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Split-screen is "a must" for Baldur's Gate 3 on Xbox Series S, says Larian

"We don't want to release it without it."

A handsome man with short, curly, grey hair, holding his chin, lost in thought. He has long, pointed ears. It's Astarion from Baldur's Gate 3.
Image credit: Larian Studios

There's currently a question mark hanging over the Xbox versions of Baldur's Gate 3. They are happening but they're held up by Xbox Series S, which is struggling to run split-screen co-op at an acceptable performance standard.

An added complication is that Microsoft wants feature parity across the Series X and S versions of the games - so much so there's a suggestion Larian would not be able to release one Xbox version of Baldur's Gate 3 with split-screen co-op, and the other without it.

The last we heard from Larian was that it was working on it, and that it was weighing up some "compromises" - the suggestion being that split-screen co-op on Xbox Series S could, potentially, be removed. So when I spoke to Larian boss Swen Vincke about this last week, I asked whether a decision had yet been made.

"It's challenging," Vincke said after a brief pause.

"The team has been working hard on making it work, but they're still working on it. And the problem with optimisations is you finish one thing and then a new one pops up. So here, we're dealing with a situation where we just go through the motions.

"The team will manage because they managed to make [Divinity: Original Sin 2] run on the Switch - but it took time."

You'll have to skip through this a bit, but it's Larian's latest Panel from Hell stream, from mere days ago, featuring lots of new release-build footage of Baldur's Gate 3.Watch on YouTube

Does that mean, then, that Vincke is confident it will happen?

"I'm confident in the team," he answered. "If it's possible, they'll make it happen. But it's a very big game."

He added: "Somebody told me [something] the other day and I thought it was a really good way of saying it. They were talking about Call of Duty and they said every single time there's a player that comes in, you get a little zone around the player, and the more zones you have, the slower it becomes.

"We have the same thing in a game like BG3, where it's all fine and well if you have one character walking around the city, but if the party splits up and there's four characters going in four different directions in the city, and they start doing the crazy shit that I'm doing - fireballs, [etc.] - it's a lot of simulation that has to happen on one screen. And so that's taxing. That requires memory."

And so to the elephant in the room: if Larian cannot get split-screen co-op running to standard on Xbox Series S, can it, if it wants to - bearing in mind Microsoft's desire for feature parity - remove it?

"Well if you talk about feature parities, split-screen is a must for us," he said, "and we don't want to release it without split-screen, so we wouldn't want to do that."

I played the PlaySation 5 version of Baldur's Gate 3 last week, though I didn't get the opportunity to try split-screen co-op. And broadly, it works well, though there are still some things that need improving, and, thankfully, there's still some time to do that - the PS5 version comes out 6th September, a month after the PC version on 3rd August.

The PS5 version - as with the console versions of Divinity: Original Sin - uses radial menus in place of hotbars, and for menu navigation, which is a bit fiddly but works. The radial menus are also customisable so you can shove all your most-used abilities on one and it becomes much simpler to use.

Movement on PS5, meanwhile, is directly controlled by the thumbstick, as you'd expect. You don't point and click to move as on PC. I prefer this way of moving because it feels more natural to me, and I don't misclick on things, but the issue on PS5 at the moment is that locking the camera to the player exacerbates the game's frame-rate, and on PS5, currently, it's not great. It's in the 40s whereas the target is 60 - so Larian is aware of this and working on it. The result is a slight juddering and feeling of sluggishness.

There's also a slight dip in texture quality - the PS5 doesn't quite reach the level that PC does, which is a shame, particularly when in conversations and faces are seen up close. But perhaps split-screen co-op - and having the game effectively render two versions of the game - is a consideration here too.

On the plus side, the controller UI does a good job of tidying up a busy layout while keeping the important things clear, like how many actions and bonus actions you have left, and how much movement. And if you want to use this UI on PC, you can - just plug in a controller and it should auto-swap.

Overall, then, it's good but there are some improvements I'd like to see made, and that I believe are being made.

Roll on 3rd August.

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