I was suddenly aware that we were surrounded and a fight would almost certainly end in obliteration. The deal with Griff (the boss on this prison island for magical folks) was to release the elf from his cage in exchange for us locating his stolen goods, but he never said anything about exposing the thief. My party members all urged me to hold my ground and keep Stingtail’s identity secret, because telling Griff would be tantamount to murder. However, like any good leader knows, sometimes you need to see the bigger picture. For a brief second, I mused how this quest had started with the need to free one of my fellow kin and stumbling across a rat with a good sense of smell. One of my party members had the ability to speak to animals and this rat had mentioned a lizard that smelled of oranges. I had remembered speaking to a lizard on the beach so we had headed back that way. It had turned out Stingtail was, in fact, the thief and we persuaded him to give us the oranges (stuffed with drugs) to defuse the situation with Griff and free the elf. I liked Stingtail and hated the fact my quest to save one soul had led to the death of another: I reluctantly gave Griff his name and he released the half dead Elf as agreed. We had saved someone and in doing so secured a route out of this prison; however, my mind cast back to Stingtail on that beach. Could I warn him? The chance was enough and ran for the beach, hastened by a spell from my enchanter.
Arriving at the beach we saw Stingtail, sleeping peacefully at his camp and unharmed. Then out of the trees, the assassin emerged, heading for his mark. I knew this was my one chance to intervene and didn't consider the huge difference in skills levels. A volley of magical attacked hit the would be assassin on his flank and he reeled, his magical armor had taken the brunt of the damage: we were in for a hard fight. Stingtail awoke from his slumber and dived into the fray, it took the combined efforts of my entire party to bring down this Shadow assassin. Injured but alive, Stingtail thanked us for saving his life and we parted ways. For a minute my adventurers sat on the beach watching the sunlight glinting off the waves and enjoyed their victory.
The original Divinity: Original Sin was a crowdfunding success story, delivering a masterful RPG that came with strong notes from the old school classics like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment. However, like all good games that ride with heritage, it added a few flavours of its own. There is a brief opening sequence where you awake on a prison ship while being transferred to an island prison for those infused with Source (magic). Things go awry and you end up having an unexpected dip in the ocean. After this you awake, ship wrecked and ready to embark on this new game from Larian Studios.
No school like the old school
When starting a new game you can either create a character from a blank slate or choose one of the six pre-made origin folks, complete with backstory and custom dialog options. If you do decide on your own choices these six are mulling around in the game and can be recruited to join your party. New is the option of race when creating your avatar as well as the new tags system. Simply by adding a ‘noble’ or ‘outlaw’ tag, your interactions will differ in many ways depending on who you are speaking. I like this system and it lets you carve out another layer of role playing. There is also a new memory trait which determines how many skills/spells you can have ready at any one time. This is restrictive but I also like how it makes you consider your 'load out' for various situations.
The story I shared in my opening to this review actually happened early on in the game. So many times while playing I poked at something seemingly trivial and so many times it unfolded into an adventure. Not that guided hand holding bullshit you might get from Activision or EA. No, I’m talking about the flying by the seat of your pants, unscripted adventure where choice and consequences come crashing together in a cascade of fucking brilliance. The rat I gleaned a clue off was a random act from me and had I not spoken to it I would have left the prison isle; that story would never have happened. This was a real strength in the original game and so, of course, we see it here too.
The characters in this game are also some of the best I’ve ever seen and this is largely down to some astonishingly good writing. In a few shorts sentences, someone you’ve just met can have you on the edge of your seat or on the edge of tears. So many people you pass have a story to tell and I know I’ll be playing this game many times just to hear them all. Even in the first hour of the game when you meet the Red Prince: if you have Lohse in your group she can push him to suicide. Real choices, shocking consequences and it all flows on some of the best writing I’ve ever seen in a game.
In the review copy I was kindly given by Larian I had two difficulty settings, Explorer and Classic. I suspect most fans of this genre would scoff at the idea of an easy mode but make no mistake, on classic you will be challenged in every way. My advice is to save often and learn fast because even an enemy one level above you will be formidable and resurrection scrolls are scarce.
As with the first game, there is somewhat of an elemental side to the combat. You can make the ground burn, produce puddles with rain, explode poison barrels and so on. These elements will also interact in realistic ways, so putting water onto fire will extinguish the flames but then leave steam in its wake. You can then even bless or curse these new elements to aid friends and damage foes. When you start to use these elements (ha ha) to your advantage and combine them with teleportation skills and the like: things get really interesting.
There are few other new factors to combat, such as gaining a damage bonus when elevated over your target. So getting a lofty view before attacking will often give you the edge in a fight. How much you can do is now governed by action points and this system worked fine for me. The AI on display was surprisingly good, with enemies using plenty of the elemental aspects to their advantage. I've even seen fire based enemies (that heal with fire attacks), attacking each other when low on health. All in all the combat here is excellent, with many systems we've grown comfortable with over the years but also delivered with style.
As well as all these new systems there are plenty of more familiar concepts you would expect to find in an RPG. There is a decent crafting system for one and does everything it says on the tin. As you progress you find resources and it’s up to you to figure out how all the pieces go together. Some NPC’s will help you out here but experimentation is key; you can even make pizza. There are also bartering systems, sneaking, stealing, reputation, locking picking and so much more. I could list it all but that would double the review size. Just know what pretty much everything you could want in the RPG kit box is here; and pizza.
Is it PC?
Playing old RPG’s was never about looking good because these games were so big three-dimensional assets would have taken too long. Thank the lord for modern game engines because Lorian has finally cracked it. Here we have an RPG with all the complexities of those old timers but with the 'pretty as you like' scenes from a holiday brochure. Forests, beaches, mountains, cities and so much more I don't want to spoil for you. Divinity 2 is certainly the best looking game of this type and the amount of work on show is breathtaking. As you creep fire lit interiors you can see old desks, paintings and a whole manner of objects. Many of these can be picked up and take as bag filler.
As the game is in 3D so too are all the assets and so you can swing the camera view around at any time. In many games, we have seen this system run into problems but here I didn't come across many at all. Even when your party gets obscured the obstacle will fade so you can see what you are doing. From the menus, books, spell effects and more: I am in love with the way this game looks and plays. Performance was also rock solid on my GTX 980 with super fast load times on a fairly average SSD drive. Animation and polish also deserve a special mention because considering the size of the game it sets the bar.
Like the first game, the music and sound work is also some of the best you can find in the games industry. I would have liked a little more variation in the number of musical scores but they fit perfectly with the tone and setting of the game. The voice acting is also well produced and of a good quality.
Dungeons and Dragons
Those two words in that order, it means something right? I remember spending many a winter digging into the old classics I’ve mentioned above but I had a particular fondness for Neverwinter Nights. Not that it was better than the other games as such, but because it had a certain modular design which allowed the player to easily step into other player created stories. Now I have had a good look at Divinity Original Sin 2 I feel the same excitement once again because it has that same feeling of endless adventure.
Sure you can play solo, gather a good team and beat the game: but what then? Well, this time around we can have up to four player co-op in the same game, which is in itself a game changer. In addition to this, we have the Gamemaster mode in which you can actually create your own campaigns, acting as the dungeon master and soaking up all that pen and paper goodness with your friends. There is even Discord support baked right into the game and while I haven't actually tried I'm sure it will make forming groups a lot easier.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a love letter to every RPG fan out there and one which I would encourage you to answer. Games like the Witcher 3 are beautiful and vast but there is an additional layer of depth here which is exquisite. So many times these days we play an adventure game but sadly already know how it will end. Here this is honestly not the case and there is a real feeling that anything can happen; I can attest often it does.
The events here happen a thousand years after the original story, so while connected in the broadest sense I wouldn’t say you need to have played the first game. In terms of replay value, it doesn't get any better than this. There are so many choices both big and small, it can at times feel overwhelming. However, isn't that why we play games? To get lost in the unknown and caught up in the adventure that lies around every corner.
Thank you for reading my review of Divinity: Original Sin 2 on PC. I would like to thank Larian Studios for giving me a review copy of the game which has allowed me to produce a timely review for once. If you don't already you can follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic for all my content and witterings.