Beating Baldur’s Gate’s new hardest difficulty took me on a tactical and emotional rollercoaster

The challenge was simple, really: Honour Mode had told me exactly what I was in for before I started. One save, no backsies, no cheeky Alt+F4s to safety. If the active party wiped even once, even to something stupid, then I could only keep my save file with an asterisk—I’d be shamefully knocked down from the new, extra hard difficulty level I was trying to clear, the one that’d reward me with a shiny gold d20 if I beat it.

So I set off again. Nautiloid. Pick up my favourite little aberrant brain-cat Us. Meet Lae’zel. Free Shadowheart. Go to the helm. Beach. Thoughtlessly tread in a bit of flaming wreckage. Lose 3 HP.

Wait a minute. I only had 9 HP to begin with, and now I’m on fire. I’m on fire. If I didn’t chug a potion immediately, I’d die in a really stupid way and end my whole Honour Mode run before I’d even pulled a verbose wizard out of his own portal.

This was terrifying. This was amazing.

Knowing I was putting everything on the line every time I dared to disarm a trap or start a fight made the old and familiar in Baldur’s Gate 3, which I’ve played for 500 hours and counting, feel new and dangerous. If I didn’t make every turn count, or if a companion accidentally wandered into an enemy’s field of vision (thanks for the heart attack, Astarion), I could lose everything I’d worked for, just like that.

And it’d be all my own fault, because although more than a few boss fights have been augmented with Legendary Actions—creative extra attacks and new behaviours designed to catch the unwary—a good chunk of the game isn’t actually all that different from Tactician, the previous patch’s hardest mode which I’ve already beaten.

I was never swarmed with 10 enemies in places where there used to be two. There were no extra surprise gith attacks, and thank goodness for that—if I have one tip for Honour Mode, it’s “Don’t fight the gith.” Nobody had their health bar doubled just to make them spongier, either. I never felt safe, I could never afford to let my guard down, but no matter how close I sometimes came to failing, I also never believed Honour Mode was being maliciously unfair. 

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Bosses have new Legendary Actions to keep you guessing (Image credit: Larian)

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Bosses have new Legendary Actions to keep you guessing (Image credit: Larian)

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(Image credit: Larian)

I wasn’t battling a miserable chore that only One Weird Guy On Twitch could ever hope to clear, I was carefully, nervously fighting my way through a thrilling challenge.

The hardest battle for me was definitely the confrontation at the end of Act 2. I knew what I had to do, I knew how to safely skip the first phase, I knew what to prioritise after that—I’d done this all before. What I hadn’t done before was check to see if the regeneration device conveniently placed just before that encounter, the one that normally grants infinite Long Rests in creepy bio-tech form, still worked in the same way. 

Guess what? It doesn’t.

It’s a single-use item in Honour Mode, and I didn’t realise that until I’d done my usual routine of making a beeline for it, grabbing a cheeky refresh, and then setting out to farm the area for XP. I’m still not entirely sure how I squeaked through to Act 3 with a team already worn around the edges before picking a fight with a cheesed-off god, but I do know I wouldn’t trade that rush of adrenaline for anything.

Honour Mode even made talking to people a tense experience. I couldn’t guarantee I’d convincingly accuse a liar of lying. I couldn’t try to smooth-talk my way out of being caught stealing without running the risk of getting sent to jail—or attacked. I couldn’t un-say a funny-but-scathing line that forever altered someone’s relationship with my character.

I couldn’t save Lae’zel from Orin.

(Image credit: Larian)

The murder-happy Bhaalist always kidnaps someone, and this time around it was Lae’zel. My nice, simple, plan was to go rescue her, just like I’d done several times before. It’s usually funny when Orin decides to kidnap her, because I could almost believe that if I just sat the party down in the Elfsong and made them drink Ashaba Dusk for a bit the sweetly abrasive warrior from Crèche K’liir would eventually burst through the inn’s doors covered in somebody else’s blood, grumpily criticising her captor’s sloppy knife work.

But not this time. This time I tried to persuade Orin that it was me she really wanted to kill, only the roll didn’t go my way, and I didn’t have any inspiration points left to force a re-roll. And so I ended up watching in horror as Orin stabbed her daggers into Lae’zel’s eyes and then, as if designed to give me enough time to think of all the other ways I could’ve handled this scene better than I did, seesaw her blades back and forth in the gith’s eye sockets.

I would’ve reloaded right there in any other circumstances, but I’m so, so, grateful Honour Mode forced me to live with it. This gruesome scene, and the empty camp space I had to trot past for the remainder of the game, emphasised something I’ve adored about Baldur’s Gate 3 but haven’t always fully embraced: the consequences of my decisions, good and bad, will stretch from the very beginning to the freshly patched-in epilogue.

(Image credit: Larian Studios / Chubblot on YouTube.)

It also reminded me that an imperfect victory can be more memorable and more fun than an immaculate win too. Like that time I thought I’d lob an entire stolen barrel of runepowder at an unsuspecting boss without making everyone retreat to a safe distance first, leaving me trying to claw a scrappy victory out of what was nearly a self-made disaster. Honour Mode made that stupid lapse of judgement an indelible part of my story. I survived all the way to the end, and I do have to say I’m relieved I no longer feel sick with worry I’m about to lose everything because it turns out “Ah, sod it” isn’t a sound battle plan.

I wouldn’t swap the memory of that messy fight for another tale of a battle I’d quick-loaded my way to perfection through for anything.

How will my next Honour Mode run go? I’ve got no idea. But I do know that whatever happens, living with my mistakes is so much more exciting than F8ing my way out of them. And I’ll roll my new Shining Honour d20 with pride every time I pray for a crit.

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