I've visited few virtual places more aptly named than Grymforge, the newest area added to Baldur's Gate 3's slowly blossoming Early Access build. Located deep in the Underdark, itself hardly a coveted holiday destination, Grymforge is a pitch-black, crumbling gnomish fort surrounded by large, shadowy caverns. It's brimming with traps, precipitous drops, disgusting monsters, and a nasty history that includes ritual sacrifice and suggestions of cannibalism.
Grymforge represents my first encounter with Baldur's Gate 3, and it’s certainly a striking point to drop into the game, like kicking off a weekend break in Paris with a tour of its catacombs. Even that doesn't do its morbid atmosphere justice, as Paris' subterranean vaults aren't filled with treacherous duergar slavers forcing gnomes to mine riches for them.
Mercifully, your party is just passing through Grymforge, like some sepulchral motorway services. Or at least, you would be if the path to your destination of Moonrise wasn't riddled with death-dark (think shadows, but hungrier). To get past them, you need to acquire a moonlight lantern from a drow named Nere, who oversees this motley crew of duergar. Unfortunately, Nere is trapped on the other side of a cave-in, and all the whipping in the world won't enable the enslaved gnomes to dig through the rubble.
If it wasn't already made clear by the whole 'worm inside your brain' plotline, Baldur's Gate 3 is intent on taking players to some seriously dark places, both literally and figuratively. Nere's duergar thugs are a thoroughly unpleasant bunch, cruel, coarse, and about as trustworthy as a bridge made of snakes. Indeed, Grymforge is seemingly designed to thwart the intentions of goody-two-shoes players. Kind words won't get you far here, while kind actions might be interpreted as weakness, and earn you nothing more than a knife in your back. On the flipside, Grymforge is ripe with opportunity to embrace your inner bastard, to make the lives of those poor gnome slaves even more miserable than they were before, or get in on the backstabbing yourself, joining at least one conspiracy among the duergar.
As a small example of Grymforge's grimness, away from the drama revolving around Nere, I discovered a side-chamber where another group of duergar were trying to open another blocked passage, this time using a pair of deer-like animals called Deep Rothe. The Rothe are on the verge of stampeding, having been literally whipped into a frenzy by their cruel overseer. Depending on your preferences, you can opt to give them a taste of the crop yourself, inflame the beasts' passions, causing them to attack their master, or calm them down with a little animal insight, at which point their master will complain that you didn't use the whip.
I don't want to delve too deeply into the plot of this area, but basically Grymforge is a tinderbox ready to combust. It's up to you whether you want to douse the flames or light the spark, but it isn't clear which will give the better result. A fitting place, then, to introduce what is perhaps the most unpredictable of Baldur's Gate 3's classes, the sorcerer.
Unlike wizards, who gain their magical power from knowledge and research, sorcerers are born with enchanted spoons in their mouths, innately imbued with arcane talent. Their power is driven not by intelligence, but by charisma, which means their abilities grow alongside the force of their personality. This makes them a natural choice for players who lean toward the 'persuade' function in dialogue.
Because their spellcasting derives from innate power rather than learning, sorcerers don't get access to the same range of spells that Wizards do, but they make up for that in how they can cast their spells. In combat, sorcerers get access to a pool of sorcery points, which can be used in various ways. You can spend sorcery points to gain extra spell slots, or spend spell-slots to get extra sorcery points. More interesting, though, is how sorcery points can be spent to modify spells, making them fly further, or hit additional targets.
It's an enjoyably flexible system, enabling you to come up with some pretty powerful combinations. But the unlearned nature of sorcerer magic comes at a price. A sorcerer's casting is subject to the whims of a mechanic known as Wild Magic, which can trigger a random effect whenever the sorcerer casts. These effects can be beneficial to your fight, or detrimental. At one point, one of my sorcerers cast a fire orb spell, and as a by-product spawned a sort-of elemental fire drake that immediately began attacking my party.
As someone who tends to avoid magic-based classes in RPGs, I find the chaotic potential of sorcerers unusually appealing. They're also a fine fit for Larian's more systemic interpretation of the series' combat. I can't imagine a wizard resorting to shoving someone over a ledge to defeat them (an ability that's universal in BG3), but I can totally visualise a sorcerer pulling such an ad-hoc, dickish move. They're basically what you'd get if you gave Uncharted's Nathan Drake magical powers, rakish forces of nature with a knack for getting into trouble.
I'm a little less enthused by Grymforge itself. Not so much the aesthetic – I'm down with its gloomy vibes. But geometrically it's a pain to navigate. I spent a good hour simply figuring out the base layout, identifying which staircases led anywhere, which ones were broken, how many layers I could actually traverse. It proved a fastidious test of my party's pathfinding, a test they failed on multiple occasions, forcing a reload a few due to characters either refusing to move or getting stuck in the walls.
Still, despite playing through Grymforge with little to no context, I nonetheless found myself getting sucked into this island of nastiness Larian has created. A few stability issues aside, the production values are top notch, particular the duergar voice-acting, which is utterly dripping with scorn. Impressed as I am by Larian's willingness to drag players into the murk with them, I do hope there is some light at the end of the tunnel.