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I'm beginning to prefer Baldur's Gate 3 on PS5

Trigger happy.

Looking down on a character in Baldur's Gate 3 asleep - or unconscious - on a beach. We see their head and shoulders. They are feminine looking, with orange hair, pink skin, pointed ears, and a white neck tattoo. They are pretty darn cool.
Image credit: Eurogamer / Larian

I've been playing Baldur's Gate 3 on console, on PlayStation 5, and I warn you, I'm becoming dangerously enthusiastic about it. There are even ways in which I - and I can barely bring myself to say this - prefer it to playing on PC. I did warn you!

It's not what I expected. I expected to prefer the PC version, the lead platform, the home of Baldur's Gate. But I cannot shake the feeling that, while lazily thumbing my way around the game on PS5, this is a more pleasurable way to play.

It's to do with the controller and the environment, and before you say it, yes I know you can achieve the same thing on PC. You can plug in a controller and BG3 will seamlessly switch to the controller UI (this is the case for Steam Deck too); it will even switch to split-screen co-op if you plug a second controller in. And if your PC is hooked up to your television, the environment will also be the same. So what the console is doing isn't theoretically exclusive, though I'd argue it's because of consoles any of it exists.

Aoife has some top tips to get you up to speed if you're playing on PS5.Watch on YouTube

Anyway: Baldur's Gate 3 plays differently on a controller in small but profound ways. The main one is to do with movement. Instead of pointing and clicking to move around, you move a character directly with one of the thumbsticks, while controlling the camera with the other, as in so many other games. And the repercussions of this are larger than you might think.

While playing on PC, with a mouse and keyboard, I usually zoom out so I can see more of my environment, which makes it easier to spot places to click on to move to. But when I do this, I detach from my character - I fly the camera away from them to somewhere else, click on it, and then maybe wait for them to get there, or maybe fly back to watch them run there. Either way, I'm zoomed out - well out. It feels more like being a battlefield commander ordering troops around than being one of them.

With a controller, it's a different experience. Here, I'm directly in control. I don't need to see the wider environment which means I can push the camera right in, making it more like a third-person experience than an isometric one. And I'm nearly at eye level, I'm seeing much more of the set dressing around me - the books on the wall, the food on the tables, the faces of the characters around me. I am much more in the world. And at no point do I detach from the character I'm controlling, and in a game that's about caring for the characters and the story they're in, that's a really important thing.

Two Baldur's Gate 3 characters, side by side, holding their heads as they wake up after a spaceship crash at the beginning of the game. One is an elf, the other a dragonborn. I have a feeling they'll get along famously.
"Oof - what did Bertie say?"Image credit: Eurogamer / Larian

There's something else, too, but it's harder to describe. It's to do with how much concentration it takes to push a thumbstick around, versus actively scrolling around to look for places to click on and move to. I've landed myself in trouble a few times misclicking and triggering events I didn't mean to, even. In my experience, pointing and clicking requires more thought.

On the other hand - well, the same hand (bad analogy Bertie) - pushing a thumbstick doesn't take much thought. I'm not looking around for places to click on, I'm just pushing a stick. Maybe I'm also twizzling the stick to make my character run around in circles for no reason too - what of it? I bet you do it too.

There's something so inherently relaxed about using the thumbstick, something that works so brilliantly in conjunction with sitting on a sofa and playing games on your TV. Of course it does - it's why it's become the de facto method of control there. And it's that feeling of being relaxed, of sitting comfortably, that works so wonderfully with the storytelling experience of Baldur's Gate 3.

However much I try, I can't replicate that feeling on PC. I'm always leant forward and never very far from the feeling of being at work.

None of this would matter if Baldur's Gate 3 played rubbishly on a controller, of course! But it doesn't - far from it. The controller user interface actually handles all of the information on the screen better, I think. Larian has clearly learnt a lot from adapting the two Divinity: Original Sin games for console.

The UI, presumably in anticipation of being played on TV a few feet away, significantly declutters the screen. It does away with all the hotbar clutter at the bottom of the screen, leaving only vital information there, like how many actions, bonus actions, spell slots and movement you have left each turn. And this is really useful; on PC, this information fights for prominence, but here, it's right in your face.

I'm also a fan of the radial menus, now I've organised them a bit. I've got all the things I frequently use right there, a bumper bump away, and there's something roomier and cleaner about the presentation - there's a feeling it's all squashed in a bit on the hotbar on PC.

The PlayStation 5 inventory screen in Baldur's Gate 3.
The inventory screen on PlayStation 5. It lacks the lovely party inventory screen that you get on PC, where you see character cards for all of the team, but you get roughly the same kind of functionality here. | Image credit: Eurogamer / Larian

The inventory is more fiddly, though - granted. I think it will always be easier to point and click on things you see, however much thinking goes into an alternative. And a lot of thinking clearly has been done here, resulting in some time-saving features like being able to click on an equipment slot to see the available items you can use there, rather than having to dig through the inventory to find them.

But I don't want to get too bogged down in UI specifics - suffice to say it works very well. I also don't want to get too bogged down in the technical performance of the game, both because I know Digital Foundry is working on that, and because I've had no problems with it so far. I've been warned by Larian that there's some slowdown in Act 3, in the city of Baldur's Gate 3, but they're working on patches and I'm not there yet. For me, playing in Performance mode, it's a smooth 60fps most of the time.

Baldur's Gate 3 being played in split-screen on PS5. It's quite a busy screen.
Baldur's Gate 3 being played in split-screen on PS5. From this angle, it doesn't look bad, busy-ness wise. But in dense battles, it gets very crowded.
Some split-screen images of the game. Do you see what I mean about it easily feeling crowded? Imagine some of the desner battles further into the game. Note, though, that there's probably more room on a TV than on whatever screen you're viewing this on. | Image credit: Eurogamer / Larian

The only disappointment for me personally is split-screen. I'd been really looking forward to it, to play the game through with my partner, but because split-screen on PS5 forces the game into the 30fps Quality mode, it becomes a noticeably more sluggish experience as a result. Slightly more unavoidable is the game also feeling very busy with two instances of it side by side, but I don't know how you get around something like that.

If only there were cross play, then all of my dreams would come true. Cross saves are already in the game and work very well, but you can't play in multiplayer with someone on a different platform. Not yet, at least. But there's hope. Apparently cross play is part of the plan for the game's future, Larian tells me - the team just hasn't had time to get it working yet.

For now, though, I'm content, and very pleasantly surprised by the PlaySation 5 version of Baldur's Gate 3. You could say it has - much like a notable elf in the game - sunk its teeth into me in ways I didn't expect.

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