Baldur’s Gate 3 already feels like a ridiculous achievement on PC. But the idea of bringing a game this crammed with menus, inventories, and party management to console? Preposterous! Or so we thought, until we loaded up Larian’s latest on Steam Deck. The grand-scale RPG somehow manages to go beyond simply running on Valve’s handheld machine – it genuinely plays great, too. With so many major games right now arriving somewhat broken on PC, let alone including support for the diminutive Steam Deck, Baldur’s Gate 3 offers yet another pleasant outlier. And one that gives us plenty of hope for the upcoming PS5 version, albeit with some caveats.
For those who’ve played Baldur’s Gate 3, the idea of managing a party of four – spell slots, arrows, consumables, and all – during combat on a controller probably sounds about as appealing and practical as cleaning yourself in a bathtub full of baked beans. But while the Steam Deck controls definitely lack the efficiency granted via mouse and keyboard, they’re more than simply functional.
Most console ports of complex PC titles tend to take a slimming approach; shaving the available actions down to purely those functionally necessary. Baldur’s Gate 3 scoffs at the notion. Instead, a character’s full suite of tools can be accessed at the tap of a shoulder button. Doing so will present a raft of customizable selection wheels. Every item, action, bonus action, scroll, and so forth is bundled into pages of rings. Sensibilities be damned, Baldur’s Gate 3 will throw as many wheels at you as it takes to ensure you can do what you want.
It’s far from the cleanest approach, but in an RPG as broad as Baldur’s Gate 3, it might well be the only one to ensure console players enjoy a parity of play. There are a few notable overhauls elsewhere, including a bespoke screen to showcase inventories, characteristics, reactions, and more. D-Pad shortcuts have also been made available for common actions such as jump or equipping a torch.
The hurdle, it seems, will be getting all of these possibilities across to first-time players. PC adventurers enjoying a stint on Steam Deck will already be well aware of the capabilities that should be at their disposal. For new console players, though? Shifting through five selection wheels just to find and drink a single health potion may not seem all that intuitive.
But like an unscrupulous rogue securing an edge in a tavern wager, Baldur’s Gate 3 has an ace up its sleeve: Turn-based mode. Navigating the sheer abundance of menus is overwhelming on controller. That much is undeniable. But thanks to turn-based combat and the option to freeze the clock outside of combat too, you have all the time you need to explore the controls, tinker with every option, and, when the time comes, pull off a complex, outlandish maneuver. The main downside? That extra time spent fiddling will only extend the game’s already immense runtime.
There’s also the small question of performance. For the most part, Baldur’s Gate 3 runs commendably on Steam Deck. But in the moments where it does struggle, a quick trip into the settings menu is all it takes to drop the visuals down a notch. The PS5 version is unlikely to be afforded the same level of visual fine tuning, but we’re hopeful that the far more powerful machine will more than compensate for that loss.
What will need a boost is the size of on-screen text. The world of Faerûn has plenty for players to read, particularly when it comes to status effects those new to D&D systems will need to learn. We’ll have to wait and see if the PS5 version delivers the boost necessary to make all its writing legible from across the living room.
We’re not likely to stop recommending PC as the best platform for Baldur’s Gate 3 any time soon. But our Steam Deck sessions have already convinced us that the console version will offer a worthy substitute. Provided, that is, players have the patience to get to grips with it.