You’ve Got a Fiend in Me: Playing the Dark Urge in Baldur’s Gate 3
I have tried so hard to be evil. I led a force of goblins, trolls and giant spiders against a sacred druid’s grove harboring refugees. The result? Total Massacre. Later on I used my mind powers to force a trio of those same goblins to commit suicide. I stole a baby from a Githyanki creche. I’m a bad guy in Baldur’s Gate 3 but I went in with the intention of being worse, no the worst. Larian Studios’ latest CRPG gives you the option of being a force of pure good or all-consuming evil or anything in between and that is where much of the game’s appeal lies.
In my first playthrough I was a half-elf Ranger with the game’s default name of Tav. She was a force of mostly good. Some decisions were compromises but on the whole she tried her best to make everyone happy while saving the world and she mostly succeeded. The Dark Urge is a different kettle of fish. They’re a monster in a monstrous form. A black dragonborn with mismatched eyes and acid breath they not only have the game’s obligatory tadpole squirming around in their brain matter but a voice that urges them to rip and tear and kill and mutilate. It’s up to the player whether they want to try and resist that voice or give in and slaughter their way through the game for the sheer joy of bloodshed.
I draw the line at killing my companions. At least in this playthrough. These people are the Dark Urge’s friends whether they want them or not. I put a lot of effort into rescuing the Drow paladin Minthara from the invulnerable General Ketheric Thorm and I’m not going to let some murder happy voice in my character’s head tell them what parts to slice off her. I know how useful the human wizard Gale is from my previous run so lopping off his hand in the early game and leaving him to bleed to death would be foolish. Despite the constant battles and violence or perhaps because of them the half-elf cleric Shadowheart remains close to the Dark Urge and they close to her. Even monsters need love.
Of course you don’t form a circle of close friends without making some enemies and the Dark Urge has a few. If you’re bad enough (which I was) the stalwart human warlock Wyll and happy-go-lucky Tiefling barbarian Karlach will leave your party, never to return. Or will they? I can’t say right now, they may appear in the future as enemies. In all likelihood they wandered off on their own personal quests and died horrible deaths because they didn’t have the kind of tactical support, tadpole expansion prevention doohickey and strong friendships the Dark Urge does. But am I being as bad as I could be? No.
I started the Dark Urge playthrough in order to play Baldur’s Gate 3 the same way I played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3 as a teenager. That is to say, a deranged lunatic who will assist some poor homesteader with their rat problem, collect the reward and then shoot/stab them in the face and loot their house of any and all valuables. Since then I have developed what psychiatrists and the mentally healthy call “empathy” though mostly for video game characters and a few close friends and family in real life. Needless to say when the Dark Urge’s evil butler popped out of nowhere and demanded I kill Shadowheart – aka God’s Favourite Princess and the Most interesting Girl in the World – I flatly refused. My character confessed everything to their potential goth chick girlfriend and spent the night tied up and thrashing rather than even think an angry thought about her.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is an RPG and its robust combat, dynamic multiplayer and intricate story are all great reasons to get and stick with the game but it’s the RP in RPG that I’ve really come to appreciate. Roleplaying is something every player does at some point in an RPG because the game will force you to play a role, make decisions and see the effects of those decisions play out in the world of the game.
In both of my playthroughs of Baldur’s Gate 3 I have gone in with specific goals in mind only to have the game surprise me at many different turns. As the ranger Tav I wanted to save the world, romance Shadowheart and free the Githyanki warrior Lae’zel from the grip of her fascist Queen. I saved the world at least. As the Dark Urge I wanted to rule the world, kill as many as I possibly could along the way, lead all of my companions to ruin and (somehow) romance Shadowheart. So far being the combination Hitler-Stalin-Mao of the Forgotten Realms isn’t working out but at least I have a will they-won’t they thing going with a pretty half-elf.
In fact, it’s my fear of being disapproved of by said pretty half-elf that has prevented my scorched earth run of Baldur’s Gate 3 so far. The characters in Baldur’s Gate 3, from the lowliest goblin to the game’s triptych of dastardly villains, are so well written and performed that you end up caring for them so much you shiver at the thought of disappointing them. A character let alone a whole cast of them hasn’t had such an effect on me since I met pinball enthusiast and avowed Centrist Kim Kitsuragi in Disco Elysium.
Most games bow to the player’s whims occasionally literally making the player character a living god. Baldur’s Gate 3 is so well written that I often bow to it and its characters, sacrificing what I want to make sure they’re happy. Looking at how things have gone so far I probably won’t inflict squid genocide on Baldur’s Gate when I get there but next time? Wait ’til they get a load of me.