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Baldurs Gate 3 wins game of the year at 2023 Game Awards - expert review

Baldur's Gate 3 wins Game of the Year at the Game Awards. It's a dynamic, interconnected virtual world that rewards creativity.

I'm peering over my friend Iulia's shoulder as she turns on her computer. "You're going to be blown away," she says with a smile. Iulia and I both share a passion for fantasy worlds, epic monsters, and video games, and she's invited me over to her apartment to show me something "truly special."

With a mix of guilt and pride, Iulia confesses that she's already spent over 100 hours delving into the first act of a new game. She clicks through the opening, gushing about the beauty of the landscapes, the complexity of the turn-based combat, and the allure of a character named "Astarion."

Her excitement is infectious, and as soon as I get home, I pre-order the game. I'm now completely hooked. The game is Baldur's Gate 3, set in the world of the popular tabletop fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, and it has just been named Game of the Year at the Game Awards.

Developed by Belgian studio Larian Studios, Baldur's Gate 3 is incredibly ambitious. Iulia was right - the breathtaking, imaginative world reacts to the player's actions in vivid, unexpected ways. The diverse non-player characters are captivating, complex, and expertly written.

The puzzles and combat are meticulously designed, making each encounter feel fresh and thrilling. Astarion, a High Elf companion character with morally ambiguous traits, is magnificent, and the actor who portrays him rightfully won Best Performance at The Game Awards as well.

Real choices and consequences

What I've enjoyed most about this game is its unwavering commitment to freedom and consequence. The vast virtual world is crisscrossed with thousands of potential paths. Each challenge has hundreds of possible solutions, depending on the player's style and skill.

Every narrative decision steers the story in a new direction. And, most importantly, nothing the player chooses to do goes unnoticed by the game. This means that freedom doesn't feel like a power trip catering to a selfish desire for control: freedom feels like a responsibility - and at times, almost like a burden.

While this game does include its fair share of goblin battles, tentacled villains, and bloodthirsty beasts, it ultimately doesn't feel like a traditional hero's tale of violent domination, mastery, and extermination.

At its core, Baldur's Gate 3 is about relationships - the bonds of loyalty and reliance between allies, the interconnected relationships between the natural environment and its inhabitants, and the intertwined connections that bind the player and others when navigating the complexities of integrity and expediency, diplomacy, and justice. Ultimately, Baldur's Gate 3 defies the "emptiness" of many blockbuster games.

The theme of many high-profile, high-budget video games often feels like shiny packaging wrapped around a set of repetitive loops, serving as a loose justification for why you must shoot this guy, climb this cliff, grab this loot - with more speed and precision than the next person.

The world of Baldur's Gate 3 is not a facade to sell a bundle of mechanics, but a dynamic ecosystem of intimately interconnected variables. This is what makes it feel like a true playground.

Unlike some successful video games that train players to develop a disciplined obedience to the game's demanding choreography, Baldur's Gate 3 rewards creativity, and even deviance, in gameplay.

In other words, the skills most valued within this game's logic are ingenuity, experimentation, and sociability, which in my opinion are truly playful qualities and what make this game deserving of the title Best Game of 2023.

Read more: All the video games shortlisted for the 2023 Game Awards - reviewed by experts

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