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Feature Article

E3 2019: Baldur's Gate 3 Aims To Do What No Other RPG Has

Time to gather your party.

Yes, Baldur's Gate 3 is happening, and it's being developed not by BioWare (maker of the earlier entries in the series), but by Larian Studios, the studio behind the incredible Divinity: Original Sin 2. Coming off of such a critically acclaimed RPG, it seems like the perfect match--and the partnership between Larian and Wizards of the Coast (license holders of Dungeons & Dragons) has quite the story. Ahead of the official reveal of Baldur's Gate 3, GameSpot video producer and D&D aficionado Dave Jewitt was able to catch up with the founder and head of Larian Studios Swen Vincke. They talked about almost everything that led up to this point; from how Divinity was influenced by Baldur's Gate and the creative approach when handling a storied franchise to the office dynamics at Larian and what it's like to work on the cloud-based gaming platform Google Stadia.

While Baldur's Gate 3 was announced within the Stadia Connect stream ahead of E3 2019, Larian plans on bringing it to PCs as a standard, non-streaming game. There's also no release date quite yet, with Larian telling us it may not debut in 2019--as Vincke says, it'll be ready when it's ready. For now, enjoy Dave's conversation with Swen Vincke about all things Baldur's Gate below or check out the trailer breakdown they did together in the video above. The studio has also put out a silly new video offering some other details on the game and how Larian got the rights to make it.

A shot from the announcement trailer; introducing mind flayers.
A shot from the announcement trailer; introducing mind flayers.
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What was the mood in the studio after Divinity: Original Sin 2, given its reception after the definitive edition and everything else?

Swen Vincke: Ecstatic. That pretty much sums it up. Super proud. People worked very, very, very hard on it and so, it was very rewarding to see all the critical acclaim, and from then the fans, and from the sales. It was just fantastic.

Did that factor into Baldur's Gate 3 at all or have you been working on it alongside D:OS2?

SV: The team already knew that we were working on Baldur's Gate 3, so they were really excited to start, actually impatient to start working on it. One of the things that we needed to do to get this deal done was to get the script of the story to Wizards of the Coast before Original Sin 2 shipped, actually. I think it must have been July or August [2017], just before it shipped.

With the writers, we went to a hotel room and sat there the entire weekend and just churned out the entire script that we then sent through to Wizards of the Coast.

What did Wizards of the Coast say?

SV: They said, "You guys should finish Divinity: Original Sin 2!" [laughs]

It's the second version, but the core ideas were there already. It was just that we didn't have the time to work everything out, but then afterwards, once D:OS2 shipped, we had all the time in the world to focus on Baldur's Gate, so, we spent a lot of time at their offices.

What made you want to pursue the Baldur's Gate license?

SV: There's a bunch of reasons. Dungeons & Dragons is something that's super loved in the studio. Obviously, we're making RPGs, and it's been around for 40 years. The second is that, if you think about what D&D is, it's a game system in which you're given an adventure, a reason to go do things and use the gameplay systems to overcome challenges. Typically you're going to do all kinds of crazy things to overcome the game master. And if the game master's any good, they're going to make sure they can just manage to do it.

If you think about Original Sin 2, that's literally what we're trying to do also. There's a very, very close match in offering systems to players and reasons to do things, then giving them the very big question which you get in D:OS2 and in D&D: what do you do? The fit was very natural and something started talking about with Wizards of the Coast quite some time ago.

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The third thing is that it's an incredible challenge. People have been waiting for it for more than 20 years now. It's something for the team to overcome, it's to make them even better than they already are, and say 'can we manage to do this?' People are super motivated to demonstrate that they can because they're all very talented. So, hopefully we will manage.

Is this something that Wizards of the Coast approached you with, or was this something that you wanted to do with your lineage and approach them with the idea?

SV: It goes in both directions. I originally approached them after Divinity: Original Sin 1, but they felt I was still too green back then. As we were making Original Sin 2 and I guess as they were seeing what we were doing, Nathan from Wizards approached me and asked, "Do you still want to do this?" I said, "F*** yeah!"

I said, "I want to do this." So, he said, "Here's what you need to do." Then we did all those things, and out of that came the deal.

What was the reaction? Did you sit everyone in the studio down and say, "We've got Baldur's Gate 3"--what was that like?

SV: There were two reactions. It was quite funny actually. So, we have four studios. And I also told Steve not to tell the other guys, because I wanted to have the joy of being the one telling them and seeing their faces.

We gathered everybody around and we had two reactions. We had the guys that were completely freaking out. But then surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, the younger ones that said, "What is it? [whispering]" They actually didn't know what it was.

It shows you how long it's been since people actually played Baldur's Gate. Then when people explained it to them, the reaction became, "Oh my god, okay, that's really cool." But they didn't have the insane reaction that you see from the ones who played it when they were young.

For a lot of them, it was their first RPG that they ever played. That was actually eye opening and told us instantly of something that we would have to overcome. If we want to make this game, we have to educate people on what this actually is.

Is three a reimagining? A straight sequel? How much are you taking from the originals?

SV: The previous Baldur's Gate games were based on Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. We're now Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. A lot of stuff has happened in Forgotten Realms. A lot of stuff has happened in Baldur's Gate, so this is going to be a new entry.

There will obviously be references to everything that happened in the first and the second, but this is very much its own story. You needn't have played the previous Baldur's Gates to understand what's going on, but if you have, you will recognize the references. For example, if you just look at the teaser trailer, you will notice the guy's from the Flaming Fist, he has a flaming fist on his chest.

No Caption Provided

So, this game is more keeping in the tabletop lore than it is directly coming from Baldur's Gate 2.

SV: Yes. It's very much set into Forgotten Realms and where the universe is at now, but it is its own story. We worked very closely with Wizards, they actually adapted certain things for us so that it would work in the video game also. They've been very, very flexible in that. There are adaptations that we had to make to turn it into a video game, but it features a lot of the iconic stuff that people love about Dungeons & Dragons.

Larian, of course, having a lot of expertise in this genre, what do you think that your studio's going to be able to add to what's already a dense franchise with a history to it?

SV: I think that our systems focus that we had in previous games we've made is going to add a lot. You're going to have a lot more agency available because of all the freedom we're going to offer you when you have overcome challenges. The effect of that is going to be a big thing.

We're also in 2019 now--so it's not going to necessarily launch this year--but in 2019, the world has moved on tremendously. With Divinity: Original Sin, we've demonstrated that we can make what people call classic RPG values, that we can make modern. You will see a modern version of Baldur's Gate, but it's going to be true to the core of Dungeons & Dragons more than anything. It's going to feature tough decisions, player agency, systems, strong narrative, companions, gather your party.

All those things will be present and you'll be able to play it in single player and in multiplayer, like the original ones, but then in our way and much more evolved than it was back then.

The evolution of games over the past 20 years since the original is obviously going to influence how Baldur's Gate 3 is.

SV: Yeah. We try to not go backwards, but going forwards. I think that we'll be bringing a bunch of new things to the genre also. There's a whole bunch of stuff, ideas that we've been sitting on that we haven't been able to put in our previous games that nobody has put in RPGs. You'll see that come through in Baldur's Gate 3.

When you worked on the original Divinity, was that at all inspired by the Baldur's Gate series?

SV: It's funny that you mention it. Just before that, we made a game called The Lady, The Mage, And The Knight (LMK) which was canceled. And we discovered that Baldur's Gate was in development as we were making LMK. Then obviously it got canceled and it just went on the backburner.

When it came to pitching the first Divinity to publishers, what we told them was that it was a cross between Diablo and Baldur's Gate just to explain to them what the concept was. Yeah, there was definitely some inspiration there. Diablo was the one that had the action RPG focus. Baldur's Gate was more about all the systems and stats that you had, and the party and them joining the exploration. There was a lot more world exploration to Baldur's Gate than you had in Diablo because you could interact with people, you could actually talk to them whereas Diablo was really about the character progression and action.

Being that this series was something that influenced your earliest games, it must feel pretty amazing now to be building the next iteration of that series.

SV: Yeah, it's a very big responsibility. I mean, this is the type of game people have been already defining for themselves what it should be. So, we're going to be fighting against those expectations but we'll make it our way, what we think is the right way of doing it. Then we'll see what the community will say. I think they'll have a lot of fun with it, but yeah. We'll see.

What are you're expecting to come out of the official announcement?

SV: We wanted to talk about it because we've been very bad at keeping it a secret, so that's been clear. We want to start talking to our community also. We've made all of our games together with the community. This will be no different. Obviously, we'll have the entire Dungeons & Dragons community also that we will start engaging with and somehow, together, we're going to evolve towards the RPG that it deserves to be.

No Caption Provided

Are you doing the same route that you did with Original Sin 2? Are you going with a Kickstarter or are you fully taking this and running with it with some community involvement?

SV: It's not going to be a Kickstarter, that I can tell you. Original Sin 2 was so insanely successful that it wouldn't make sense to take it [Baldur's Gate 3] to Kickstarter, except for the community. We're going to do other things to involve our community and we'll announce them over the coming months.

What stage of development is it in at the moment?

SV: We're in production. This is the biggest RPG we've ever made, so our team is now over 200 people internally and together with all the externals, we're heading over 300 people. It's a very big production. It's the biggest that we've ever done.

Being the biggest RPG you've ever made, do you have an overarching goal of what can you expect to see in terms of scope?

SV: Freedom of choice, agency, that's the key pillar. Whether you're playing single player or in multiplayer, having the freedom to affect the world and the world reacting to your actions as you embark on this fantastic narrative and having many, many different ways to play such that when you talk to one of your friends about how your session went, you say, "Are we playing the same game?" Mostly because of of the choices you make, that's the ideal scenario.

Production values are very high also. Back in the days, Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 were actually accomplishments when you see the size of the world. It has to be the same thing again when you look at it.

Then, lots to explore, right? When you play Baldur's Gate, you were exploring a lot of things, so this has to be the same when you get that feeling of exploration, there's one more thing to discover and say, "Oh my God, that leads to this thing, I didn't expect that." Then preferably, when you get there you'll say, "Oh, because of what I did there, this happened here." Right? If we can get that feeling, then you'll feel as if the adventure is yours or your party's.

Since it's so inspired and based on tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, is that influencing the way you're approaching multiplayer? Is it going to be like you're sitting down with a dungeon master? Or is it going to be a set number of party people?

SV: It's a video game, so you want your video games to react rapidly to what you're doing and you want it to be presented to you in a visual way. A dungeon master appeals a lot to your imagination, so here we have to show things. In that sense, it will be different.

When it comes to multiplayer, you can expect us to make sure just as you have in a traditional tabletop session, each person is they're own hero. We're together as a party, but we each have our own story and we each define parts of what's going to happen in this adventure and maybe some conflicting. That should be very present.

For anyone who's not familiar with Baldur's Gate, as you said before there are people that are new to this franchise, can you kind of break down what we're seeing in the teaser that will catch us up and get us ready for Baldur's Gate 3?

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SV: All right. You're seeing the city of Baldur's Gate 3 to start with, which I think is it's first 3D rendition actually, ever done. Then, you see a knight who belongs to a group of mercenaries called The Flaming Fist, who are law and order in the outer sides of the city and into parts of what's called lower city. You have also an upper city part which is where all the rich live in Baldur's Gate. They're governed by somebody else called The Watch.

Then you see that there's been conflict clearly. There's dead bodies everywhere and then something's happening to this knight and he's actually undergoing a version of what we would call accelerated ceremorphosis, which is basically a way of reproduction that these creatures called the mind flayers have.

They stick a tadpole in people's heads, that tadpole grows, and then it turns a human being or any humanoid being into a mind flayers and these are the guys you may know from Stranger Things, maybe. They're these psyonic creatures with tentacles and very intelligent but they're hive creatures. They have elder brains that command them.

They used to have an incredible empire called the Mind Flayer Empire but things went wrong, so they've been in hiding ever since in a place called The Underdark, which is like the deep underground of this world of Forgotten Realms. Somehow, they've managed to get people into Baldur's Gate that are turning into mind flayers and you see some shots where they're flying in the distance, so it's an invasion of mind flayers, too.

In the very last shot, you see that big thing with tentacles, that's called a naulitoid and that's the thing that they used to have when they had their ancient empire. Think of it as a spaceship that was capable of navigating the astral plane, which is...almost like quantum mechanics to explain how that works [laughs].

Yeah, that's what you're seeing. Time to gather the party.

What you're doing in Baldur's Gate 3, is that now influencing the tabletop version of the world of Baldur's Gate?

SV: Yeah, and we worked very closely with Wizards on this and the people that worked on what used to be called Eclipse, Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus. They spent a lot of time with us and we spent a lot of time in their offices.

There's been close collaboration on planting the seeds of what we needed in Descent Into Avernus, which starts just before Baldur's Gate 3 the video game. There's a lot of stuff that you will find in there that you will see referenced back inside of the game and vice versa. There's seeds planted for stuff that will evolve into the video game.

This is one of the first games we've heard about it being on Google Stadia. Can you tell us about how it's going to work on an unknown platform like that?

SV: It's not so unknown for us [laughs]. We've been at it for some time. The thing about Stadia is that it's going to be accessible to anybody, at least if you have Stadia services within the country where you are. It's going to allow you to play the game at really high settings on a very shitty PC, which is going to solve one of the problems that we have with this game because the production values are so high. We've always tried to make the games fairly low specs, so that solves that.

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Stadia will also allow a whole bunch of community features that you otherwise wouldn't be able to do. I don't know if you've been paying attention to what's happening in the streaming sphere when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, but there's a lot going on there. Things like Stadia allow you to do much more.

We're implementing Stadia fairly deep into the game, actually. In due course, we will announce the features and demonstrate it. I don't think people understand, yet, exactly how transformative Stadia is going to be. Not in a corporate way, I actually mean it. Because they haven't seen it, they haven't touched it, but it is quite special.

I suppose that's a great way of bringing something like Dungeons & Dragons that's supposed to be accessible to anyone, Stadia seems like a perfect match for that. Like you said, anyone with a shitty PC can still play and get involved.

SV: It democratizes it. I mean, you'll be able to access it anywhere and if you have an RPG which lasts over 100 hours that you play in multiplayer, one of the biggest problems that you have is when can I join my party? When will the party be online together?

If you can access it from anywhere with something like Stadia that will increase the chances that you can be able to continue your adventure together, I think that's a really good thing.

You literally just showed me the teaser but do you have any timeframe whatsoever as to when people can get their hands on Baldur's Gate 3?

SV: When it's ready, yes. You could've seen that one coming [laughs]. We're going to take all the time we need to make this one really, really good. I think people have been waiting for 20 years, so they can afford to wait a little bit longer.

There will be a lot of excitement once people discover it. We've seen some excitement already because of the leak, but I think that it deserves to be really good and I really think my team is capable of delivering.

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davejewitt

Dave Jewitt

Dave Jewitt is a member of the UK video team and GameSpot's resident Warhammer nerd.
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Avatar image for naija
Naija

Looking forward to Baldur's Gate III knocking Witcher 3 right on its ass. Count me in.

Avatar image for sonizorus
Sonizorus

Hey guys, imho, over 20 years a lot has changed. A new generation has emerged, the Z generation kids have no idea what Forgotten Realms is or even D&D. So the developpers should def. explain what is Forgotten realms, D&D and even Faerun and Toril in the game (I don't know, like with a video or scene or short movie). They should warm up new generation people to the genre at all. This even may be the rebirth of the old ways, explaining old the beauties of the old to the new. They should expertise this perspstective and see the bigger picture.

They could implement these so called videos or cutscenes in the game menu or smth.

Just an idea from a marketing guy.

Regards.

Avatar image for Croaxleigh
Croaxleigh

@sonizorus: D&D is very popular among younger gamers. Even back in the time of the last Wizards gaming census thing, young players (under 15 years old) made up 11% of all active D&D players and those under 20 at the time (including that 11%) were just under 20% of all active players. D&D is pretty mainstream right now, especially since there's Stranger Things tie-ins and everything that you can buy.

Avatar image for stony4cloud
stony4cloud

They couldn't find another person to give us the run down. This guy sounded very shitty. Just shut the **** up and give us a trailer.. i mean WTF

Avatar image for takezosunfire
takezosunfire

So ecstatic that bioware doesn't have the license to make this, as they're pretty much crap now... They were wise to chose Larian studios, a much more competent and consumer-friendly developer!

Avatar image for bakula
Bakula

Game design-wise, F'ing fantastic, but I'm a TAD bit worried about their writing team because of how comedy-filled and whimsical DOS is. Need them to remember what they're working on and alter their philosophy or it will come off as Diablo 3, where Blizzard clearly couldn't adapt and put their pop-culture-laden, bubble gum, cartoony WoW people on it.

Avatar image for Croaxleigh
Croaxleigh

@bakula: Given that they were supposedly working with Wizards and the team developing other Baldur's Gate content, I imagine that did a lot to keep it from straying too far from what a BG game should be. We'll clearly have to wait and see, but I doubt it's going to be much of a problem.

Avatar image for daedstarr
daedstarr

As mentioned already BG and BG2 were AD&D 2nd Edition not 3.5 and also BioWare did not make them, Black Isle did who are now mostly Obsidian. BioWare made Neverwinter Nights. Now this brings me to thinking the people making this might not actually have much knowledge of the BG games at all, which is worrying. I'll be waiting to see progress as time goes on, but right now I guess it can't be worse than Dragonspear, right? RIGHT?

Avatar image for Bivibob
Bivibob

@daedstarr: Absolutely false. Bioware made BG 1 and 2. Interplay/Black Isle was the publisher.

Avatar image for childofbaal
ChildOfBaal

Seriously, unfortunately I had to make an account to comment on that... Is this shit a BG3 trailer? Someone must be joking... Did the person who made that crap really played Baldur's Gate before? Please, go back to study a little bit more, this looks like a (shitty) version of Dragon Age, not even near what someone would expect from a Baldur's Gate game... I would love a BG3 but if this is the trailer, I can image what comes next. Please, do a favor for every BG fan, don't do it.

Edit: By the way, BG2 wasn't based on D&D3.5, it was based on AD&D 2nd Ed. Clearly the person who is doing the job doesn't even know what he is doing... but this is normal nowadays...

Avatar image for Croaxleigh
Croaxleigh

@childofbaal: It's technically a trailer, yes. But more technically, it's an announcement teaser. It shows one little thing to try and catch people's attention and let them know that BG3 is being made, but it's not intended to be representative of the entire game.

Avatar image for thrombosis45
thrombosis45

This is just a cash-in on the Baldur's Gate name. The story ended in Throne of Bhaal, which would have been BG3 but Bioware said they had done everything they could with the Infinity Engine and it was time to move on, so they just made it an expansion. This is typical of the entertainment industry of today, why be creative when you can just recycle someone else's ideas for easy money.

Avatar image for DLuf
DLuf

@thrombosis45: Using the BG label helps hype people up, sure. But at the end of the day, it's just a freaking name. If the game is actually solid, I, for one, wouldn't give two s**** what it's called. Heck, their first major title is called "Divine Divinity", and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Also, if people preorder games purely because they're hyped and excited, ultimately, that is THEIR decision, not because the devs or publishers make them to. So all these accusations saying this is a "cash in" and they are not even trying to be creative...., are bull****. If they wanted to, chances are they could come up with a unique name of their own. Maybe ten. It's just a title. I don't know how "creative" this game will be. No one does, except the people who are making it. So why not just wait and see? Once you have actually played it, you can make a review and say negative things about it all you want.

Avatar image for Skarwolf
Skarwolf

A protagonist who is really a former villain but lost his memories until the big flip 3/4 through the game ? Like every bioware rpg previous.

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@Skarwolf: Every previous BioWare RPG? As far as I can remember, they've used that plot once.

Avatar image for nsa_protocol44
NSA_Protocol44

@Skarwolf: So you are saying the Inquisitor with whom I play in Dragon Age 3 is actually a villain? Nooooo :(

Avatar image for wishstruck
wishstruck

Previous BG games used AD&D rules NOT 3.5E.

3.5E was released in 2003 while SOA & TOB were released 2000 & 2001 respectively.

Avatar image for lordbeefjerky
LordBeefJerky

Since BioWare is releasing this, will it be safe to say, that it will be released on consoles Day 1? Really don’t wanna buy a new PC, but I might have to, if it’s not released on consoles...

Avatar image for Croaxleigh
Croaxleigh

@lordbeefjerky: It's being released on Stadia and PC.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@lordbeefjerky: ....Bioware is not releasing this.

Avatar image for archav3n
archav3n

Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 were real time with pause. This is alarming given that a turn based company going to do it with. Take a look at Planescape Tides of Numenera. From real time with pause game turned to turn based. That game is a big huge failure

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@archav3n: Larian's only made two turn based games, dude. They've got a whole variety of other games in their portfolio.

Avatar image for dmblum1799
dmblum1799

I live in China, and I'm wondering if Google Stadlia will be accesible with a VPN. (Google is banned in China.)

Avatar image for Croaxleigh
Croaxleigh

@dmblum1799: Stadia is being released in Belgium, Italy, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Spain, France, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, Ireland, and the US, with more to come in 2020; it's unknown if it will ever hit China, though, because of the Google ban. Bandwidth requirements range from 10Mbps for 720p video (as a recommended minimum) to 35Mbps+ for optimal settings; if you can't pull those speeds through your VPN, then Stadia won't work for you. Even if you can, there's a chance they'll try to block VPN access...

Avatar image for UltimateBastard
UltimateBastard

Never played the Balder's Gate series, I know, wtf? But I've gotten big into the crpg genre in last few years with obsidian's pillars and tyranny and Larian's divinity original sin 1 and 2 being some of the best games I've played in recent years. Larian are a fantastic developer and I put a lot of trust in them to create something fantastic.

Would love to play the old balder's gate games and would love to hear any suggestions as to the best way of going about that?

Avatar image for takezosunfire
takezosunfire

@UltimateBastard: Gog... You get the original along with the enhanced edition for free, so You're buying two versions for a single price.

Avatar image for DLuf
DLuf

@UltimateBastard: You could look up "Baldur's Gate Trilogy", or "Baldur's Gate EE Trilogy" (Enhanced Edition). It's a big mod that combines the entire BG saga into one big game. So you can play through it all with a sense of continuation. This mod lets you play the first game using the second game's engine, with all subclasses and high level spells from the second game, and other stuff. It's a great exeperience.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@DLuf: I played this version of it too. It was a glorious mod that basically let you play Baldur's Gate 1 using the Baldur's Gate 2 engine. Because they only added some classes and mechanics in the second game, being able to build the character that way from level 1 is far superior since the whole point of the games was to seamlessly let you port your character from the first game into the second one and that couldn't happen if you wanted to use one of the new classes in BG2.

Baldur's Gate 1 in its original form is super dated, (I mean, all these old games look dated, but BG1 is extremely painful to look at and pilot now) so this is the optimal way to play it.

Avatar image for rogerpenna
rogerpenna

and in other news, Dungeons & Dragons 80s cartoon gets a live action brazilian car ad (from Renault).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmCTtom62HM

Avatar image for Berserk8989
Berserk8989

This is like a dream come true.

Avatar image for RELeon
RELeon

I have no doubt in my mind that these guys will make an absolutely perfect game for Baldurs Gate 3. These devs were the perfect pick for this kind of game, and I cannot wait to see more!

Loved the Divinity games, and loved the old Baldurs Gate games. You are welcome to make a sequel to Icewind Dale too, if you would like!

Online
Avatar image for Ish_basic
Ish_basic

Larian, as someone who played the BG2 back in the day, I gotta say, i really haven't been waiting 20 years for a sequel. It's not because I don't like it, it's just because this style of RPG has been dropping left and right on PC for the past number of years.

I still love RPGs, I just think there are more ways to do them than we are seeing in all these recent releases that basically mimic 1999 era Interplay-golden age development and go no further. When everyone is doing retro, is stops being retro...it's just old. So hopefully you have something in mind with your new found fortunes from your brilliant OS games that is a bit more forward thinking.