Had I played this character how I usually play my RPGs, I would never have seen any of this, or the consequences of these actions. Chances are the same applies to you: in a promotional livestream back in August, Baldur’s Gate 3’s Senior Writer, Adam Smith, noted that statistics show that most players opt for good, heroic choices. This perspective is also supported by a study revealed back at GDC 2015, where Microsoft’s Amanda Lange said that her research showed that 60% of players opt for good routes, with just 5% exclusively making evil choices.
But Smith encouraged players to take an evil path through the game. “Some of my favorite situations and characters in this game you may not even speak to if you don’t try those evil routes,” he said. This sparked my curiosity, as I typically find the evil side of RPGs to be rather underbaked. Even during BioWare’s peak years, “evil” routes often boil down to playing identical missions but electing to shoot someone in the face rather than setting them free. So what exactly does an evil playthrough of Baldur’s Gate 3’s first act look like? It’s an experiment that not only revealed the depths of the game’s branching narratives, but also some of the most interesting quirks of its simulation-driven world – some that will undoubtedly come in handy during my ‘proper’ playthrough of its fully-released version.
In Baldur’s Gate 3, being evil is less of a choice made at a pivotal moment, and more of a lifestyle. This means that your choices tend not to dictate the outcome of a quest, but the structure of the quest itself. For example, the aforementioned army of goblins will certainly not be your allies should you opt to be a more heroic personality, and thus the entire goal of that questline is completely changed. Not just that questline, but adjacent ones, too (you’ll need to put in the work through entirely different quests and locations to be in the position to become a part of the goblins’ plans). That makes for a significant shift in the narrative; characters you may never have met on a good path become vital allies, while traditionally important NPCs become corpses on the end of your blade. It’s an advancement on the school of thinking that powers something like Fallout: New Vegas’ multi-faction branching gameplay, and a demonstration of a narrative so malleable that it adjusts to your intentions rather than tallying up several binary choices.
While this early access build is limited to just the prologue and the game’s first area – and thus frees you of the long-term consequences of playing an agent of chaos – there is plenty here to demonstrate Baldur’s Gate 3’s more immediate repercussions. Much like in Telltale’s games, your companions react with approval or distaste to your own choices. For one character, my evil actions were just too much, and they straight up noped themselves out of my party. This put me a fighter down, and – thanks to the experimental brain surgery I previously mentioned – my character also had a permanent combat disadvantage, which further reduced my party’s battle effectiveness. Both are mistakes I won’t be making in my playthrough at release, not just because I now know the consequences, but because without the freedom to be careless granted by this lack of permanence, I wouldn’t have been daring enough to push the game that far anyway. I’m very glad to have seen these actions play out here, though, as they provide some of Act 1’s most memorable moments.
Baldur’s Gate 3 – Character Creation Screenshots
These are examples of Baldur’s Gate 3’s grander, scripted elements of chaos, but my quest to push all of the buttons revealed that there’s maniacal fun in messing with the simulation that powers the world, as well. Faerûn operates almost like an isometric Dishonored, rather than the static worlds of a BioWare RPG. For instance, rather than approaching a pair of adventurers for a conversation, I used a warlock spell to blast a rock suspended above them, the falling of which not only forced the pair to depart this mortal coil, but also caused the ground beneath them to collapse and provide an entrance to a dungeon that I’d previously been unable to unlock. Clearly there’s benefit in being the very opposite of polite to folk you meet on the road.
Down in that dungeon, I decided I’d may as well ignore traditional advice of showing respect for the dead and use the freshly-created corpses as meaty javelins. Yes, you can throw quite literally anything in the world – provided your strength stat is up to it – and that includes bodies. It also includes your own party members, and considering this doomed playthrough meant I cared little for my companions’ opinion of me, I experimented with them as fleshy projectiles (result: minimal damage, but a very handy tactic for flanking enemies, and it won’t affect your relationships).
All of this, of course, is possible in the classic “second playthrough”; the mythical pure evil run that I’m never quite sure how people find the time to complete. So why do it now, in an incomplete version, rather than later? Well, firstly, if you’re anything like me, you’ll only have to harbour guilt for 20 hours rather than 100. But, more importantly, tooling around in this version of the game with no concern for the end results has taught me much more about its systems, narrative construction, and possibilities than playing it ‘by the book’ ever could have. In my second playthrough of Dishonored I realised there was so much to its reactive world that I completely ignored the first time because I strictly followed the rules of hiding in the shadows and avoiding guards. I want my first, true playthrough of Baldur’s Gate 3 to make the most of everything it has to offer. And by blowing up the D&D chemistry set now, I’ll know how to make best use of it when it releases in full. Maybe you’ll benefit from that knowledge, too.
Plus, for all my guilt as I play against my better nature, I can’t deny that there’s joy in hurling a gnome over the horizon using a windmill. Sometimes it does pay off to let loose once in a while.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer. His tabletop D&D character is an Aarakocra occult detective who would never murder a dog.