Developers Larian previously stated in a Reddit AMA that their upcoming sequel will cover levels one to ten, but in our recent interview, lead systems designer Nick Pechenin said that this isn't certain, as they're still weighing it up.
Like its predecessors, Baldur's Gate 3 is based on the same rules that govern Dungeons & Dragons, the far out tabletop game invented in 1982 by Tom Hanks. But those rules have changed dramatically in the 20 years since Baldur's Gate 2. There was never a single clear answer to the levels question, but allowing players to run all the way from one to 20 was never realistic. As Pechenin explained to Video Matthew: "it’s a massive, massive amount of things to come up with and the higher you go in levels, the harder it gets".
Though initially fragile, player characters become near demigods at 20, which makes balancing raw numbers even more difficult than a typical RPG. Narrowing the range means that a more satisfactory experience can be built within that range, as well as making life easier for Larian. As Pechenin says: "You get to spend a bit more time on every level, this means the content that we have - the situations, the combat - they can be tailored a lot more specifically to what we expect the player to have at this moment".
It's not just a numbers problem. Any tabletop fan will tell you that they'll always outdo video games with their room for negotiation, improv, bending the rules, and generally simulating and accounting for anything a set of laws can't. The higher a player's level gets, the more access they get to open-ended or abstract abilities. "You get closer to spells like Wish [a high-level spell whose limits and consequences are defined by the whims of the DM running the game, and can be ironic], where you go, like, ‘what do we do? Do we accept emails from people with their wishes and quickly patch the game?’ So we have to do a lot more thinking about what would be exciting and reasonable things that a DM would let you do with these kind of spells and high level creative features that classes get."
If you're not familiar with The Dungeons And The Dragons, ten sounds like a very low cap for an RPG. It's actually the exact middle, as the tabletop rules treat level 20 as the end point for player progression. Even then, it's uncommon to take a character that far. Most campaigns are ready to tap out many levels before then, and a game that covered the full range would have to be extremely long. There'll likely be disappointment whatever Larian go with, not least as some classes really hit their stride later on, and level 11 specifically is a notable power bump for many. But a sub-20 cap is near inevitable. Exactly where it'll land though remains to be seen.
Disclosure: Former RPS deputy editor Adam Smith is a senior writer at Larian studios working on Baldur's Gate 3. He edited much of my freelance work, and I can't remember which way round but one of us probably bought the other a drink the one time we met in person. I would normally add an insult here but it seems less funny now that he can't fire me.