Larian Studios has long used early access as a way to stress test its extremely choice-driven games while they’re still relatively early in development. If you bought Baldur’s Gate 3 at launch in August only to look up guides and get results from three years earlier, you’re likely aware of this. But Baldur’s Gate 3 is just the latest Larian RPG to use this tactic and, given how well received Divinity: Original Sin, D:OS2, and now BG3 have been, it’s unlikely that Larian will abandon that process for its “next big game” — whatever that ends up being.
That’s good news for a number of reasons. Larian’s games are as ambitious and choice-driven as they are because the team is building the game in concert with an active player base. The studio can keep track of what its audience is having trouble with during years of early access, note if there’s a disproportionate number of players dying at a certain point, and squash bugs that may result from edge case choices. It also lets the team see what its players are really responding to and tweak the game to emphasize those aspects, or remove things that aren’t working. While all big games undertake some form of playtesting, the early access phase lets Larian recruit an army of playtesters who will pay for the pleasure of breaking the game. It’s a smart creative decision, and it’s also good business.
But, if you’re like me, the words “early access” roughly translate to “stay away.” Not forever, but usually until the game hits 1.0. Playing in early access rubs against two pretty strong impulses that compel me to play video games. For one, I like finishing things. I keep lists of all the games I play during the year on my phone and put a little fire emoji next to each title once I complete it.
In that way, my ideal Notes app note is a lot like the ideal Larian battlefield: covered in flames.
And two, I hate feeling like I might be missing something. Not in the sense that I’m bothered by making a decision in a choice-driven RPG because it will preclude me from making every other choice. But, if I realize that I didn’t hear a line of dialogue while watching a movie at home, it will bother me until I pick up the remote, rewind it back, and even put subtitles on for that one line if necessary. And, if I’m at the theater, I avoid going to the bathroom at all costs for fear of missing something important. For a few years when I was a teenager, I compulsively (in the true sense of the word) read every bit of copyright information at the beginning of a book before I would let myself start chapter one. I don’t do that anymore, but the need to make sure I’ve had as complete an experience as possible can still needle me.
Early access frustrates that. If you purchased Baldur’s Gate 3 in early access, you got to play through a rough draft version of Act 1. There’s a ton of good stuff there, and if you spend as long as I did playing Act 1 in the final release, that’s basically an entire game unto itself. But, by definition it isn’t a complete or finishable experience, and that tends to chafe at me.
So, I’ve realized it’s going to be torture if/when Larian releases its next game in early access. Baldur’s Gate 3 quickly became one of my favorite RPGs ever made, and when I love a developer I tend to show up on day one. But day one for Larian’s next game will come years before my day one. Either I’ll break my rule and pick it up when the game isn’t finished, or I’ll grit my teeth and wait three years for it to be ready. I’m looking forward to and dreading it in equal measure.
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