- Baldur's Gate 3 introduces a split action point system that allows for quicker and more dynamic combat, avoiding the pacing issues of Divinity: Original Sin 2.
- Simultaneous turns in multiplayer add an additional layer of tactical coordination, requiring players to communicate and strategize together for effective double-teaming of enemies.
I’ve got a lot of love for Larian’s past work, but my gods did some of those fights in Divinity: Original Sin 2 drag on. 10 minutes fighting some puny void slugs early in the game was just a taste of things to come, with later battles later in the game taking up whole evenings—literal hours of game time. Don’t get me wrong, Original Sin 2 has a wonderfully reactive, deep, and creative combat system, but even that was starting to bow under the weight of sheer pacing-drain. The problem would only get amplified when playing with two or more people, when you could be waiting a good 10 minutes for your turn.
I’m delighted to see that Baldur’s Gate 3 addresses this stuff in several ways, while in its own weird way evoking the old-school RTwP (real-time-with-pause) combat of the original games. Come in, adventurer, pull up a stool, and listen to what I’m about to tell you…
The first thing is that action points are now elegantly split into movement, actions, and bonus actions, instead of sharing one big pool, so any amount of movement you make isn’t going to cut into your action allowance (though there are some exceptions). On the other hand, unless you use an action boost, you’re not going to get multiple actions per turn (beyond your bonus action that is), nor do unused action points carry over across turns, which all contributes to a snappier order of play. It feels more skittery and skirmishy, and not at all sloggy.
I can appreciate that in Divinity there was a joy in stacking up several complementary attacks or actions in one go, whereas here your plans are more likely to be interrupted in the intervening turns between your actions, but there’s something in this quicker-paced combat system, where you can’t just line everything up perfectly for yourself, that echoes the inherently more chaotic real-time-with-pause combat system of the original Baldur’s Gate games, or Dragon Age: Origins.
Those games were also brimming with spells and abilities, with the latter even having a nice elaborate macro system where you could get AI companions to take actions based around various triggers and criteria, but taking place in real-time, your best-laid plans could quite easily be interrupted by enemy attacks, explosions, and other unpredictable events that real-time play brings. By not letting you just accrue tons of action points, then spend 10 minutes orchestrating your perfect turn, Baldur’s Gate 3 is expressing some of that real-time chaos but in a turn-based format. Shit happens in battle, and with just one action per turn (usually) you have less control over the fight narrative, so you need to be adaptable.
This controlled chaos is amplified by the fact that simultaneous turns are a thing now in multiplayer and, to an extent, among enemies (I believe if there are several of one enemy type, then can move at the same time). If yours and another player’s initiative place you next to each other in the turn order, then you’ll have your turns simultaneously, and this can apply for up to all four players at once! Our reviewer-in-progress Jack has done this himself, skittering around in battle with four of his pals in battle simultaneously, and confirms that it is indeed “very chaotic.”
But amidst that chaos, a new tactical layer emerges. In the early going, on our simultaneous turns my partner and I would pretty much do our own thing, experimenting with new spells, grappling with new abilities, and generally learning the ropes, but already in the first dungeon, we began to realise that these simultaneous turns, at the same time as speeding up the game, requiring extra communication to effectively double-team enemies. For instance, buffing our fighter Lae’Zel’s strength before she lets loose with her warhammer, or conversely getting an archer to hold fire so that Lae’Zel can knock an enemy off their feet, leaving them more vulnerable to subsequent attacks.
I imagine the deeper I get into the game, the more check-ins we’ll need to have on these simultaneous turns, but there’s something satisfying about coordinating in this real-time way, moving into positions simultaneously, then executing our plans. I’m sure there’ll be some frustrations when one of us carries out their actions before we can coordinate, but hey, the cock-ups are all part of the fun, and a bit of fast-paced, sim-turned chaos was just what was needed to spice up Larian’s rewarding but previously ponderous combat system.
It goes without saying that there are many other changes in the combat here from Divinity, this being a largely faithful take on the D&D 5th edition ruleset, but it’s the chaos and satisfying speediness that’s really improved the flow of battle and forces more communication between players. I was doing a multiplayer Baldur’s Gate 2 run just before this came out, and a similar level of communication is required when one person pauses, as during the pause you plan out moves, ask your partner to wait while you buff the party, then agree on a good moment to unpause.
And what more evidence is needed that this is an improvement than to say that my partner and I have been moaning way less at each other about how long the other person’s turn is taking. With that said, I give it a couple more sessions before our moaning parameters adapt to Baldur’s Gate 3’s quicker pace and we’re whining when the other one’s turn takes one minute where in Divinity we’d only start whining after five. Such is the power of whining that not even what’s shaping up to be one of the best RPGs of all time is safe.