At this year’s Game Awards, for as well polished and amazing as all of the Game of the Year nominees are, Baldur’s Gate 3 is the clear front-runner to take the prize.
For the past several years, The Game Awards has slowly but surely been getting more mainstream recognition and acceptance within the wider gaming community. What was once the Spike Video Game Awards has morphed into a more legitimate organization that won’t call Madden 2004 Game of the Year. Plus, each year, the ceremony has enough dramatic flair to excite gamers not only for the awards but also for new trailers and musical performances. Yes, it is ultimately a marketing tool, and these awards, like most other year-end awards, are meaningless, but there’s no denying how fun it is to see a game or film you like to get praise and recognition.
This year’s Game Awards has a wide variety of games nominated in a variety of categories, but let’s be honest – most people will only pay attention to the Game of the Year award. There is a certain prestige a title may earn by winning an award at The Game Awards, but in an age where certain genres have become more and more broad, like “Best Action/Adventure Game” and “Best Independent Game,” these prizes start to lose some of their lofty status. But Game of the Year is different. It’s clear-cut. Anyone can understand what having such a title means. And the nominees for this year’s Game of the Year are probably the best titles to represent the year.
With six nominees for the category, any other year, this would be a tough race to call. There’s Resident Evil 4, Alan Wake II, Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Spider-Man 2, and Baldur’s Gate 3, all of which are excellent in their own ways. But if we’re going to ask ourselves which is really the best game and the game that defined the year for everything that it did, then it has to be Baldur’s Gate 3. There’s just no contest.
And for the record, I haven’t actually played Baldur’s Gate 3. I’m one of those weird souls who is waiting for a physical release to add to my collection, a request that will be answered sooner rather than later. But yeah, I’ve had absolutely no exposure to the game outside of hearing other people’s opinions of it. To some, that may invalidate my entire opinion, but I think it also speaks as a testament to how good that game really is. Even someone who hasn’t played the game knows that it’s a masterpiece and deserves praise for everything that it’s done.
If we’re just going to examine Baldur’s Gate 3 on its own, then the game really needs no further introduction. When it was released, it was being hailed as a game-changer and the new gold standard for AAA game development. After years and years of development, as well as a significant amount of resources thrown into it, it received critical acclaim and praise for almost everything it attempted. The world of the game is absolutely vast, the amount of customization is truly unheard of, the variety of tasks that players can partake in is mindboggling, and the world and characters of the game feel authentic and well-crafted. There’s a reason players love characters like Astarian, Lae’zel, and ESPECIALLY Karlach. The game sold like gangbusters, and it has kept players captivated ever since it was released.
When compared to everything that Baldur’s Gate 3 attempted and accomplished, most of the other Game of the Year nominees can’t really compare, no matter how good they are. Spider-Man 2 is a welcome sequel to what was already a great game, but it plays things a bit too safe and doesn’t really do much to innovate besides being a Spider-Man sequel. Super Mario Bros. Wonder, a game with a ton of charm and personality, tends to barrel through its excellent content too quickly to the point where parts don’t really leave a lasting impression. Resident Evil 4 is a wonderful remake, but it’s still in the shadow of the base game and, at points, doesn’t step out from its long shadow. Then there’s Alan Wake II, a game with a wonderful story that stumbles at being an enjoyable game to play. I can think of drawbacks to each of the nominees, either from my own experience or from popular discourse. I can’t say the same for Baldur’s Gate 3.
The big exception, though, is Baldur’s Gate 3 biggest competitor, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time that somehow manages to make lightning strike twice, Tears of the Kingdom was able to somehow meet the lofty expectations that fans had of it all those years ago when it was announced. If any game was going to take the honor of Game of the Year from Baldur’s Gate 3, it would probably be Tears of the Kingdom. But if I was a betting man (and I am), I think that Tears will fall ever so slightly short for just a few reasons.
First, I think enough time has passed where we can admit to ourselves that probably more than any other nominee this year, Tears of the Kingdom is very iterative. That’s not a bad thing, especially given how every nominee for Game of the Year is a sequel in some way, shape, or form, but that’s no more abundant than in Tears of the Kingdom. You can throw up an image of Tears of the Kingdom and Breath of the Wild, and fans probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two. I should know since the image I used for Tears of the Kingdom is actually a screenshot of Breath of the Wild. Nintendo didn’t really need to innovate a ton with Tears of the Kingdom, especially when the foundation is as solid as it is, but that still doesn’t change the fact that what’s accomplished in Tears of the Kingdom does feel, at times, like it could have been an expansion pack.
Back in 2017, Breath of the Wild felt like a revelation. In a year that was already filled with plenty of fantastic games like Persona 5, Sonic Mania, Nier: Automata, Super Mario Odyssey, Resident Evil 7, and many, many, many more, it says a lot that Breath of the Wild felt reinvigorating. Baldur’s Gate 3 captures that same energy but in a different way. While Breath of the Wild, and to a lesser extent, Tears of the Kingdom, had a “go anywhere, do anything” mentality, Baldur’s Gate 3 captures a “be anyone, do anything mentality.” I can find plenty of reasons why a player would go back and play Baldur’s Gate 3 right after finishing a first playthrough. After I finished Tears of the Kingdom, I felt tired and was ready to move on to something else since I felt like I was just playing Breath of the Wild again.
I do think that out of all of the games, Baldur’s Gate 3 does feel the most original when compared to its peers. It is a sequel, and while I do grumble at the fact that there isn’t an original game not from a pre-established IP in the nominee pool, I don’t begrudge Baldur’s Gate 3 for it. It is the first new installment in a relatively long-dormant series. Baldur’s Gate 2 was released in 2000, and outside of a remake here and there, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that the franchise was dead. Yet, after its announcement at a Google Stadia presentation of all things and a long period of early access, more attention and clamor for the game began to build until it finally exploded upon its release. What was old was new again, so to speak.
Side note – remember the Stadia version of Baldur’s Gate 3? Just wanted people to remember that the Stadia was a thing for some reason.
Anyway, while I would have loved for a game like Hi-Fi Rush or Sea of Stars to have been nominated for Game of the Year, Baldur’s Gate 3 is by no means a bad choice. It’s been generating such constant praise that it’s almost impossible to ignore, and any criticisms of the game come down more to personal preference than anything else. The other Game of the Year nominees at The Game Awards are all fine choices, and I would go so far as to call most of those games some of my favorite games of the year, but none of them are Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s simply too impressive to be denied the top prize.