Checking the Score: The Baldur’s Gate 3 OST Feels Overly-Familiar

While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.

Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.

As a longtime fan of fantasy, turn-based strategy and general shenanigans, it made sense for me to return to Faerûn for our latest adventure in Baldur’s Gate 3. My last foray into Baldur’s Gate was with its second installment, Shadows of Amn, that elevated the franchise to new levels of detail and story. Even its music expanded beyond the sweeping cinematic scores to give more structure and depth to characters (as much as I adore Baldur’s Gate 1, it felt impersonal with its music but had a strong identity for the franchise). Imagine my surprise when Larian Studios announced their work on Baldur’s Gate 3. Having been a longtime fan of their Divinity franchise, I knew it would be a stellar title to play — and it is! Baldur’s Gate 3 is fantastic and stupendous in all the ways I wanted it to be. Yet I fear the title is missing something despite all of the amazing qualities it does have: its music makes me feel like I’m playing Divinity: Original Sin 2.

While the soundtrack for Divinity is wonderful in its own way, major themes in Baldur’s Gate 3 feel redundant. This isn’t to say that the title isn’t composed well, but I can barely tell the difference between this game’s music and Divinity 2. Similar, if not the same, chord progressions can be found between the two titles. Melodies in Baldur’s Gate 3 feel generic in many ways. It can be said that because Larian Studios’ in-house composer Borislav Slavov worked on both titles, we’re able to hear a lot of the influence from Divinity. Larian deserves to be proud of the work they’ve done on both titles, and even put easter eggs in Baldur’s Gate that connect to Divinity. Yet the title’s music points to a larger issue at hand within the development process as a whole.

One of game development’s greatest tips: reduce, reuse, recycle. As we’ve discussed many times before in the Checking the Score series, music can give immersion the extra edge and can communicate deeply to audiences in a way dialogue cannot. Music often is the heartbeat of a game and can separate a title from others because of its dynamics and composition. It’s unfortunate to say that Baldur’s Gate 3 has fallen into a pitfall of generic fantasy music. Baldur’s Gate is gorgeous, stupendous and a wildly fun time. Yet, in an age where gaming demands skyrocket ever higher, it becomes worrisome when art like music feels rushed and reused. Composer Borislav Slavov is incredibly talented – heck, I’m not a major composer working for a AAA game studio. Yet instances within the Baldur’s Gate OST make me wonder about the intentions behind such compositions.

For example, the Divinity 2Main Theme” has such a similar chord progression to the Baldur’s Gate 3 “Main Theme, Pt.1.” Both are wonderfully composed, but if we were to play both at the same time it becomes a difficult task to separate the two. The “Main Theme, Pt.1” does set a main melody in stone that is frequently reprised later — a wonderful way to make sure the soundtrack maintains identity throughout. This main theme does also feel like a callback to the earlier Baldur’s Gates that used tons of percussion in their openings. Yet progression into the more ethereal strings and wind instruments feel overly familiar. I had a weird sense of deja vu when the ethereal soprano voice wafts into the middle of the track. Double checking my title screen, it did say “Baldur’s Gate 3” at the top. Unfortunately, I’m less emotionally moved these days by the use of a soprano voice with orchestra, as it’s commonly used in many fantasy compositions to point at themes of sanctity — especially for a title page. As beautiful as it sounds, and as well as the theme is composed, it didn’t give me anything new. My initial hopes were that moving forward with the story would provide fresher sounds and a newer identity.


Even beyond the title page and into character creation, the theme “Who Are You” feels familiar as we can hear similar sounds again from Divinity’s “Rivellon – Light Version” (a legitimately great track from Divinity’s OST). We can hear this especially in the use of a harp in a similar tone with the “Rivellon” guitar. The harp in “Who Are You” is pitched down in such a way that it almost sounds like a guitar. The main differences between these two titles’ soundtracks are the modal tone and scale shifts. A lot of what we hear in Baldur’s Gate feels “crunchier” and “eartheir” as if it’s supposed to be the inverse of Divinity’s lighter tones. It’s another instance where we hear almost similar melodies intertwined. And while Divinity’s music continues to be wonderful in its own way, it once again makes me question the intent behind composition in Baldur’s Gate. It’s one thing to reference previous work as an Easter egg or a tasteful homage, but this unfortunately doesn’t sound like the case. The title page theme sounds similar, now the character creation page also has a similar sound. Perhaps diving into gameplay will yield more distinct differences?

A good opportunity for emotional and adventurous composition makes sense in the opening sequence, as players must escape imprisonment from mind flayers aboard a crash-landing nautiloid. The “Mind Flayer Theme” that plays during this sequence does a great job at opening with a string composition that progresses into blaring horns thirsting for triumph. Its melody is sneaking and probing as we wander about the ship in hopes for an exit. A higher pitch of violins induces horror and is reminiscent of the screeching you would hear in a scene from “Psycho.” But once again, the composition didn’t feel new either. If we were to listen to Divinity’s “Symphony of the Void,” we hear similar sounds: staccato violins with some screeching as well, blaring horns in similar pitch. While the rhythms are slightly different and Baldur’s “Mind Flayer Theme” arguably uses more violin and symphonic elements, it’s not enough to transport me beyond Divinity’s world of Rivellon.


Composer Borislav Slavov is obviously intentional about wanting connection between the player and the game — even going as far as to compose a theme for players themselves. It’s a lovely sentiment that was verified by the composer himself in a social media post saying:

“Dear fellow gamers, you’ve been asking me if this is Astarion’s Theme, or Karalch’s, or one of the other origin heroes.
I feel it’s time to tell you – “I Want To Live” is Your Theme. The Players.
I wanted it to give you comfort and company while you are carving your own path and story.”

And this track does achieve what Slavov is trying to do. With soft piano and folkish vocals, it allows the player to breathe for a moment. A brief respite is welcome after so many grueling encounters and tense moments in the game. It’s a fantastic track and does yield a new composition that we’ve not heard before. It’s a theme of unrelenting adventure, as the end of the song introduces the gentle ticking of a clock to remind us that time is fleeting and valuable. It’s a gorgeous theme that deserves attention. Many of the tracks featuring vocals, like “The Power”, also give us fresher composition elements. There’s also more symphonic elements in this OST than we’ve heard in Divinity. Yet it’s unfortunate that we hear these novel sounds sparingly throughout the game. In a weird way, it feels like Baldur’s Gate 3 has too much of a polished soundtrack — to the point where I actually don’t notice it when I’m playing. It doesn’t help that the game’s natural audio mixing is messy and doesn’t uplift sounds in the game. Rarely have I stopped within the world to listen to its music; and this gets to the heart of my quandary: should we also be reusing art like design and music for the sake of productivity?

If you’ve played Divinity: Original Sin 2, you’ll notice many assets from that title brought into Baldur’s Gate and it feels like music is also part of that recycling process. Baldur’s Gate 3 offers an amazing story, fantastic gameplay and all kinds of secrets to explore. Yet for a player like me, I feel something missing within this beautiful fantasy world. Gameplay is stellar, yet the score feels underwhelming. If composition was made to pay homage to Divinity, it’s difficult to tell. And if a studio has worked on different franchises before, is there credence for those franchises to sound the same? Should different franchises sound the same? Emotional moments and tense action sequencing don’t feel as important as they should because I’ve heard a lot of these sounds before. As talented as the team at Larian Studios is, the title’s music feels like the victim of development crunch time.

And of course, Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t the main offender here by any means. So many other fantasy titles make use of similar themes and musical compositions. I already know before booting up a high-fantasy game that there will probably be soprano vocals, a blaring brass section and pounding percussion — themes we’ve almost come to expect from the genre. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, as the lack of variety of music in a game can hinder its reception — but we also want to make sure a game’s atmosphere is communicated well. And while Baldur’s Gate 3 does offer many tracks within the overall score, a lot of them feel routine for the sake of efficiency. The case here remains that many of Baldur’s themes are overly similar to what we might see in Larian’s previous titles. Whether this is a case of paying homage to past work, or something else, may become more apparent as we step forth into the world of fantasy music to come.

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