Larian put blood, sweat and tears into Baldur’s Gate 3’s latest patch. I mean, they’ve literally put them in: venture into the scorching heat of a subterranean forge and you’ll see a greasy sheen on your hero’s face during conversational close-ups. Get blood spattered on you in battle and it’ll remain until you take a long rest to wash it away. Same goes for dirt, and bruises that bloom at low health. “We want you to feel you’ve been adventuring a bit,” says lead systems designer Nick Pechenin, “rather than just stepping out of a modelling agency.”
If he’d seen the potato-faced oddballs I’ve repeatedly made in character creation (saves are not compatible between big patches) Pechenin would not be so generous. Even so, I like seeing heroes wearing evidence of their travels. An earlier patch already made the camping system feel more demanding – a small price in food means you can’t just spam it after every fight – and now those longer treks between naps can visually sell you on the difficult journey heroes are undertaking, too. A journey that, with patch six, has gotten a little longer.
If skin secretions sound like Larian – ahem – sweating the small stuff, it’s buried in a list of updates long enough to fill one of the dusty in-game tomes. The headline features are a new class, sorcerer, as well as weapon tweaks to redefine some existing ones. Then there’s a graphical overhaul and, most enticingly, a fresh chunk of map to explore. This is not to say previous patches were stingy, but where they massaged the game’s knottier ideas this update offers a solid stretch of new adventuring and fun, fresh perspectives to enjoy it from.
Early access previously ended with your party sailing into the Underdark. Now, we reach their destination: the Grymforge. It’s a gorgeous place, reminiscent of the Mines of Moria in its tangle of staircases and walkways, lit by pockets of bubbling lava perfectly placed to show off the revamped lighting. It’s also a den of total bastards, with a new True Soul to meet (the game’s term for those, like you, implanted with Mind Flayer tadpoles) and a legion of Duergar, a dwarven subrace whose skin and morality have both been warped by years spent underground.
That we get something new to explore is a pleasant surprise. Larian promised act one for this testing phase, but according to the Pechenin, “the line between the acts is blurry. We let people go through several routes, so it was an easy decision for us to include [Grymforge] with early access.” Speaking to that freedom, even this single location packs in heaps of missable nooks and crannies. When I climb vertiginous gangways with strategic jumping it leads to infernal machinery and magma monsters that less fleet-footed heroes could miss entirely.
I’d liken Grymforge to the goblin camp in size, if not tone. Rather than swarming with enemies it’s more of an eerie mood piece, letting you nose around and peel back its narrative layers. The Duergar are one in a long line of unpleasant tenants and unpicking the forge’s secret Shar cult history provides one of the stronger lore beats I’ve seen in BG3. As much as I enjoy Larian’s drama-stuffed dice rolls, geeking out with dusty parchment was a key part of the original games’ appeal. It doesn’t all have to be life-and-death dilemmas, as this expansion proves.
“Angle your punting magic carefully and you can send entire gangs of Gimlis to writhe in the magma like tiny, bearded T-1000s.”
I won’t spoil the specifics of Grymforge’s critical mission path, but it’s another highly flexible yarn governed by a slide rule of morality. Generally, the quicker you jump to a character’s defence the rougher you get treated in combat, and the writers take great pleasure tempting you towards better fighting odds if you’ll flirt with more heinous deeds. I’m also happy to report that you can shove lots of angry dwarves into lava. Angle your punting magic carefully and you can send entire gangs of Gimlis to writhe in the magma like tiny, bearded T-1000s.
In my demo, said punting is done by a sorcerer. Think of them as wizards with a smaller repertoire of spells, but the ability to augment what they have to stretch them further. They tweak spell behaviour with ‘metamagics’, modifiers that can increase the range or duration of a spell, say, or cause one to double up and hit two targets. In my hands it’s a crude tool for raining Chromatic Orbs on multiple enemies like a human artillery cannon. It’s not clever, but it looks cool. Well, until sorcery points dry up. Yes, sorcerers have yet another gauge that needs to be refilled with a long rest.
As someone who enjoys pyrotechnics, but lacks the D&D background to parse the full wizard spellbook, the sorcerer is just right. Especially with a wild magic subclass, an affliction that gives spells a chance to surge and trigger random effects. Pechenin says these aren’t strictly good or bad, that “it’s always something you can turn to your advantage, but it’s not always a straight up positive thing.” No shit: one time I start uncontrollably summoning mud demons, who circle me and take it in turns to puke filth on me. No shade on those who dig that kind of thing, but it is not my scene.
That sense of ‘here’s a thing, now deal with it’ really suits Larian’s brand of combat. They’ve always been big on alchemical chain reactions and improvising with experimental powers, so a class that can suddenly teleport every turn, or who’ll randomly ignite everyone in the vicinity, fits right in. In a game where entire branches of story can be cut off on the roll of the dice it makes sense to have this unpredictable presence who can turn fights into a cake walk or exploding hell at random.
I ask Pechenin what the process is for new classes. Are Larian sitting on a finished roster, or does early access reflect the real-time development of trickier classes? He describes two processes working in unison. “The rising tide raises all boats – there’s work where we add spells to everyone, and get everyone to a higher level. But there’s also work where we focus on a specific class. Polishing up and getting the last 10% of work done is a whole different effort. But at the same time there’s a lot of background work where we know where we’re going to end up with all the classes.”
I ask because the patch also overhauls weapons, which in turn acts as an impromptu reworking of fighters and rangers. If you’ve played BG3 you’ll know these classes have few tactical options at the low levels covered in early access. Compared to the wizard’s varied bag of tricks, these classes mostly run up and stab or run away and shoot. To deepen this, Larian now attaches up to three actions to weapons, loading them up with fun verbs to boot. Ones like lacerate, graze, pierce and pummel. Verbs a fighter can salivate over.
Bumping these actions from one per weapon, and greatly increasing the pool of moves, certainly fills out a hotbar that previously looked a bit unloved. I’m curious to see what it does for BG3’s wider loot game, though. After the endless item switching in Original Sin 2, I was vibing with the more streamlined equipment here. Now that you’re potentially appraising every weapon once again I wonder how it’ll impact the pacing. Of course, it’s all moot if you find the new equippable salami weapon (I didn’t), a previous livestream meme made digital flesh and highly desirable.
I also wonder how weapon alterations fit with Larian’s remit to adhere to 5th Edition D&D, as individual weapon properties go far beyond tabletop’s simplicity. Here, Pechenin leans on the convenient figure of the DM: “We observe a lot of people playing at the table and get a lot of comments from tabletop players, and what we saw, almost universally, is that DMs let players try improvised moves. If the player says ‘I grab the orc and shove them prone’, DMs will try rolling that. We want to capitalise on that and think what would a DM reasonably allow you to get away with.”
If this is so, does this mean there’s potential for more drastic changes down the line, justified by the flexibility of that imagined dungeon master? “There’s a mental image of what a person would allow you to do,” says Pechenin. “And there’s all kinds of voices in the company, whole feedback channels where people can say ‘I think this is pushing it too far’. There are unrealistic elements but the world is ultimately grounded.”
However those rules may flex over the remaining months in early access is yet to be seen, but I feel that each patch is pushing Baldur’s Gate 3 in a positive direction. Having skipped the last couple of updates (one can only put up with so many bollockings from Shadowheart on that opening beach), I’m amazed at how many of my initial problems have faded since last October. There’s clarity to dice rolls (you can clearly see what impacts results), the sour temperaments of certain companions have softened and the rest system raises more neat minute-to-minute decisions.
Grymforge, then, is the sweaty icing on the early access cake: a clearer view of where the story is going and a stronger taste of the fun we’ll have along the way. I hope there’s not many long rests before we get to see the whole thing.