It might not have been the best kept secret in the world but now it's ironclad official: Larian Studios, the creator of the superb Divinity: Original Sin role-playing games, is making Baldur's Gate 3.
It's been in development for a while – work was underway even before Divinity: Original Sin 2 shipped in September 2017 – but there's no word on when Baldur's Gate 3 will be released, and the only platforms Larian will talk about are PC and, wait for it, Google's stream-dream, Stadia.
I learnt this talking to Larian founder and creative director Swen Vincke earlier this week. But first, below, the Baldur's Gate 3 announcement trailer.
Here's what you're seeing: the city of Baldur's Gate and the remnants of a bloody battle, and a member of the iconic Flaming Fists staggering through it. He's not well, to put it mildly, and soon his body starts to mutate. It's a grotesque process called ceremorphosis, which begins with a tadpole being inserted into the eye (omg puke) and then feeding off the host until it eventually grows and overwhelms it and… a mind flayer emerges.
But there's not just one mind flayer. As the video ends, a whole army of them can be seen in the sky, alongside the huge silhouette of a Nautiloid, a craft for navigating the Astral Plane (it looks a bit like the Flying Spaghetti Monster).
How the events of the video relate to the story of Baldur's Gate 3, Swen Vincke wouldn't say. It could be something which happens at the outset, could be something which happens midway through, or could be something which doesn't happen at all.
But we do now know this about the setting: "The events from Baldur's Gate 1 and Baldur's Gate 2 have passed," Vincke said. "Stuff has happened in the world." And the newly announced – "not by coincidence" – Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Descent into Avernus, will directly precede Baldur's Gate 3. "That is a new official chapter in the history of Forgotten Realms and we're going to be there."
Larian actually originally pitched for Baldur's Gate 3 back when Divinity: Original Sin 1 was in development, but Dungeons & Dragons owner Wizards of the Coast thought the Belgium studio too green, too inexperienced, Vincke said. Funny to hear that now, given the enormous success of the Original Sin series – and evidently Wizards soon cottoned on to what Larian could do. "During DOS2, they reached out to us and said, 'Do you still want to do it?'" Vincke said, to which the obvious answer was: "Yes – of course."
Baldur's Gate 3 is a big project – bigger than I expected. "We're about 200 people now, internally, working on this," Vincke said, "and we have over 100 people externally and that's only increasing. It's a very big game.
"The trailer should tell you a lot about the production values we're going for – it is at a higher level than what we did for DOS2," he added. "How high a level I will let you discover when we show the first gameplay footage," which, before you think-ask it, will be shown "when it's ready to be shown".
"When it's ready" is a poignant phrase because a key, key thing about Baldur's Gate 3 is it's self-published. There will be no Kickstarter – although Larian absolutely wants community involvement – and no publisher. Larian is calling the shots.
"We're going to make this as good as we can until we run out of money and we have to ship it," Vincke said, with a smile. "Preferably, we'll get it ready before that time but we're not going to release it if this is not the game we want to play ourselves.
"We have really great concepts, I think, we have really talented people, we've got the support of the company [which has been] making Dungeons & Dragons for 40 years … We have a studio that's well financed, we have technology we've been building ourselves.
"We have only ourselves to blame if we fuck it up."
Though Baldur's Gate 3 is in full production it's still too early for Vincke to want to detail gameplay. "It's an RPG and you make them in many, many, many layers," he said, so until those building-bricks have been piled up, things could change.
The obvious and major difference between Baldur's Gate 3 and the Divinity: Original Sin series will be Larian using Dungeons & Dragons rules rather than its own. But given how tabletoppy the Original Sin series is, in its approach to giving you as many ways around a situation as possible, I don't imagine the migration will be hard. "We've been working really, really closely with Wizards and we found we never have any discussions about it," Vincke said, "because we are all in the same frame of mind."
Nevertheless, elements the Original Sin series pushed hard on, like multiplayer and co-op, will carry over. "Yup," Vincke said. "'Gather your party' is a really important concept of playing Dungeons & Dragons, be it a party of companions in single-player mode or a party of friends. We did good work with the previous [DOS] games in setting that up and how it can be done, so it's logical for us to evolve that even further."
Which brings us around to the weight of expectation Larian has on its shoulders. I can't think of a studio I'd rather see take on Baldur's Gate 3, but we're talking about perhaps the biggest licence in old computer role-playing games there is – one of the all-time greats. And it's not just the games Larian has to live up to: it's people's memories. Quite often formative memories in people's gaming lives. How do you live up to that?
"We try not to think too much about it," Vincke said, again with a smile.
"It's in good hands. It's in the hands of people who love Dungeons & Dragons. There's an enormous amount of people here who geek-out completely – there's a lot of people here, actually, for whom [Baldur's Gate] was their first RPG so they want to do their utter best making the best game they've ever made. They take it very, very seriously.
"But it's still us making it – it's not the original guys making it – so you will see what we think makes a good RPG, in 2019 and going forward."
And with another smile he concluded: "Expect to be surprised."
Buy Divinity: Original Sin from Amazon [?]