I’m currently co-oping1 Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition. It’s a fun game, with lots of attention to detail and thoughtfully implemented gameplay mechanics. But some poor choices on my part have left me wanting more here and there, and I’m not sure I’m willing to replay it to treat it more fairly. So here’s a kind-of-review that’s most likely a tad bit more critical than the game deserves.2
Divinity: Original Sin was crowdfunded on Kickstarter et al. early 2013. It had no problems reaching its funding goals, and after several delays was released in June 2014, to much rejoicing from all corners of the game press. The Enhanced Edition, which I am playing, was released as a free patch to all PC gamers in October 2015, and contained significant amounts of new content, such as full voice-over for all dialogue.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the game’s raison d’être is about stoking the flames of nostalgia. This is the paragraph where I’m supposed to comment on that, but since old-school RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and its ilk are not something I have any credible amount of experience with (nor any real affection for), I’ll leave it at that.
What I will say however, is that Divinity is gorgeous. The visuals are wonderfully crafted both from technical and artistic points of view, and the music – although a bit repetitive at times – supports a wonderful atmosphere. Even the voice acting is great – it’s certainly anything but bland. Some might find it a bit too melodramatic, but I think is suits the atmosphere really well.
The basic premise for the story is your standard “apocalyptic void creature threatens to consume your favorite plane of reality” type of grand epic starring awesomely voiced imps, crying orcs, magnanimous sorcerers, nefarious soUrcerers,3 and talking animals (if you have the right skill). Thankfully it expands quite a bit on that, which of course I won’t spoil. It’s also well seasoned with both fantasy humor and cultural references throughout, so all in all the story and dialogue is entertaining, if not more.
The dialogue system is well crafted for co-op play. The two main characters (and players) may not agree on everything, and in these cases they get to bicker about how to proceed, potentially culminating in a rock-paper-scissors type of minigame (which is also used for persuasion attempts toward NPCs). Unfortunately, co-op dialogue is severely lacking in a few respects: When my co-op partner initiates dialogue, I can join but I can’t hear the voice of the initial (or currently playing) line. A more severe bug is that occasionally I can’t join the dialogue at all. Combine that with the game’s penchant for arbitrarily initializing dialogue with one player at certain story moments, and it’s easy to see why this becomes a tad bit annoying at length. Once I even had to find a YouTube video to see what was being said in an important conversation my co-op mate was drawn into.
Burning poison and electric steam
The story, possibly due to a lack of relatable and likable characters, doesn’t really matter that much to me. It’s not the story that makes me want to play the game. Nay, the strength of Divinity (for me) lies in its turn-based combat system – which, admittedly, I have never really been a fan of in earlier games. No matter if you’re a mage, rogue, warrior, archer, or any combination of these and several other styles, a varied and brim-filled skill system has you covered with your area-of-effects, single-targets, buffs, debuffs, and more.
Some of the most fun can be had in the careful devising and execution of elemental and environmental combos. Use a spell to make it rain on the whole battleground (which of course weakens any fire enemies), then cast a fireball to create some steam from all the puddles on the ground, and finally cast a lightning bolt to electrify the puddles and create electric clouds – shocking everyone and dealing extra damage to wet targets, which everyone already is anyway since it’s raining. Just be sure you (or your allies) are not standing in the puddles, because you know what they say – friendly fire isn’t.
Oh, and you can also create puddles by attacking ice or snow enemies with fire. Because, you know, evil snowmen melt like any other snowmen. Or you can simply attack snowy and icy ground with fire to create puddles. You can cast a flask of oil on the ground and ignite it with fire. Or even better, create a poison cloud to poison your enemies and then detonate the cloud with a fireball. Or better yet, detonate both oil slicks and poison clouds at the same time, causing massive explosions.
Or my absolute favorite so far: If your ally is frozen and you don’t have a warming spell, you can thaw them with a fireball right in their face (and hope they have some health left). Because OF COURSE YOU CAN.
With plenty of combinations, it’s very easy to overlook simple facts and mess up – often to hilarious effect when you just realized what you did and why it happened, especially if you’re playing co-op and have someone to laugh with. Unfortunately, it’s not always logical which attacks leads to environmental effects under which circumstances. For example, while poison clouds can be detonated with fire, a single-target fire spell on a non-poisoned enemy inside a poison cloud will not detonate the cloud, but it will if the target is poisoned. This is annoying, but by no means game-breaking.
I wish you’d told me a bit earlier
However, even though the combat system in many respects is my favorite part of the game, it is where my playing choices has left me wanting more. I chose to play as a pure mage, and I chose to start with a talent called “Lone Wolf”. This gives me an extra skill point when leveling up, and almost twice the health throughout the game, but it means I can’t bring a companion (which each of the two main characters normally can). So I’m left with a single character and thus a single playing style, which after 30 of the game’s 70–80 hours – even though I have many skills and spells left to unlock – starts to feel just a tad bit limiting. Mages (like other characters, I would suppose) have more than enough room for highly varied and tactical play. But even though I have enough spells and skills to fill four hot-bars, I find myself using the same 5‑ish skills about 90% of the time.
As previously elaborated, there’s no denying that combat is entertaining. But I can’t get over the fact that without Lone Wolf, I would control two potentially very different characters in combat instead of just one (though probably to the detriment of my co-op partner, who already has to wait long enough for me to decide on the course of action for a single character). And if I had played solo instead of co-op, I could control four characters. I’m not saying I would trade the experience of playing co-op with a good friend for playing a more varied solo game (I wouldn’t), but the fact that there actually is that much of a tradeoff here annoys me. I don’t think it’s nice having to sacrifice significant variation in gameplay in order to play co-op.
This Lone Wolf thing serves as a transition to a common gripe I have with all these kinds of RPGs: Timely information on whether skills, talents and abilities are actually worth investing in. Sure, Lone Wolf’s bonus health and extra level-up skill point sounds very nice, especially to a skill-driven character like the mage. And indeed, it did turn out to be very helpful (though I can see now that one extra skill point at level-up gets less important at higher levels, when you receive more of them anyway). But it could just as well have turned out to be nothing but a pointless gimmick, and I’d appreciate some fair warning from the game that this would significantly limit the variety of my combat experience. There’s also a talent called “Leech” which makes you heal whenever you stand in a pool of blood. It turns out to be very useful, but that’s impossible for me to know at the start before I know anything about how blood works in this game. And there’s a talent called Pet Pal, which allows you to speak with animals. This does indeed sound like a silly gimmick, but it’s actually one of the most fun talents, opening up everything from mere witty dialogue to well executed questlines right from the start.
Basically, it’s all about fun, and I don’t want to end up with a character that’s not fun to play. Without a a solid knowledge of the mechanics behind the game, that’s left to luck and educated guesses.
Educated guesses – apart from combos in combat – won’t get you very far in this game, and that’s actually a significant plus. Divinity turns upside-down a lot of what earlier games have indoctrinated in us, such as the desire and ability to loot anything and everything without reprimand. Opening other’s chests, picking up stuff on the inn’s counter, being caught where you’re not supposed to be – all will at best result in a stern warning, at worst result in all the guards in town attacking you (commonly called a “reload”). Once, we went around digging up graves – mechanically nothing different from opening chests – and a grieving widow at a nearby grave got so angry at us for our insolence that she attacked us. Of course, being nothing but a grieving widow, she was instantly slaughtered with no ceremony. And the game didn’t force us in any way to feel bad about that (which of course we did).
In fact, Divinity is, on the whole, a game which takes the player seriously. It gives you a brief introduction to the mechanics and then throws you into the fray, playing by the premise that a baptism of fire is the best way for you to learn the ropes. The game doesn’t hold your hand, and it trusts you to explore the world for yourself. There are general quest markers, at least occasionally, but no turn-by-turn navigation, as it were. If there’s a secret room close by, well guess what – you have to visually hunt for the hidden switch. When the story tasks you to go find the witch in the forest – why, you simply have to explore and find the entrance to the forest yourself.
On my subjectivity
My experience is highly colored by playing only as a single character, and to alleviate that and treat the game more fairly I’d need to play quite a bit solo with different characters. I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to that. Divinity is fun, but (for me) not so much that I’ll put such a re-play particularly high on my priority list. There are tons (gigs?) of other games to play and other stuff to do in life. And I don’t look forward to all aspects of a solo replay. The thought of delving into yet another crafting system (which my already seasoned co-op mate handles on our playthrough, along with most other logistical stuff such as buying/selling) is not at all enticing, but that’s just my highly subjective opinions bubbling to the surface. (Though it is indisputably clever that you can combine nails with any footwear to get immunity to slipping on ice.) In general though, with such a varied combat system, I don’t think there’s that much to be said against Divinity’s replay value.
In short: If you’re a fan of fantasty-themed turn-based roleplaying games, Divinity is among the best of the bunch and you should definitely try it.
Divinity is a really good game. It looks nice, sounds nice, and mostly, plays nice. It takes you seriously and successfully subverts expectations we as gamers have been indoctrinated with. I just wish I didn’t have to sacrifice variety for co-op.
I intended to just jot down a quick couple of paragraphs. Boy did I fail at that.↩
I was 20 hours into the game before I understood this distinction. Before that I thought that all so(u)rcery was evil and wondered why the heck the main players, whose profession it is to cleanse the world of sourcerers, wielded magic.↩