Baldur’s Gate 3 is such a long game that even though millions have played it, far fewer have seen the ending. Only 0.4% of players have gotten the Hero of the Forgotten Realms achievement for beating the game at the time of this writing, according to Steam. It’s a game someone can put dozens of hours into, with no end remotely in sight.
That is. unless you beat it way earlier than you were supposed to.
During the climax of Act 2 in Baldur’s Gate 3, I accidentally reached a premature ending — one that my party members weren’t too happy about. The ramifications of the ending definitely weren’t good for the Forgotten Realms, but finding a way to wrap up Baldur’s Gate 3 early just gave me an ever deeper appreciation for how personal each player’s journey through this game can feel.
Note: This article contains major spoilers for Act 2 of Baldur’s Gate 3.
Anyone who has played Baldur’s Gate 3 probably knows Gale, the smooth-talking wizard who you can pull out of a portal early on in Act 1. Throughout that Act, I had to keep giving him magical artifacts to satiate some sort of curse he has, although their positive effects on Gale dulled with each new item. After doing this enough, I learned the truth: Gale was cursed by the God Mystra after betraying her. At the start of Act 2, though, Gale’s former mentor, Elminster, arrives and tells Gale that Mystra has a new task for him: destroy the “Heart of the Absolute” with a Netherese Orb Blast that will essentially nuke and destroy everything around him.
This option appeared alongside Gale’s other spells in menus throughout the entirety of Act 2, although using the Netherese Orb Blast early typically results in a message that said my party had been defeated and tasked me with reloading. But there is a real opportunity to use it and end things at the end of Act 2. Most of this section of the game is spent finding a way to defeat Ketheric Thorm, a Baldur’s Gate 3 villain voiced by J.K. Simmons. I confronted him on top of Moonrise Towers with the help of Nightsong, who I freed, but before I could beat him, he retreated to a massive Illithid Colony underneath Moonrise Towers. Obviously, my party followed, ultimately stumbling upon Ketheric and two other villains — Lord Enver Gortash and Orin the Red — activating the Elder Brain that seemed to be the “Heart of the Absolute” that Gale needed to destroy.
Gale told me that this and asked me me for permission to explode and destroy everything. The first option is to tell him not to, which makes sense; there’s still a whole third of the game left to play! But seeing that every major threat in Baldur’s Gate 3 was here in one room and knowing how much the game had already taken over my life in a week, I told him yes.
After saying, “One last gust of Weave. One last gale to end them all,” Gale blew himself up, and there was nothing else I could do as my Dream Visitor shouted, “No!” Gale blew up, killing Ketheric, Orin, Gortash, and the Elder Brain and granting me the Hero of the Forgotten Realms achievement you’re supposed to get for beating Baldur’s Gate 3. The post-explosion dialogue paints a gimmer future for the Forgotten Realms, though.
“Beneath the smoking ashes of Moonrise Towers, the elder brain lies destroyed,” the narrator says. “But what of the tadpoles it commanded? Freed of the Absolute’s control, they will complete their transformations. A plague of illithids will soon descend on the Sword Coast, enslaving all they do not affect.” Credits rolled as I blankly stared at the screen, processing that this was the ending I’d worked toward.
This definitely isn’t a good ending for Baldur’s Gate 3; it’s pretty terrible, actually. Still, the fact that I could do that speaks to a wider strength of the adventure. The best thing about Baldur’s Gate 3 is how much choice it gives players. It’s not just freedom in completing set objectives, but freedom to circumvent them entirely. The most fun I had with Baldur’s Gate 3 was finding ways to avoid major boss fights or set pieces. Instead of picking a side in the attack on the Druid and Refugee camp, I destroyed the bridge Minthara could use to escape in the Goblin camp, killed her before having a conversation with her, and then pushed Dror Ragzlin off a ledge to kill him.
Pushing major boss off ledges didn’t stop there, though; I later had Karlach do it while the rest of my party was in conversation with Balthazar, circumventing that whole encounter before freeing Nightsong. I do have the inclination to go back to a previous save and keep playing Baldur’s Gate 3 after seeing this ending, but I think it’s actually the most fitting way to end my adventure. It’s certainly not an ending a lot of players will see or even want, and that makes it all the more unique to my experience with Baldur’s Gate 3.
Larian Studios has said that there are over 17,000 versions of Baldur’s Gate 3’s ending, but just one of them that doesn’t seem to have many character-specific permutations has had a huge impact on me.. There’s a beauty to games like Baldur’s Gate 3, where each player’s experience is radically different, and I think looking at successful games from the past few years — like this one, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Elden Ring, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons — shows that most players love experiences that emphasize player freedom. I’m content with my story being that I destroyed this Dungeons & Dragons world because it feels like an ending I chose, and it’s certainly a conclusion that will stick with me for quite some time.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is now available on PC. It’s coming to PlayStation 5 on September 6.
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