When it comes to comedy, Baldur’s Gate 3 performs a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, the game deals with a range of dark themes, from personal abuse to body horror to political oppression - Larian Studios’ well-received fantasy RPG doesn’t pull its punches. But on the other hand, Baldur’s Gate 3 is chock full of laugh-out-loud moments, underpinned by a willingness to lean into the whimsy of the Dungeons & Dragons setting.
Magical flying elephants conduct murder investigations, while gangs of talking rats vie for power amongst ancient ruins, for example. The game is also bursting with reference humor, with nods to everything from the critically acclaimed MMO Final Fantasy 14 to the problematic 1978 American comedy movie Animal House.
Not only does this soften the blow of Baldur’s Gate 3’s heavier themes, but this tendency towards tongue-in-cheek playfulness does a great deal to demystify the otherwise intimidating world of Dungeons & Dragons - while also staying true to the source material.
As a form of improvised storytelling, games of Dungeons and Dragons have an almost theatrical quality, where players support one another through performances, ideally lifting one another up through moments of drama and levity. What’s more, the open-ended and improvisational nature of the hobby rewards creativity and lateral thinking, while also lending itself to a special brand of wry, self-aware humor. It’s this tendency that Baldur’s Gate 3 lovingly reflects.
Welcome to the party
Speaking about the motley crew that comprises the RPG’s main roster of companions, rakish Rogue Asterion laments the challenge of spotting a potential shapeshifter in the party’s midst: “I can’t even tell if you’ve been acting strange because you’ve been replaced, or because this group is full of weirdos!”
Not only does this line offer an amusingly meta take on the oddballs that tend to make up an adventuring party, it also rings with a deep truth so undeniable that the line made me genuinely laugh out loud.
In a relatable demonstration of social awkwardness, Gale, the loquacious but lovingly sarcastic Wizard, will use an illusory replica of himself to invite the player character on a date, should he be so inclined. Though this leads to a heartfelt scene about the potential dangers of arcane magic and Gale’s own tragic backstory, Larian's decision to start it with this light-hearted gag about the Wizard’s awkwardness and over-reliance on magic is a hilarious masterstroke.
Gale will also use an illusory double in the event of his death, where his simulacrum will lead you through an amusingly convoluted series of puzzles in order to retrieve a resurrection scroll in an enchanted pouch on his person. The joy here is not only in the comedy itself but in how that comedy reinforces characterization. Larian not only invites you to laugh, but it also brings you in on the joke by helping you get to know Gale in the process. Gale may be a dork, but he is, without doubt, meticulous and well-prepared. In a sense, it becomes a pleasant in-joke that you and Larian share - at Gale’s expense, of course.
The joy here is not only in the comedy itself but in how that comedy reinforces characterization
Reptilian Fighter Lae’zel’s role as a fish-out-of-water alien also gets its share of comedic moments which serve to deepen our attachment and understanding to everyone’s favorite cantankerous lizard. Early on in the game, Lae’zel mispronounces local terms like Tiefling and Faerûn, which she calls “teef-ling” and “fay-run”. It’s laugh-out-loud funny but also humanizes the belligerent Githyanki warrior, helping us to understand that, beneath the bluster, she’s just as lost as we are - a sentiment further reinforced by Devora Wilde’s stellar voice acting.
When push comes to shove
This sense of playfulness doesn’t just come across in Baldur’s Gate 3’s dialogue, but also in its combat. Cheeky, lateral solutions to problems are consistently rewarded by the game. Whether or not you’re using a puddle of grease to trip up an enemy or putting together a gauntlet of explosive barrels to immolate unsuspecting foes, Baldur’s Gate 3 allows you to use any tool at your disposal to achieve your goals.
Cheeky, lateral solutions to problems are consistently rewarded by the game
During my first playthrough of the game, I found myself confronting a powerful undead leader. In conventional battle, my party was no match for him, his dark powers easily eclipsing the arcane prowess of my own magic users. However, it was then that I remembered an important fact about spellcasters: they’re usually weedy little so-and-sos. With that in mind, I ordered Lae'zel to charge forward and attempt to push this powerful necromancer off of a nearby ledge.
Thus, it came to pass, that my enemy’s plans were foiled not by an epic confrontation or wiley spellcraft, but by a simple shove. It was a beautiful moment, bringing a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart. However, never did it feel like I had cheated the game. Baldur’s Gate 3’s commitment to imagination and inventiveness at every level ensures that such solutions feel like organic parts of the game. The necromancer in question deserved his fate, and the day was saved - the villain’s anti-climatic death only underscored the heights (pun intended) of his hubris.
Playfulness and imagination aren’t just features in Baldur’s Gate 3 - they’re fundamentally baked into the game’s very core. The RPG pulls you in with sparkling humor and fantastical absurdity, lowering the barrier to entry into its expansive universe before hitting you with emotional gut punches. Before long, Larian has brought you into this world wholesale, welcoming you into the envelope of its humor and its drama. Like any good Dungeon Master, Larian invites you into the jokes and, in doing so, invites you into the game’s wider world.