I can point to the exact moment I knew Baldur's Gate 3 would be a banger. Last year, Kurt Indovina wrote, hosted, and produced a video--aptly named The Box That Broke Baldur's Gate 3--in which Swen Vincke spoke in great detail about how Larian Studios utilized everything short of witchcraft to program Baldur's Gate 3 to twist and turn on itself to ensure that, regardless of the choices a player wanted to make, they'd always end up with an artifact in their inventory necessary to progress the game's plot.
In that video, I witnessed the desperation any Game Master has dealt with, the mixture of adaptability and exasperation necessary to plan a rewarding story and simultaneously agonize over contingencies for every chaotic thought the players at your table might have. At that moment, I knew that Larian Studios understood the assignment. The developers knew that, first and foremost, the most crucial aspect of Dungeons & Dragons is encouraging and rewarding choice by trying to account for as many outcomes as possible, no matter how unlikely, every step of the way through the story. The result of honoring that ideal is the best game of 2023.
Baldur's Gate 3 works so well because Larian cleverly uses every aspect of the game to lead your creativity back to the established narrative, curating a feeling that all options are viable and correct. Clever writing and the best all-around voice acting of any game this year bring Baldur's Gate 3's characters and memorable narrator to life, incentivizing you to pursue their respective storylines and follow their objectives. Intelligent enemy AI responds to your actions so even repeated combat encounters against the same enemies feel distinct, with your choices shaping fights to play out in myriad ways. Humorous discoveries seem to dot every corner of the multitude of locations, some of which can only be fully uncovered by having certain items or access to specific spells, so even after you reach the limits of the map, there's often still a sense of mystique and discovery to the world as if you've barely scratched the surface of it all. And the random nature of dice rolls ensures you can't always succeed at what you want to do and sometimes have to reevaluate, pushing you down a path that seems inspired even though Larian carefully authored it with the same care as all the other ways forward.
It's a testament to Baldur's Gate 3's success that players (myself included) are taking inspiration from it for their D&D tables to improve the experience of playing the original tabletop game. The way Baldur's Gate 3 handles the Guidance cantrip, short rests, healing potions, and a whole host of other aspects of D&D helps the game maintain the momentum of play far better than its tabletop counterpart. And, like everything else, these changes are in service of choice--they give you more options in both roleplay and combat scenarios. And sure, Baldur's Gate 3 can't possibly be as reactive and offer as many possibilities as a real-life person directing the action, but damn if it doesn't emulate the sensation of playing D&D with a great Dungeon Master better than any other role-playing game out there, culminating in one of the most memorable stories in video games in years. Heck, you don't even have to deal with the frustration of bringing a group of friends together every week for three hours to experience it!
The game is just brilliant. Larian Studios has set a new benchmark for what developers can accomplish in a single-player RPG, and I won't be surprised if we see more studios attempt to emulate Baldur's Gate 3's success when it comes to designing choice-driven narratives. And whether anyone--perhaps even including Larian itself--can live up to that benchmark it has established is hardly a given.
There aren't many RPGs that you can point to where the consequences of even character creation can still be felt dozens of hours into the main plot, informing your dialogue options and your choices for getting around. But even beyond the main story, every aspect of the game celebrates player freedom and shapes itself to respond to the choices you've made. Almost all of your companions are down to sleep with you if you put in the effort (even Astarion for the folks who want to role-play the poor romantic decisions they make in real life) to color your playthrough with unique and emotionally gratifying romantic arcs, for instance, and combat mechanics are flexible enough to fit even the most ludicrous and unpredictable of strategies.
Jake Dekker words it perfectly in GameSpot's Baldur's Gate 3 review: "The freedom that [Baldur's Gate 3] offers is unprecedented, and it takes a little while to really see the scope of what that means for the game. At times, the sheer number of choices and consequences can be overwhelming. But before long, it becomes apparent that Baldur's Gate 3 allows players to be the authors of their own destinies in a way no other game has before."
Baldur's Gate 3's greatest accomplishment is that, whenever you think, "I wonder if I can do this..." there's a strong chance the response is, "Yes, yes you can."