Starfield vs. Baldur’s Gate 3: Which RPG Is Best For You?

They're the two biggest RPGs of 2023, but the battle between Starfield and Baldur's Gate 3 comes down to what kind of role-playing experience you're looking for.

Starfield and Baldur's Gate 3
Photo: Larian Studios, Bethesda Game Studios

When Starfield‘s September release date was finally confirmed, many gamers suddenly felt bad for Baldur’s Gate 3. After all, what chance did a CRPG sequel in a largely forgotten franchise have of going head-to-head with one of the biggest blockbuster RPGs we’ve seen in decades? The situation was seemingly resolved (or at least downplayed) when Baldur’s Gate 3 developer Larian Studios decided to move the game’s PC release date up by about a month, partially to avoid the competition. Since then, quite a lot has happened.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is not just one of the best games of 2023 but one of the year’s biggest surprises as well. Despite bucking so many modern game conventions, it has exceeded even the wildest sales expectations and has even started a strange debate over whether it’s actually too good. Suddenly, it feels like Starfield is on the back foot. Can it really compete with what Baldur’s Gate 3 has accomplished?

While our review of Starfield isn’t available quite yet, I certainly have a few thoughts about how Starfield compares to Baldur’s Gate 3 after spending quite a bit of time with both titles over the last month or so. Here are some of the most notable similarities and differences between both titles, as well as a brief look on which one may be best for you.

Baldur’s Gate 3 Is a Dungeons and Dragons-style CRPG and Starfield Is A Classic Bethesda RPG (With A Few Twists)

Though I promise that the rest of this article won’t be quite so obvious, let’s get some basics out of the way in order to set up some of the bigger points that will follow. 

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Baldur’s Gate 3 is an isometric RPG developed by Larian Studios (the company behind the Divinity: Original Sin games). True to both the franchise and Larian’s previous productions, it is a pretty hardcore D&D-style role-playing that utilizes many of that tabletop game’s 5th Edition rules (with some changes). The bulk of the game sees players control a party of four characters (including the player’s created character) and use their skills to overcome a variety of combat and role-playing obstacles. 

Starfield is a sci-fi RPG from Bethesda Studios: the developers responsible for RPG blockbusters like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 4. Much like those games, Skyrim sees you navigate an open-world (in this case, open-galaxy) environment as you level up your character, acquire gear, and complete various side activities. It is also a largely single-player adventure (though you can travel with NPC companions). Unlike those games, Starfield is a much more action-oriented title (more on that in a bit) that really leans into the sci-fi genre in ways we haven’t seen in many other Bethesda RPGs. Indeed, the game’s marquee feature is the ability to explore a massive galaxy in pretty much whatever ways you see fit. 

Speaking of which…

Despite Their Different Styles, Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield Both Feature Exceptional World Building

Though Baldur’s Gate 3 is a pure medieval fantasy title, and Starfield is Bethesda’s most sci-fi game to date, they are united by their exceptional worldbuilding. 

As noted above, Baldur’s Gate 3 obviously borrows a few concepts previously seen in the other Baldur’s Gate games as well as established pieces of D&D mythology. However, you don’t need to be familiar with any of that to appreciate the world Larian builds throughout the massive adventure.

Baldur’s Gate 3 gives you plenty of time to get to know its various factions, races, characters, and locations. Actually, it often forces you (or encourages you) to figure out those aspects of the game by reading text, participating in optional conversations, and generally demonstrating a willingness to understand more. While that approach can sometimes leave you scrambling to figure out who is who and what is what, the game generally does an excellent job of giving you enough to go on while encouraging you to dig deeper. The result is a world that often feels pleasantly familiar to any fantasy fan, yet features enough surprises to remain unique in the ways that matter most. 

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Starfield accomplishes something remarkably similar. By often emphasizing a very specific style of sci-fi (the always underrated ‘70s sci-fi style), Starfield often recalls elements of Fallout‘s fantastic design (which featured a blend of ‘50s Americana and the sci-fi apocalypse). Unlike Fallout, though, there is a sense of optimism in Starfield’s world that feels representative of Bethesda’s professed love for the sci-fi genre. Starfield exists in a time of exploration, mysteries, and possibilities. Some parts of the galaxy are thriving, and others are unexplored, but they feel like a part of that design philosophy.

Like Baldur’s Gate 3, Starfield does an excellent job of revealing more of its world as you explore more of it. Things that begin as whispers grow into major motivators. Both games encourage you to explore and experience as much as possible in order to find and understand things that less diligent players may never know about. 

Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield Generally Run Well (Minus a Few Bugs and Glitches)

Though Bethesda’s RPGs are somewhat infamous for their rocky technical launches, I have to say that my Starfield experience has been remarkably smooth so far.

Though the occasional bug or glitch did pop up (things like asteroids stuck in their animations or characters still speaking like they have their helmets on), I have not encountered a single technical issue that has significantly impacted my Starfield experience. The load times are reasonable, the framerate is steady, and I’ve yet to experience a crash or similar game-breaking issue. You will certainly find the odd visual bug here and there, but I’ve yet to see much more than that. 

To be fair, I’m playing the game on Xbox Series X, which might be Starfield’s ideal platform. I can’t speak to the game’s Xbox Series S or PC performance, and those are the platforms that are likely to have the most technical issues. I also haven’t exactly been trying to break the game as I played it, and I haven’t come close to seeing everything it has to offer. More detailed reports will tell the tale in the coming weeks, but Starfield certainly appears to be Bethesda’s smoothest RPG at launch. 

Baldur’s Gate 3 is in a roughly similar situation. The game was in Early Access for quite some time, and developer Larian used that time to optimize the launch version of their RPG epic. Like Starfield, most of Baldur’s Gate 3’s current technical problems are really just relatively minor visual bugs. 

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However, you should know that early versions of Baldur’s Gate 3 were slightly more prone to crashing and suffered from other, more serious technical problems that greatly impacted the game’s final act. While a series of early updates fixed most of those major issues (and more are on the way), Baldur’s Gate 3 is obviously still being optimized. Both it and Starfield will likely continue to receive technical updates for the foreseeable future. 

Finally, the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S versions of Baldur’s Gate 3 are not available at the time of this writing. Though all versions of the game should benefit from the improvements that have been made thus far, it’s too early to say how those versions of the game will actually perform. 

Baldur’s Gate 3 Is a Party-Focused RPG With Optional Multiplayer While Starfield Emphasizes the Solo Experience

Since a lot of people still seem to be asking, Starfield does not feature any multiplayer modes. Multiplayer mods will almost inevitably be introduced at some point, but the game does not officially support multiplayer options at launch. It is a single-player experience.

Actually, Starfield doesn’t really emphasize the party experience at all. You can travel with an NPC companion who will fight alongside you, but you don’t have to. Even then, your options for interacting with them are relatively limited. They will automatically fight alongside you, they can trade gear with you, and they will occasionally ask to speak with you about current events. However, your romance options with them are limited, there aren’t many companion-specific quests and questlines, and again, you don’t have to travel with them in the first place if you don’t want to. There’s even a perk in the game related to going out by yourself.

Companions will also sometimes react to your actions by “liking” or “disliking” them, but in my experience, there are few consequences or bonuses associated with this mechanic outside of the occasional gift, dialog sequence, and a bonus associated with another specific Trait. Most of your companion management will involve assigning them to various ships and settlements based on their skill sets (a pretty fun and surprisingly expansive part of the game). For the most part, though, Starfield wants you to play however you want and doesn’t want companions getting in your way.

Baldur’s Gate 3 couldn’t be more different. Not only does it offer a surprisingly expansive co-op mode, but it is all about the party experience. Picking the right companions, interacting with them, and mastering their abilities alongside your own is a huge part of the game. The player character may be the star of the show, but you must constantly consider your companions when making all your decisions. That is especially true for anyone who wants to eventually romance one of their companions.

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That emphasis on the player’s party does open up numerous options Starfield simply can’t offer, but it does mean you have to spend more time managing, building, and gearing your party. If you’d rather hop into a game and go your own way, that’s more what Starfield is about.

Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield Feature Incredible (Though Quite Different) Quests and Side Quests

Given its developer’s talents and general pedigree, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Baldur’s Gate 3 features excellent quest and sidequest design. Even then, that aspect of the game is somehow even better than you’d think it would be.

Quests in Baldur’s Gate 3 are not only well-written and well-designed across the board, but come in many shapes and sizes. Some are minor distractions that can be solved with a few dialog choices. Other quests will take you the entire game to properly resolve (if you even discover them in the first place). It’s a fantastic collection of ambitious activities.

The thing that unites all of these adventures is the many ways you can potentially progress through (and eventually overcome) them. A thief on the road can be threatened, killed, coerced, turned, or perhaps even joined. All approaches are viable, and the game encourages you to consider every option. This makes even minor quests feel significant and unique to your journey. 

To my great surprise, Starfield also features some exceptional quests that just happen to be very different from what Baldur’s Gate 3 offers.

Since Oblivion and Fallout 3, I’ve felt like Bethesda has struggled to craft quests that are as compelling as simply wandering around the map. Fallout 4 was definitely a low point in that respect, but even Skyrim’s main story and side quests felt like a small step back from what came before. 

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When Xbox’s Phil Spencer recently said that Starfield reminds him more of Oblivion than Skyrim, I suspect he was talking about the game’s quests (and something else that we’ll address in a minute). There are some incredibly basic quests spread throughout Starfield’s massive world, but many that matter most feature compelling narratives, unique actions, and rewards or outcomes that impact the game in some way. 

More importantly, Starfield’s main quests are by far some of the best in Bethesda RPG history (you shouldn’t skip the story this time around). Even still, some of Starfield’s greatest adventures are found by following faction storylines or simply venturing off the beaten path to discover wild adventures many players will almost certainly miss. Remember discovering Umbra in Oblivion? Starfield is full of such discoveries, and they often come when you least expect them.

However, you should know that most of Starfield’s quests are not quite as dynamic as Baldur’s Gate 3. While you will encounter quests that can be solved in a variety of ways, many of them come down to either talking or fighting. There are some quests that present fascinating moral conundrums and encourage more creative solutions, but you generally have far fewer ways to overcome many of them.

That brings us to our next point…

Starfield Is Wide and Baldur’s Gate 3 Is Deep

Although the above statement is honestly a bit of a simplification of what both games offer, it is a point I often found myself coming back to when trying to separate both these games. Baldur’s Gate 3 generally emphasizes depth whereas Starfield is a much wider game. 

Baldur’s Gate 3 often asks you to master your characters, their various abilities, their gear, their stats, and even the game’s many mechanics in order to explore every reasonable possibility in a variety of situations. Many players will face similar basic scenarios, but it’s unlikely that many players will navigate them in the same manner. Everything can be solved in multiple ways, and the solutions you choose can take you down some very different paths. 

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However, Baldur’s Gate 3 lacks some of the concepts we may associate with larger modern “open-world” games. There are not a lot of side activities (aside from quests), and your exploration is often limited to relatively smaller areas that are broken into defined acts. There is a lot to do in those areas (Baldur’s Gate 3 will take many people 100+ hours to beat), but it’s less about roaming a massive world, picking up a few activities, and making a lot of your own fun. 

That is what Starfield specializes in. The game features over 1,000 planets (according to official estimates), and at some point in the game, you will find yourself bouncing between as many of them as possible. While you’re there, and along the way, you’ll be encouraged to complete quests, expand your ship crew, acquire new gear, gather resources, research projects, establish outposts, get into fights, smuggle contraband…well, you get the idea. There is always somewhere you can go and something to do along the way.

The trade-off is that you’ll soon encounter limits to many of those activities. Quests do not offer nearly as many possible solutions, some planets are largely barren, your unique crew interactions are largely limited to some optional dialog exchanges, and those various projects offer fairly linear progression paths. You do not need to master and learn Starfield quite like you need to master and learn Baldur’s Gate 3

There is depth to Starfield, and there is breadth in Baldur’s Gate 3. However, this is one of the biggest philosophical differences between each game’s approach to this genre.

Baldur’s Gate 3 Emphasizes Character Building and Roleplaying Decisions Far More Than Starfield

I’ve hinted at this throughout this article, but it should be made very clear that anyone looking for what you might consider to be a more “traditional” role-playing experience might be turned off by Starfield

Starfield lets you create a character, level them up, choose skills, complete quests, acquire gear, and do most of the other things we loosely associate with the video game version of the role-playing genre. It’s all there on some level. 

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As noted above, though, you can only lean into this aspect of the game so much. Every kind of player character can perform the same basic series of actions to a reasonable degree of competency. Some players will be able to acquire advanced versions of certain skills quicker than others, but since there is no level cap in Starfield, you can pretty much do it all eventually. The game actually wants you to do it all. 

That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it does potentially create some issues. Say you want to live as a space smuggler with a dark past and ties to a religious cult of galactic serpent worshippers. You can technically do that, but much of that role-playing will be in your own head. You’ll have relatively few unique dialog options available to you, and running cargo means choosing to do that and only that. You can even join every faction at some point if you want, so really leaning into that fantasy means intentionally limiting yourself from completing certain activities that you have personally determined do not fit your character. 

That approach carries over to other elements of the game in notable ways. For instance, Starfield features an expansive ship-building system. It’s mechanically impressive and will undoubtedly lead to a lot of fun fan creations. However, the biggest incentive to participate in that part of the game is the joy of the creation process. If you could care less about spending time with a mini-Kerbal Space Program, the game offers little incentive for you to ever do so. Those who do care will need to spend Skill points to fully explore that element of the game but may find that actually having a massive custom ship doesn’t actually open up substantial new aspects of the game.

It’s not nearly as bad as the disconnect between Fallout 4‘s RPG elements and its settlement-building system, but it is an example of how Starfield seems hesitant to closely connect its role-playing and creation systems and thus potentially alienate a player in the process. At the same time, that approach limits the depth of those experiences in terms of how they impact the core experience.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a much different animal. From the moment you create your character, you are forging a path for your adventure. A Wizard isn’t a brawler (unless you invest a ton of time and a ton of skill points into making them one), and the only way you can summon the dead as a Wizard is if you choose to acquire that particular set of skills. There is freedom, but there are also limits. Choosing certain actions, skills, and even party members closes some doors and opens others. 

Like I said, though, Baldur’s Gate 3 is deep. If you want to make a charismatic Barbarian who flings fireballs or a tanky Rogue who dodges all incoming attacks, you can eventually do so. More importantly, the game will react to all of your decisions and encourage you to find solutions that fit your character and how you choose to play.

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That’s the biggest difference between these two games’ approaches to role-playing. Starfield limits its depth by wanting to make sure you can technically do anything and everything, while Baldur’s Gate 3 allows you to go as deep as you want down some specific rabbit holes. Sell your soul, save the world, rob from the rich and give to nobody…it’s all possible, and BG 3 opens up new avenues that make your choices feel unique to you yet equally viable and always impactful. Every decision affects every action in ways you’ll rarely find in Starfield

Starfield Is More Streamlined and Accessible Than Baldur’s Gate 3 (Though Both Share a Some Key Flaws)

While Baldur’s Gate 3 is one of the more accessible CRPGs of its depth and size, the game is still a D&D-inspired CRPG. It throws a lot at you, and it often expects you to figure things out without a lot of traditional in-game help. That’s what allows the game to be as deep as it is, but that’s also going to inevitably be a turnoff for many. It’s not uncommon for someone to spend dozens of hours with BG 3 and never know a vital gameplay mechanic even exists. 

Some of that is implemented by design, but Baldur’s Gate 3 does suffer from a few flaws when it comes to accessibility. Most notably, the game’s menus (particularly your inventory menu) can be surprisingly cumbersome to navigate. While quality-of-life updates are on the way, figuring out core components of the BG 3 experience often requires a lot of patience, many mistakes, and, preferably, some outside research. Be prepared to be confused (if only from time to time). 

Starfield will be a far more accessible experience for many players. It introduces new ideas at a steady pace (and often explains them), and many of its navigation, combat, and interaction mechanics are fairly similar to what you’ll find in many other modern titles.

Interestingly enough, though, Starfield also has a bit of a menu problem. There are not just a ton of things you can pick up in this game, but quite a few things that you probably should pick up. Resources are often used in a variety of projects, guns can be upgraded (and all use different types of ammo), and even “junk” often sells for valuable credits. However, even late-game characters will have a hard time carrying even a small amount of those times without being over-encumbered. The game tries to offer solutions to this issue, but you will end up spending a lot of time in menus shuffling your inventory around just to stay under the weight limit or to manage the various items you will eventually need. This problem becomes worse once you get into ship and settlement building, which leads to even more menus and resources.

If you’re not into the idea of figuring a game out and dealing with managing (often deliberately) slower mechanics, then Baldur’s Gate 3 might be a tough sell for you. Starfield is certainly more substantial than many other modern Triple-A games in that respect, but it is also far more accommodating than BG 3.

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Baldur’s Gate 3’s Combat Is Slower But Far More Dynamic

Starfield’s combat is another of the game’s biggest surprises. While Bethesda experimented with the idea of implementing a more “real-time” shooting system in Fallout 4, that game’s combat was still significantly slower than what you’d find in a proper shooter. Enemies were still pretty spongey, and the whole system was still fairly dependent on your character’s stats, gear, etc. It was a lot more real-time than Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but it definitely wasn’t a shooter. 

Well, Starfield is surprisingly similar to a pure shooter (at least when there’s a gun in your hands, naturally). Enemies are still a bit on the spongey side, but there is certainly a clearer relationship between how you aim, where you shoot, and what happens during combat. Some sections of Starfield feel positively FPS-like. 

It’s a sometimes strange system. On the one hand, the moment-to-moment combat in Starfield is pretty intense, often fun, and certainly feels smoother than what we got in Fallout 4. On the other hand, the action can feel surprisingly divorced from your role-playing decisions. I didn’t pick up a single Combat Skill until later in the game, and I had very little trouble with any combat sequence, even when I was fighting enemies well above my level. Pick up a powerful gun, go for headshots, hope for critical hits, and you will often be fine. 

Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t play that game. You have to be aware of a character’s strengths, weaknesses, gear, and abilities at all times if you’re going to survive most battles. Even then, some builds and classes are naturally more capable in combat than others. Of course, there are always creative solutions available to those who wish to try to find them.

While Baldur’s Gate 3’s turn-based (and character-based) combat is going to be a turn-off for some who want to just jump into the action, that incredibly close relationship between the game’s combat and its role-playing elements should be considered one of the game’s biggest draws. If that style of play does appeal to you, then you may actually become frustrated by how forgiving Starfield’s combat can be when it comes to your character-building decisions. 

Starfield vs. Baldur’s Gate 3: Which RPG Is Best?

In an ideal world, gamers from all walks of life (especially RPG fans) should find ways to play both Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield. They are exceptional experiences that often accomplish exactly what they set out to do and then find ways to exceed your expectations. 

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However, anyone who is looking for a pure, more traditional role-playing experience may be slightly disappointed by what they find in Starfield. Though Starfield certainly feels like more of an RPG than Fallout 4 did thanks to its much-improved quests, skill systems, and faction options, it still sometimes suffers from the strange feeling that there is a disconnect between your role-playing/character-building decisions and many of the game’s other major mechanics.

You don’t need to build a combat character to be fine in combat, you don’t need to be a pilot to pilot a ship, and you don’t need to be a settler to be a smuggler to smuggle. You can make yourself better at all of those things, but the game makes it remarkably easy to be capable in all of those areas before you excel at them. Starfield is a deeper RPG than most modern open-world games, but it does feel slightly closer to an open-world game most of the time. Honestly, the role you most often play is “Bethesda RPG protagonist.”

Baldur’s Gate 3, meanwhile, is the purest RPG to come down the pipeline in quite some time. The game can be frustrating to learn and frustrating to play in ways that will likely turn off those looking for a more Bethesda or even post-KOTOR BioWare-like experience. It throws a lot at you, and it sometimes expects you to both slow down and keep up. 

However, those looking for an RPG that emphasizes character building, decision making, and exploring a stunning (seemingly infinite) number of possibilities will have a hard time doing better than Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s a tribute to the traditional concepts of role-playing and how, when properly utilized, those concepts are only limited by our imaginations.