I came to Dungeons and Dragons much later than most of my friends who play, but I have fallen in love with the game over the past 3 years. The one bad thing about traditional D&D is that you can’t really play it single-player. Whenever I would bring this gripe up to my friends, they would always respond with “Play Baldur’s Gate.” It’s in the same world using digitized versions of the rules giving you the fun of a D&D campaign in single-player format. So, it was with a fair amount of excitement that I dove into Larian’s expansive cRPG to check out the accessibility of Baldur’s Gate 3. I am happy to report that the majority of disabled players will be able to enjoy this game to its fullest and participate in the cultural phenomenon that Baldur’s Gate 3 is becoming.
An Accessible Genre; an Accessible Game
Let’s start with fine-motor accessibility in Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s already starting off leaps and bounds ahead of others because the cRPG genre is one of the most accessible. For example, it features a fully-remappable control layout for keyboard. Most of the game’s narrative takes place in real time, using a dice rolls and ability checks related to D&D. Whenever the player is confronted with a possible fail-state outside of a cutscene (for example making the stupid decision to kiss a mindflayer at the beginning of the game), the game automatically enters turn-based mode. This completely removes the need to use precise timing and accuracy to engage in the game’s robust combat system. The UI is not completely remappable like Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire. But there is enough customizability in the class and abilities the player chooses making any character class combination reasonably accessible.
In my 30+ hours with the game, I was playing Cleric on a desperate search to rid the minds of himself and his colleagues of a parasitic worm that will eventually transform him into a monstrous mindflayer. Players who are familiar with D&D or Baldur’s gate will know that Cleric is one of the most complicated classes to play because they have total access to their complete list of spells at all times. Yet, despite the number of choices, I never felt overwhelmed. Finding the spells I wanted to use never had me spending a lot of time in menus.
Deep Lore, Profound Accessibility
As engaging as the combat is, that’s not the best part of Baldur’s Gate 3. The best part is the story, and I’m happy to announce that Larian, while there’s nothing truly innovative about their approach to accessibility, certainly did their homework and included a robust suite of subtitle resizing options and shadowboxing options that make understanding the game a breeze, even if players are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
This is especially impressive because some have claimed that the script for Baldur’s Gate 3 has a larger word count than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Happily all of it is accessible thanks to robust subtitling and easy to read text. The story of Baldur’s Gate 3 is sweeping and will see players traverse locations ranging from the Nine Hells to the grand Lower City of Baldur’s Gate itself. Thanks to Larian’s efforts, the inability to hear is not a barrier.
Visual Accessibility with One Major Flaw
As much as I want to give Baldur’s Gate straight A’s, there is one pretty significant flaw in the game’s visual accessibility. While the overworld is relatively visually distinctive and you have the ability to highlight interactable items with the push of a hotkey combination, the map itself which is critical when navigating to specific points is sometimes buggy and often inaccessible for players with visual impairments.
One of the key concepts in Baldur’s Gate 3 is just how open world it is. If players have the skills, they can quite literally jump down a deep hole and end up in a completely different section of the map (as long as they have a way to mitigate the fall damage). In that same vein, paths are not always clear, flat roads that your character just marches along. You will have to climb up and down rock faces that may not look interactable and that have no markings to let you know that you could interact with them.
This level of open world exploration is seriously hindered by the map. Much like the map in God of War (2018), the map in Baldur’s gate is visually striking and has a lot of complex textures. But it does a poor job of telling you what the traversable paths are. But, while this barrier is a problem for the visually impaired, I don’t think it is game-breaking, especially since I can’t use the map and I don’t have a visual impairment, but it hasn’t posed a significant barrier to my 30+ hours of playtime.
A smaller issue, but potentially more game-breaking, is that the mini-map is not always honest with the player. Early on, you are tasked with finding a particular NPC. This NPC was standing outside the large circle marked on the map as the area where you could find her. Again, not a game-breaking barrier, but definitely a severe annoyance for players with disabilities.
A Personal Preference
One unusual thing about the accessibility menu in Baldur’s Gate 3 is that it also includes filters for nudity. I understand why, for some, nudity could be a psychological trigger and therefore a contributing factor to a game’s accessibility. Personally, I don’t like seeing parental content filters listed in “accessibility”. In my experience it trivializes disability and infantilizes the disabled. To be clear, I played Baldur’s Gate with both nudity filters enabled. I live in a house with my parents and regularly have young children over as guests (usually my niece and nephew) but I still find this sort of feature is best handled in a general content menu and that including it in “accessibility” often comes across as patronizing.
If you have a disability and you are considering picking up Baldur’s Gate 3, my recommendation for most readers is “Yes, absolutely.” It is a masterwork of an RPG and for most of us it will be completely accessible. It was unfortunate, however, that Larian did not consider the impact the map would have on visual accessibility in Baldur’s Gate 3. However, even with this fairly large caveat, I can still say that it is a highly accessible game of the highest possible quality.