Why did Baldur's Gate 3 blow up the way it did? We put the question to lead Larian writer Adam Smith at Gamescom, and he reckons it's partly down to the fact that it doesn't just look like Larian's traditional brand of CRPG – it's a full-fledged cinematic RPG, too.
"I think part of it is visual," Smith says of how much attention the game's gotten. "When I first joined during pre-production, it was a player talking to a character in full 3D models, obviously rough, but it was like, we're doing this, we're not isometric anymore. We're going to bring the camera in close. And it's a big gamble, for two reasons.
"One, expense," he continues. "We mo-capped every single line of dialogue – not the voiceover ones, but this is where you get that 170-hour figure from. So we knew it would be expensive, we knew it would be time-consuming. It also means that it's a lot harder to edit and iterate. We still did. We threw away a lot of stuff and we did it because we wanted it to be better, and also because as you filled out the story, you're like, well, that bit is good but doesn't quite work anymore, so you tweak and adjust it. So we knew that our development style plus cinematics was a challenge.
"But also we didn't want to make a cinematic RPG if that meant not making a Larian RPG, so it had to be both. And [Larian CEO Sven Vincke] says it a lot: no compromise. You still want all the systemic stuff. You still want all the player-centric dialogues, you want to be able to miss dialogues entirely, you don't want to force-feed people. But the dialogue is suddenly much more expensive. But what it gives us is a game that looks beautiful. The characters feel more alive because we're close in on them. The cinematic art, the character art, it's just gorgeous."
Smith has previously described Baldur's Gate 3 as a project built on the shoulders of giants, especially BioWare's legendary run of CRPGs. "It means a lot whenever I see anybody who was even vaguely associated with the original [Baldur's Gate] games being pleased, because we owe them a huge debt, and we hope we did them proud," he said. Even if Larian may have made your companions a little "too thirsty" this time around.
"So I do think a huge part of it is that visual draw," Smith tells us today. "A lot of the growth at Larian is around that. It's animation, cinematics, a lot of other things as well. And also the performances. We've seen an insanely good cast, and they worked on it so long that they knew the world. A lot of the cast members, the ones who were doing the origin character companions, they've been working on the game for years like we have. From an acting perspective, it's like having a TV show and multiple seasons where they'd come back and now we're doing our act two recordings, now we're doing our act three recordings, we're going back and redoing these bits or we're adding extra bits. They've lived and breathed the characters as well. I think all of that together is something that looks appealing, sounds appealing.
"The nice thing is that I've spoken to people who are like, 'I'd never played a game like this before, it's really cool,' and that's great. Because we didn't want to make a game that's only for 5% of people. We believe RPGs are big. They're a cornerstone of gameplay. So we always believed the audience was there."
Larian's just dropped Baldur's Gate 3 patch 1, and it's so full of fixes that it was too long for Steam to handle.