I’m stuck. Again. I like to think of myself as an intelligent person; I completed Portal and Portal 2, outwitted the Riddler to 100% Batman: Arkham Asylum and understand even the more physics-y jokes in Big Bang Theory. Divinity: Original Sin, however, is making me feel like a right fool… and I love it.
Although the latest iteration of the Divinity series takes more from tabletop RPGs than most video games of this genre, including turn-based combat, intra-party squabbles and the constant fear of imminent death, it is the trial and error style problem solving that steals the show for me.
While the Dark Souls series makes use of trial and error (mostly error) within its combat system, Divinity goes one better by creating some truly perplexing puzzles and questing quandaries. For instance, the first quest has you investigating the mysterious murder of the local governor, questioning suspects, gathering evidence and even enlisting the help of a local dog. A far cry from the typical “kill the giant rats/orcs/mutant killer cheese”–type objectives you can typically expect from fantasy RPGs. Having said that, one side-quest actually has you killing perfectly normal rats, so perhaps that wasn’t the best example. Also there are a sizeable number of orcs… but you get the point.
At one point, another side-quest requires you to find a certain book in a room full of books, notice that the author’s name is an anagram of NSEW (North, South, East, West), realise that this refers to the order in which you must push some secret buttons – which you then have to find and even then it is not that simple, because the compass in question is not the one on your map, but the one painted onto the floor of the entrance hall to the room you are in, if you happened to notice that. And all of that is just to open a door in a side-quest. Phew!
Even combat becomes a delicate balancing act of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock (or in this case, earth, water, fire, poison, air), with environmental effects such as rain, smoke, toxic clouds and flames adding to difficulties on the battlefield. If used correctly, my favourite combination is poison cloud arrows followed by fireballs; they can be a valuable ally. If you’re not careful, however, you could find yourself in a sticky situation. I lost count of the number of times I forgot to check if my sorcerer was standing in the same puddle as the enemy before launching a blast of lightning with a cry of “un-limo-ted… poweeeer!”, only to find that I had successfully paralysed myself. Awkward!
As I mentioned earlier, combat is a turn-based affair based around the strategic use of Action Points (AP). These can be spent on movement, casting the aforementioned spells, making attacks, using items or running away (often a good option early on). Learning how best to use your limited supply each turn can take some getting used to, as different abilities cost different amounts of AP and recharge at varying rates as well. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to do nothing, allowing your AP to build by your next turn, which then lets you unleash a more powerful attack or revive a downed comrade. Even on the Easy setting, there is a steep learning curve and wandering into the wrong area can leave you seriously outclassed and, most often, quite dead. It is also very important to keep your party’s health up while out exploring, as traps, hidden enemies and even disgruntled flora can do you quite a mischief; health doesn’t automatically regenerate even out of combat, so having a healer in your party is essential.
As a big fan of the recent X-COM games and a lifelong Final Fantasy aficionado, I’m quite partial to turn-based games and again it adds to the impression that you are playing a true tabletop RPG, albeit with some gorgeous environments and dazzling special effects on show. My PC was able to run the game fully maxed out and although certain effects, such as ambient occlusion, are only noticeable when zoomed right in (only really any use for admiring a new bit of armour or shiny new sword), the vibrant and highly detailed art style was a consistent joy to behold. Animations are also well designed, if limited, and the spell effects provide plenty of extra nourishment for the eyes.
I mentioned comrades earlier and this is one area where I find Divinity lacking. Although the story mostly revolves around the two main characters, both of which are playable and will always be in your party (allowing a friend to jump in and play through the campaign with you in co-op mode), there are two other “main” characters who can join your party and then a host of “stock” mercenaries for hire, who can fill the gaps in your party’s skill set.
Although the mercenaries certainly help with balancing your band of adventurers, they have no opinions to add and nothing to say beyond “stop hitting me with fireballs” after one too many instances of friendly fire (pun not intended). Couple this with the fact that they all start at level one when hired, which makes switching between them a decision not to be taken lightly, and I wonder if they weren’t simply added because having multiple party members is a standard RPG trope. That and the fact that missing certain skills or abilities can make the game punishingly difficult at times.
Although the other members of the supporting cast have a little more substance and have back-stories that intertwine with the main plot, they still feel like little more than filler. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that they occasionally pipe up to agree (or annoyingly disagree) with your decisions, I’m not sure the “other” main character would be all that memorable either.
However, the main draw of this game for me is the unique and complex quests, not the bizarre story about the end of time itself or the people who have the power to determine it’s fate. Overall, I feel like the story is a more than competent backdrop to some excellent gameplay and the visuals help bring everything together nicely, although some of the voice acting can be a little jarring and samey (especially the squeaky mice).
In closing, despite a few flaws, Divinity: Original Sin is a fun and challenging game, and definitely one of my favourites of the year so far.