The new RPG from Larian Studios gives players the choice to be gay, do crime and have sex with a bear
There’s a point in Baldur’s Gate III where, should you decide to, you can have sex with a bear. It was a secret revealed by Belgian developer Larian Studios during a pre-release live stream when they showcased the game’s romance options, including a gay encounter with one involving the character of Halsin, a Druid who can morph into a bear.
The clip naturally spread around on social media, and resulted in Larian’s stream getting pulled from TikTok. But it also pointed towards the depths of the role-playing in the game. Baldur’s Gate III had clearly nailed a tabletop role-playing session’s anarchic, chaotic, and sometimes x-rated nature. This was the Dungeons & Dragons video game that people have always wanted.
Baldur’s Gate III is, of course, the third entry in the Baldur’s Gate series. The earlier two games, released in 1998 and 2000 respectively and developed by RPG behemoth Bioware, were era-defining classics, often cited for reinvigorating the RPG genre and setting the standard for impactful gameplay where your in-game choices affected the course of the story.
For decades, fans have begged for a sequel and now Larian Studios has delivered. After nearly three years in early access, Baldur’s Gate III is finally available on PC (a PS5 release is due in September). Set over 120 years after the original games and based on the more modern fifth edition D&D ruleset, the game has blown expectations out of the water: upon release, it hit over 800,000 active players on Steam, a record for the developer, becoming the second biggest game launch of the year so far. At the time of writing, the game has a score of 96 on Metacritic, making it the best-rated PC game of the year and joint in terms of ratings with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
It’s hard to gauge what role the bear sex played on these mammoth achievements. What is clear, though, is Larian’s commitment to creating an authentic D&D experience. What’s more, the more that players have dived into the game, the more they’ve realised just how queer Baldur’s Gate III is. Along with sex with hot bears, players can romance different NPCs no matter their gender. Likewise, during the (super in-depth) character creation section, players have the choice to select their character’s gender, making them male, female or non-binary, as well as any physical characteristics they like. This isn’t superficial, either: your gender identity and sexual activity affects things in the game, too.
It’s the sort of queer and inclusive approach to video games that many LGBTQ+ players could only have dreamed of. “I saw a friend playing and when he opened up the character creator I saw there was a non-binary option for identity. To me that was like, ‘Oh OK this is new,’” says player Hazel, 29, who has put about 50 hours into the game since it was released. “It's something I'd hoped for because I remember reading the 5E rulebook and seeing it being very inclusive.”
As a genderfluid person who flexes between feeling more non-binary and more feminine, being able to explore their identity through their in-game character was important for Hazel. “I’m playing through as a Tiefling Warlock,” they say. “She’s trans, non-binary and has a body reflective of mine. It makes me feel connected to my character, but also more confident in myself outside too.”
Oliver has played about 25 hours of Baldur’s Gate III so far and usually tries to make whatever in-game character he plays “look queer af”. “I’m super tired of fantasy worlds having to include all these weird and exhausting hang-ups of reality, so I really don’t care for homophobia in my fantasy. Or racism. Or ableism. Or misogyny,” he explains. “Just give me a cool world with amazing characters to dive into.”
The fact that the game allows for this has created greater immersion for him. “Immediately I am more interested in the gameplay and setting when I know that it’s less heteronormative,” Oliver adds. “Having [LGBTQ+] representation can give you the words or framework to express yourself. Being able to create a male-looking character with a higher-pitched voice and a vulva is awesome for that. If even one person feels better represented for these options it’s worth it to include them.”
“Video games, RPGs especially, are about choice,” says one player, who asked to be named as Chubblot. “Just because only a small percentage of players may choose something, doesn’t mean those players aren’t affected by your game – for people who struggle to find anything that represents them in games sometimes the smallest thing can be hugely impactful, and Larian went big on inclusivity.”
This approach, Chubblot suggests, creates more adventurous gameplay. “In other games maybe I’ll play a female character because the male character is hard-coded to be a certain way,” he says. “But in this game, with so many options available to you by default, I’m free to create my character uninhibited.”
Inevitably, though, the game’s inclusivity has drawn criticism, with some accusing it of pandering to LGBTQ+ audiences and “social justice warriors”, while suggesting Larian had become “infected by [a] woke virus”.
However, according to one player, who calls themself Snow, the setting of Baldur’s Gate III, the Forgotten Realms, has always been LGBTQ+ inclusive. “Since his inception of the world, creator Ed Greenwood stipulated that the concept of discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexuality doesn’t exist there,” they explain. “The predominant sexuality in Forgotten Realms is pansexuality.”
While Greenwood eventually sold the rights to the Forgotten Realms to the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons, who later were bought by Wizards of the Coast, this vision wasn’t altered. “In recent years, Wizards of the Coast has really embraced the Forgotten Realms’ queerness,” says Snow. “I’ve been getting the sense that Baldur’s Gate III is more queer than how most of us experience daily life, and that’s great because the Forgotten Realms was always intended to be much gayer than real life.”
“You can be a girl with a cock and still save the world” – Hazel
That’s not to say that Baldur’s Gate III gets everything right. While Chubblot feels that the pansexuality, or ‘playersexuality’, of the romantic options in the game is a good thing, Oliver wishes that characters were more canonical LGBTQ+. “It does water down the queer experience a bit,” he says. “Having out and proud queer side characters would help to better flavour the queernormativity. I also hope whatever Larian does next, it will also include better disability representation because everyone should be able to see themselves as a hero in a fantasy world.”
“I still think there’s work to do,” echoes Hazel. “Baldur’s Gate III doesn’t have curvy body types, and natural looking Black hair that isn’t cornrows or an Afro is still really rare.”
It is a sign that things are changing in the RPG space, though. “At one point in history it was practically unheard of to be able to create a female character in an RPG,” says Chubblot. “But if a modern game advertising character creation launched with only male as an option, it would be jarring. That’s what I’m expecting will happen eventually with other gender identities.”
What Baldur’s Gate III does get right is player choice. As with the best D&D campaigns, agency is everything. If you want to romance a half-elf vampire, shack up with a bear, enter into a polyamorous relationship, or kill everything in sight (or all of the above) then you can. Even better, the world reacts to your actions and decisions, shifting so that no two playthroughs of the game will be the same (there are said to be a whopping 17,000 ending variations). In a game with so many options, including queerness seems only logical.
Or, as Hazel says: “You can be a girl with a cock and still save the world.”