Way back in 2002, a small video game developer based in Belgium called Larian Studios released their awkwardly titled computer role-playing game ‘Divine Divinity’ to generally positive reception and was cherished in old-school crpg forums and communities for being the love child of Ultima, Baldur’s Gate, Diablo and all the good RPGs from the ’90s. Time was not kind to the Divinity series as the sequels and spin-offs released between then to 2010 failed to make its mark on the then-dying crpg market. It wasn’t until 2014’s partially crowdfunded ‘Divinity: Original Sin’ that Larian went all in and gathered unanimous praise for their game which modernized many old-school RPG mechanics while introducing several of their own. The game went on to become a commercial success as well, earning Larian more than enough funds to keep themselves afloat and release a console port for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. They soon started working on a sequel aptly titled ‘Divinity: Original Sin 2’.
After another successful Kickstarter campaign and spending a year in Steam’s Early Access program, Divinity: Original Sin 2 was released worldwide on September 14, 2017, for Microsoft Windows through Steam and GOG and went on to become one of the most played games on Steam even dethroning PUBG for a short while. Is the success of the game purely fueled by the gamer’s nostalgia for these kinds of games or does this sequel truly raise the bar set by the first Original Sin? Let’s find out.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a Role-Playing game developed and published by Larian Studios. The game was released on Windows PC on 14th September 2017.
Like the previous game in the series, Original Sin 2 is a 3D isometric computer role-playing game with party-based turn-based combat offering both single-player and co-op (online and local multiplayer). Anyone who has played at least one modern crpg will feel right at home. The player controls one to four characters who can either be an Origin character(one with pre-established background and their own personal story quest) or custom characters the player is free to make from scratch. The game starts off with a fairly standard character creation tool that is common in many RPGs these days. For the first time in the series, the player can select their character from five races: human, elf, dwarf, lizard, and undead, in which the undead can be of the other four races. After selecting their race and character type(origin or custom), it lets you choose from a set of pre-made classes like Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Wizard etc or make your own custom class. During this customization, many aspects of the classes can be altered – both gameplay choices such as attributes and skills and cosmetic choices (gender, skin color, hairstyle, portrait icon, etc). Although some of the stats and skills from the previous games have been streamlined, it still manages to cough up enough variety to put many of the big-budgeted AAA RPGs to shame.
Characters are controlled via the mouse especially by point and click or by holding the mouse while the keyboard lets you access your inventory, hot-keys, journal, character screen etc(although the game can be entirely played with the mouse alone). As with the previous game, the controls are fluid and responsive. Interacting with other characters and the environment is fast and seamless.
Speaking of environments, being the Ultima successor that it is Original Sin 2 lets you pick up and interact with pretty much everything in the environment that isn’t nailed down (even those too in some parts) For example, you could pile up barrels and crates around an NPC to block them in or conjure up rain to douse fiery surfaces or turn surfaces into ice to make others trip and fall and break their neck. Who in their right minds wouldn’t try that? Your imagination (and a pre-determined set of rules) is your limit.
Another notable feature that is carried over to this sequel is the crafting system from the first Original Sin. The player is able to craft anything from bread dough and vegetable soup to potions to über powerful skill books `and scrolls provided the player has acquired the recipe either by experimenting or from the so-called crafting bibles. This time around, there is no skill related to crafting. That means anyone can craft any item provided they have the ingredients. But my criticism solely goes to the sheer omission of a plethora of useful recipes from the first game like a Jack O Lantern helmet (seriously who doesn’t want to look like a pumpkin?), stat-boosting rings, amulets and helmets and ends up being way underused this time around since you can’t craft anything that has a profound impact on gameplay.
Whereas the general gameplay does the standard RPG things, the combat in Original Sin 2 is a thing to behold. It sticks to the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ formula and adds improvements to the previous game’s turn-based combat to make it more challenging yet accessible at the same time. I haven’t seen a game pull off turn-based combat more satisfyingly since X-Com 2. Gone are the attribute bound Action point system. All your party members and enemies have only a few action points (4-6 by default) when starting combat. Actions, like moving, using skills, attacking etc, costs your action points and since the player has only had a few of them per round, the combat becomes much more tense, tactical and each action counts towards the final outcome. The player is also free to use the environments to his advantage by making elemental traps, blockades or drop a heavy crate on a stingy dwarf.
Original Sin 2 also features a few schools of magic like Summoning and Polymorphy which adds to more variability in combat encounters. The game can be challenging for newcomers but there are 4 difficulty settings to suit your preferences. After spending a sizable amount of time in Classic (Normal) and Tactician difficulty, I can say that no character builds are obsolete. Each has their strengths and weaknesses and the skills are bloody fun to use. Turning a big red demon into a clucking chicken never stops being amusing.
You can play through the entire campaign alone or with a friend both locally and online and there’s an added option for a PvP arena too. Then there’s the Gamemaster mode which turns one player into a dungeon master and makes custom campaigns for the other 4 players which harkens back to the days of spending your days cooped up in your parent’s basement or attic with your friends and being the super badass knight or paladin that you always wanted to be when you grow up. The guys at Larian seem to be intent on putting the tabletop on a desktop. It’s also great that the game supports steam workshop and in the time of this review, there have been hundreds of mods that add quality of life improvements to the base game. Be warned though. Mods will disable achievements for the game and that means bad news for completionists.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in Divinity ville though. The journal system could use a tweak or two to be easily manageable and more pleasing to the eye. The UI, especially the inventory easily becomes bloated due to the sheer number of items you pick up and while transferring items between characters have been improved from the last game, the inventory could be a bit smaller and not take up a quarter of the screen. The game has it’s fair share of bugs and glitches despite spending a year in early access. On one occasion, Lohse, one of my delightful female companion’s portrait once turned into something that happens when a bear and rabbit make ungodly love. The loading times could also be improved. But I feel like nitpicking. The good folks over at Larian frequently releases patches that fix up these annoyances and I’m confident most of these problems will be patched up soon.
Story and Narrative
The game then starts off in a small tutorial segment where you are provided tips and hints on game mechanics, the UI, general gameplay, combat etc, and the player is given all the time in the world to familiarise themselves with the mechanics. Larian has taken the effort to seamlessly blend this section with the story and narrative and hence saves it from being a handholding bore-fest.
The events of Original Sin 2 takes place thousands of years after the first Original Sin and approximately 58 years before Divinity 2. In the land of Rivellon where the story takes place, there is this power called Source which is not too dissimilar from Star War’s Fore. Those who harness the power are called Sourceres. Like the force, source can either be a blessing in the hands of benevolent healers and wizards but at the same time, a scourge in the hands of evildoers. The game takes place in a dark chapter in Rivellon’s history where all the Gods and their chosen: The Divine has departed and death and destruction follow the Sourceres. All the sourcerers of Rivellon are hunted down, captured and sent to an island prison called Fort Joy. The player is one among these captured sourceres and begins their journey in a prisoner ship heading to Fort Joy. The rest is an epic tale of camaraderie, adventure, and steel on steel. The story is welcoming to newcomers and you don’t need to have played the previous titles to know who’s who and what’s going on.
While the story and writing is nothing exceptional to write home about, the choices you make and the wonderfully done quests provide a sense of purpose and grandeur itself. The story is told in a fairly straightforward manner unlike the previous game and can get pretty dark and grim. It’s a shame that you won’t care much for the other people you meet except your own companions whose quests and dialogues are well written. All lines of text except dialogues are narrated by someone who emphasizes using fancy words and this complements the series’s trademark self-consciousness on classic RPG tropes. The game can take an average player around 75-100 hours to complete and you’ll need to replay the game multiple times to see the various endings to the main story and questlines.
The game is divided into four Acts with each act having its own region for the player to have fun with. Each area is diverse aesthetically as well as geographically. For example, the first act of the map comprises a beachside prison and swamps while the second act drops the player in flat farmlands and dying forests. Although not fully open world, each area is large enough and is filled to the brim with quests to complete, treasures to be looted, enemies to be fought and all sorts of hidden goodies.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
It is written in stones across old school forums that graphics don’t matter in a CRPG, much less a turn-based one at that. But the guys at Larian doesn’t seem to listen as the game looks quite amazing for such a title. Textures are fairly good and crisp, post processing effects are well done. Lighting quality only seems to affect the interior locations while the exteriors show the same level of quality across all settings. The major change done to this title with regards to the previous game is in th art style. Although the game in general looks how a fantasy RPG is supposed to look, the art style is darker and grounded in comparison to the previous game. That style extends to the architecture, the character anatomies and their proportions. The game is GPU bound meaning you’ll need a GTX 1050ti or higher to get more than 60 fps on ultra at 1080p or more while the game performs well even on a cheap cpu.
The soundtrack composed by Kirill Pokrovsky fits the overall dark fantasy theme well. The theme played in the main menu sets off an epic yet grim mood in the person listening. The environmental sounds are generally well done too while being subtle. The soundtrack knows when to switch from something soothing to suit tense combat situations. Where the sound takes a step back is in the combat section where metal clashing on metal lacks the oomph that should otherwise be there.
One of the most notable things that sets this game apart from the other crpgs is that all the dialogues in the game are fully voice acted. Reading lines and lines of text remains an enjoyable aspect to a great many but can be off-putting to some and while some of the voiceovers are intentionally over the top or cheesy it is certainly a huge plus to lay back and listen instead of staring at your screen trying to read the text in the voice of a 500-year-old wizard.
While the first original Sin succeeded in providing a solid framework for future titles, Original Sin 2 takes that framework, toys around with it and comes out as an extremely fun, challenging yet a rewarding role-playing game that ups the ante for what a modern role-playing game should be like. Original sin 2 doesn’t hold your hand. It doesn’t tell you what to do all the time. The combat encounters are challenging and encourage you to think outside the box. Figuring out what to do and taking the time to learn the mechanics is well worth your time and money. Having its share of bugs and annoyances doesn’t stop Divinity: Original Sin 2 from claiming the spots near rpg behemoths like Baldur’s Gate, Ultima, and Planescape: Torment as one of the finest western role-playing games to come out and is easily the best role-playing game of 2017.