different one from Larian’s game), it’s fair to assume that it would have eaten up a lot of the attention (and sales) that Baldur’s Gate 3 would get on PC.
On PS5, meanwhile, it seems safe to say that the game is pretty much guaranteed to do well at this point, and the fact that it’s coming a month after its PC launch is probably going to be party responsible for that as well, because as I mentioned earlier, all the hype surrounding Baldur’s Gate 3 right now is doing wonders for the sales of its upcoming PS5 version. The fact that Starfield won’t be on PS5 is going to help as well, because for those looking for a gargantuan RPG to dive into, Baldur’s Gate 3 was almost definitely be the first game they turn to.
It not being able to launch on Xbox Series X/S until (probably) next year is definitely a shame, but there’s something to be said about Larian refusing to compromise the quality of the splitscreen co-op experience (which it considers crucial to Baldur’s Gate 3) in order to be able to release it quicker on Xbox. That’s not a step most developers in the industry would take- and who knows, perhaps not having to compete with Starfield and releasing on the back of months and months of strong word-of-mouth from PC and PS5 audiences will help it do better on Xbox as well.
What’s clear, at the end of the day, is that Larian Studios has handled Baldur’s Gate 3 excellently right from the off. It is, above all else, an excellent game, maybe even a genre-defining one, and most of the major decisions made by the studio have helped ensure that that excellent is experienced by as many people as well. Even as recently a few months ago, we probably wouldn’t have predicted that Baldur’s Gate 3 would be as ridiculously massive as it has turned out to be- but boy are we glad it’s surprised us this way.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.