Baldur’s Gate 3 Condenses the Game’s Essence Perfectly at Iron Throne Level

When TheGamer was voting for its TheGamer Aces awards, I hadn’t yet finished the second act of Baldur’s Gate 3. I voted for Alan Wake 2’s We Sing for Best Level, and while I still think it deserved its win, I’ve finally gotten to one of the other levels nominated: Baldur’s Gate 3’s Iron Throne. I’d skimmed Editor-in-Chief Stacey Henley’s praise of the level (I avoided the details to not spoil it for myself), but finally encountering it for myself has left me awed. Also, it made me rage quit.

The Iron Throne is a level in the third act now infamous among BG3 players for its difficulty and uniqueness. I entered the Steel Foundry and did some exploring, but upon finding out there was more to do in order to liberate the Gondians, I left and decided to wrap up some loose ends first. I found a temple nearby where some Waveservants were mourning the death of one of their own. One of them promised me a reward if I found out who killed her and punished them accordingly, so off I went.

This was the beginning of the Avenge the Drowned mission. I found the culprit: a submersible whose captain had killed the errant Waveservant by accident and also revealed that his main duty was to transport things back and forth from an underwater prison called the Iron Throne. In that prison, he revealed, are Gondian hostages. Bingo.

If I save those, the Gondians in the Foundry might ally with me. I intimidate the captain into taking me to the prison, but Gortash isn’t happy and decides to blow the entire thing up, killing all the hostages in order to spite me. The game gives you eight turns to save as many people as you can and get back to safety, and six turns if you’re on any other difficulty level. This is not a lot of time.

I also found out that Grand Duke Ravengard and Omeluum, a mind flayer I met in the second act, are also trapped down there. I want to save them, too. Here’s the thing about that level: it’s hard as hell. I spent the better part of an hour last night smashing my head against it, and I’m playing on explorer difficulty.

I still haven’t beaten it – at some point past midnight, I finally remembered that I am an adult with a job who can’t spend an entire night tweaking my approach to a single level in a video game so that I come out of it with an optimal ending. What’s strange is that I wanted to. Every time I reloaded my save, I’d already figured out how to adjust my approach to increase my chances of success. But more importantly, the level’s difficulty forces you to really stop and think.

I play on explorer difficulty because I don’t want to spend ages fiddling with every combat encounter. It’s really more of a time-management issue than it is a strategy issue. I’d just rather blast through every fight to spend more time exploring the game’s narrative. Unfortunately, that means that I get through most encounters with very little thinking on my end.

I can use the same couple of spells in every battle to take my enemies out. I sometimes forget I even have higher level spells because I don’t use them that often. Same with spell scrolls, potions, and items – I almost never use any of them, and my inventory is absolutely packed full of stuff I don’t use. All that changes in the Iron Throne.

I’ve found myself scrambling to do things I’ve never done before just so I can save everyone. I’m using Potions of Speed, Dimension Doors, and even trying to lure enemies into traps so I can crush them all as quickly as possible, which I’ve never had to do. The time pressure, in combination with the number of people you have to set free and the speed with which enemies spawn makes the level surprisingly unforgiving. There is no room for mistakes.

And that feels amazing. I feel like I’m finally playing Baldur’s Gate 3 like it’s meant to be played. I have to be exacting, strategic, and hyper aware of the tools at my disposal instead of coasting through everything without ever thinking too hard, and it hooked me immediately. I will be going home today to throw myself back at the level until I finally beat it completely.

Who knew that I’d finally get fully invested in Baldur’s Gate 3’s combat in the last act?

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