Baldur’s Gate 3 and Hades: The Power of Early Access

Until recently, my perception of early access games was tainted by the memory of half-baked titles that took advantage of the process. Games like DayZ, Godus, and The Stomping Land left me skeptical whenever I saw the early access label on platforms like Steam or the Epic Games Store. I hesitated to play them, fearing that they would never be completed or fail to meet expectations.

However, two recent success stories have changed my perspective. Hades, a game that has quickly become one of my favorites, and Baldur’s Gate 3, the Dungeons & Dragons RPG that has taken the gaming industry by storm, both started as early access games. These titles emerged from early access fully formed, delivering enriching experiences that have reshaped my opinion of the power of the early access model.

Embracing the Benefits of Early Access

When Hades was first announced in December 2018 as an early access title, I was not particularly interested. Little did I know that when I finally played it upon its official launch in 2020, it would become one of my all-time favorite games. I had a similar experience with Baldur’s Gate 3, which I initially had access to via Google Stadia but didn’t fully engage with until its August 3 release. As they say, “Fool me twice.”

Now, I more readily appreciate the strengths of the early access approach and what it can offer developers. It allows them to generate revenue early in the development process and collaborate with the community to refine the game’s core concepts. While Larian Studios, the developer of Baldur’s Gate 3, declined to discuss their specific early access process with Digital Trends, the sentiments expressed in the public early access messaging for both Baldur’s Gate 3 and Hades reflect this collaborative ethos.

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According to a now-deleted explanation on Baldur’s Gate 3’s Steam page, Larian Studios shared, “We’ve learned that working directly with our players during development makes our games better… Early Access gives players a chance to participate in development, and it gives us an opportunity to explore different game ideas with a live community. We want to learn how you play the game and use that to make it a better experience for everyone.”

This sincere messaging is common among early access titles, even those that ultimately fail. The disappointment felt by fans is palpable when games are abandoned in early access. They feel like they were part of the journey to create an exceptional game, only to be let down by the team they trusted. While this represents the worst-case scenario for early access, titles like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Hades have embraced a completely different approach.

Both games boast extensive dialogue, deep RPG systems, and player freedom — elements that require ample iteration and fine-tuning to perfect. Although Hades is a roguelike and Baldur’s Gate 3 is a CRPG, the player-focused nature of these games makes them ideal candidates for early access. There’s no better way to playtest a game than to release it to a large player base.

Despite being in early access, these games were not immune to criticism. Baldur’s Gate 3 had its fair share of bugs and limitations upon its 2020 release, such as only containing Act 1 and lacking the ability to carry over saves. A 2022 Screen Rant article even suggested that “games like Baldur’s Gate 3 can spend years in early access, meaning that players who were excited about the game at first are more likely to grow bored of it by the time it is officially released.” However, it turns out that this sentiment doesn’t always hold true.

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Games like Baldur’s Gate 3 can greatly benefit from spending years in early access. This additional time allows for the refinement of intuitive and customizable systems that surpass those found in games released on day one. By gestating in early access for a few years, these games feel like finely tailored experiences and gain wider attention through positive word of mouth. Baldur’s Gate 3’s success is a testament to this approach, validating the pivotal role played by early access players in shaping the final product.

In hindsight, I realize that I had overlooked numerous early access success stories over the past several years. Many fantastic indie games, such as Darkest Dungeon and its sequel, Dave the Diver, Rogue Legacy 2, and Vampire Survivors, have undergone successful early access journeys. Some games currently in early access, such as Valheim, Core Keeper, and Battlebit Remastered, have become massive hits. Even Fortnite, one of the biggest games in the world, spent years in early access. Although my early access stigma is rooted in the program’s early days on Steam, the past several years have proven that we have moved far beyond that perspective.

This doesn’t diminish the negative experiences associated with early access horror stories from the past decade. Nevertheless, games like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Hades showcase the strengths that can arise from pursuing this path. They have opened my mind to approaching early access titles with more curiosity and optimism. I am now more eager to engage with upcoming games like Witchfire, Life by You, and Enshrouded throughout their early access periods. I look forward to witnessing their growth over time and hopefully experiencing the next groundbreaking hit like Baldur’s Gate 3.

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Editors’ Recommendations

  • The best games of August 2023: Baldur’s Gate 3, Sea of Stars, and more
  • Baldur’s Gate 3 drops Series S splitscreen support to release on Xbox in 2023
  • Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t on Nintendo Switch, but these 7 great CRPGs are
  • Baldur’s Gate 3 spits in the face of every modern gaming trend. And it paid off
  • Baldur’s Gate 3 is a perfect game, until you die

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