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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Cross

Archives in Video Games: Baldur's Gate 3

[Author's Note: Spoiler Alert for Baldur's Gate 3, specifically Act III's House of Hope Quest!]


So do you ever take a month and a half hiatus from doing anything because you're going through a depressive episode and hit one of those "milestone" birthdays everyone keeps asking you about like your life will significantly change once you've entered your 40th year on this planet?


Just me? No, that can't be right.


Anyway, one of the ways in which I climbed out of the month-long depression was playing a game that took up over one hundred hours of my life while treating me to fantastic storytelling, voice acting, and the frustration of combat mechanics! Yes, I'm talking about Baldur's Gate 3, which, to my surprise, features an archives and an archivist as part of a quest in the game's third act. I honestly wasn't expecting to find fodder for an article in the midst of my escapism, but the archives just have a way of finding me!


Baldur's Gate 3 (BG3) is a 2023 role-playing game created by Larian Studios, and the third installment in the Baldur's Gate franchise of games that utilizes the roleplay and combat mechanics of D&D, with some changes here and there. If you've never played D&D and you're curious as to whether or not you'd like it, playing BG3 gives you an excellent D&D 101 experience. You don't necessarily get all of the spontaneity of improvised dialogue with your friends, but the writers and developers definitely thought through ALL of the ways a person might approach game play. Wanna play as a Dudley Do Right dressed in armor? By all means, go for it! Interested in giving into your Dark Urges? This game can absolutely accommodate you! What about the morally grey area of a lovable murder hobo? Buddy, are you gonna love this! There's no wrong way to play and that's the beauty of it!


The story involves the protagonist and their party searching for a cure to a little mindflayer parasite (colloquially called tadpoles in game) problem. And by problem, I mean there's a ticking time bomb in their heads ready to devour them mind, body, and soul. In trying to find said cure, the party uncovers a sinister plot to enslave the world, starting with the city of Baldur's Gate.


In the game you, the player, choose to either play as a custom-made character or one of the origin characters: Lae'zel (Devora Wilde), a githyanki fighter; Shadowheart (Jennifer English), a half-elf cleric; Astarion (Neil Newbon), a high elf vampire rogue; Gale (Tim Downie), a human wizard; Wyll (Theo Solomon), a human warlock; and Karlach (Samantha Béart), a tiefling barbarian. Other characters can eventually join your camp and possibly your party, but the core group involves the ones mentioned above. Each companion has their own storyline that intersects with the main plot and it's up to the player to prioritize those quests as well as their relationships with the rest of the party.


Choices do matter in this game, to a degree. I'd say one of the BIG decisions you need to make in the third act is a bit too binary given the degree of nuanced choices made prior to the endgame, but I also know that Larian Studios has been massively responsive to player feedback and it's possible that any gripes made as of the writing of this article could be changed in a new patch. Who can say? All I know is it's really rough to have spent over 100 hours with these characters, guiding them through some of the lowest or highest moments of their lives, romancing who knows how many of them, only to have to make a call that wipes a lot of that progress at the eleventh hour. But as much as I could go on about all the things I love and find frustrating about BG3, for the purposes of this article we're looking at the archival aspects included in the game.


A typical feature of role-playing games is the player's ability to search for and collect items along their journey. This can range from powerful armors, weapons, and potions to the most mundane pieces of everyday living like cups, plates, and tools. Keep them, sell them, throw them at your enemies. Whatever brings you joy! In BG3 you get all of this plus a library's worth of books and scrolls. And I do mean a library's worth. There are enough books to play your own mini-game of collecting one of each book or creating personal libraries for your companions of what they would be most inclined to read.


Now, you don't necessarily have to read everything you find, but you are rewarded for those efforts either with additional information for specific quests, inspiring one of your companions (usually Gale), or just the fun of reading flavor text that expands the world-building and lore. There's a very touching side quest involving lines of poetry in an abandoned wizard's tower in Act 1, so it does behoove you to crack open a book or two as you go. But you don't have to take my word for it. I bring this up because, scattered amongst the books and scrolls are references to archives and record-keeping practices.



An open book with text.
Example of a logbook created for a temple archives.

While there are many types of written materials you'll pilfer from the the living and the dead alike, I found that, maybe more than the fictional in-world novels, I was picking up a lot of log books and personal accounts (diaries, journals, and notes). These first-hand accounts are the bread and butter of most archival collections, a primary source that clues the reader into a person's daily life and contextualizes their behavior based on a variety of internal and external factors. Larian Studios does not hold back in this regard. The game deals with themes of racism, classism, religious animosity, genocide, slavery, just to name a few, and a lot of the background information for these fractures and factions can be found in the written materials picked up along the way. If you're paying attention, you can actually navigate some social encounters without resorting to immediate violence. Ya know, if you're into that.


The log books are far more clinical in providing lists and records of activities, but those are just as revelatory considering this particular high fantasy world is skirting the edges of a full blown industrial revolution. What is shown to the player tells us just as much about the author as it does the subject matter.


Now, before we get into the meat and potatoes of the quest that requires you to go to an archives, in hell no less, you'll need some background information. This will include some spoilers for the first two acts, so proceed with caution!


Early on, you and your party find out that a benefactor who speaks to you in your dreams has been protecting you from immediately bursting into mindflayers by way of an ancient githyanki artifact (Shadowheart stole it before the narrative began). You then find out that the dream protector is actually a rogue mindflayer, The Emperor, who has been harnessing the rare power of a githyanki prince, Orpheus, through the artifact, effectively keeping the prince imprisoned in a comatose state. Additionally, you and your party previously encountered Raphael, a cambion (half devil, half human) of the Hells, who's been offering to fix your tadpole problem in exchange for your help in acquiring an item known as the Crown of Karsus, which was previously stolen from his father's vault in the Hells.


It's also worth noting that when Raphael gives the player background information on the crown and its sordid history, he snidely remarks that his father, the Arch-Devil Mephistopheles, wasted the potential of the crown by shutting it away in his personal vault like a pathetic archivist rather than utilizing its immense power. It's why he wants the crown, to supplant his father and rule the Hells...and eventually everything else. So now we know how Raphael feels about archivists. Neat.


Anyway, if the player decides they want to free Orpheus, either as part of Lae'zel's companion quest or because that whole Orpheus and the Emperor situation ain't right, they need to acquire the Orphic Hammer, the only known item strong enough to shatter his prison. And who happens to have the hammer stored away in his archives? Yup, Raphael! You can choose to sign a contract with Raphael, the hammer in exchange for the crown, and deal with those endgame consequences. Or...you could break into Raphael's base of operations, the House of Hope, steal the hammer from the archives, and kill the cambion until he's dead.


I mean, I respect your choices, but c'mon! Theft and murder, my friends! Live your best murder hobo life.


Assuming you go the way I did in my first playthrough, once you find your way into the House of Hope (via a series of other shenanigans), you immediately meet the previous owner of the house, Hope herself. In exchange for promising to free her from Raphael's prison, she keeps you cloaked within the house so as not to alert the servants and security that you're not from around these parts and also provides you with directions to the archives and how to deal with the archivist.







Through careful questioning, you glean from Hope that you need to convince the Archivist that you're a High Inquisitor of another devil dropping by to audit the archives. Apparently the Archivist fears authority figures and this particular High Inquisitor is so awful and mind-shattering to look at that she has to use a disguise each time, giving you and your party the perfect cover for entry. As a little side note: I love that the lords of the Hells keep each other in check through audits. It feels so mundane, but it's such a supercharged power play.


We've also, once again, entered one of my favorite tropes: Divine Bureaucracy! Or Hellish Bureaucracy, as it were. Obviously it's been there from the beginning with the number of devils you encounter ready to make a deal, but the House of Hope quest really drives the point home that the devil truly is in the details. In every corner of the setting there's some poor soul trapped in the house because of the slippery wording of Raphael's contracts. Even the creatures there presumably of their own free have to adhere to the stipulations of deals between other devils. So of course an archives would be involved. I mean, I could go on about how empires were built on exclusionary bureaucratic policies, but then we'd be here all day!


Upon entering the archives, it's a standard depiction based on how video games and the fantasy genre generally approach the imagined archives: part library, part museum.



Exterior of Raphael's Archive


Interior of Raphael's Archive with Orphic Hammer Encased in Protective Bubble

There are plenty of bookshelves and display cases and so, so, so many open flames but you wouldn't know it was an archives unless the game and several characters repeatedly fed you that information. Which they do. I'll give the developers credit, it's one of the more beautifully decorated and ornate archives I've seen in any form of media.


We're then introduced to the Archivist!




Insert your best "handsome devil" joke here.


Aside from being a tiefling who's nice to look at, the Archivist (he has no name, only the title) is primarily an obstacle for the party to circumvent. Once you've successfully convinced him you're auditing the collection you can ask him about other items, but you quickly find that taking anything from the archives may require more finesse. Or an invisibility potion.








To be fair, I respect this man and his insistence on remaining in compliance with his institution's record-keeping policy. Just because you're a supposed High Inquisitor of the Nine Hells doesn't mean you aren't beholden to its rules as well!


Actually, what you need in order to get the Orphic Hammer is a particular password to break the protective shield around it, one that can only be found in Raphael's private quarters. Luckily, the Archivist is more than happy to give you the means of entry! Such a helpful stooge! So off he sends you to deal with an incubus - like ya do - and find the password after rooting around in Raphael's underwear drawer. I kinda wish I was kidding.


Have I mentioned that this game is extremely horny? Because it is and it's not because of the devils and tieflings roaming around!


Once you've acquired the password, it's then a matter of deciding how you want to take the hammer. I know there's a way you can steal it without Raphael being alerted to the theft, but I'm not that clever so my party went with the direct approach and prepared for battle. And that's all there is to the House of Hope and the archives. Although, I do love that once you take the Orphic Hammer from it's display, the alarm immediately sounds and then the Archivist NOPES out of the situation. He's not so much running away as he is making sure he isn't in the line of fire when the boss gets home. Again, I can respect that.


And so ends the player's brush with the archival world, assuming they get out of the House of Hope alive. It was a pleasant surprise to find an archives and an archivist within this massive game and I can't wait to experience again in my next playthrough!



Raphael's List of Essential Personnel in the House of Hope

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