Do you want to play Baldur’s Gate III but don’t have a PC that can run it? Are you agonizing over whether to wait until you do or play it on your PS5 or Xbox Series Something? Maybe you’re even considering buying a next-gen console due to the FOMO of being unable to play this fantastic 2023 GOTY? Well, my friend, have a seat and let me tell you how I’ve fared with Baldur’s Gate III on the recent Xbox Series X port. (Wait, it’s already been over a month since the port? Damn. I must have been playing too much Baldur’s Gate III.)
It Runs… Great! (Mostly)
Let’s start with how it looks. It looks great! Wow! The colors in this world are so vibrant, and I don’t even have an OLED screen. If I did, these colors would probably burn my retinas. For context, I’ve been playing mainly in Performance Mode to get that sweet, sweet 60 FPS. My characters slide across the screen like butter on a hot pan. The framerate has dipped slightly in some of the game’s more populated areas or chaotic battle moments, but never enough to make me scoff up a thought about Larian’s inability to optimize a console port. But I also haven’t reached Act 3, where players have experienced more significant dips in framerate regardless of their chosen platform.
Performance or Quality? FPS or resolution? It is the ever-present double bind of the modern console gamer. I dabbled in Quality Mode to see how the game displays in 4K (Performance Mode caps at 1080p) and, uhh, I guess the picture quality looks better! That is, if you’re standing completely still. Yet, I missed my buttery characters, so I quickly swapped back. The colors, lighting, and character models all left a strong impression in both modes. Baldur’s Gate III looks like a legitimate next-gen experience. There are much more qualified sources to describe the technical nuances, so I won’t to pretend to be an expert on this front.
One other thing to note is that the Xbox port will not run as smoothly if you’re playing on an Xbox Series S. Baldur’s Gate III is capped at 30 FPS on the X’s little sibling. The game’s couch co-op option is also unavailable on the Series S, so if that’s the console you own and multiplayer is a feature you’re excited about, you may want to hold off the purchase for now. I know several people for whom embarking on a whole digital DnD campaign with a physically present partner is a main selling point. However, you like-minded players should be aware that splitting the screen comes with its own set of performance drops.
It Plays… Okay!
The other big question: how does Baldur’s Gate III control on a gamepad? Well, let’s just say it’s evident this game was not designed with a controller first and foremost in mind. For the first ten-ish hours of play, I consistently mixed up button inputs and made my way through slow, slightly confused menu navigation. The control scheme began to feel more natural in the following ten hours, but I’m not going to lie to you and say the gamepad controls are even close to as intuitive as playing with a keyboard and mouse.
As with many complex controller schemes, a bulk of responsibility rests on the shoulder buttons. RB pulls up your command menu, which consists of a whopping four radial wheels upon starting the game. The first two wheels have your basic attacks and class-specific skills. The third wheel has general actions: Push things/enemies, Jump horizontally/vertically, or Dip your held weapon in a nearby surface. The fourth wheel displays your character’s consumable items. You can cycle between them with RB and LB and hit cancel to exit. It’s a lot to take in at first, but the wheels are fully customizable and I could navigate combat smoothly with them after a few hours. Without maintenance, though, they will continue to grow, so be sure to preen them as necessary.
RT pulls up another wheel that acts as the game’s menu. I mistakenly hit the Start button an embarrassing number of times when trying to access this menu (which opens a separate menu with Save, Load, Options, and the like), but maybe that’s a me problem. From the RT wheel, you can select options like brewing potions with Alchemy, looking at your quest Journal, going back to your party Camp, or accessing your Character Sheets. The Character Sheet is my most dreaded screen simply because it’s responsible for so much information. Here, you see each of your party members’ inventories, access their equipment, and cycle through a number of character-related subscreens.
Each inventory item and piece of equipment is minuscule in the display, and it can be hard to tell what you’re even looking at without your cursor on it, which reveals an item name and description. But without the luxury of fluid mouse movement and scrolling, it can be a time-consuming pain to scour through these backpacks to find the exact thing you’re looking for. Switching between party members here requires pressing LT and selecting the target character’s portrait—which is the same, slightly clunky way of switching characters in-game. If there’s one thing I wish Larian gave more attention to for the console ports, it would be better optimizing the Character Sheet experience to feel more familiar and accessible.
The right stick allows you to control the perspective for viewing the world. At one extreme, you’re looking at the world from a top-down perspective reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate III‘s CRPG ancestors. At the other extreme, you’re right behind your avatar’s back and view the world as if it were a Dragon Age game. I prefer the latter option outside of combat because it lets me pretend the game design was as conscious of consoles as BioWare’s fantasy RPG trilogy.
I recently finished up a playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins on my Series X for Retro Encounter, and it felt like a more intuitive console experience than Baldur’s Gate III. And DA:O isn’t exactly known for being the most seamless console port. But I liked the weighty momentum to my character’s movement as I pressed up on the left stick. The button mapping felt easy and natural to use in comparison. The menu experience still wasn’t great, but I could see my items for what they were without needing to hover over them or squint my eyes. Mind you, there’s far more going on in Baldur’s Gate III, but with DA:O it feels like the design process considered the console user experience throughout. In BG3, it feels like an afterthought.
Should You Play It… on Console?
So, my dear reader, should you play Baldur’s Gate III on console? If you can’t run it properly on your PC, the answer is an emphatic yes. Do It! Despite the nitpicks and quibbles listed above, I’ve had an amazing time playing this game. It looks great and runs seamlessly most of the time. Some frustrating menu navigation can’t taint its undeniable quality, and the console experience feels like an improvement over Larian’s last effort with Divinity: Original Sin 2, aside from the split-screen functionality.
There are some slight differences in performance between the Xbox Series X and PS5, with the PS5 beating out the Xbox marginally in terms of texture quality and load times. But the only real potential dealbreaker I can see is the Series S version, as the 30 FPS limit and lack of local co-op might be a turn-off for someone willing to wait for that preferable way to play.
Regarding the Xbox port specifically, you may have heard of an issue some players experienced with their save files disappearing. This seems pretty serious, but it’s something I fortunately haven’t encountered. Good news for all: a recent announcement stated the issue is nearly permanently resolved! You can manually install the firmware update with the fix now or wait to have it automatically applied within the next week. By January 23, the Xbox save file fiasco should be a thing of the past.
If you’re looking to purchase Baldur’s Gate III, you can do so through the digital storefronts of your preferred platform. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, you can order the genuinely beautiful physical deluxe edition Larian is selling exclusively on their website for each version. The PS5 and Xbox Series X versions even come on multiple disks! As someone who always appreciated the epic feel of swapping disks on PSX games, it feels like an appropriate way to experience this massive RPG.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some prescription lenses to pick up before I go reorganize my characters’ inventories. (I’m just playing, Larian. You know I love you.)