Baldur’s Gate 3. You’ve heard of it, I’ve heard of it – at this point, your gran’s heard of it. Larian’s Dungeons and Dragons-inspired epic was 2023’s biggest success story, scooping up countless awards for every accolade under the sun. A huge part of the game’s success, however, is its characters – Astarion especially. Neil Newbon’s Pale Elf has won the hearts of so many (and also some awards), and his saga of strife and sass was easily my favorite part of the game. But, before BG3 launched, Newbon admits that he worried people “wouldn’t get it.”
After all, Baldur’s Gate 3, at its core, is a virtual version of the ever-complex Dungeons and Dragons. When you launch into Faerûn, you’re greeted with a slew of different cantrips, proficiencies, and other jargon, and if you’re anything like me, you chose the default option and hoped for the best. While we’ve argued before that you don’t need to understand DnD to enjoy Larian’s RPG game, it certainly feels like, on the surface, it’d be really helpful if you did.
And yet, the game has shattered record after record and attracted millions of players across every gaming platform. It’s a success story every RPG developer will be hoping to emulate; the standard to which breakout new releases will be held. Newbon knew that Baldur’s Gate 3 “could be something quite special” from the onset, but he had no idea it’d become the quintessential fantasy game.
“Initially I thought I was going to be playing a minor role as a vampire,” he tells PCGamesN. “I thought I was going to be some bad dude to kill, which is my MO. I didn’t know the full story of Astarion – I knew bits of it.
“As we went along with the story, I realized that, not only am I putting more and more of myself [into Astarion], other people are putting their hearts and souls in [too]. I realized that if people don’t get it and if it doesn’t work, it’s going to be a huge shame because it’s such an outpouring of passion and love and dedication, just as many games are.
“I just thought ‘this is going to be an amazing game, or people aren’t going to get it.’ I’ve never been nervous about a release before – that’s the first time I’ve ever been actively nervous about ‘are people going to get [the game]?’”
“I don’t think any of us realized how big this thing was going to get,” he continues. “Also, for me personally, [I didn’t expect] just how connected people have been to my character’s storyline, which has been completely overwhelming in a very happy way. I didn’t realize how deeply they were going to explore the idea of trauma, so for me, personally, that really hit me in a good way – it was kind of like, ‘oh wow, this is really important.’ This isn’t just playing an antihero, this has real depth and meaning beyond just a fun high-fantasy story.
“I wasn’t really ready for this,” he says with a smile. “This has been the most marvelous privilege of my career.”
With Astarion officially under his belt, Newbon has gone on to play a very large, particularly unattractive fish in Warframe’s Whispers in the Walls update – a far cry from our dashing, devilish Pale Elf. When I ask if he’s worried he’ll always be pigeonholed into playing Astarion, just in a different universe, he immediately shakes his head. “No, not at all – not in the slightest.
“I just played a fish in Warframe,” he says with a laugh. “A fish who’s a coward and a terrible tactician; who’s not particularly intelligent but sounds articulate and intelligent. It’s literally the polar opposite of Astarion – he’s an ugly fish in a tank.” A bit harsh, Neil, but y’know, you’re not wrong.
“I’ve played so many roles that people still know me for, which is a wonderful experience as an actor. Astarion has been incredibly kind to me, and I’m already on other projects where people want me to do other things. I don’t mind if I’m associated with Astarion for the rest of my career, it’s fine, but I don’t think I’m going to be pigeonholed because I think people hopefully know enough about me as a performer to know that I’m versatile.”
For the sake of this writer, he then slips dramatically into Heisenberg from Resident Evil: Village, and, when I watch the video recording of this interview back, I can see the little stars in my eyes and the grin on my face – imagine the little emoji, but more Scottish.
In fact, I find myself grinning throughout this entire interview. In my four-year career I’ve interviewed an awful lot of people. I’ve spoken to esports pros, game developers, cosplayers, voice actors – and yet, for some reason, this interview gave me the jitters. Just like Newbon at the launch of BG3, this is one of the first ones I’ve been nervous about for a long time, simply because of the impact that Newbon and Astarion have had on so many people – myself included.
I tell him about my trips to my local tabletop gaming store, where I hear kids playing Dungeons and Dragons as Astarion, and see others pull out Astarion, The Decadent during their Magic: The Gathering games. It’s bizarre to be the one sitting on a call interviewing someone who has, almost overnight, become a pop culture icon. And yet, there’s no sense of superiority, no heirs and graces – it feels like we’re having a coffee in the local cafe. Of all the myriad interviews I’ve done, this is one I won’t forget anytime soon – it, to borrow Newbon’s words, is one of the “most marvelous privileges of my career.”