There's 'a lot of Shakespeare' in Baldur's Gate 3's Dark Urge

Neil Roberts is very much in the acting world. He is a veteran soap actor in Britain, a villain in the classic series Charmeda performer on numerous radio dramas and a stage actor, and he's been in many things dating back more than thirty years – including an early Marvel film called Nick Fury: Agent of Shield, alongside Germany's favorite importer, David Hasselhoff.

You may not know that he is also a voice actor in a few video games including Baldur's Gate 3. Despite how much of Roberts' work you've probably heard, you might not even realize it's him. That's because he's one of the custom voices you can select during character creation, most notably Tav 5. He's also the main voice of the tortured Dark Urge, a character that some players think is the best possible origin choice for playing the overwhelmingly popular role of Larian Studios. to play a game.

How does a classically trained actor from the Old Vic Theater School talk about chopping up hands and gleefully kicking squirrels? According to Roberts, voice acting in games wasn't even that big of a deal after spending time doing radio plays for the BBC early in his career, alongside the likes of Brian Blessed and Judi Dench.

Neil Roberts.
Photo: Neil Roberts

“I was doing three or four radio plays a week for months, so I did over a hundred in the course of a year, including things like trying to play 60-year-old pirates in my early 20s,” Roberts said.

Describing this time to me on a video call, Roberts shared how his first experiences in front of a microphone were filled with a self-consciousness that he doesn't feel when performing with other people, because of the deadness of the air as you readjust to your own reading lines. “There's nothing worse for an actor than being self-conscious, all that chatter in the back of your head while you're trying to immerse yourself in something; it was horrible.”

However, he kept getting invited back to those radio plays, despite having done so many that they all blended together, so he must have been doing something right. He has learned a lot during this time, including how to read and act more or less on the spot. Unlike film, TV or theater, there is no time to learn lines in radio, especially if you make several recordings per week. That skill translated well to voice acting in video games and Baldur's Gate 3 in particular, in which Roberts actually had to play three characters.

You might think that Tav, the main character, is just one character, but that's not really the case. To reflect the choices you can make, the actors portraying your character must portray them not only as Tav, albeit with different undertones, but also as the illithid version of Tav. Moreover, they do this more or less alone, without other actors around.

“I think what a lot of people don't realize is that it's all very isolated,” Roberts said. “You're in a room by yourself in your little onesie with glowing balls everywhere and special gloves with chips in them to record your hand movements, and cameras everywhere recording your every move. This gives you the screen in front of you and your dialogue. But you literally have to use your imagination, and that goes back to radio.”

The character creator menu in Baldur's Gate 3, in which a Blue Dragonborn selects a subclass.

Image: Larian Studios

Imagination is something that Neil needed a lot in his role as Tav, because Tav is not a character in itself. We define who they are as we play them, so all the Tav actors had to be everything at once, not to mention they had to record three versions of different lines and also do the motion capture for each of those three. Speaking of recording every possible version of every line, Roberts said: “So you would probably do something similar. But it didn't have to be the same. Right? As long as it matched the line, because it didn't have to match anything of course. But it's quite liberating that way.”

Roberts said he has ADHD, although he only recently managed to get a proper diagnosis. Given Tav's nature, I asked if he felt like his ADHD actually helped him move back and forth between the three states of being and the various disjointed lines the main character has to say.

“I have close family members who are constantly thinking about their ADHD and how it may or may not be working for them,” he said. “And I don't think that's the case for me, whether it's because of my age or just because I haven't done that.” He then explained that he spent time figuring out what his ADHD is and what his personality is, but ultimately decided that everything is related to his ADHD because that's just his neurology. “So I imagine it probably helped.”

Regarding the differences between the Tavs, Roberts said something I wasn't aware of. When I choose a voice, I usually choose the one that I think suits the visual side of the character I've created. However, the Tavs had several guiding ideas that helped them execute: “We did have an essence, which I don't think I'm allowed to talk about, but which isn't described in the game itself. So my being went rogue.”

If you've built a Tav that's a rogue and you find yourself using the fifth voice option, then congratulations, you've tuned the voice just right. The fact that Roberts was an imposter might have played a role in how he eventually became the default voice for the game's only customizable origin character: the Dark Urge.

While each Tav actor performs Dark Urge lines, only Roberts' voice is used for the incredible monologue the character delivers as the player listens to his backstory during the character creation process. This makes his portrayal the standard for the pale Dragonborn – and it turns out that's the intended option, because Baudelaire Welch, a senior narrative designer at Larian, actually had Roberts in mind for that voice.

On Baldur's Gate 3, a single writer would be responsible for all the lines for one or two specific characters. Baudelaire was responsible for the Dark Urge and specifically chose Roberts as the default voice. Sure, Roberts was flattered, but it also means his part was in it Baldur's Gate 3 is a lot more substantial than some people realize – especially given some fans' belief that the Dark Urge is the canonical choice for the game, given all the extra scenes and interactions they get.

Dragonborn and base player model for The Dark Urge in the Nautiloid in Baldur's Gate 3.

Image: Larian Studios

Roberts hasn't gotten far into the game yet, but I did ask how he felt about all the positive fan response to the Dark Urge in particular. “I'm excited to be part of a great game and a popular game, but also to be part of something that people think is canon.” Larian recently released figures showing that 94% of players chose a custom character, which shocked Roberts. He assumed more people would choose an origin character because that's what he would do. “I had no idea of ​​the impact of my voice in this game, of that Dark Urge monologue, (or) of anything else, really, because I had never seen anything broken.”

The monologue is a large part of the scene setting for the Dark Urge. “A lot of people think of that monologue as Shakespearean,” Roberts said. 'It's probably because I'm exaggerating, but I think that's because of that dilemma. And there's an awful lot of Shakespeare in the back and forth. But it's real pain. You imagine that you don't quite know where you come from, and what pain that is, but there is an overriding feeling of something you have to fight against. And I think it's confusion, almost like a child not quite knowing what to do. And so we switched to that.”

There's also the nature of the Dark Urge: a modified class with a constant clawing evil at the forefront of its mind. It's a character choice that not only offers the nastiest things you can do in the game, but also actively encourages them and sometimes takes the decision completely out of your hands. “It sounds very pretentious, but it's all human emotions and parts of us that we can sometimes express in a game,” Roberts said. “It's a safe environment; We can do that without hurting anyone. Even though the things the Dark Urge does are in a much more extreme form.”