The Grognard: This game is going to have time limits. I can feel it in my bones.
Achilles: All your bones? Or just that one elbow that hurts when it’s about to rain?
The Grognard: All of them. The evidence is too strong. One: in the beginning of the game we get a mind flayer parasite stuck inside our brain. Two: Baldur’s Gate 3 is based on Fifth Edition rules, which distinguish between a short and a long rest and are specifically designed to avoid the fifteen-minute workday. Three: There’s going to be a “camping” map, where you get to talk to party members during a long rest. Four: Pathfinder: Kingmaker exists.
Achilles: This is the game where everything is oriented around the passage of time?
The Grognard: The same. In it, you deal with a succession of threats to your newly-established kingdom, and have a certain number of days to deal with each. Traveling takes time, resting takes time – even hunting. If you spam rests after every fight, you’ll get a short-term advantage in exchange for a long-term penalty.
Achilles: I’m already worried.
The Grognard: Why?
Achilles: Because I have no idea how to make this choice. I know what the short-term advantage is, but I might not know what the long-term penalty is for another ten or twenty hours.
The Grognard: True. Not only that, but Kingmaker – even early on – is full of monsters who inflict ability score damage, which only “heals” at the rate of one point a day. Do you remember your complaints about reverse difficulty curves?
Achilles: Like the ones that exist in practically every RPG ever made? I do remember those.
The Grognard: Good, because I expect you’ll have to dust them off again for this one. The Baldur’s Gate 3 main quest, as described, has all the hallmarks of an overtuned early-game difficulty spike.
Achilles: That doesn’t mean it’ll be one. You’re getting way deep into speculation here, assuming things are going to suck based on a bare minimum of evidence.
The Grognard: In my experience, assuming things are going to suck is the smart move, strategically. It saves you disappointment later. But in this case I’m aiming for a different conclusion. Here’s an interview with one Adam Smith. One of the game’s writers I mean, not the guy who invented Capitalism:
We have something in Act 1 with some people who are in really serious trouble,” he says. “You can get them out of the trouble either by fighting a bunch of things, or by getting rid of those things in a different way, or by sneaking around those things. And then you can help them. If you go through every single part of that dialogue and roll successfully, something really fucking bad happens to those people you just rescued, because success in that case ends badly for them. You don’t necessarily know that at the time. You might figure it out. But you’re going to meet them a bit down the line and go ‘oh no, I thought that went well.’
“If you fail those rolls, they get the hell out of Dodge. It’s actually better for them, because your fuck-ups on the rolls make them say ‘I don’t really trust you, I’m going to get out of here.’ And then they live long happy lives somewhere else in the world.”
The goal, at least, is to never have absolute good and bad choices. “We want to have those moments where you think you’re doing the right thing, but the world’s more complicated than that,” Smith says. “And also points where you’re playing an evil character, we’re going to push back against that as well. We want to give you freedom, but we want to say ‘the world isn’t just here for you. It exists beyond you.
Achilles: So, choice and consequence and a game world that seems real. Not only that, they’re using the Witcher 3 trick of delaying the consequences of decisions until after save-scum range. Aren’t these good things?
The Grognard: They are. But even more so when you consider all the talk about ceremorphosis.
Achilles: The thing they kept mentioning in their first community update?
The Grognard: Step one, put a freaky tadpole in someone’s eye. Step two, they turn into a Mind Flayer. It’s deeply unsettling. There’s all sorts of sudden bruising and joints pointing the wrong way. So, at the beginning of the game you get one of these freaky tadpoles in your brain. And if you don’t address the situation in time, things happen.
The Grognard: Presumably, you turn into a Mind Flayer, or start turning into one. It’s a process, it probably has several steps. Another quote comes from their “community update #2” email, also from Adam Smith:
“We always want to make failure as interesting as it possibly can,” said Senior Writer Adam Smith. “We don’t put everything that’s cool and interesting behind success.”
Achilles: So you’re thinking that if you “fail” the initial “don’t let the tadpole eat your brain” quest, you become a Mind Flayer, or something like one, and there’s your evil playthrough.
The Grognard: More or less. I know it’s a stretch, but in this case I think it’s supported by the evidence. And if an interesting outcome, storywise, is gated behind “failing” a quest, it goes some way towards defusing the reverse difficulty curve problem.
Achilles: Not only that, it works as a temptation. In the Baldur’s Gate 2 dream sequence cutscenes, Irenicus tries to tempt you with how powerful you’ll be if you embrance the whole Bhaalspawn thing. He shows you one-shotting big-time mobs – one of them was even a Mind Flayer. Now a certain type of game-playing personality? That’s how you get their attention. Promise them that the evil option leads to some kind of OP build. It’s like giving Gandhi nukes in Civilization – suddenly he discovers his evil side.
The Grognard: You’re gonna go Mind Flayer for your first playthrough, aren’t you?
Achilles: Only if there’s a mechanical advantage. Look, DnD’s been around a while. There are all sorts of OP builds that don’t require you to actually become an Illithid.
The Grognard: I guess we’ll see when it comes out. And the earlier games? Are you still even playing Baldur’s Gate 2?
Achilles: I am, and I’m putting good work in too. I’ll bring you up to speed next entry.
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