Opinion

Baldur’s Gate III Brings Illithids Out of the Dark

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Larian Studios, the developers behind Divinity: Original Sin, dropped a teaser trailer for Baldur’s Gate III Wednesday that’s equal parts exciting and horrifying. The 90-second video shows the beautiful coastal metropolis of Baldur’s Gate in trouble, smoke rising from the ground and ominous dark clouds looming overhead. A plate mail wearing member of the Flaming Fist, the powerful mercenary group that guards Baldur’s Gate, staggers past the scattered bodies of his companions. It’s a scene reminiscent of the invasion of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Then things get much worse.

The soldier grips his head as if in pain and turns around brandishing a longsword down an empty corridor. But it’s too late for him. He doubles over coughing up blood and several teeth and then is wracked by a nightmarish transformation as his bones contort, his hair falls off and his eyes glow a malevolent yellow. His skull stretches to make way for an enlarged brain and eventually the rest of his teeth are pushed to the side to make way for undulating tentacles. Then his screaming finally stops, the newborn illithid instead rising in triumph, floating up as lightning crackling in the sky reveals he’s far from alone.

So what does this mean? It’s been 18 years since the last entry in the Dungeons & Dragons-based Baldur’s Gate series and the newest entry is already leaning on the roleplaying game’s long history. Illithids, also known as mind flayers, are one of the game’s oldest monsters. They live in the Underdark, the network of underground caverns found beneath Baldur’s Gate and the rest of the Forgotten Realms, and use their psionic powers to enslave other sentient creatures. They also reproduce by placing tadpoles in the ears of said creatures which then eat their brains and transform their bodies like the poor guy in the trailer.

There’s a whole dungeon full of mind flayers in Baldur’s Gate II but it’s clear they’re getting a starring role in the new game. While the original Baldur’s Gate games used the byzantine Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, Baldur’s Gate III will be based on the mechanics and mythology of 5th Edition which means big changes for illithids. In 4th Edition, Wizards of the Coast introduced the Far Realm, a world of Lovecraftian horrors outside of the traditional D&D cosmos and decided that illithids and other tentacled monstrosities originally hailed from there. The shot of dozens of floating mind flayers and a Nautiloid, the flying ships that mind flayers use to travel between worlds, floating above the skies of Baldur’s Gate indicates that the city is likely facing an invasion from within and without.

That’s a great plot for the new game considering illithids are one of the few classic D&D monsters that remain trademarked, meaning that they can’t be used by Paizo’s Pathfinder or other rival fantasy games. Baldur’s Gate III players who fall in love with the brain-eating psychic villains won’t be able to play with them anywhere else. The monsters also recently got a boost in pop culture awareness thanks to Stranger Things season 2, where the D&D-loving kids called the main villain the mind flayer because it had tentacles and was the center of a hive mind. Technically illithid hive minds are controlled by an elder brain, which is created through the merging of many mind flayer brains, but the writers still get credit for the reference.

This is also a perfect time to return to the Baldur’s Gate series. Interest in tabletop RPGs has never been higher thanks to a highly competitive market and the popularity of live play podcasts and streams. Baldur’s Gate III is sure to bring back fans with fond memories of the original run but it’s also likely to attract an entirely new audience who only recently got interested in D&D thanks to 5th Edition’s highly streamlined ruleset. Wizards didn’t have much success with its most recent video game adaptation, Sword Coast Legends, which shut down its servers last year. That’s why it’s so encouraging that they’ve partnered with Larian Studios, the makers of one of the best roleplaying games of the decade, instead of a smaller operation like Sword Coast Legends developers n-Space, which closed down a year after that game released.

Like its predecessors, Baldur’s Gate III will be a party-based roleplaying game with a focus on player agency and choice. It will be available on PC and Google Stadia, though no release date has been announced. Larian is working closely with Wizards of the Coast on the game’s development and has said more information about Baldur’s Gate III will be shared throughout the year. I can’t wait to see what other wonderful horrors they have in store.

Samantha Nelson
Managing Editor Escapist Magazine. Contributor at A.V. Club, The Verge and the Chicago Tribune. Member of the Critical Hit podcast.

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