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'Make number go up' is bad for running a business but great for Baldur's Gate 3.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

February 26, 2024

3 Min Read
Baldur's Gate 3 character Lae'zel stands on a rooftop.
Image via Larian Studios.

At a Glance

  • Role-playing games like Baldur's Gate 3 reward players with high-quality loot that increases their power level.
  • Many modern RPGs introduce items that only increase stats by a few percentage points. That's not the case in Baldur's Gate 3.
  • "We do big numbers because that's cool," says Larian Studios head of production David Walgrave.

Among the many, many, many design choices Larian Studios was praised for in the making of Baldur's Gate 3 was the excellent feel of its combat and character progression. The game's tabletop-inspired "character sheet" is so robustly designed that whether players choose to precisely synergize their items and abilities or just smash buttons to make big numbers go up, they're sure to fulfill the power fantasy of a classic Dungeons and Dragons adventure.

One key reason this system works so well? The loot. Or at least, that's according to head of production David Walgrave. In a green room conversation backstage at the 2024 DICE Awards (where Baldur's Gate 3 was named Game of the Year and won other accolades), Walgrave expounded on the studio's philosophy that special items in video games should introduce massive changes, not incremental stat boosts.

"We don't do mathematical balancing," Walgrave said in response to a question from Game File. If you compare Larian's games to other loot-heavy titles on the market, you'll notice that the studio doesn't use as many minor stat tweaks on equippable items.

A wizard's robe whose main buff is increasing fire damage by 4.5 percent? No such thing in Baldur's Gate 3. "That is not cool. We don't do math. We go for 50 [percent] or 100 [percent]," Walgrave said firmly. "We do big numbers because that's cool."

Related:Baldur's Gate 3 and Marvel's Spider-Man 2 big winners at 27th Annual DICE Awards

He compared it to the sensation of playing pinball and watching the score leaps into the millions as bells ring and lights flash.

There are benefits (and tradeoffs) to making "cool" items in Baldur's Gate 3.

Walgrave raised another side benefit of prioritizing big boosts in items: players will want to keep them around for the entire game. Items found in Act One may synergize well with abilities unlocked in Act Three, items uncovered in Act Three can reward early decisions made in Act One, and so on and so forth.

But he was also transparent that implementing big-ticket loot wasn't an easy task. He credited Larian's design team, which has staffers dedicated to hand-crafting magic items. "It's a lot more time-consuming than just [randomly] generating them," he said.

There's also a follow-up problem Larian has had to grapple with. Marginally-increasing the power of items makes it easier for developers to produce random quality spikes. If everything is supposed to be "cool," how can you top them with things that are even "cooler" without devaluing other pieces of loot?

He said Larian had to "accept" that sometimes a game can have hundreds of items that can be "completely different and interesting throughout the entire game." "You don't have to keep on exponentially growing and making sure it keeps getting interesting."

If you're struggling for inspiration, maybe take a look at the magic items in Baldur's Gate 3 that unlock spells and other abilities for a character. Players then get a new interesting choice—do they keep an item that boosts the power of their current build, or do they trade that power away for a new ability?

That's a great question to grapple with in a game like Baldur's Gate 3, whose built-in audience of Dungeons & Dragons players already hang out in group chats dedicating to min-maxxing their character builds.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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