According to Baldur’s Gate 3's Steam page, the long-awaited RPG’s early access version consists of “approximately 25 hours of self-contained content,” but you can tackle it pretty much any way you want. Most diehard fans take a completionist tack, trying to stretch the still-incomplete game as far as it will go. Not Cary “Professor Palmer” Palmer, though. He’s figured out how to finish the game’s first act in seven minutes.
Palmer’s run, which he told Kotaku he whittled down to its current miniscule time over the course of 200 attempts, involves a lot of jumping. Using the “Jump” transmutation spell, which temporarily triples characters’ jump distances, he soars through the entire game in 30-foot bursts, skipping all combat (including an otherwise mandatory boss encounter at the end of the prologue) and speeding through each of the few cut-scenes the game manages to drag him into. In following this route, Palmer said in an email that he skips “all combat, all companions, all quests” and ends the run “having fought nothing, gained no EXP, still level one.”
The lynchpin of the run, Palmer said, is the well in the goblin-patrolled Blighted Village area. The well takes you into the underground Whispering Depths, and from there, you can leap into what is functionally the early access version’s final area, The Underdark. You do, however, have to succeed on an investigation dice roll to enter the well, so it’s not a sure thing every time.
Palmer did not begin with this approach, which he devised with the aid of two other players he met while trying to figure out the fastest possible route through the game, Haxzploid and GoldenGlovez. His earlier runs incorporated techniques that were flashier and skipped less of the game. But Baldur’s Gate 3 offers players a variety of routes even to its currently truncated “end,” and most quests do not act as hard stops in the main story, rendering them optional. So after hours of prep to mitigate various quests and fights, Palmer came to the equal parts exhilarating and disappointing conclusion that none of it was actually necessary.
“I wrote notes and stuff for hours trying to optimize the path I would take to get everything done,” he said of his preparation. “I was able to figure out a way to end the hardest fight in the game before it even started by utilizing a team member’s dead body. I was so proud of that strategy. However, when I reached the end of the game, I immediately realized that the storyline wasn’t resolved or continued, and it clicked that everything was actually optional because none of it is currently tied together. I think the developers did this so that no one felt railroaded in early access. It really cracked me up, though, because my pages of notes and my really awesome strategies and glitches I had prepared immediately became worthless.”
Palmer’s current run, then, really is just a race to reach a particular spot on the map. Since his goal is the any% completion record, that’s all it needs to be. But since Baldur’s Gate 3 is in early access, with only one of three planned acts even in the game, some fans have scoffed at his efforts. Because it is so open, there is no “right” way to play Baldur’s Gate 3, but users on Steam and developer Larian’s forums feel like Palmer’s way is wrong. Some have said he’s not actually beating the game, since there’s not even a full game to beat yet, while others believe that in order for this to be a “real” speedrun, he should either be engaging with every available quest or drawing on the sorts of impressive glitches he mapped out in his early attempts. Palmer is rolling with the punches.
“I think the tabletop/CRPG community is very loyal to their games—Baldur’s Gate 3 especially because it took 20 years in between games,” he said in response to the criticism. “I think that the diehard fans feel some kind of obligation to the developers to play every inch of the game and feel like they are contributing to smoothing over early access bugs and stuff. I think that because the fan base is so loyal, they are upset and feel disrespected anytime someone doesn’t value every second of gameplay available in the title.”
But Palmer also considers himself to be a diehard fan of Baldur’s Gate 3. He only decided to speedrun it after he’d already probed every inch of it he could playing normally.
“It’s not my first time as a speedrunner being told I’m not playing the game right,” he said. “I just wish I could show people that I love this game. I spent 25 plus hours playing the heck out of it in three or four days. That’s the same with any game a speedrunner plays. Usually they are some of the people who have played a game the most in order to find out the stuff that they use in runs. It’s just a way to get a different playing experience out of a game I love. I did all the quests and all the gameplay, and I didn’t want the fact that I had done everything to mean that I didn’t have a reason to play anymore.”
In the future, Palmer plans to adapt his route to updated versions of Baldur’s Gate 3. For now, though, he’s working on a separate all-quests route that “really showcases the awesome combat and dialogue that the any% doesn’t get an opportunity to do.”
Despite some pushback, he’s enjoyed the process on the whole.
“It’s just all in good fun,” he said. “The first time I ever posted it to one of the forums, I might have gotten yelled at by 10 people, but one person saw it and was interested enough to join my Discord. [He] ended up cutting the route in half. So that’s what it’s all about: finding people with similar interests who really love the game and are really having a good time getting creative with ideas and strategies.”